Royal Irish Academy

A Revolution in Profiles - Co. Offaly

In association with The Royal Irish Academy

Richard (Dick) Pearson 1897-1921 & Abraham (Abe) Pearson 1902-21

Richard and Abraham Pearson were born to William and Sarah (nee Prat) Pearson in Ballygehin, Queens County/Laois.

The Pearsons were evangelical Christians, members of a sect initially inspired by the teachings of William Irvine and Edward Cooney, who preached that existing protestant denominations had become apostate. These groupings were charismatic, schismatic, often distrustful of organised structure, church buildings, military service and even wary of adopting a formal name. Their congregations were often defined by the names given to them by outsiders such as, ‘Two By Twos’ ‘No Names’, ‘Go Preachers’ and ‘Cooneyites’. William Pearson’s relations at Carick House, Rathdowney were prominent proponents of the moment in Queens County.

Another relation, Richard Pearson was targeted in a series of agrarian incidents including arson and cattle driving in Rathdowney between 1921 and 1923. The escalating nature of the conflict, saw firearms produced and used. Richard and his son Albert were detained by Free State forces in Roscrea for a number of weeks in 1923.

Around 1911, the Pearson family purchased 340 acres of land in King’s County. William and Sarah relocated with their seven children to Coolacrease House outside Cadamstown at the foot of the Slieve Bloom Mountains. Richard and Abraham attended the Castle Bernard National School, Kinnitty and worked on the family farm. Richard is reported to have taken some of the farming duties from his father. In 1919, William was appointed Kinnitty delegate to the county executive of the King’s County Farmers Association.

During the War of Independence relationships between the Pearsons and the local community deteriorated. The Pearsons decision to deny access to a traditional mass path and suspicion that the family home was regularly visited by members of the crown forces antagonised locals. IRA men monitored the Pearson home and on occasion firearms were produced to threaten family members.

By the summer of 1921 the Pearsons were hosting their 20-year-old relative William Stanley from Luggacurran. Intercommunal relations at Luggacurran had been deeply complex since the 1880s, when the marquess of Lansdowne responded to a Plan of Campaign rent strike by evicting tenants and replacing them with protestant families including Stanley’s.

In early 1921, William Stanley and other young loyalists from Luggacurran banded together and armed themselves. This group later attempted to assist Auxiliaries in a plan to capture a local republican. When news of Stanley’s associations made it as far as the Laois IRA, his family are reported to have sold their farm and William relocated to Coolacrease. In early 1922, a number ‘planter’ families were temporary evicted from their holdings at Luggacurran, but these efforts to appropriate land were rejected by the new government.

In Cadamstown, Stanley adopted the alias Jimmy Bradley and there is no evidence to suggest a that the Offaly IRA ever learned of the Laois man’s previous activities. How much the Pearsons knew of Stanleys earlier brush with the IRA remains unclear.

On the night of June 22, a group from the Cadamstown IRA were in the process of cutting down a tree on the edge of  Coolacrease farm to obstruct the roadway. The road blocking party were were approached by a number of the Pearson brothers armed with a shotguns. Shots were exchanged and volunteer Michael Heaney was serious wounded. In the days following the confrontation, a number of IRA men present at the shooting were arrested and interned.

While relations between the Pearson family and locals had been hostile for some time, the shooting of Heaney was the deciding factor in  Brigade Commandant Tom Burke’s decision to authorise the execution of the male members of the Pearson family and the destruction of Coolacrease House.

The ‘Attack on the Pearson’s’ about involved 30 men led by Joseph Connolly and Michael Cordial. In May, Connolly and Cordial had taken part an IRA attack which killed two RIC constables at Kinnitty and the execution suspected spy near the Blue Ball.

Around 4pm on June 20th, IRA men entered and searched the house which was occupied by Mrs. Susan Pearson her three daughters and two female cousins. William Pearson and his son Sydney were away, brothers Richard, Abraham and David were seized while working in nearby fields, but Willaim Stanley evaded capture and fled in the direction of Tullamore.

Richard and Abraham were taken to a yard close to the house and shot by a firing party. The IRA withdrew after setting Coolacrease House on fire, Joseph Connolly appears to have been burned during the torching of the building. Although severely wounded the Pearson brothers were still alive when the IRA left.

