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Figure 1: Father James O'Callaghan

#Onthisday 100 years ago Father James O’Callaghan was mortally wounded by Crown forces at the home of at the residence of Alderman Liam de Róiste, Upper Janemount Sunday’s Well, Cork.

The Enniskeane native was ordained as a Catholic priest In June 1908 at Maynooth.[1] He was initially ministering in England before returning to Ireland in 1912 serving as a curate in Beal Ath’n Ghaorthaigh (Ballingeary) until 1917 when he was moved to Cork City. He was Chaplain in the Good Shepherd Convent before becoming a curate at the Church of the Most Precious Blood, Clogheen.[2] As the appointment was without a residence, he was offered accommodation at Liam de Róiste’s home.

Figure 2: 1911 census return.

A day before Father O’Callaghan’s murder, a Royal Constabulary Officers (RIC) patrol had been attacked in Blackpool. Three members were killed and Crown forces flooded the area with violence and arrests following. Liam de Róiste was not at home later that night when masked men called to his door in the early hours of the 15 May. As a member of the Republican government he was a ‘marked man’ and therefore rarely slept in his own bed.[3]

Father O’Callaghan’s housekeeper, Cait Kearney Derrivane recalled the events of the night.

Between the night and morning of May 15th, 1921we were awakened at Liam De Róiste’s house with loud knocking, we got out of bed and his Reverence partly clad went to the window and opened it and spoke to the Tans, saying “I am only a priest and a guest in this house” but then the crowd got angry and banged at the door, an then I put my head out the window and said “there is nobody here only 3 girls. You can’t expect us to open the door at this hour of the night”, and then again they said,” come down and open the door”. I returned from the window and came down the stairs and at that moment, he, the Tan, butted in the glass door and came in and up the stairs. I reached them and stood by the Priest. As the Tan came up the stairs he had a cap on his head and a scarf on his neck. I put up my hand to pull off the cap and scarf and was not able to do so. I said to them “This is Fr O’Callaghan, you won’t shoot him”. He drilled towards me and the Priest went backwards a few steps. The Tan followed him and pulled him to the bedroom door. I saw him prepare the revolver and I grasped it by the muzzle and as I did one shot rang out against the partition. He shook the revolver out of my grasp and pulled over the Priest and shot him through the spine and paralyzed him, he fell on the corridor, the Tan walked down the stairs and away.[4]

Liam de Róiste returned home shortly after the shooting, and in his diary, he wrote, ‘A D.I. in plain clothes came in. In the usual authoritative official manner he began to say he came to see the place “the clergyman” had been shot and to take any statement. My wife replied at once: “There is no statement to make except that Fr O’Callaghan was shot by police.”’ de Róiste told the D.I. ‘“all there is to be said . . . is that your police came here last night to murder me. I was not in and they murdered Father O’Callaghan instead.”’[5]

The Court of Inquiry’s verdict was ‘no evidence to show by whom the said wounds were inflicted or under what circumstances.’ The Court then pointed to the occupants of the house at Sunday’s Well ‘who refused to attend to give evidence’.[6]

Figure 3: Court of Inquiry - register of cases.

The funeral of Father James O’Callaghan took place on 17 May 1921 with huge crowds attending his requiem mass at Saint Mary’s Cathedral. ‘The oak casket bearing the remains rested on a catafalque in front of the High Altar, and many of the congregation with unrestrained emotion knelt in fervent prayer’.[7]

Figure 4: Newspaper article documenting the case.

The funeral cortege then proceeded to the church at Clogheen. The people of Cork lined the route paying tribute to the young priest.

Figure 5: Grave of Fr O'Callaghan, Church of the Most Precious Blood. Clogheen.

Father James O’Callaghan was laid to rest in the grounds of the church. He became the third priest to be killed by Crown forces.

Figure 6: Three Roman Catholic priests murdered during the #IrishWarofIndependence.

Read about the other priests:

Canon Thomas Magner


[1] Civil Registration, Bandon 1883. [2] [3] de Róiste was a member of the 1st Dáil. [4] [5] (D.I. District Inspector) Diarmuid Ó Murchadha, Liam de Róiste (Dublin, 1976), p. 227. [6] WO35/162 [7] Irish Independent, 18 May 1921.

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