Clogagh: a small West Cork community transformed by the Revolution

Medieval church site and graveyard in Clogagh South, West Cork
Medieval church site and graveyard in the townland of Clogagh South in West Cork (© Irish Heritage News).

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Our inspection of Clogagh cemetery reveals the high number of casualties in this area during the War of Independence.

The people of Clogagh, just 9km northeast of Clonakilty in West Cork, were remarkably active during the War of Independence. A quick survey of the graveyard attached to the medieval church on the edge of this village, nestled in good pasture overlooking the Argideen River, reveals the intensity of the movement in this area. Buried here are three young men who were killed during this period, as well as veterans laid to rest decades later alongside their fallen comrades. Below we’ll explore Clogagh’s role in the revolution using the gravemarkers in this cemetery to tell the story.

Volunteer Lieutenant Patrick Crowley

One of those killed during the War of Independence was Volunteer Lieutenant Patrick (Paddy) Crowley of the Kilbrittain Company, who died in February 1921. Just two weeks earlier his father’s house had been burned down. While on the run, Crowley had been taking his meals at the home of the O’Neill family; in fact, their house at Clooncalla Beg, between Kilbrittain and Timoleague, was a hotbed of activity during the War of Independence and was frequently raided. Mary O’Neill (later Walsh) was captain of the South Bandon Cumann na mBan, while her brothers were active Volunteers. Mary O’Neill and her fellow Cumann na mBan members provided vital assistance to the local Volunteers, in the form of sustenance, shelter, scouting, intelligence and arms smuggling, all of which ensured that the guerrilla war could be sustained.

Volunteer Paddy Crowley
Volunteer Paddy Crowley (credit: Michael Collins Centre, Castleview).

On 4 February 1921, the O’Neill homestead was surrounded during an extensive round-up in the Kilbrittain/Timoleague area conducted by a large convoy of military, police, and Black and Tans from Bandon led by the notorious Officer Arthur Percival. This was performed in retaliation for attacks on the Mount Pleasant and Timoleague police barracks.

Aided by the O’Neills, Crowley attempted to escape but was followed and shot dead. He was aged just 26, but was already active in local governance being a member of the Bandon Rural District Council and the Bandon Board of Guardians at the time of his death. As for his activities as a Volunteer, Liam Deasy, Adjutant of the Cork No. 3 Brigade (West Cork), recalled that Crowley having joined the IRA in 1917 became an experienced officer, one of the principal organizers of the Rathclarin ambush of 1919, and was involved in successful attacks on Howes Strand Coast Guard station, Kilbrittain barracks, and the Newcestown and Tooreen ambushes. On a more personal note, Deasy referred to Crowley’s optimism and gaiety, and described him as “the life of the party”.

Newspaper report on fatal raid in Co. Cork in 1921
This account of the death of Volunteer Lieutenant Paddy Crowley of the Kilbrittain Company appeared in the Irish Independent on 5 February 1921.

During this round-up, a significant number of men aged from 16 to 60 were arrested and brought to Kilbrittain village for questioning. This included Crowley’s brother, Denis (Sonny), Intelligence Officer of the Kilbrittain Company, who was sentenced to three months’ imprisonment for providing a false name. Also on this day, their father’s shop in Kilbrittain was demolished under British military direction.

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Crowley’s body was found not far from the house from which he fled by a member of the Cumann na mBan. After being waked in the O’Neill homestead, his remains were brought to the medieval church site in Clogagh where a military funeral was offered in his honour at which his childhood friend Charlie Hurley, Commandant of the Cork No. 3 Brigade, spoke at the graveside. He, alone, with his revolver, fired the last salute over Crowley’s grave. Just over a month later, Charlie Hurley would also be laid to rest in Clogagh in his family’s burial plot, only days before his 28th birthday.

Cross marking the graves of Volunteer Patrick Crowley and his family
Cross marking the graves of Volunteer Patrick Crowley and his family in Clogagh graveyard (© Irish Heritage News).

