Civilian John O’Leary


Civilian John O’Leary (aged 33) of 30 Gerald Griffin Avenue, Cork city, (Peacocke Lane, Cork)

Date of incident: 12 Feb. 1921 (ex-soldier killed as suspected spy by IRA)

Sources: CE, 14 Feb. 1921; CC, 16 Feb. 1921; Kerryman, 19 Feb. 1921; Military Inquests, WO 35/157A/24 (TNA); Michael Murphy’s WS 1547, 36 (BMH); Borgonovo (2007), 20-21, 43, 76, 100 (note 71); Murphy (2010), 41; (accessed 28 Oct. 2015).   


Note: An ex-soldier aged 33, O’Leary worked as ‘a clerk’ at Cork Military Barracks. The four Volunteers dressed in plainclothes who stopped him about a hundred yards from his house on 12 February 1921 asked for his documents and obtained his barracks pass. See Military Inquests, WO 35/157A/24 (TNA). According to city Volunteer leader Michael Murphy, O’Leary was ‘a civilian employee in the office of the British military intelligence officer (Captain Kelly) in Cork Military Barracks. . . . He was known to be bringing information to the enemy.’ See Michael Murphy’s WS 1547, 36 (BMH). The IRA considered O’Leary a spy and shot him three times. He died of his wounds three days later in the North Infirmary. He had previously served for six years with the Leinster Regiment, been taken prisoner by the Germans, and been discharged with a disability. He had lost a leg in the Great War and had been fitted with an artificial limb. He left a wife and three children. See Military Inquests, WO 35/157A/24 (TNA). O’Leary was almost certainly Catholic.


If O’Leary was employed by Captain Campbell Joseph O’Connor Kelly (OBE, MC, MM), this would no doubt be especially damning in the eyes of the city IRA. Mick Murphy, commander of the Second Battalion of the Cork No. 1 Brigade, recalled the liquidation of Kelly’s associates: ‘Captain Kelly was in charge of the British intelligence system here, and he had six intelligence officers on his staff, and each of them was wiped out one after the other. There were three caught at Waterfall outside the city by some lads from my battalion. . . . They pulled the three of them off a train on their way to Macroom and shot them.’ See Borgonovo (2007), 20-21. Kelly and his intelligence colleagues at Victoria Barracks were held responsible for torturing IRA prisoners (Tom Hales among others), and city Volunteer leaders made several abortive attempts to assassinate Kelly. See (accessed 28 Oct. 2015).  

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