John Arnold: 97 years on, the stories behind these seven proud, brave men

Looking at this picture of seven Cork soldiers got John Arnold thinking of those brave men and their comrades too. "Truly we have a lot to be thankful for because the sacrifices they made all those years ago are still bearing fruit today," he says his weekly column
John Arnold: 97 years on, the stories behind these seven proud, brave men

John Arnold’s photo, believed to have been taken in 1922 in the grounds of Kilshannig House just outside the village of Rathcormac

I GOT got this picture from Betty Tallon a few years back. Betty is not exactly related to me but definitely connected.

In the branches of my Arnold tree are Verlings and O’Connors and maybe even an O’Mahony or two, and all these are Betty’s kith and kin in some shape or form.

The photograph was taken, we think, in 1922 in the grounds of Kilshannig House just outside the village of Rathcormac. There are seven men in it, all members of the National or Free State Army.

It’s a remarkably good picture when one thinks that it was taken all of 97 years ago. Of the men pictured I can remember two who lived in my area — Jack Egan died when I was going to National School in the 1960s but Batt O Mahony lived on until the late 1980s.

Over the next four years, we have the War of Independence and then the terrible Civil War to remember. I suppose the events of 1916 to 1919 were easy enough because, as a people, we were marking our stepping forward to take our place amongst the nations of the world.

Looking at the picture of the seven soldiers got me thinking of those brave men, yes, and their comrades too. Truly we have a lot to be thankful for because the sacrifices they made all those years ago are still bearing fruit today.

I know many disagreed with Michael Collins when he stated the Anglo Irish Treaty gave us ‘the freedom to achieve freedom’ but he was correct.

Looking at the faces of the seven in the picture, many expressions are to be seen — happiness, wonder, even pride. We don’t know if it was taken before or after the outbreak of the Civil War in June of 1922. From their demeanour, I’d be inclined to say it was before the hostilities between former comrades had begun. They bear no strain or pain on their faces, as would surely have been the case when men who shot Auxies and Black and Tans were now shooting each other.

As you look at the picture, Batt O’Mahony is on the left at the back. Born on 01/01/01 — January 1, 1901 — into a farming family at Ballynanelagh, Rathcormac, Batt was the father of Betty, who gave me the picture. He joined the Volunteers as a teenager.

After the IRA staged an ambush on British military forces at Leary’s Cross on the Rathcormac/Tallow road on the morning of December 10, 1920, the O’Mahony home was burned down. One soldier was killed in the ambush whilst the IRA captured nine rifles and 680 rounds of ammunition.

Three other local houses, Cotters of Ballynanelagh, Colemans in Bridesbridge and Dalys of Hollyhill, Bartlemy, were also burned in reprisal. An unsuccessful attempt at burning Mulvey’s pub in Rathcormac was foiled.

In the middle of the back row is Denis Hickey, of Knocnacaheragh (Badger’s Hill) Glenville. One of four children born to Michael Hickey and his wife Abina Dinan, Denis is the oldest in the picture at 38. He joined the Volunteer movement in his own parish and the Hickey household was a well known ‘safe house’ for volunteers ‘on the run’.

Denis was OC (Officer Commanding) of the Glenville Company and interned for a period also. We have no explanation why he is in ‘civvies’ because when the Army carried out a Census of all its members on the night of November 12/13, 1922, he was stationed in Rathcormac and recorded as Captain Denis Hickey.

Coincidentally, two others in the picture were on duty with Denis in Rathcormac on Army Census night.

When the fighting was over, Denis returned to his ancestral acres and bore the name Captain Hickey ’til the day he died.

The third man in the back row is Sergeant Tim Forde, of Knocknalower ( Leper’s Hill), Glenville, son of Maurice and Kate (Callaghan) Forde.

When the Volunteer movement spread rapidly throughout the country, especially after 1916, Companies were formed in nearly every parish and Tim was quick to join in Glenville.

On Army Census night in November, 1922, he was in Watergrasshill and gave Mr M Forde, his father, as next of kin as his mother Kate had died at a young age.

The first of those kneeling at the front is 1st Lieutenant Patrick, or Paddy, Daly, from Hollyhill, Bartlemy. He was a very prominent member of the Active Service Unit (ASU) and involved at the Leary’s Cross ambush and several other confrontations with the Black and Tans.

A fearless and flamboyant character, Paddy left for America in the 1930s and was never again heard of.

Strange, isn’t it, that of the four men kneeling, three went abroad and died far, far away from the country they fought for.

Next to Paddy Daly is Willie Cahill, from Ballybrowney in Rathcormac. His brothers Dave and Peter John later had a garage at Main Street in the village.

One of a large family of 11 children, Willie in later life worked on the railway in Fermoy and Youghal before moving to England, where he died.

The man with a pistol in one hand and the second hand on the Lewis Gun is Moss Murphy, of Castletownroche. One of eight children born in the townland of Loughruane to David and Maryanne Murphy, Moss stayed on in the Army after the ending of the Civil War.

Posted at Collins Barracks in Cork city, he was fine hurler and played Senior with the Collins Club in the Cork Championship. Moss came to the attention of the Cork selectors and was picked to play against Waterford in the Munster Championship. He retained his place at corner back against Kerry and for the Munster Final against Tipp in the Athletic Grounds.

It was estimated that between 25,000 and 30,000 turned up at the Cork Athletic Grounds for the Provincial Final. The pitch was full of spectators after 20 minutes and the game abandoned. The sides played a draw in Thurles in the re-fixture, 3-4 to 4-1 for Tipperary. On the third occasion the Rebels won by 3-6 to 2-4.

Moss Murphy, farmer’s son, soldier and hurler, won a Senior All Ireland medal when Cork won the Final by 4-6 to 2-4 for Kilkenny. He kept his jersey in 1927 when Cork lost the All Ireland Final to Dublin.

Moss Murphy later took the boat to England, never to return to North Cork.

The soldier on the far right in the front is Captain John (Jack) Egan — a cousin of mine. From a farming family in Caherduggan, Bartlemy, Jack was one of the founders of the IRA unit in his native parish which had 68 members at one stage.

He was part of the Flying Column during the War of Independence. After the Truce, he joined the National Army and, along with Batt O’Mahony and Tim Forde, was one of the ten soldiers of the Eastern Division, Southern Command, based in Watergrasshill in November, 1922. Jack Egan died in 1965.

Looking at the fine group of men pictured in Kilshannig 97 years ago, I wonder what they imagined their future and their countries future might be like?

They were proud soldiers who truly believed in what they fought for. I salute them all.

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