Commandant Charlie Hurley

A member of the Volunteers since as early as 1915, Charlie Hurley was also active in Sinn Féin, the Gaelic League and the GAA. In 1918, while working in Castletownbere, he was arrested and charged with being in possession of arms and plans of British fortifications. Although he was sentenced to five years’ penal servitude, he and a number of other hunger strikers were released early, in late 1919. This was as a result of the Prisoners (Temporary Discharge for Ill Health) Act 1913, more commonly called the “Cat and Mouse Act”. It allowed for the early release of prisoners so weakened by hunger striking that they were at risk of death but could be re-imprisoned once their health recovered, where the process could potentially start again.

Charlie Hurley
Charlie Hurley (credit: Bandon GAA club).

Facing re-arrest Hurley went on the run and subsequently joined the Kilbrittain Volunteer Company. At the start of 1920 he was appointed vice-commandant of the Bandon Battalion and just seven months later he became commandant of the Cork No. 3 Brigade replacing Tom Hales who had been captured and tortured. In this role, he created a brigade flying column to be led by Tom Barry, which proved to be one of the most important moves of his military career. Hurley took part in a series of ambushes, including on 15 February 1921 when the IRA targeted British soldiers on a train stopped at Upton station; the soldiers were widely dispersed throughout the train and responded fiercely. Charlie was wounded in the head and sprained his ankle during the engagement, while two of his comrades were killed, as well as six civilians.

Upton train station, Co. Cork
Upton train station, Co. Cork, 1961 (credit: O’Dea Photograph Collection, © National Library of Ireland).

Hurley was shot dead on 19 March 1921, on the morning of the Crossbarry ambush. The ambush had been orchestrated by Tom Barry, and was to be the largest engagement of the War of Independence, but due to Hurley’s previous injuries, he was not part of the ambush party that day. Instead he was billeted nearby at Fordes’ farmstead, Ballymurphy. A British raiding party surrounded the property at about 6am. As Hurley attempted to fight his way through, running out the back door of the farmhouse, Sergeant Pool fired the fatal shot from a Webley service revolver. Hurley’s body was removed to Bandon workhouse and was subsequently brought to Clogagh by members of the Kilbrittain Cumann na mBan.

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Some members of the local Clogagh Cumann na mBan kept vigil in the graveyard that night, while awaiting the arrival of the priest and Hurley’s fellow column members accompanied by their piper Florence Begley; he had played martial airs during the Crossbarry ambush and now played the “Dead march”. After the funeral Mass, which took place before dawn, the Volunteers and the Clogagh Cumann na mBan marched behind the coffin as “Wrap the green flag round me boys” was played on the pipes. After the coffin was lowered into the grave, a short tribute was paid by Tom Barry and three volleys were fired over the grave. Recalling the event, the column’s quartermaster, Denis Lordan, stated:

“It was a scene never to be forgotten by those present – the flickering lights of two candles carried by altar boys on either side of the priest to enable him to read the prayers when the coffin was being borne from the Church. By the light of the candles would be seen the glimmer of the bayonets of the Guard of Honour as they stood at the “Present”, and then, mingled with the cries of his relatives, came the slow tramp of the Column and the notes of the Pipe March, all in the dark chill hours before the dawn of a morning in March. When the Cemetery was reached the last prayers were recited and the soldiers’ last honours paid to one of Ireland’s most faithful and bravest.”

Graves of Charlie Hurley and his family
Graves of Charlie (Cathal) Hurley and his family in Clogagh graveyard (© Irish Heritage News).

This grave went unmarked for a long time as Tom Barry bemoaned in 1938 “… shame on us even his lonely grave in Clogagh graveyard remains as yet, seventeen years afterwards, unmarked by a tombstone”. Hurley’s friend, Sean Buckley (Intelligence Officer, Bandon Battalion) wrote a ballad which included the following verse:

“In the lonely graveyard of Clogagh he sleeps his last long sleep,
But in our homes throughout West Cork, his memory we will keep,
And teach our youth his love of truth, his scorn of wrong and fear,
And teach them, too, to love our land as did our Brigadier.”

