Letter from 1st Southern Division IRA to General Headquarters IRA

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The letter seen here is believed to have been written by a member of the staff of the First Southern Division and sent to IRA GHQ in Dublin on 26 January 1921.  The letter outlines an incident where two members of the local Royal Irish Constabulary Auxiliary force raided the home of Nellie O’Mahoney and her mother and treated O’Mahoney poorly during the search.  The letter also encloses a statement from O’Mahoney describing the event along with a request from the author that the recipient send the statement to the Director of Propaganda of the IRA.  The transcription of the letter is below with analysis of the content to follow.[1]

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“Cork

26/1/21

A Chara,

The girl who signed the enclosed

statement came to cork yesterday thinking

she would be called as witness at

the Court Martial but when the other

case was finished she was told that

on account of both initials having the

same – n – they had mixed up the

cases & to apply to the officer in command

at Dunmanway about it – it is quite

evident it was done purposely – the

two raids came off the same night – the

priest reported them next day & the

girls were brought to the barracks in

Dunmanway made their statements

& identified the Cadets – they got notice

to attend Court Martial & this is the

result – .

We advised Nellie O’Mahoney to call

to the barracks as told to do so by the Court

but not to do anything definite pending

a message from us – could you

get the statement published or would

she bring an action against that man.”

(Page 2)

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Would you please look into the case &

Advise me on the matter as soon as

Possible – the girl is not a member

Of Cumann na mBan nor are any of her people

Any good – in fact I am afraid if

Kent Colonel offers her expenses or

Anything & soft talk, she will go no further

However I have her statement & assured

Her our government would have something

To say on the matter –

Will you please get this into the proper

Hands – Director of Propaganda –

I am going to Millstreet now

Fr. Brennan was away & didn’t answer my letter before –

Will write about Sunday again

Do Chara (Unknown signature)”

The following is the enclosed statement from Nellie O’Mahoney:

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“(Nellie O ’Mahony Statement)

On the morning of the 26thDec.

At 12:30 a loud knocking was

Heard at the door & almost immediately

The window was broken in. My

Mother went downstairs & opened

The door – she had no light –

Two Auxillary Cadets in uniform

Entered – we identified them at their

HQuarters the following day as temporary

Cadets J. McDonald & C. A. Bonar –

On entering the house they said it

Was surrounded by their comrades

My mother went upstairs for a

Light & Bonar followed her in

The meantime the one downstairs

Shouted for a light & I went

Down to him with one clothed

In my nigh dress & a blouse –

He asked was there any drink

In the house & I said I didn’t

Know – he went to the parlour &

Searched cupboards etc. He then”

(Page 2)

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“Said he was suspicious of me &

Should search me – I said I had nothing about me but he said

He should search me & did so.  He then

Said I should take off my night-

Dress & forced me to do so- he

Said “ye are looking for war

& ye have it now” – he left me

Naked about 10 minutes while

Searching me –

The other came downstairs then

& told me I could go to bed.

He (McDonald) went upstairs again & insisted

On searching me – It was the first

Time we ever saw those men but

From the awful stories we heard

About them we thought they could

Do what they liked.

Nellie O’Mahoney

(Knockdruff)

Manch, Dunmanway

Jan 25 1921”

This letter and statement are important documents that help us to better understand the Irish Revolution.  The author of the letter states that they (likely the IRA) had encouraged Nellie O’Mahoney to go to the barracks for the court martial that was being held for the Auxiliaries that had abused her and her family.  This tells us that O’Mahoney had informed the British Military about poor treatment she had received during the raid on her home. The fact that the case was delayed due to a name discrepancy seems suspicious though.  The British forces were likely hoping to delay the court martial in hopes that O’Mahoney would drop the matter or could be appeased to drop it.  The author of the letter alludes to the fact that he is fearful that O’Mahoney may drop the matter if the local Colonel offers her financial compensation.  This likely means that O’Mahoney’s family was poor and that financial compensation would’ve been worth the silence.

O’Mahoney’s statement details the abuse that she suffered during the raid and provides evidence to support the claims that members of the Auxiliary forces were often violent towards the public.  She and her family were in no way involved with any of the revolutionary organizations in Ireland, yet her family’s house was still raided and O’Mahoney abused during the raid.  Cadet McDonald had O’Mahoney strip naked so that he could search her, a process that was unnecessary if he were concerned that she was carrying a weapon. When his counterpart came down and told her she could go to bed and then insisted on searching her again, it was clear that both men were abusing their powers as a means to see her naked. O’Mahoney’s experience was similar to that of many women during the Irish Revolution.  Her statement is a valuable piece of evidence showcasing the abuses against women that occurred during the revolution, which is an often overlooked topic.

O’Mahoney concludes her statement with the quote “from the awful stories about them we thought they could do what they liked.” This means that by late 1920 the stories of Auxiliary abuses that had occurred in Ireland had spread throughout the country and even people who had not previously had an interaction with them, like the O’Mahoneys, were fearful of them.  This is key for understanding how the rumors and stories of Auxiliary abuse have been shared in the post-revolutionary history.  While some stories have likely been lost or exaggerated over time, there were certainly many true encounters that lend credence to the concept that the Auxiliaries did commit atrocities in Ireland.

It’s important that letters like this, as well as statements like O’Mahoney’s, are included in the history of the Irish Revolution so that a more complete picture can be presented.  The experiences of the Irish public, and women in particular, are a key piece of the historiography of the Revolution that is often understudied.  By examining documents like these, we can begin to fill in the gaps that exist within the historiography.

Notes:

1.  Many thanks to Niall Murray for assisting with the transcription.

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