In the aftermath of the shootings 14 year old David Pearson cycled to Tullamore to report the incident, his sister Ethel mounted a horse and rode to Kinnitty seeking help. Both brothers had been shot multiple times and suffered considerable blood loss. At around 7:30 pm Dr Woods arrived at Coolacrease and treated Richard and Abarham’s wounds. Returning around 10:40 pm he found Richard Pearson dead. Abraham died early following morning in the hospital of Birr Military Barrack.

In the weeks that preceded the ‘Attack on the Pearsons’, South Offaly IRA had shot dead two suspected spies at Ballyshiel and Cloghan. In the days following the burning of Coolacrease, they burned Derrylahan House the property of prominent unionist Colonel Head at Rathcabbin in north Tipperary outside Birr.

William Pearson began the process of selling Coolacrease in August 1921. The lands were later divided by the Land Commission. In his compensation applications to the Irish Grants Commission, Pearson stressed his loyalism. Much of the family emigrated and settled in Australia.

Conveyed from Birr by military lorry, Richard and Abraham Pearson were interned at Killermogh Church of Ireland graveyard Co. Laois. In 1981, William Stanley was buried in a nearby grave.

The author acknowledges the preexisting work on the Pearson family by a great many historians. The work of archivists at the Military Service Pension Collection has brought even greater clarity to the subject.    


Sources:

1901 and 1911 Census. Search online at http://www.census.nationalarchives.ie/search/

Bureau of Military History Statements. Michael Cordial Witness 1599. Search online at  https://www.militaryarchives.ie/collections/online-collections/bureau-of-military-history-1913-1921/bmhsearch/

Military Service Pension Collection. Tom Donnelly MSP34REF18581. James Delahunty MSP34REF18569. Michael Heaney 1p359. Michael Cordial 24sp11688. Joseph Connolly 24sp2719. Henry Egan 24sp11535. Annie Dermody MSP34REF26936. Michael Seery MSP34REF19821 Search online a https://www.militaryarchives.ie/collections/online-collections/military-service-pensions-collection-1916-1923

Irish National School Register 1912: Castle Bernard. Online at https://www.findmypast.ie/

Joost Augusteijn. ‘Coolacrease: A Review’. History Ireland March/April 2009. Online at https://www.historyireland.com/coolacrease-the-true-story-of-the-pearson-executions-an-incident-in-the-irish-war-of-independence/

Paddy Heaney. ‘At the foot of the Slieve Bloom: History and Folklore of Cadamstown’ (Kilcormac) 2006.

Paddy Heaney, Pat Muldowney and others. Edited by Phillip O’Connor. ‘Coolacrease: The true story of the Pearsoon Executions’ (Millstreet, Cork) 2008.

Dr. Philip McConway. ‘The Pearsons of Coolacrease’ in the Midland Tribune November 2007. Online at https://www.offalyhistory.com/wp-content/uploads/2007/11/1_philip_mcconway_pearsons_coolacrease_1.pdf and https://www.offalyhistory.com/wp-content/uploads/2007/11/1_philip_mcconway_pearsons_coolacrease_1.pdf

Niall Meehan. ‘Frank Gallagher and Land Agitation’ Dublin Review of Books. Online at https://drb.ie/articles/frank-gallagher-and-land-agitation/ 

Phillip O’Connor and Pat Muldowney. ‘A house built on sand’. Dublin Review of Books. Online at https://drb.ie/articles/a-house-built-on-sand/

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

Patrick Maume. ‘Edward Cooney’ RIA Dictionary of Irish Biography. Online at https://www.dib.ie/biography/cooney-edward-a2010 

Robert McEvoy. The Pearson Executions, Offaly June 1921. MSPC Blog online at https://militarypensions.wordpress.com/2020/11/11/the-pearson-executions-offaly-june-1921/

Tom Wall. ‘Getting them out’ Dublin Review of Books. Online at https://drb.ie/articles/getting-them-out/ 

Hidden History: The Killings at Coolacrease. (RTE) 2007. Online at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kn-FxlFpg5s

Evening Herald. 21 October 1921.

Freemans Journal. 27 April 1923. 10 August 1923.

Kilkenny Moderator. 29 April 1922. 

Leinster Reporter. 20 August 1920.  9 July 1921. 13 August 1921. 15 October 1921. 

Sunday Independent. 9 October 2005.

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