Royal Irish Academy

A Revolution in Profiles - Co. Offaly

In association with The Royal Irish Academy

Thomas Cunningham 1871/76-1921

Thomas Cunningham was born in Roscommon in 1871 or 1876. He is believed to have served in the British army and later worked as a carpenter. By 1921 he was employed at Perrys Mills Belmont and living with his wife Mary Anne and their 15-year-old son John at Cush East near Ballysheil, between Cloghan and Belmont. 

In the summer of 1921, the 2nd Battalion, Offaly No.II Brigade which covered Cloghan, Banagher, Shannonbridge, Ferbane, Doon and Belmont/Moystown, carried out a series of attacks on those they suspected of spying. The targets of this operation tended to be those who had been openly hostile to the republican movement and overtly friendly with crown forces. Although the Offaly IRA killed several alleged spies during the War of Independence, they do not appear to have executed any of the organisation’s own members as informers.

Thomas Cunningham’s good relations with the military stationed in the area had been a source of displeasure for local republicans. It was also alleged that he had been seen entering the police barracks at Shannonbridge on three occasions to inform on the movements of IRA volunteers and had entertained army intelligence officers stationed at the military outpost at Hunston House.

The IRA held an inquiry on 12 June and sentenced several men to death. On 14 June republicans visited the home of William White at Derrica Ferbane. White was a gamekeeper on the King Estate, who had given evidence when local men were convicted of holding up a British Army vehicle at Ballylin. White wasn’t at home at the time the raiding party burned the house.

 On 17 June, Martin O’Reilly, an ex-serviceman suspected of spying was shot dead at his home at Cloghan. A few hours later at around 2:40 am on the morning of 18 June four IRA men entered the Cunningham home at Cush. Mary Anne and John were locked in the house, while Thomas was dragged outside, placed against a clamp of turf, and shot dead.

The following morning, shots were fired in Belmont at Dudley Ensor, a former army officer employed as a bookkeeper at Perrys mills. Ensor escaped unharmed and took up residence in the Curragh army base for his own protection.


Sources:

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

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

Padraig Heavin ‘On the banks of three rivers: Stories from West Offaly’ (Cork) 2015.

Leinster Reporter. 15 October 1921.

Tom Nolan. The War of Independence in Offaly in Journal of the Old Athlone Society volume 9. (Athlone) 2015, available online at https://www.midlandshistory.com/uploads/4/0/4/1/40413751/4_- _the_war_of_independence_in_offaly.pdf

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