The Ahern Family - Capt. James Peter Aherne

Capt. James Peter Aherne
of the 1st Cork Brigade, I.R.A.

On February 20, 1921, Captain James P. Aherne and Volunteer James Glavin were resting with their fellow troops in a cottage near Clonmult, just outside Midleton. They were members of an IRA Flying Squad operating in the area. At around 4pm, one of the group walked from the cottage to the stream nearby. He was collecting water to make tea. An ex-British army man was trapping rabbits and noticed the young IRA man. He immediately reported the sighting to the local constabulary and they dispatched a group of Black and Tans to the cottage to investigate.

The men inside were outnumbered. There was only one exit from the house so, rather than make a run for it, they dropped their arms and surrendered themselves. As soon as they opened the door, the Black and Tans opened fire. Captain Aherne was shot in the heart and died instantly. Volunteer Glavin was not so lucky. He was riddled with bullets, shot a number of times in the face.

They captured the others and brought them to Cork Jail, where the remaining Irish patriots were sentenced to death and their bodies subsequently placed in quicklime. Their families were left without the comfort of a Christian burial. Glavin and Aherne were brought back to Cobh for a republican burial in the plot allotted for Irish patriots.

That was 79 years ago but, for Emer Burke, a relative of Captain James Aherne, the grief of that day is still a potent force in her life. Emer is a former teacher. She worked in Cobh and Youghal. A self-confessed Irish republican, she carries on the beliefs of her assassinated uncle. A visit to Clonmel cemetery, just a mile from Cobh, has caused these feelings to return.

A plaque was erected by the Cobh junior chamber. It was placed at the gate of the cemetery to inform people of the location of famous graves. Jack Doyle, the Lusitania victims, James Verling, and others associated with the history of Cobh, were duly recorded.

"My relatives and I feel both let down and neglected that such an important and valuable piece of local heritage should be omitted from the sign. I wrote to the junior chamber's president, Michael Collins, to explain to him the situation regarding the sign. I have no objection to anyone being on it, but I have an objection to people being left off, eminent people in my mind," Emer said. She said there was a taboo associated with republicanism but she could not say conclusively if this was the reason for the omission.

Michael Collins, president of the chamber, said the group should be commended for their work and that the republicans were omitted from the sign because of an oversight. "Junior chamber is a voluntary body who do projects for the community for the benefit of locals and themselves. They decided to put up the plaque some years ago to show people where the Lusitania graves were, but in the process of this they also wanted to put a few more names on the sign," he said.

"They got a book and picked out the names they thought were the top five or six. That is as much as happened here and it is not a big deal, but to get it changed would cost £500 and junior chamber would have to fund raise again," said Michael Collins. "Without doubt these guys should be remembered but junior chamber did the best they could with what they thought was the best information. They didn't even know there was a republican plot out there," he said.

Emer Burke doesn't accept this and said: "These young men all gave their lives for Ireland. These people wouldn't even have their jobs only that these men died for their freedom."

