Royal Irish Academy

A Revolution in Profiles - Co. Offaly

In association with The Royal Irish Academy

Joseph Connolly 1896-1979

Joseph Connolly was born in 1896 to Michael and Mary Connolly who farmed at Ballykeenaghan, Rahan. As a teenager Connolly moved to Clara having acquired a job as a grocer’s assistant. In Clara he joined the Irish Volunteers and was heavily involved in the election campaigns of 1918, losing his job as a result.

After moving to Kinnitty, he transferred to the local unit of the IRA and was appointed company captain within a short period. Throughout 1920 he participated in road blockage operations, the burning of vacated RIC positions and raids for arms. Later he aided the Dail courts system, removed magnetos from motor cars for their use in the manufacture of mines and collected dog licence fees to fund the republican shadow government.

After the capture of 7 rifles at Belmont in October 1920, several abortive attempts were made to deploy a flying column in the Offaly No. II brigade area. In the spring of 1921, Connolly and Battalion Quartermaster Michael Cordial formed a smaller column drawn from the 3rd battalion area which included the Killoughey, Kilcormact, Kinnitty and Drumcullen companies. In May this unit ambushed a group of RIC cyclists at Kinnitty killing two Constables. Later that month the column executed a suspected spy, John Lawlor at Mount Bolus.

After a Cadamstown IRA man was wounded in an encounter with members of the Pearson family in June 1921. Connolly oversaw the attack by 30 men at Coolacrease, where brothers Richard and Abraham Pearson were shot dead, and the family home burned.

Connolly was promoted to Battalion O.C. immediately after the Truce, a role he had previously held in an acting capacity.

Favouring the Treaty, he served as a captain in the National Army and was based in Birr. Connolly’s previous experiences from the War of Independence provided him with insights into IRA operations in the Slieve Bloom area and knowledge of his home locality of Rahan. As a result, he was responsible for the capture of a number of anti-treaty men during the Civil War. Cadamstown historian Paddy Heaney credited Connolly with protecting imprisoned former colleagues from execution.

In October 1922, Connolly provided an funeral oration for Cadamstown man Joseph Guinane, who had been accidentally shot dead while serving with the National Army at Bushfield, Nenagh.  

Connolly married Sarah Grimes of Kinnitty in January 1923, Captain Michael Cordial served as best man at his wedding.

Retiring from the army in 1924, he remained a reserve officer until 1947. He joined the Army Comrades Association in 1932.

Joseph Connolly farmed at the Leap until his death in July 1979. His funeral took place at Ballybrit church with burial at St Flannan’s cemetery Kinnitty.


Military Service Pension Files. Joseph Connolly 24SP2719. Michael Coridal 24SP11688. Michael Seery MSP34REF19821. Search online at

Bureau of Military History Statements. Joe Connolly (Witness 1599). Michael Cordial (Witness 1712). Search online at history-1913-1921/bmhsearch/

Paddy Heaney. At the foot of the Slieve Blooms. (Kilcormac) 2006.

Phillip McConway. Offaly and the Civil War Executions. Midland Tribune 2007 available online at

Phillip McConway ‘Offaly and the Civil War Executions’ in Offaly Heritage 5 edited by Rory Masterson. (Tullamore) 2008.

MSPC Blog ‘The Pearson Executions Offaly June 1921’ online at

Daniel Murray “‘Tinkering with the honour of the nation’: The Second Offaly Brigade in the War of Independence, 1920-21.” Online at

Tom Nolan. The War of Independence in Offaly in Journal of the Old Athlone Society volume 9. (Athlone) 2015, available online at

Leinster Reporter. 28 May 1921. 4 November 1922. 14 October 1922. 16 December 1922. 3 February 1923. 1 September 1932.

Nenagh Guardian. 7 February 1923.  7 October 1922.

Irish Independent. 20 July 1979

Leinster Leader. 7 October 1922.

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