Lieutenant Pat Deasy is immortalized as a six-year-old in a school photograph taken in 1910 in Ballinadee. Just 10 years later, he became the youngest casualty of the Kilmichael ambush. We explore the short life of this devoted son, cherished brother and brave soldier.
Ballinadee Boys’ School photo
In 1910, an important piece of history was captured in a photograph featuring the pupils and staff of Ballinadee Boys’ National School in West Cork.
This photo found its way into the hands of Ellen O’Brien (née Crowley) from Ballinadee. Her brother, Danny “Brick” Crowley, appears in the photo. On the back of the photo, Ellen had the foresight to meticulously document the names of all those pictured, ensuring that their identities would not be lost to time. At the end of this article, you can find a full list of the names of all those photographed.
Ellen’s son, Dr Paul O’Brien, recently shared the photo with us at Irish Heritage News in the hope of discovering more about those featured in the photo.
One of the boys pictured here is six-year-old Pat Deasy, who can be seen seated in the front row on the far right. Just 10 years after this photo was taken, he would participate in the famous Kilmichael ambush on 28 November 1920. At the tender age of 16, Deasy was fatally wounded, possibly making him the youngest Volunteer to die in action during the War of Independence.
Pat Deasy was born on 25 February 1904 in Kilmacsimon, a small village on the banks of the Bandon River. He was the youngest son of William Deasy from Courtmacsherry and Mary (“Minnie”) Murray of Kilmacsimon.
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As we know, Deasy attended Ballinadee Boys’ National School. Notwithstanding the teachers’ nationalist outlook, the little history taught in the school was influenced by the prescribed English curriculum “which seemed calculated to impart a British loyalist view on our Irish past” according to Pat’s brother, Liam Deasy, author of Towards Ireland Free.
As a young boy, Pat Deasy fully embraced various facets of Irish culture, participating in local Gaelic games, bowling and feiseanna. At home, he witnessed lively discussions on contemporary Irish political issues.
After school, Deasy worked as a draper’s apprentice in Bandon. However, he left this job in October 1920 as his father fell ill. Assuming all of his father’s responsibilities, Deasy embraced the duties of assistant harbour master (river section) for Kinsale, sub-postmaster at Kilmacsimon Quay, auxiliary postman and coal merchant.
Joining the IRA
In 1919, Deasy enlisted in the Volunteers, assuming the crucial role of “lieutenant of signalling” for the 1st (Bandon) Battalion of the 3rd Cork Brigade (West Cork). He was also chosen for the brigade’s flying column led by Commandant General Tom Barry.
General Barry described Deasy as “Quiet and serious beyond his years, he was still a merry boy and a favourite with all the Column”. Barry also noted his “exceptional” enthusiasm for Volunteer work and training, noting that “when all others were tired out, he could be seen practising arms drill outside his billet”.
All of Deasy’s brothers were also deeply committed to the cause and were actively involved in the War of Independence, with Liam, the eldest, serving as the adjutant of the 3rd Cork Brigade.
As a member of the 3rd Cork Brigade’s flying column, Pat Deasy took part in the Toureen ambush on 24 October 1920. A few miles east of Innishannon, the column laid a mine for a military convoy of the notorious Essex Regiment but it failed to detonate, granting the first lorry a lucky escape towards Cork.
The focus then shifted to the remaining lorry, resulting in the deaths of four soldiers with four more wounded. The rest surrendered, were disarmed and their lorry set ablaze. The flying column emerged unscathed.
Realizing that the occupants of the lorry that escaped would soon raise the alarm, the original plan to return north to Kilumney was abandoned. Instead, a decision was made to head south to Ballydaly, cross the Bandon River and find refuge in Ballinadee.
With the fishing season at Ballydaly having drawn to a close and no boats available, Pat Deasy and Tim Crowley were tasked with cycling six miles to Kilmacsimon Quay to procure a boat and row it to Ballydaly.
Assisted by Pat’s brother Miah Deasy, 2nd Lieutenant of the Innishannon Company (whose responsibilities included the safe passage of Volunteers across the river), the pair accomplished their mission, bringing the column safely across the water.
Miah Deasy also appears in the Ballinadee National School photo (third row, third from the left). The Tim Crowley mentioned in this incident is likely one of the two Timmy Crowleys pictured in the school photo. There were also two Tim Crowleys from the Ballinadee Company involved in the Crossbarry ambush, one who took part in the fighting and the other formed part of the reserve force.
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Just over a month later, as General Tom Barry prepared the flying column for another assault on a convoy of Crown forces – this time the Auxiliaries at Kilmichael – Pat Deasy fell ill. He was ordered to surrender his gun and return to the Bandon Battalion headquarters. The ambush would take place a couple of days later.
As the column neared the ambush site, with rain lashing down, news reached Barry that Deasy was following behind. The boy was promptly brought forward and reassured the commandant that he had recovered.
Assigned to Section No. 2, Deasy found himself alongside nine other Volunteers, their mission clear – to unleash a fiery barrage on the Auxiliaries in the second lorry as it approached the ambush site.
