Civilian Lieutenant-Colonel (retired) Warren John Richard Peacocke, D.S.O. (aged 32), of Skevanish House, Innishannon (Innishannon)
Date of incident: 31 May 1921 (ex-soldier killed as suspected spy by IRA)
Sources: CE, 2, 3, 6 June 1921; FJ, 2 June 1921; CCE, 4, 11 June, 1 Oct. 1921; Leinster Express, 4 June 1921; Iris Oifigiúil, 1 Aug. 1924, 24 July 1925; Military Inquests, WO 35/157A/60 (TNA); ‘Lest We Forget’ (PRONI, D. 989/c/1/52); Frank Neville’s WS 443, 15-16 (BMH); Richard Russell’s WS 1591, 22-23, 25-27 (BMH); Barry (1949, 1989), 110-11; Leonard (1990), 124, 126; ‘The Irish Rebellion in the 6th Division Area’, Irish Sword, 27 (Spring 2010), 148; Donnelly (2012), 177-78; Bielenberg and Borgonovo, with Donnelly (2014), 12-13.
Note: Peacocke was shot by the IRA as a major spy outside his mansion (Skevanish House) at Innishannon. Peacocke ‘was engaged cutting wood in a workshop near his house when two undisguised men entered and fired several shots, two of which took effect in the stomach’. Peacocke was able to run into his residence about 30 yards away and declare that he had been shot, but his wounds were fatal and he died shortly thereafter. See CE, 2, 3, 6 June 1921.
Peacocke’s offences in the eyes of the IRA were unpardonable and persistent. As former Volunteer Richard Russell of the Innishannon Company recalled, Peacocke ‘had been operating in the area as an intelligence agent and had guided raiding parties of military in the area. His identity had been established some time prior to Xmas 1920, when during the course of a raid the mask which he always wore on such occasions slipped. From the date of this incident Peacocke lived in Bandon Military Barracks and only visited his home in Innishannon on odd occasions. Information was received on May 31st (I think) that he had been seen at his home. Tom Kelleher and Jim Ryan—two members of the column—were sent to Innishannon to shoot Peacocke. They were scouted by Jack Murphy, M[ichae]l McCarthy, and Tom O’Sullivan of the local company (Innishannon). The men detailed to carry out the shooting (Tom Kelleher and Jim Ryan) hid in the laurels outside the house, and when Peacocke came to the hall door, he was approached by them. He attempted to draw his gun but was shot by our men, who were fired on by Peacocke’s guard of Black and Tans. Our men, including scouts, withdrew without casualties and returned to their H.Q. in [the] Crosspound area.’ Two weeks later, on the night of 14-15 June 1921, Liam Deasy (O/C, Cork No. 3 Brigade) issued the order that sent seven members of the Bandon Volunteer Battalion (including Richard Russell), with three others acting as scouts, to burn down Peacocke’s mansion, Skevanish House, ‘immediately’, as its occupation by the Black and Tans was feared to be imminent. ‘We gained entry to the house’, Russell recalled, ‘and collected all available material which could be ignited with the minimum of difficulty in the centre of each room. We sprinkled all rooms with paraffin and then set the lot on fire. The house was completely burned out.’ The destruction of five other Innishannon Big Houses followed soon thereafter ‘as reprisals for the burning of the houses of I.R.A. men and their supporters by the British military and police’. See Richard Russell’s WS 1591, 25-27 (BMH).
The IRA had made several previous but unsuccessful attempts to execute Peacocke. He was identified by Volunteer intelligence as one of the leaders in West Cork of the loyalist Anti-Sinn Féin Society. See Bielenberg and Borgonovo, with Donnelly (2014), 12-13. His killing gave rise to questions in the House of Commons. Irish Chief Secretary Hamar Greenwood was asked whether Peacocke ‘was known ever to have given any information to the government as to any action of the Sinn Fein party’. His answer was: ‘None. . . . He had no connection whatever with the government or any public office or any political movement in the country in which he lived.’ Greenwood had earlier and more correctly noted about Peacocke that he was 32 years old at the time of the murder; that he was an ex-officer of both the Grenadier Guards and the Inniskilling Fusiliers (second lieutenant in the latter and ultimately the commander of his regiment); that he had earned both the D.S.O. and the Croix de Guerre; that he had been living alone with his widowed mother; that two armed and masked men had shot him in the stomach on the night of 31 May; and that he died on 1 June 1921 ‘after great agony’. See CE, 3 June 1921. Unlike those of most other suspected informers killed by the IRA, Peacocke’s death was noted in the ‘The Irish Rebellion in the 6th Division Area’, Irish Sword, 27 (Spring 2010), 148. He appears to have had RIC Auxiliaries guarding him when he was fatally shot and earlier as well.
On Saturday, 4 June 1921, Col. Peacocke was buried in ‘the new Protestant burial ground which was presented by [the] deceased to the [Protestant] parishioners of Innishannon in memory of his deceased father. All shops were closed and blinds drawn as a mark of respect to the memory of the deceased, and the funeral was large and representative of the local gentry and the people of Innishannon.’ The chief mourners were his mother Ethel Helen Peacocke and his brother M. Peacocke. See CE, 6 June 1921. Soon afterwards all the livestock and other property were seized by republican forces. Even before the mansion was destroyed, his mother and the rest of the family had fled to England.
Ethel Helen Peacocke received a series of compensation awards—one for £375 and costs and another for £530 and costs on 16 January 1922 and a third for £29,327 plus costs at a later date. See Iris Oifigiúil, 1 Aug. 1924, 24 July 1925.