Royal Irish Academy

A Revolution in Profiles - Co. Offaly

In association with The Royal Irish Academy

John Joseph/JJ Donnelly. B 1897

JJ Donnelly was born in Birr in 1897. For a period, his parents John and Kate (Sometimes called Mary) operated a hotel, bar and general merchants on Connaught Street. His father John was a member of a well-known Cadamstown farming family. J.J’s uncle Fr. Patrick Donnelly served as parish priest in Portroe. The family later moved to Clonoghill and John Sr found work as a porter in Birr Workhouse.

In 1912 John Sr died after contracting typhoid, probably as result of his employment in the workhouse. J.J’s older brother James a prominent member of the Birr GAA club and an Offaly hurler also succumbed to typhoid at this time. J.J. Donnelly emigrated to America and enlisted in the U.S. Army.

In March 1916, during the Mexican Revolution, the Division of the North under Francisco ‘Pancho’ Villa crossed the border into the United States and attacked Columbus, New Mexico. In response President Woodrow Wilson ordered General  John J. Pershing to lead an army of 10,000 soldiers on a ‘Punitive Expedition’ into Mexico.  Pershing and his men withdrew after six months having fail to locate Villa.

Donnelly is sometimes reported to taken part in the unsuccessful ‘Pancho Villa Expedition’, but he was definitely among the American troops sent to Europe near the end of the Great War. Serving as a Sergeant on the Western Front he was awarded the Croix de Guerre and the Medaille Militaire by the French government for actions at Buzancy in July 1918.

Donnelly’s brother William enlisted in the British Army during the war, joined the IRA on his return to Ireland in 1918 and was involved with its Birr company during the War of Independence.

Both brothers signed up to serve in the National Army at the start of the Civil War and were stationed as Lieutenants in Tullamore at the time of the Army Census. JJ Donnelly was active in north Offaly and operated from the Free State military outpost at Daingean.

He was in charge of a search part attempting to capture Thomas Kane when the Edenderry man was shot dead at Mount Lucas in April, 1923. Kane was reported to seen service with the British Army in the Great War and deserted from his National Army unit in Wexford some time previously. 

William Donnelly remained in the army until the 1950’s specialising in artillery. William’s son Liam a well known Dublin hurler served with the UN forces at the siege of Jadotville during the Congo Crisis in 1961.  

In the aftermath of the Civil War, JJ Donnelly joined the Garda Siochana and spent much of his career as a sergeant at Williams Street station in Limerick City.

Information on J.J. and William Donnelly is far from complete and it is the author’s hope to improve this profile over time. 


1901 and 1911 Census. Search online at

Irish Army Census 1922. Online at browse online at

William Campbell. ‘Comdt. Liam Donnelly Obituary. 5 January 2017’ Association of Retired Commissioned Officers online at 

Freemans Journal. 9 April 1923.

Irish Press. 30 January 1975.

Leinster Reporter. 9 November 1912. 16 November 1912.  3 August 1918. 14 September 1918. 16 November 1918. 8 February 1919. 16 June 1923. Midland Counties Advertiser. 12April 1945.

Limerick Leader. 6 October 1947.

Midland Tribune. 9 November 1912. 16 November 1912.

Offaly Independent. 14 April 1922.

Westmeath Independent. 2 September 1922. 10 July 1954.

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