According to General Barry, the Auxiliaries in the second lorry executed a false surrender leading to the loss of three Volunteers from Section No. 2, including the young Pat Deasy. This version of events has been challenged by others.
When the fighting finally ceased, 16 of the 18 Auxiliaries lay dead as well as Volunteers Michael McCarthy and Jim Sullivan. Deasy, though gravely injured, remained conscious. Despite his condition and young age, Deasy fearlessly assured his commanding officer that he felt no pain.
His comrades fashioned a makeshift stretcher from a door of a nearby house and carried him to a dwelling about half a mile away. There, some hours later, Deasy succumbed to his injuries. Sadly, this “merry boy” did not live to see his 17th birthday. His short life reflects the turbulent times of early 20th-century Ireland.
Pat Deasy, the youngest of the “boys of Kilmichael”, was laid to rest with his fallen comrades (McCarthy and Sullivan) in Castletown-Kinneigh graveyard.
The aftermath of Pat Deasy’s death
In Towards Ireland Free, Liam Deasy painted a vivid picture of the heartfelt sympathy he received from Charlie Hurley, who delivered the news of his brother’s death.
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It was Liam, with the support of Dick Barrett, who then had to make the sad journey to Kilmacsimon Quay, to break the devastating news to his parents.
His father broke down completely “for Pat was his favourite boy”, while his mother, the more resilient of the pair, shed no tears, though her heart must have been broken.
“She accepted the cross as the mothers of Ireland have traditionally accepted it, when they lost sons and husbands in the cause of freedom.” (Liam Deasy)
In February 1933, Mary Deasy applied for a gratuity under the Army Pensions Act, 1932. She claimed that at the time of her son Pat’s death, she was partly dependent on him as her husband was unable to work due to illness.
Both Tom Hales, TD and Tom Barry supported her plea, with the latter writing:
“He was a great lad and his mother is badly in need of financial assistance. Had he lived, I am sure from my knowledge of him that she would be his first care.” (Tom Barry)
Initially, Mary was denied financial aid. However, five long years after the initial application, and having wrestled with a mountain of paperwork, she was finally awarded a gratuity of £85 in March 1938.
Now in her early seventies and widowed since 1932, Mary continued to run the post office at Kilmacsimon Quay for a mere £18 per annum. But she was largely reliant on her son John, a coal merchant, for financial support.
Described in her obituary as “a splendid type of patriotic Irishwoman”, Mary Deasy died on 29 May 1947 and was buried in Ballinadee graveyard with her husband William, many miles removed from their beloved youngest son.
Named: Ballinadee pupils and teachers
Here is the list of all those pictured in the Ballinadee Boys’ School photo taken in 1910 as identified by the late Ellen O’Brien née Crowley of Ballinadee:
Front Row, Left–Right: Danny Murphy; David Looney; Mickie Kelly; Pat Brennan; Paddy Crowley (Horsehill); Thomas Crowley (Horsehill); Ted Deasy; Josie Deasy (teacher’s son and later a priest); Pat Deasy (fatally wounded in the Kilmichael ambush).
Second Row, Left–Right: Jim Deasy; Denis Keohane; Patsy Brien; Frank Brennan; Timmy Crowley (Buidhe); Johnny Barrett; Terry Crowley (Kit); Pat or Billy Kelly; Connie Flynn.
Third Row, Left–Right: Danny Crowley (“Brick” so named because he was one of the Ballinadee Brickyard Crowleys); John Brennan; Miah Deasy; David Collins; John Donoghue; Jack O’Brien; Tim McCarthy (Bán).
Back Row, Left–Right: Jeremiah Deasy (teacher); Tim Collins; Patsy Murphy; Danny Crowley; Bill Leahy; Dan Griffin; ? Flynn; Bob Allen; Thomas Long; Jack Deasy; Julia Lynch.
We welcome any additional information about those featured in the photo. Please feel free to share your insights in the comment section below.
Barry, T. 1949. Guerilla Days in Ireland. Irish Press Ltd.
Birth register, Patrick Deasy, born 25 Feb. 1904, registered 2 Mar. 1904, Bandon.
Deasy, L. 1973. Towards Ireland Free. Mercier Press: Cork.
Kerryman, 7 Jun. 1947.
‘Kilmichael ambush centenary supplement 1920–2020’. Southern Star, 21 Nov. 2020.
Military Archives Ireland, Military Service Pensions Collection, Patrick Deasy, 1 Battalion, A Company, 3 Cork Brigade, DP87; 2RB1048; 52APB454; Y364.
Military Archives Ireland, Witness Statement no. 1621, Con Flynn, 2nd Lieut., Ballinadee Coy., Bandon Battalion, 3 Cork Brigade.
O’Brien, Paul, pers. comm.
Whyte, L. 1995. The Wild Heather Glen: the Kilmichael story of grief and glory. Kilmichael/Crossbarry Commemoration Committee: Cork.