Royal Irish Academy

A Revolution in Profiles - Co. Offaly

In association with The Royal Irish Academy

John Cooke 1863-1916

John Cooke was born in England in 1862. Joining the British Army, he served in India for several years. Retiring with the rank of Sergeant Major he was appointed barrack warden/caretaker at Birr Military Barracks. Three of his sons served in the Leinster during the Great War, and one Lieutenant William Greene was detailed to guard prisoners in Dublin during the 1916 Rising.

A talented musician Cooke and his family were focal points in the vibrant social scene which existed in Birr. He provided musical accompaniment to the town’s choral society and minstrel shows. He was involved in benefit concerts held to a diverse list of organisations including the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Belgian Refugee Relief Fund and the Sisters of Mercy collection in aid of the poor.

Cooke was in Dublin when the Rising broke out on Easter Monday. Reports suggest that he was visiting relatives and he may also have planned to take in the Fairyhouse races. The Dublin Daily Express reported …

‘Amongst the victims of the outbreak in Dublin is Mr. Joseph Keating, merchant, Fethard who lies wounded in Steeven’s Hospital. On Monday he came to Dublin to go to Fairyhouse Races, and was accompanied from Fethard by Mr. Richard O’Brien and his brother, and Mr. J. O’Connor, Glengoole. On the journey up they made the acquaintance of a gentleman from Birr who was also going to Fairyhouse. Everything was as usual at Kingsbridge, from which they took a taxi. On Arran quay the vehicle was stopped, and almost immediately a shot was fired. It passed through Mr. O’Connor’s coat sleeve then through Mr. Keatings arm and into the framework of the car. Deflected by some piece of metal it came out again and lodged in the Birr man’s spine.’ (1)

The proximity of the rebel strongholds at the Mendicity Institution and the Four Courts to the British Army base at Royal Barracks meant that the Quays were a dangerous area for civilians during the Rising.

Compensation record claim that Cooke’s taxi had been stopped by British military, whose presence attracted fire from rebel positions. Wounded on 24 April Cooke died five days later at Dr. Steevens’ Hospital.

In May when the Countess of Huntington organised a benefit concert to aid Cooke’s family it was reported…

‘Many of those who attended the concert on this occasion, knew the late Mr. Cooke and their presence in the Oxamtown Hall testified to their sympathy with the object for which the concert was organised. The hall was well filled and among the audience were all the officers stationed in Birr, and a good number of the gentry and leading people of the district.’ (2)

John Cooke was buried in Dublin. His wife Mary passed away in September 1916.

The author wishes to acknowledge the existing work on John Cooke and 1916 civilian casualties, carried out by Philip McConway.


1901 and 1911 Census. Search online at

Dr. Philip McConway. ‘Offaly’s links to the 1916 Rising’. Online at

Dr Philip McConway. ‘Offaly Civilians and the 1916 Rising’ in conjunction with Offaly County Council and Irelands 2016 in Rising’ In Offaly Heritage 9 edited by Ciaran Reilly. (Tullamore) 2016.

Daithí O Corráin and Eunan O’Halpin. The dead of the Irish Revolution. (Yale) 2020. P 127.

Dublin Daily Express. 9 May 1916.

Leinster Reporter. 1 February 1913. 5 December 1914. 20 December 1913. 27 November 1915.13 May 1916. 27 May 1916.

(1) Dublin Daily Express. 9 May 1916.

(2) Leinster Reporter. 27 May 1916.

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