The Irish Examiner 27 June 2000

Old IRA Graves Round Three

Republican Plot — Old Church Cemetery
Small stones before the cross
are for Ahearn and Glavin.
Dear Editor,
      I would like to congratulate and offer the appreciation of my relatives and myself to Cllr. Kieran McCarthy for supporting our efforts to establish justice to the memory of those buried at Cobh's Republican Plot. I would, however, like the opportunity to deal with, on a personal level, the comments made by Mr. Hendrik Verwey on the July 6 edition of the GICN. My relatives and I never asked for or suggested that the Republican Plot should receive special attention from the Junior Chamber, Cobh. We merely highlighted the fact that the historical worth attached to the people buried within the Republican Plot was as great and as significant to our town and Great Island, if not greater than that of Jack Doyle the Lusitania graves and others. Mr. Verwey sarcastically suggested that Mr. Colman Ahern, my cousin, and myself use our energies more positively. I would suggest to him that we have done exactly that and by the very positive response that I have received from many people in our town since I first highlighted this matter, it would appear that the Junior Chamber, Cobh has lost the moral argument here.
      Mr. Verwey also suggested that I should attend the local schools and speak to the town's children about Irish Republicanism but again it would appear to me that some people i.e. (the Junior Chamber) need a lesson or two first. I note that Mr. Verwey passes this sign at the Old Church Cemetery several times a day and he is thus aware that many visitors have cause to need it.
      Would it not make more sense, then, to have the Republican Plot's location included on the sign map so that visitors and republican relatives alike would have cause to be happy. Then Mr. Verwey and the Junior Chamber could really be proud of themselves and have a genuine reason to be commended.
      Emer Burke, Rushbrooke Villas
The Great Island News 30 June 2000
Old IRA Graves Round Four
Dear Editor,
      I'm not sure what Mr. Verwey means by "a second sign outlining the history of Irish republicanism". This would be an odd thing to have at the entrance to any cemetery! My comments were in regard to the fact that no mention is made of a rather prominent monument that does have a lot of historical significance for Cobh. During the period between 1916-1923 in Cork, a lot of brave men risked and gave their lives for the freedom of Ireland. My point is that they should not be forgotten. I still say that the sign should be amended or changed to indicate the presence of the Republican Monument in Old Church, it definitely is part of "the history buried in this most cosmopolitan of graveyards". Surely it can't cost 500 to add this information, which is what I had in mind in the first place.
      I'm very glad that Hendrik Verwey thinks that it would be "positive" for Ms. Burke to talk about republicanism to Irish school children. I have the feeling that probably not much is being taught about the period 1916-1923 and the Republican ideals in Ireland in those years.
      Colman Ahern, 1613 Fifth Street, Berkeley, Calif. USA.
The Great Island News 30 June 2000

The Heroic Fight at Clonmult

In order to fit themselves thoroughly for the task in hand, the I.R.A. Active Service Units, in the seclusion of quiet retreats, went through courses in physical and military training with the full knowledge that they needed both if they were to match themselves successfully against the war experienced British soldiers. The I.R.A. had to fight and learn at the same time; had to perfect themselves to a degree of discipline and skill that takes years to acquire in regular armies. Their Volunteer spirit, their zeal and their objective helped them to become proficient at arms in a short time, and turned them into soldiers, who could act with high intelligence and cool self control in any emergency or enterprise, either collectively or individually.

Composite picture of the twelve East Cork Brigade men who fell in the fight at Clonmult. (Left to right)
(Back Row): Richard Hegarty (Garryroe); Jeremiah Aherne (Midleton); Christopher Sullivan (Midleton);
Joseph Morrissey (Athlone); Michael Hallahan (Midleton);
(Second Row): James Glavin (Cobh); John Joe Joyce (Midleton); James Aherne (Cobh); Michael Desmond (Midleton);
(Front Row): Donal Dennehy (Midleton); Liam Aherne (Midleton); David Desmond (Midleton)

So could be found the Active Service Unit of the Fourth Battalion of the First Cork Brigade, under the orders of Commandant Diarmuid Hurley, taking possession early in the month of January, 1921, of a disused farmhouse in a secluded position overlooking the Village of Clonmult, seven miles north-east of Midleton. The house was of the type with which we are all familiar, a long, low building with a roof of thatch. A large cow-shed stood at right angles to the front-of the upper, or northern, side of the house, while the south of it adjoined a small grove of about twenty trees. A low fence and a number of trees were at the immediate rear of the house. Directly opposite the house, and some fifteen yards from it, a tree fringed boreen ran parallel to the enclosed farm house. It was an ideal location for the purpose for which it was selected, the headquarters and training ground of an Active Service Unit, composed of twenty young men drawn from various I.R.A. Companies in East Cork. It included among its members Volunteers who had been in action at Carrigtwohill, Cloyne, Castlemartyr and Midleton. Strong, healthy, clean living boys, they revelled in the martial exercises and lectures destined to make them better fighters in Ireland's cause. The days passed quickly for this group of congenial spirits fired with a common purpose. Around the fire in the January nights they sang patriotic songs, played practical jokes on each other and generally indulgent in the care-free pranks of their years. They went through the routine life of the camp, doing their share of fatigues and chores with a smile. A month of this intensive training and these boys toughened to the trade of arms, were ready to take on twice their number of the enemy in fair fight.

