Civilian Michael O’Keefe (aged about 35) of Main Street, Carrigtwohill (Carrigtwohill)
Date of incident: 30 April 1921 (ex-soldier killed as suspected spy by IRA)
Sources: CE, 2, 3 May 1921; FJ, 2 May 1921; II, 2 May 1921; CWN, 7 May 1921; Military Inquests, WO 35/157B/5 (TNA); Executions by the IRA (Military Archives, A/0535); Register of Compensation Commission (Ireland) Cases of Private Persons (CO 905/15, TNA); Michael J. Burke’s WS 1424, 28-29 (BMH); Francis Healy’s WS 1694, 17- 21 (BMH); Seámus Fitzgerald Papers, PR/6/32 (2), (UCC); Rebel Cork’s FS, 195; O’Neill (1975), 68; Hart (1998), 299; Sheehan (2011), 76; Ó Ruairc (2016), 121.
Note: O’Keefe was a labourer and an ex-soldier in receipt of a British army disability pension. He was married, with one child. He was taken about 200 yards from his house on Main Street in Carrigtwohill and shot dead at about 6 a.m. on 30 April 1921. A label was attached to his body declaring, ‘Spies and informers beware, I.R.A.’. See CE, 2, 3 May 1921; Executions by the IRA (Military Archives, A/0535). It was noted in evidence at a later military inquest that O’Keefe was ‘a very loyal man’. See Military Inquests, WO 35/157B/5 (TNA). Thomas Cotter, a lieutenant in the Carrigtwohill Company of the IRA, later claimed that he had killed O’Keefe in April 1921 and another suspected spy in the following June. See Sheehan (2011), 76. Cotter named his associates in executing O’Keefe as Volunteers J. Ahearne (or Aherne) of Ballyrichard (Carrigtwohill); M. Murnane of Carrigane (Carrigtwohill); and T. O’Shea, O/C, Engineers, 4th Battalion, Cork No. 1 Brigade. See Seámus Fitzgerald Papers, PR/6/32 (2), (UCC). The name of Michael O’Keefe appears in the Compensation Commission Register under 1 May 1921, with the notation that British liability was accepted, and with a note that compensation of £950 was awarded. See Register of Compensation Commission (Ireland) Cases of Private Persons (CO 905/15, TNA). Michael O’Keefe was almost certainly Catholic.
The IRA men who carried out the execution of Michael O’Keefe, remembered former Carrigtwohill Volunteer Francis Healy, ‘called to my place of residence about 20 minutes prior to carrying out of the death sentence. Needless to remark, there was intense police and military activities as a result of the shooting, but no evidence was forthcoming to establish the identity of the parties responsible, so the enemy [members of the Cameron Highlanders] went on the policy of an eye for an eye, etc.’ What Healy and his IRA comrades considered a ‘murder gang’ of Cameron Highlanders proceeded to kill five local Volunteers or civilians, including William Bransfield, Michael Aherne, John Ryan, Richard Barry, and Richard Flynn—‘A total of five Irishmen shot dead by British forces during a period of eight days!’ See Francis Healy’s WS 1694, 17- 21 (BMH).
Michael Burke, captain of the Cobh Volunteer Company, also recalled how he had become aware in May 1921 that ‘a specially selected number of Cameron Highlanders were formed into a murder gang which operated in the 4th Battalion area of East Cork’. See Michael J. Burke’s WS 1424, 28-29 (BMH). The involvement of Volunteer Joseph Aherne (among others) in the execution of Michael O’Keefe may explain why Aherne’s household was subsequently targeted by the Cameron Highlanders in their reprisal killings and why his brother Michael Aherne was shot dead by them.