Piece of Rebels Priest’s Tunic
John Francis O’Connor was born on 13 Feb. 1883 in County Cork into a devoutly Catholic family. He entered the Capuchin novitiate on 1 Oct. 1899 and received the religious name of Dominic. In response to a call from Cardinal Michael Logue, Archbishop of Armagh, Fr. Dominic volunteered for chaplaincy work with British forces during the First World War. He resigned his post in 1917 and returned to Ireland where he was appointed to the Capuchin community at Holy Trinity, Cork. Fr. Dominic who was already a fervent Nationalist and a keen supported of the Gaelic League and its ideals was a notable presence in the Volunteers activities against the conscription menace. It was during this time that he was appointed chaplain to the Cork Brigade of IRA Volunteers by Tomas MacCurtain. He would be the first to appear at the MacCurtain home in Blackpool, Cork, on the morning of 20 March 1920 after the Sinn Féin Lord Mayor had been murdered.
“I want you to bear witness that I die as a Soldier of the Irish Republic”
– Terence MacSwiney’s last words, to Fr. Dominic
When MacCurtain’s successor, as Lord Mayor and as Commander of the Cork No.1 Brigade, Terence MacSwiney was on his hunger strike in Brixton, Fr. Dominic gave daily communion to the Lord Mayor and said Mass in his cell twice weekly. When MacSwiney finally did succumb after 73 long days, Fr. Dominic saw to it that MacSwiney was laid out in his Volunteer uniform to honour his dying words- but also made sure that underneath his soldier’s tunic his dear friend was robed in the habit of St. Francis.
Fr. Dominic was arrested soon after by the British authorities and after enduring torture at the hand of British Officers he was sentenced to five years penal servitude, to be served in an English prison. Although released within a year under the general amnesty after the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty, he continued his previous position as Chaplain to the IRA. During the War of Independence, as Chaplain to the Volunteers he ignored his Bishop’s (Bishop Daniel Cohalan of Cork) threat of excommunication of those Volunteers who were involved in ambushes or murder; Fr. Dominic regarded his men as fighting a just cause.
When the Four Courts, located only a few hundred yards from the Church Street Friary of the Capuchin Fathers, was besieged by National Army forces at the outset of the Civil War, Fr. Dominic (assisted by fellow Corkman and Capuchin Fr. Albert Bibby) provided spiritual comfort, assisted in the evacuation of the wounded, and later facilitated the surrender of the defeated garrison. Later on he ministered to both sides during the Civil War. His support here of the Anti-Treatyites Forces undoubtedly led to a further worsening in his relationship with his Bishop who had interdicted reception of the sacraments by the ‘irregulars’ and their supporters; never mind setting him against the Free State.
On 26 November 1922 the decision, undoubtedly influenced by the prevailing circumstances as outlined above, was made by the Provincial Definitory of the Capuchin Order to have Fr. Dominic transferred to the Province’s Mission in Bend, Oregon, USA. In August 1935 he sustained serious injuries in a car accident from which he never fully recovered. He died on 17 Oct. 1935 and was buried in Bend, Oregon in a non-Catholic cemetery.
For 23 years he remained buried there, in exile even in death, until his last wish was granted when his remains (along with those of fellow exiled Capuchin Fr. Albert Bibby OFM Cap.) were repatriated to Ireland with the organisation and funding of his former Congregationalists in the Old IRA. He was buried in Rochestown Capuchin Fathers Cemetery in Cork on 14 June 1958, sixty years ago this month, alongside Fr. Albert.
In his later years in Oregon, a place where he was fondly remembered, he had taken steps to become a United States citizen but could not see it through to its completion due to his love for his country.
“I am a citizen of the Irish Republic and I can never be anything else”
– Fr. Dominic
We are proud to have on display in Independence Museum Kilmurry a piece of the habit worn by Fr. Dominic while ministering to his friend Terence MacSwiney during his long ordeal in Brixton Prison.