Captain Con Murphy

Also buried in this graveyard is 25-year-old Volunteer Con Murphy, from Clashflugh on the edge of Ballinoroher townland, who at the time of his death was acting captain of the Timoleague Company. He was involved in attacks on the RIC barracks at Timoleague (February 1920), Kilbrittain (January 1921) and Rosscarbery (March 1921), as well as the burning of Timoleague Castle and Timoleague House in December 1920. He had also taken part in the Crossbarry ambush and subsequently attended the burial of his comrade Charlie Hurley in Clogagh; in a matter of weeks, he would be laid to rest in the same cemetery.

Volunteer Con Murphy
Volunteer Con Murphy (credit: Michael Collins Centre, Castleview).

On 28 April 1921 four IRA prisoners in Cork were executed. Consequently, on 10 May a brigade meeting was held to discuss plans of retaliation attacks to take place four days later. The meeting was held in the home of the O’Neills and was attended by all of the officers of the local companies, most of whom, including Murphy, slept in the house that night. The following morning Murphy made his way to Cloonderreen, accompanied by Michael Coleman and David O’Sullivan. In O’Mahony’s farmyard in Cloonderreen, they were suddenly set upon by an Essex raiding party led by Officer Silver. Coleman hid in a nearby outhouse, while Murphy and O’Sullivan made a run for it but Murphy was shot as he vaulted a gate. His body was taken to Kinsale and from there to the workhouse in Bandon, where it was kept under armed guard.

The following day, his remains were recovered by members of the Timoleague Cumann na mBan and Captain Mary O’Neill who recalled the event:

“… the Workhouse was guarded by military to find out who would claim the bodies, but for a short time that day they were called off to surround Kilbrogan graveyard, as [Volunteer] Captain F. [Frank] Hurley – shot in Bandon Park – was buried that day also. We were told that when the soldiers returned and found the body [of Con Murphy] gone they were furious and threatened to burn down the place. Nobody saw the coffin leaving and the nurses were very good.”

Like Charlie Hurley before him, Murphy was also buried with full military honours in the middle of the night in Clogagh.

Headstone marking the graves of Con Murphy and his family
Headstone marking the graves of Con Murphy and his wider family (© Irish Heritage News).

Kathleen Murphy, Treasurer

One of Mary O’Neill’s comrades was buried in this graveyard: Kathleen O’Donovan née Murphy who died in 1980. Murphy was the treasurer of the Clogagh branch and displayed proudly on her headstone are the words “CUMANN NA MBAN”.

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Between July 1921 and July 1922, the Clogagh branch had 15 members which, along with Kathleen, included Captain Margaret O’Donovan (later Burke), Secretary Janie O’Donovan, Rita Donovan, Mrs Hennessy, Teresa Sullivan, Mrs Dorney, Hannah Stanton and Hannah Crowley, among others. The Clogagh branch, along with five other branches (Kilbrittain, Timoleague, Gaggin, Barryroe and Ballinspittle) made up the Bandon South District Council of the Cumann na mBan, which comprised a total of 107 members between July 1921 and July 1922, who were led by local woman Mary O’Neill.

Headstone on grave of Kathleen Murphy in Clogagh graveyard
Headstone marking the graves of Kathleen Murphy, Treasurer Clogagh Cumann na mBan and her husband John O’Donovan, in Clogagh graveyard (© Irish Heritage News).

More Crossbarry connections

There exists another important link between the Crossbarry ambush and Clogagh. Three Volunteers were killed during the ambush and one of these men was Con (Corny) Daly. He was from Templebryan South near Shannonvale originally but lived most of his life in Carrig near Ballinascarty. He attended school in Clogagh and later became a member of the Clogagh Company.

Con Daly who died in Crossbarry.
Con Daly photographed c.1918 at Castleview Mills, Ballinoroher, where he worked (credit: Castleview Mills Conservation).

Daly was aged just 22 at the time of his death. It was his first time out with the flying column. Again, it was members of the Cumann na mBan who claimed his body from the British military authorities in Bandon by representing themselves as relatives of the deceased. Unlike the others discussed in this article, Daly was buried in the Republican plot in St Patrick’s cemetery in Bandon, along with two others who died during the ambush: Peter Monahan (Bandon) and Jeremiah O’Leary (Leap). The burials took place on 22 March 1921 during which the British military surrounded the graveyard and afterwards arrested all young men in attendance. The men were taken to the military barracks where their names and places of employment were recorded, after which they were released.

