top of page


Updated: Feb 17

Figure 1: William Bransfield (courtesy Carrigtwohill CA)

#Onthisday 100 years ago #Cork man William Bransfield was led from his home by four men and shot dead. The Carrigtwohill native was an Irish Republican Army (IRA) Volunteer attached to ‘D’ company, fourth battalion, 1 Cork brigade. His story is tragic owing to a serious of family misfortunes.

William Bransfield was born in Midleton Workhouse on 26 February 1897 to Timothy and Mary (nee Connell.[1] His father died on 13 March 1911 aged forty-seven.[2] William is recorded on the Irish census, taken days later, working as a farm labourer aged fourteen.

Figure 2: 1911 census return.

[3] Eight years later on 28 June 1919 he married Frances Foley in St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Carrigtwohill.[4] Baby Mary arrived nine months later, born on 9 April 1920 in Carrigtwohill, her grandmother Mary Bransfield acting as midwife. Tragedy was to strike however as Frances succumbed to tuberculosis on 21 May 1920, just weeks after her daughter’s birth.

Figure 3: Marriage registration, William Bransfield and Frances Foley.

Carrigtwohill and East Cork was a hotbed of guerrilla warfare and the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) barracks was attacked and captured on 3 January 1919, essentially the first British garrison taken since the Easter Rising. Tensions were highly charged and as the Irish War of Independence reached its climax in 1921 murderous reprisals became more and more commonplace. William Bransfield’s brother-in-law, Michael O’Keeffe was shot dead at his home on Main Street, Carrigtwohill on the night of 30 April 1921. His body was discovered the following morning by mail driver, Maurice Lane. Lane recalled how he noticed a ‘body lying on the road with a white card on the arm about the size of a sheet of foolscap paper.’[5] The card was marked spies and informers beware, IRA. There were no witnesses to the act of murder therefore the court of inquiry found that those persons were guilty of the willful murder of Michael O’Keeffe.

A week later on 8 May 1921, William Bransfield’s mother recalled that in the early hours of the morning ‘a knock came to the front door’ which she opened with William at her side.[6] There she encountered four men, one was masked, and she did not recognise the others. William knew they had come for him and asked “let me have a last look at my child”.[6] He went outside with the men and shortly after Mary Bransfield heard a shot. Going out onto the street she found her ‘son, he was dying and he died just afterwards.’[6] Earlier that night, the four men also called to the homes of Edward Keegan and Richard Masterson setting furniture alight in an attempt to burn both houses. They ordered Masterson to accompany them to Bransfield’s house. He was a witness to William’s murder but did not recognise the men; he did comment that ‘they did not speak like men from Co Cork.’[6]

Figure 4: Witness testimony, Mary Bransfield.

The 17th Infantry Brigade based in Queenstown (Cobh) investigated the rumours of animosity between William Bransfield and Michael O’Keeffe. They had discovered that both men were related through marriage (see family tree) and ‘there was apparently bitter feeling … over some matter which has not come to light.’[6] Both men had different allegiances, O’Keeffe, ‘a loyalist ex-soldier and Bransfield a Sinn Feiner’.[6] Furthermore, there had been incidents between O’Keeffe and the two men who gave testimony during the inquiry into William Bransfield’s murder. Evidently Michael O’Keeffe had ‘given a beating to Richard Masterson, the 4th witness, who worked for Keegan, the 2nd witness’.[6] Nevertheless, whatever the reasons, a young family was left fatherless, whilst little Mary Bransfield was made an orphan with only her maternal grandmother as support.

Figure 5: Family tree showing Bransfield/O'Keeffe connection.

A ceasefire followed two months later although peace was short-lived. The acceptance of the Anglo-Irish Treaty led to a split between anti and pro treaty supporters and Ireland was once again in the midst of war.

Figure 6: Grave of William Bransfield, Midleton, Co. Cork (courtesy Mixed Messages)..


[1] Civil Registration, Midleton, 1897. [2] Civil Registration, Midleton, 1911. [3] 1911 Census, [4] Civil Registration, Midleton, 1919. [5] WO 35/157B/5 [6] WO 35/146B/12

352 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page