Volunteer Captain James Horan of Inch St Lawrence, Co. Limerick (Knockanevin/Shraharla near Mitchelstown)
Date of incident: 1 May 1921
Sources: CE, 3, 4, 7 May 1921; II, 5 May 1921; Denis Noonan’s WS 992, 13-14 (BMH); Daniel F. O’Shaughnessy’s WS 1435, 87-95; Appendix B, 2-6 (BMH); Morgan Portley’s WS 1559, 30-31 (BMH); Last Post (1976), 85; Jordan (2004), 97; Shraharla IRA Memorial.
Note: In an abortive ambush of crown forces at Knockanevin, about 4 miles north-east of Kildorrery, the IRA suffered serious losses. Two Volunteers were reportedly killed and two wounded, with four more taken prisoner. ‘There were no casualties among the crown forces. Rifles, revolvers, a large quantity of ammunition, and other equipment were seized. Knockanevin is on the boundary line between the counties of Cork and Limerick. The names of the killed and wounded are not known.’ See CE, 3 May 1921.
The identities of those killed remained unknown to the British authorities right up until the day of their funeral on 5 May. See II, 5 May 1921. It soon became clear that James Horan was among the Volunteer casualties at Knockanevin. He was initially buried in Kilcrumper Cemetery in Fermoy. On 2 November 1921 his remains were re-interred in the Mount St Lawrence Cemetery in Limerick city, where a Republican Plot was established.
Two Volunteer deaths in the Knockanevin/Shraharla ambush were confirmed by the following report of their funerals: ‘The funerals of the two unknown men [James Horan and Patrick Starr] who were killed in the ambush near Kildorrery took place on Ascension Thursday [5 May] from St Patrick’s Church, Fermoy. The bodies were brought to the [Fermoy] Military Hospital on the previous Sunday evening [1 May] and remained there until Wednesday [4 May], when they were removed to St Patrick’s Church. They were enclosed in two oak coffins, which had glass panels, through which the faces could be seen, and as they lay in the mortuary on Ascension Thursday, large numbers of people viewed the bodies.’ Despite a heavy downpour of rain, the funeral procession that evening at about 5 p.m. to Kilcrumper cemetery outside Fermoy was at first ‘of imposing dimensions’—until the military at the bridge over the Blackwater from Pearse Square intervened and limited the cortege to forty persons. The crowd complied with the order, and the much smaller procession took the flag-drapped coffins to the Republican Plot at Kilcrumper. ‘Those who accompanied the remains were searched upon leaving the graveyard.’ See CE, 7 May 1921.
The official British report claimed that in this encounter between the IRA and a mixed crown force of soldiers and police travelling in four cars, ‘the crown forces vigorously engaged the attackers, who retreated, leaving behind them two dead and two wounded, in addition to two others who were taken prisoners’. See CE, 4 May 1921.
An IRA account confirms the severity of the Volunteer defeat. On 1 May 1921, according to former Kilfinane Volunteer Denis Noonan of the East Limerick Brigade, the joint Flying Columns of the East and Mid Limerick Brigades set out to attack a party of the ‘Green Howards’ by taking up an ambush position ‘on the roadside close to the church and schoolhouse at Shraharla’. The accidental discharge of an IRA rifle, however, put a British convoy of ‘5 or 6 lorries’ on notice, and the British forces stopped almost a thousand yards short of the ambush position, from which the Mid Limerick column nevertheless opened fire on the convoy. ‘As the distance was too great and the enemy party very strong, [the] O/C East Limerick column decided to break off the engagement and gave the order to withdraw. Some of the Mid-Limerick men continued to fight while their comrades and the East Limerick column withdrew in the direction of Knockadea. Two members of the Mid-Limerick column were killed, while one named Casey was captured and later shot by the military on the road to Cork. [Killed at Shraharla or Knockanevin were Volunteers James Horan of Inch St Laurence, Co. Limerick, and Patrick Starr of Nenagh, Co. Tipperary. Volunteer Jim Hennessy of Killonan, Co. Tipperary, was mortally wounded, and Volunteer Patrick Casey of Ballybricken, Co. Limerick, was taken prisoner. Casey was executed in Cork city the next day after a drumhead court-martial.] This operation took place in Kilfinane Battalion area where I was training units in musketry at the time. The joint columns left the area that night and proceeded to Lackelly, where they were surprised by the enemy and five members were shot.’ See Denis Noonan’s WS 992, 13-14 (BMH). The formal name of the ‘Green Howards’ was the Alexandra, Princess of Wales’s Own Yorkshire Regiment. For a detailed account of this double IRA reversal, see Daniel F. O’Shaughnessy’s WS 1435, 87-95, Appendix B, 2-6 (BMH).