Monument to Con Murphy and Con Daly.
Memorial monument in Ballinascarty dedicated to the “Two Cons” (Con Murphy and Con Daly), which was unveiled in the centenary commemorative year of 2021 (© Irish Heritage News).

On 19 December 2021, a memorial monument was unveiled to the “Two Cons” (Con Murphy and Con Daly) in nearby Ballinascarty village. These two young men were neighbours and comrades, both having taken part in the Crossbarry ambush. They lost their lives in the struggle for freedom only a few weeks apart.

Clogagh’s role in the Revolution

Undoubtedly Clogagh’s old graveyard illustrates the intensity of activity in this part of West Cork during the War of Independence but also highlights the extent of losses among the youth of its small population.

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Barry, T. ‘Death of a patriot: Idol of the West Cork Brigade. Charlie Hurley’s work and death for Ireland’. Kerryman, 12 Mar. 1938.

Bielenberg, A., Donnelly, J.S. and Madison, UW. Cork’s War of Independence Fatality Register.
[https://theirishrevolution.ie/1921-223]

‘Con Murphy – Patriot’. Michael Collins Centre, Castleview.
[https://www.facebook.com/
michaelcollinscentre/videos/
295697825359392]

Cork County Council. 2016. Heritage Centenary Sites of Rebel County Cork. Heritage Unit of Cork County Council, pp.163, 172-4.

Deasy, L. 1977 (first printed 1973). Towards Ireland Free. Mercier: Dublin and Cork.

Desmond, J. 2015–16. ‘The Volunteer movement in Kilbrittain’. Kilbrittain Historical Society 1, pp.81-94.

Freemans Journal, 21; 22 Mar. 1921.

Irish Independent, 5 Feb. 1921.

MA/MSP/CMB/6, Military Service Pensions Collection, Bandon South District Council, Cork 3 Brigade Area. Military Archives Ireland.
[MA-MSPC-CMB-6.pdf]

O’Brien, D. 2018–19. ‘Kilbrittain’s beloved brigadier: Charlie Hurley (1893–1921) Part 1 of 3’. Kilbrittain Historical Society 4, pp.47-71.

Skibbereen Eagle, 12 Feb. 1921.

‘“The two Cons”: memorial unveiling Sunday 19th December 2021 at 2.30 pm’ [souvenir booklet].

Witness Statement no. 1608, Daniel Donovan, Officer IV and IRA, Cork 3 Brigade, 1917 – 1921.
[https://www.militaryarchives.ie/
collections/
online-collections/bureau-of-military-history-1913-1921/reels/bmh/BMH.WS1608.pdf]

Witness Statement no. 470, Denis Lordan, Captain IV, Cork, 1916; Commandant IRA, Cork, 1921.
[https://www.militaryarchives.ie/
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bureau-of-military-history-1913-1921/reels/bmh/BMH.WS0470.pdf]

Witness Statement no. 1684, James (“Spud”) Murphy, Officer IV and IRA, Cork, 1917-1921.
[https://www.militaryarchives.ie/
collections/
online-collections/bureau-
of-military-history-1913-1921/reels/bmh/BMH.WS1684.pdf]

Witness Statement no. 556, Mary Walsh, Officer, Cumann na mBan Cork, 1917-21.
[https://www.militaryarchives.ie/
collections/
online-collections/bureau-of-
military-history-1913-1921/reels/bmh/BMH.WS0556.pdf#]

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4 Responses

    1. Lovely to hear from you, Noreen. These directions should help: From Clonakilty, follow the N71 east towards Bandon/Cork; after 6km, turn right onto the L4028 (signposted for Ballinascarthy GAA). After 3km, at the T-junction facing an old cottage and farmyard, turn left and follow this road for 1km to Clogagh village; then follow the main road to the right at the church (signposted for Timoleague and Courtmacsherry). After 750m, you’ll see a sign saying “Reilg/Cemetery” to the right. Take this and continue on for 700m to the farmhouse at the end of this road. Turn left in the yard and follow the boreen down to the old church site

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