Satisfied with their progress and anxious to gratify their desire to measure themselves with the enemy their popular leader, Commandant Hurley, cast his eye around his area for suitable employment for his eager young soldiers. He decided to ambush a military train, a pretty ticklish operation, at Cobh Junction on Tuesday, the twenty-second of February, 1921. With this end in view, Commandant Hurley left the headquarters of the Active Service Unit at Clonmult taking with him Vice-Commandant Joseph Aherne, and Captain Patrick Whelan to make arrangements for the transfer of the column to Dooneen and also to consult on the spot about the disposal of their forces at the proposed train attack at Cobh junction. Before leaving Clonmult Commandant Hurley appointed Captain Jack O'Connell, of Cobh Company, as Acting O.C. of the Column and instructed him to march to Dooneen at dusk on Sunday, the twentieth of February.

The disused farmhouse at Clonmult was a scene of bustle and laughter that Sunday afternoon as the boys, having had their dinner, started to pack their personal belongings, clean up their equipment and prepared to evacuate, with all their gear, the building that had sheltered them and been their common home for over a month. Each man was busy at his task and all must have been nearly complete and ship shape when towards four-fifteen o'clock Michael Desmond and John Joe Joyce, taking their own and their companions water bottles with them, went to the spring well, about twenty yards from the house. They were engaged in filling the bottles when suddenly they noticed that a company of the Hampshire regiment was surrounding the house. Drawing their revolvers, Desmond and Joyce attempted to fight their way back to the house through the military cordon that was closing in on their comrades. Gallantly they opened fire and as gallantly took consequences. Though fatally wounded they managed to crawl to the rear of the house and with their dying breath gasped out: "The house is surrounded and no escape is possible."

Their message was factual and prophetic. With the clarity of mind that comes before death, they correctly appraised the situation. The house was surrounded no escape was possible. What was to be done? Fight it out and make the house their tomb? Attempt a sortie with the hope that some might get through and organise local aid to relieve the others? A hurried council of war decided on the latter alternative. The surplus ammunition and grenades were distributed. A heavy fire was opened on the attackers as the five men, including the Acting O.C., lined up the desperate venture. Out from the bullet riddled cottage they dashed, their comrades redoubling their fire and cheering them on to the defiant strains of "The Soldier's Song." The National Anthem and the flying lead were the requiem of three gallant men. Michael Hallahan was mortally wounded almost on the doorstep; Richard Hegarty fell as he sought cover at the fence in front of the house; James Ahern received his death wound when jumping a fence two hundred yards from the house. Jeremiah O'Leary having vainly attempted to fight his way through the enemy ranks, was fortunate to rejoin his comrades within the house. The Acting O.C., Captain Jack O'Connell, alone succeeded in running the hazard and getting outside the British wall of death. He had achieved what his dying comrades, Joyce and Desmond, had branded as impossible. A quarter of the Column was wiped out! It was a cruel, testing time for the survivors.

The British thinking that the fate of the sortie would dishearten the garrison, called on them to surrender. Intensified fire and "The Soldier's Song" was the answer of the Irishmen, who had "sworn to be free." Outside the British lines the Acting O.C., despite the unnerving experience he had lived through, got busy in an effort to organise the relief of his sorely tried comrades. A reconnoitre of the vicinity disclosed the dispositions of the British forces, and also brought him into contact with two local Volunteers, who were later joined by a third with a bicycle. Action was necessary, and it was quickly taken. Six miles away at Ballinoe the North East Cork Column was billeted. If they could be summoned in time the siege at Clonmult might yet be raised. Away sped the cyclist on the most urgent mission he was ever called on to undertake. Arms in the hands of even a few men prepared to take the British in the rear might create the diversion of their forces, that would break the circle of steel that enclosed the ill-fated cottage and its gallant occupants. Time was never so precious. Where were the arms? Shot guns were dumped in a cemetery some miles away. Off sped the local Volunteers to procure them. Help was being organised, but would it come in time to ease a situation that was getting more desperate every minute?

