Cell No. 6, Cork Military Detention Barracks
The greatest loss of life incurred by the Irish Republican Army during the War of Independence occurred on 21st of February 1921, when a force of British Army, Royal Irish Constabulary and Auxiliaries/Black and Tans surrounded a farmhouse in Clonmult, Co Cork, inside were gathered some 21 Volunteers, almost the entire East Cork flying column.
In the ensuing action, twelve IRA Volunteers were killed in a disputed surrender, four wounded and four captured; two of which were later executed. A total of 22 people died in the ambush and subsequent executions – 14 IRA members, 2 Crown Forces and 6 suspected informers
One of those who was captured on that day, Patrick(Paddy) O’ Sullivan Lieutenant ‘A’ Company, 4th Battalion, 1st Cork Brigade, Irish Volunteers, was later executed, after court-martial, on the 21st of April, 1921 along with his friend, fellow Volunteer and fellow Cobh native, Maurice Moore. Patrick (Paddy) and Maurice had also joined the Volunteers together in 1916. Patrick took part in all the engagements of Cobh Company, including the captures of Carrigtwohill and Cloyne police barracks. He was one of the original members of the 4th Battalion, Cork No.1 Brigade Flying Column, and took part in all the company engagements up to the date of his capture at Clonmult.
While the manner of the surrender at Clonmult was disputed, the British General Headquarters insisted that it was a false surrender while those surviving Volunteers insisted that the men had come out with their hands up, only to be shot by the police without any provocation; the fact that most of those killed in the surrender were shot in the face at close range seems to lend support to the latter.
In any case Patrick had just witnessed the deaths of most of his fellow Column members and then while being conveyed from Clonmult to Cork Military Barracks he was robbed and beaten by his captors. While the suffering and uncertainly of the intervening period for Paddy on his execution there is ample record that the suffering and humiliation of his family and parents lasted long after their own grieving.
Paddy was, in his mother’s own words “her sole support’ and while at the time of his capture he was unemployed due to having being fired for being a prominent Sinn Feiner, a man of 22 when he died and a UCC graduate his mother might have expected more than the inadequate gratuity she later received (after a protracted appeal) from the Army Pensions Board.
The loving bond between Patrick, his mother, his country and his faith were evident in a letter sent to his mother the night before his execution:
My Dearest Mother,
I sincerely hope and trust that God and His Blessed Virgin Mother Mary will comfort and console you and enable yourself and poor father to bear this trial with patience and to suffer all for the holy Will of God; also my loving brothers, relations and friends.
I am in great spirits and pray for the hour to come when I will be released from this world of sorrow and suffering. We must all die someday, and I am simply going by an early train. Jesus and Mary were my friends and supports in all the trials of life, and now that death is coming they are truer and better friends than ever.
You can rest assured that I will be happy in Heaven, and although I have to leave you in mourning, you will be consoled to think I am going to meet God in Heaven and also my brothers and sister. Why should I fear to die, when death will only unite me to God in Heaven. If I could choose my own death, I would not ask to die otherwise. In fact I am delighted to have had such a glorious opportunity of gaining eternal salvation as well as serving my country. My death will help with the others, and remember that those who die for Ireland never die.
Don’t let my death cause you too much unnecessary worry or grief, and then when I get to Heaven I will constantly pray to God for the kind and loving parents He gave me, to help them to bear this little Cross. Tell my loving brothers and friends that I will also remember them. Goodbye now, my dearest and best of mothers, until we meet again in Heaven with God.
Your fond and loving son,
Another Volunteer, Diarmuid O’Leary (whose death sentence would subsequently be commuted) who had been captured along with Patrick and Maurice recounts how brutally it was brought home that the execution sentences of the two Cobh men would be carried through. “….a sentry was posted outside the two doors of the cells next to mine, and that the doors were marked with a large cross (X). My door bore no such cross. In the two “marked” cells were Paddy [O’Sullivan] and Maurice [Moore]. . . . The following morning . . . I heard the cell doors beside me opening, and Maurice and Paddy passing my door answering the litany of the rosary. Very shortly afterwards I heard the shots which signalled the death of my two comrades,”
That cell, which Paddy had just left on the morning of the 21st of April, 1921 was Cell No. 6, Cork Military Detention Barracks; the Cell Indicator Flap and Peephole as well as the handcuffs used on Paddy O’ Sullivan are on permanent display in Independence Museum Kilmurry.
Maurice Moore and Patrick O’Sullivan were both natives of Cobh who went to the same school, worked in the same place (Haulbowline), fought in the same IRA Company, both captured in the Battle of Clonmult and both executed on the same day. They are buried alongside each other in the old exercise yard of the former Cork County Gaol, now part of the UCC Campus.