Royal Irish Academy

A Revolution in Profiles - Co. Offaly

In association with The Royal Irish Academy

Thomas/Tommy/ Tomás O’Connell 1900-1924

Thomas O’Connell was born at Edenderry in 1900. Local tradition held that one of his ancestors, Catherine O’Connell was present at Blundell Wood outside the town in 1798 when the Wexford rebels Fr Mogue Kearns and Colonel Anthony Perry were hung drawn and quartered, and that Catherine removed Fr Kearns remains to allow for its burial in Monasterosis Cemetery.

O’Connell’s older brother Patrick was killed in Cambrai, France while serving with the Machine Gun Corps during the Great War. Another brother Edward was a member of the Edenderry IRA. A furniture polisher, Thomas was involved in the Gaelic League and Edenderry GAA before moving to Carlow where he lived during the War of Independence.

In late 1920 Thomas O’Connell was appointed deputy O.C. as part of a largescale reorganisation of the Carlow IRA and volunteered to join the brigade’s nascent flying column. On 18 April, this active service unit were billeted at Mullannagaun, Ballymurphy outside Boris, expecting a visit from GHQ organiser Simon Donnelly. The column was surprised and captured by a joint force of police and military, but O’Connell escaped as he had been detailed to escort Donnelly to the scheduled inspection.

The Crown Forces captured eight men and the columns entire arsenal. A member of the unit Michael Fay, himself an ex-service man was killed. So too were three men from the locality. Michael Ryan a 62-year-old farmer was shot while gathering water. The Farrell brothers, James and Peter may have been IRA men, but were not part of the column and had been ploughing when their fields when the attack begun. The Farrells were shot and allegedly bayoneted by the Crown Forces after running towards the IRA position.

In the aftermath of Mullaunagaun, O’Connell recruited a new column an oversaw a training camp at Coon in Kilkenny, but they did not see action before the Truce that Summer.

During the Civil War he lead an anti-Treaty, a unit labelled the ‘O’Connell Column’ operating in Carlow and south Kildare. National Army troops James Murphy, Edward Byrne, Patrick Allison and James Hunt died following an ambush on their Crossley Tender at Graney Crossroads by the column in October 1922.

Captured and imprisoned at the Curragh, O’Connell managed to escape and remained on the run at the conclusion of the Civil War. He was killed in a car accident at Maganey county Kildare in August 1924 while travelling between Bagnelstown and Edenderry.

Thomas O’Connell’s death was reported as invoking shock and sadness in his native town, with opponents from the recent Civil War prominent among the mourners at his funeral. His cortege was escorted to Monasterosis graveyard by the local hurling and football teams who carried the playing togs he had worn, the Cumann na mBan and the IRA provided guards of honour and a firing party was present while Padraig Fleming provided the graveside oration close to the monument erected in memory of the 1798 rebels Fr. Kearns and Colonel Perry.

In 1952 Thomas O’Derrig T.D. unveiled a large monument to O’Connell at Monasterosis in the presence of a large crowd, the Edenderry pre-truce IRA and an honour guard from the FCA.

 

The author wishes to acknowledge the existing work relating to Thomas O’Connell’s life carried out by James Durney, Daniel Murray and Ciaran Reilly.


Sources:

Bureau of Military History Statements. Padraig Kane Witness 1572. Search online at https://www.militaryarchives.ie/collections/online-collections/bureau-of-military-history-1913-1921/bmhsearch/

Military Service Pension Collection. Thomas O’Connell DP4075. Search online at https://www.militaryarchives.ie/collections/online-collections/military-service-pensions-collection-1916-1923/search-the-collection

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

James Durney. ‘The Graney Ambush’ online at https://kildare.ie/ehistory/index.php/the-graney-ambush/

Daniel Murray. ‘Bushwhacked: The loss of the Carlow column, April 1921’ online at https://www.theirishstory.com/2014/09/03/bushwhacked-the-loss-of-the-carlow-flying-column-april-1921/#

Ciaran Reilly. Edenderry 1916 and the revolutionary era. (Edenderry) 2016.

Irish Independent. 7 July 1955.

Nationalist and Leinster Times. 6 September 1924.

Offaly Independent. 6 September. 1952.

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