Around the cottage the battle raged relentlessly. The gallant defenders kept the British at bay, undaunted and undismayed. A volley in the distance raised their hopes. With the optimism of their race, the Irish men interpreted the rattle of rifle fire as a message of good cheer from comrades hastening to their rescue. They did not know that it was the rattle of British rifles trained on their Column O.C., who was still reconnoitring and keeping close to the scene of operations. It was the British that were reinforced and not the Irish. Within an hour of the start of the fight the Black-and-Tans arrived. Fearsome was the position of the garrison. now. Clean death would find them unafraid, but death at the hands of human vultures was something too awful to contemplate. The fight must go on. How long could the defenders hold out? - as long as they had the life and strength to pull a trigger in a loaded rifle. They reckoned not with an element that could thrust them alive into British hands despite their resolve. The thatched roof of the cottage was ablaze. Were heroic men ever in more desperate straits? Over their heads a blazing roof was making the cottage a fiery furnace. At any moment it might fall in and become their funeral pyre. Outside was a ring of rifles, manned by the scum of England, hungry as wolves for Irish blood.

On Top of roof and window,
Those boys stood up to fight,
'Till the burning of the cottage
And no escape in sight.

Through the doors and windows British lead poured in a relentless, stream. No hope of breaking through in face of that hail of death. Why not try to breach the gable? A narrow opening was made. Volunteer Glavin and O'Leary tried to force themselves through. They fell back with serious bullet wounds in the head. The wily Britishers had left no means of escape uncovered. The game was up. The fire from the roof had now spread so that the entire house was involved. There was nothing men could do now but surrender. Before doing so the heroic garrison broke their rifles and threw them into the flames. They then marched forth from the blazing cottage. Volunteers Liam Aherne, Jeremiah Aherne, David Desmond, Christopher Sullivan, Donal Dennehy, J. Morrissey, and J. Glavin, the first seven to emerge, were brutally massacred by the Black and Tans. It was typical British chivalry towards defeated but gallant foes. The wounded Volunteer, J. O'Leary, having lapsed into unconsciousness, prior to the surrender, was removed from the house by three comrades, an action which saved their lives, as it gave time to a British military officer to stop the Black-and-Tans in their ghoulish work before the other prisoners, wounded and unwounded, reached the place of surrender. The North East Cork Column on hearing of the plight of their East Cork comrades, marched immediately to their aid, but unfortunately,did not arrive in Clonmult in time owing to the distance they had to traverse on foot.

And so the British were the victors at Clonmult, from which they withdrew with two wounded prisoners, Captain P. Higgins and Volunteer J. O'Leary, and six unwounded prisoners, Volunteers P. O'Sullivan, M. Moore, O'Leary, Walsh, Harty and Garde. Commandant Hurley and his two senior officers were actually surveying the ground at Cobh junction and making plans for the proposed train ambush when the lorries passed by on the return journey to Cork. Little did they think that that large convoy of military lorries contained all but one of the Column they had left so recently in such fine fettle at Clonmult. The prisoners were tried by Field General Courtmartial and sentenced to death. The sentences on Volunteers O'Leary, Walsh, Garde and Harty were later commuted. Volunteers P. Sullivan and Maurice Moore were executed at Cork Military Barracks on the fifth of May, 1921. Captain P. Higgins who was shot through the mouth after the surrender, had not recovered from his wound, otherwise he would have shared the fate of his executed comrades. The advent of the Truce, in July, saved his life. Against the background of the deathless courage displayed by the East Cork Column I.R.A. at Clonmult, there stands out in ugly light the savagery of the British Black-and-Tans and the treachery of an Irishman. He, a British ex-Serviceman, had been trapping rabbits at Clonmult and noting the presence of the Column, turned informer. When captured by the North Cork Column he confessed to his treachery, and before execution, admitted that for his betrayal of his countrymen in arms he received the Judas-like sum of thirty pounds from the British.

Rebel Cork's Fighting Story 1916 - 1921 Pub. by The Kerryman, Ltd., Tralee 1947

Clonmult Battle
Interment of Cobh Victims
Yesterday, the obsequies took place at Cobh of Messrs. James Glavin and James Ahern, U.D.C., two young men who were connected with the most respected families in the town. The manner of their tragic death and the sincere sympathy with the members of their family was apparent everywhere. A large crowd gathered in the precincts of the Cathedral as three o'clock drew near, which was the hour fixed for the funeral. There was a belief amongst those present, which was mainly composed of women, that military interference was imminent, and for that reason there was a degree of nervousness, but the funeral took place without the military putting in an appearance.

The prayers in the church were recited by Rev. Fathers Fouhy and O'Keeffe, and they also officiated at the solemn ceremonies at the graveside. There were many beautiful wreaths placed on the grave. When the interment had taken place all knelt and prayed for the repose of the souls of the dead. A dramatic coincidence was that as the concourse at the graveside kneeled in prayer there floated on the wind the beautiful national air, "Let Erin Remember the Days of Old," the melody being played on the carillon of Cove Cathedral. The shops in that portion of the town through which the funeral passed were closed. In other parts of the town in the morning, military visited some of them, and later they were opened. Our Youghal correspondent wires :— A report has been received contradicting the story that a Killeagh man had been killed at Clonmult.
Cork Examiner 25 February 1921

                         CLONMULT.   (1921)

               "To-night we'll man the Bearna Baogail,
               In Earin's Cause, come Woe or weal.
               Mid cannons' roar and rifles' peal,
               We'll chant - A Soldier's Song!!

     Thus sang a handful of young Irish Patriots on a fateful
Sunday afternoon, February 1921, in a lonely farmhouse at Clonmult, Co.
Cork, when, surrounded by overwhelming British Forces, their last round
of ammunition spent, the roof blazing over their heads they made the
supreme sacrifice for their country!

     Sunday, February 20th 1921 was a strangely dark, dismal, depressing
day, such a day on which one has feeling of foreboding that some great
tragedy is about to happen.   And so it did.   A portion of the 4th
Battalion 1st Cork Brigade, I.R.A. had been in occupation of a disused
farmhouse in a lonely position not far from the village of Clonmult, Co.
Cork, since January previous.   They were mostly young men or boys who
had been taking an active part in the Fight for Irish Freedom, and on
that account were being harried and hunted by Crown Forces for the
purpose of imprisonment - or worse.   They were therefore compelled to
leave their native towns and band themselves together in what was then
known as a Flying Column.

     The names of the 16 members of the Flying Column present at
Clonmult on that fateful Sunday afternoon, are as follows:- Richard
Hegarty, Christopher Sullivan, Joseph Morrissey, Micheal Hallinan,
Jerimiah Ahern, John J. Joyce, Micheal Desmond, David Desmond, Donal
Dennehy, Liam Ahern, Patrick Higgins, Patrick Sullivan, James Glavin,
Maurice Moore, John O'Connell and James P. Aherne, the latter two having
been only a bare week with the Column when the tragedy occurred.

     The O.C., Commandant D. Hurley, was absent, having gone that
morning with a few of the members of the Column to another part of the
county to make arrangements for a Military Ambush.   It was decided that
those left behind were to pack up and follow, later in the day.   Alas! 
they met a cruel and terrible end instead, fighting against numerically
superior forces, that included the hateful Black and Tans.

     Early that afternoon the British Military lorries unexpectedly
arrived and the soldiers at once took up strategic positions round the
house that sheltered the I.R.A. who were taken completely by surprise
not having had a sentry on duty.   The I.R.A. barricaded themselves in
as well as they could and fought like heroes for hours keeping the Crown
Forces at bay.   The latter, finding themselves unable to overcome the
resistance of such a determined little garrison, sent to Midleton for
the reinforcements which soon arrived in the shape of the famous - or
infamous - Black and Tans.

     Even after their arrival, our heroes continued to fight until their
last round of ammunition was spent, and the thatched roof of the house
in a blaze over their heads.   The firing of the roof was the diabolical
idea of the Black and Tans, and their only hope of bringing about a
speedy surrender!

     Faced with the alternative of being burned alive, the I.R.A.
decided to evacuate the house, but before emerging, like the good
Catholics they were, one and all knelt down and recited the 
Act of Contrition.   That finished, they stood up and in the very face
of Death sang the "Soldier's Song", - their Swan Song it proved to be
indeed.   (This fact was communicated to the writer by one of the I.R.A.
taken prisoner, wounded, and later executed at Cork Military Barracks.

In all civilized countries, soldiers who are compelled to surrender
to a more powerful foe are treated as prisoners of war, but as soon as
these unfortunates left the blazing house, they were set upon by those
fiends in human shape - the Black and Tans - and done to death in a most
brutal manner, their mutilated bodies, seen (by the writer) a few days
later as they lay in an outhouse at the Military Barracks, bore vivid
testimony to this fact.

     It was about 5 p.m. and getting dark when the firing ceased, and
the Crown Forces prepared to leave the scene of slaughter, taking with
them a few badly wounded prisoners, leaving twelve dead strewn on the
ground in front of the blazing house.   Incidentally, they lay there
until the following morning when the British returned with an empty
lorry for their removal to Cork Barracks.

     Before leaving on Sunday evening the British had warned the people
of Clonmult village that if they found that any of the dead had been
removed when they returned they would burn the entire village to the

     Shortly after the Military had left, a priest arrived, accompanied
by a large number of men and women from Clonmult and Dungourney, and set
to work immediatly, administering Conditional Absolution and Extreme
Unction.   Only one or two, this priest said, had a spark of life
left.   The good people who accompanied the priest washed and bandaged
the bodies, and, but for this work of mercy, they would have been a much
more harrowing and pitiful sight, when seen by their sisters and mothers
after their removal to Cork Barracks.   Nearly all had fearful wounds
that vividly testified to the savage manner in which they had been done
to death;  the body of James Glavin, Cobh, was so mutilated that it had
to be sewn into canvas, while that of James P. Aherne, (also of Cobh)
Captain, A Coy.  4th Batt., 1st Cork Brigade I.R.A., showed that he had
been riddled with bullets, his clothing, and a large strip of sheeting
with which he had been bandaged being saturated with his life's blood.

     It was, indeed, a harrowing sight for sisters and mothers when they
were permitted to see these poor youths, lying motionless on the floor
of the outhouse, the mouths fallen, the eyes wide open and staring with
an expression of great horror.

     After a Court of Inquiry had been held by the British Authorities
at the Barracks, the bodies were handed over to relatives for burial.  
All, with the exception of James P. Aherne and james Glavin, were buried
at Midleton.   The latter were taken to their native Cobh, where they
lie in the Old Church Cemetary.   Some time afterwards, Maurice Moore
and Patrick Sullivan, also of Cobh, were tried by courtmartial and
executed at Cork Military Barracks, their bodies being buried in

     On the eve of his execution, Patrick Sullivan told his mother that
he was perfectly happy to die for Ireland, and was longing for the
morning when he would go to join his comrades, who had fallen at
Clonmult, as he did not wish to live after them.   His mother told the
writer afterwards that he had the rapt look of one already in Heaven
when he said to her that even if allowed to go free he would far prefer
to die for Ireland, and join his comrades in heaven!!

     Not so long afterwards, the informer, who had betrayed the
whereabouts of the Clonmult Column to the British Authorities, was
discovered and arrested by the I.R.A.   He was tried by Courtmartial,
found guilty, and sentenced to death, and before his execution he
confessed to having received thirty pounds for his information!   A
typed account of the Courtmartial and execution was received by the
relatives of those who died as a result of this base creature's

     Thus dies, after an heroic fight, a litle band of dauntless Irish
youths, that the Soul of Ireland might live!   The odds were dead
against them from the start.   Their O.C., D.  Hurley, and other senior
officers were absent, and not having a sentry posted, the British had
been able to creep up and surround them, almost before they were aware
of it.   The whole tragedy was the result of the treachery of a
degenerate British ex-service man, who, although Irish himself, was base
enough to betray his countrymen for the paltry sum of thirty pounds.

     Thus we leave them to sleep in peace and

               "When a future age shall find thee
               Dauntless still and undefied,
               Men of Erin!  Oh!  Remember,
               'Twas for Erin's sake we died!!"

Marjorie M. Aherne.
— Manuscript from the Archives of the Cork Public Museum.

Return to The Ahern Family HomePage

This page copyright © 2000-2002 by Dennis Ahern.

visitors have accessed this page since July 15, 2000.