The Avondhu - By The Fireside
house in Robert Street, now there was only Agnes and her two sons, Thomas and Walter. Thomas still being the main income source for the family, resumed his trade as a baker. However not in Mitchelstown, but in the neighbouring village of Ballyporeen in County Tipperary, only 13km away where he took up employment in Michael O’Brien’s business in Church Street. O’Brien’s was the most extensive business in Ballyporeen at the time with a wide range of services, from hardware, grocery, drapery, seed merchants, funeral directors, publican and the latest venture at the time of wholesale beer dealer.
Like many of his fellow Irishmen in the battle fields of France, no doubt Thomas heard of the 1916 Rising, the subsequent executions and imprisonment. Among these would have been contemporaries of his from Mitchelstown. When Thomas left in 1914, the Irish National Volunteers in Mitchelstown was actively organising under the Galtee Regiment, but by now the Irish Volunteers and Irish Republican Army had taken hold and Sinn Féin on the political front after the 1918 elections. Ballyporeen was no different, with up to 80 men and women joining the ranks of the Irish Republican Army and Cumann na mBan respectively. Thomas joined the Ballyporeen Company, 6th Battalion, 3rd Tipperary Brigade and became an active member.
After Soloheadbeg, Ballyporeen Company like neighbouring companies was actively engaged in gathering and raiding for arms, drilling, organising. Activities intensified into 1920 and 1921 with scouting for Sean Hogan’s Flying Column being a regular occurrence along with dispatch carrying, raid for mails and general disruption to British Authority in the area and its infrastructure. Like many ex-army personnel that joined with the volunteers, their previous military experience was utilised in the training of others. Tomas, along with being an expert Lewis gun operator, had valuable experience of small arms use along with military tactics that would have been utilised.
Bill Keating (Ballyporeen Company) and Chris Conway (Skeheenarinky Company) had also fought in WW1, and they similarly took training sessions with local volunteers, as did Maurice Fitzgerald (Skeheenarinky Company) from his time as an RIC constable in Galway.
Thomas’s employers Michael O’Brien, General Merchant like many supported and assisted the volunteers in their quest for freedom and this is clearly indicated, by continuing to employ and provide accommodation not only to Thomas, but also to fellow baker Maurice McEnirey and Denis
McAuliffe right through the conflict. Indeed, Denis McAuliffe, a Wexford man, was recruited as a valued member of Sean Hogan’s Flying Column. All would have seen regular action in the region and village itself, especially in March 1921 when Sean Hogan’s Flying Column made determined efforts in attacking the R.I.C. barracks in the centre of the village, now the Parochial Hall. The most vigorous being the night of March 22nd which ultimately resulted in the burning of O’Farrell’s Public House and Kearney’s Shop by the Black and Tans and British Military.
The Truce on July 11th, 1921 came as a surprise to all in the locality as illustrated by the activities in Mitchelstown the days previous. In anticipation of a resumption of the war, training camps were held throughout the country. In South Tipperary, the main camp was held on the grounds of the Galty Castle, and no doubt Thomas O’Dea would have had an involvement. When the differences over the negotiated Treaty failed to be resolved by politics and led to the Civil War, the O’Dea family were on the Anti-Treaty side. Thomas remained with the Ballyporeen ‘F’ Company, 6th Battalion, Tipperary 3rd Brigade and by now, his brother Walter O’Dea had reached the age of 17 and joined up with the Anti-Treaty Republicans in Mitchelstown Company, 4th Battalion, Cork 2nd Brigade.
Dinny Lacey who commanded Tipperary 3rd Brigade No. 1 Flying Column with distinction in the War of Independence was now re-organised, with Dinny in charge of 200 to 500 men. The fighting body of men were primarily from Tipperary 3rd Brigade, but at different stages were joined by volunteers from Cork and Kilkenny. From the outset of the Civil War, Dinny true to form didn’t wait for the fight to come to him and sought to take advantage of the experienced column he’d assembled. As a result, Dinny’s column had numerous successes against the Free State troops throughout 1922, capturing barracks, villages, towns and also being bolstered by defecting Free State troops to the Republican side.
Maintaining the territory was troublesome and on October 18th, 1922 Dinny and company headed back to Urlingford to recapture the old R.I.C.
Barracks and town from the occupying Free State troops under Captain Holland. The Free State troops maintained a firm resistance for about two hours before it was back in Republican hands. All arms and ammunition were captured, loaded onto lorries and were heading back along the old Cork Dublin Road. A large body of Free State reinforcements were encountered at Mary Willie’s pub and attacked immediately, the Republicans returned fire allowing Dinny to redirect the lorries and troops on an alternative road on the way back to Clonmel. Thomas O’Dea along with others were fighting the rearguard action to enable his comrades escape successfully with his manning of the Lewis automatic machine gun being key.
However, as the rearguard action continued, the battle which lasted three hours, intensified at Kilmanagh, Co. Kilkenny, which resulted in two fatal casualties - Patrick Quigley, a 22-year-old Free State soldier from Tullaroan, Co. Kilkenny and 26-year-old Republican Thomas O’Dea. Thomas’s heroics on the Lewis gun enabled the successful retreat of all his comrades, but ultimately paid the ultimate cost, his young life. The local Kilmanagh Cumann na mBan members Mary Molloy, Mary Teehan and Catherine Teehan, at great risk, brought the body of Thomas to the farmhouse of the Teehan sisters, Shipton House just outside Kilmanagh. The Teehan sisters sourced a coffin and habit at their own expense and had a wake for Thomas O’Dea that night in their house. The following day, they accompanied the body to Fermoy and onto Mitchelstown to the heartbroken widow and mother Agnes O’Dea, who now had only one surviving son, Walter. Thomas O’Dea was buried in Old Brigown Graveyard.
Walter O’Dea fought on in the North Cork area with the leaders among the following: Mitchelstown Company Sean O’Neill, Leo Skinner, 4th (Glanworth) Battalion Liam Kearney, Richard Smith, Cork No. 2 Brigade, George Power, William O’Regan and Daniel Shinnick. Like many, Walter settled into civilian life after the ceasefire in 1923, working in the family profession as a baker in Mitchelstown. In his youth, he won a Munster handball medal and hurled with distinction locally, but it was as a fisherman that he was most acclaimed and indeed his exploits are still recalled in Mitchelstown and surrounds. Walter passed away in October 1967 preceded by his wife Mary O’Dea nee Roche only nine weeks
Thomas’s heroics were not to be forgotten; his name is one of the eighteen volunteers inscribed on the Republican Plot monument in Kilcrumper Cemetery, Fermoy. Mick Fitzgerald, Daniel Shinnick, Michael Rouse, Liam Lynch and Denis O’Brien are interred in the plot and Thomas O’Dea is one of thirteen other volunteers listed, who sacrificed their lives for Irish freedom and are interred across the sacred graveyards and cemeteries throughout counties Cork and Waterford.
From 1923 a commemoration has been held continuously to remember these heroic volunteers. Two years later in October 1924, the reorganised Ballyporeen (Thomas O’Dea) Sinn Féin Club took his name in their organisation’s title. In 1934 the Easter Sunday commemoration in Mitchelstown involved marching to the tune of local bands from Main Street to Thomas’s grave in Brigown, where the commemoration was held. This was organised by the local Fianna Fáil party. By 1946 funds had been collected by the party locally and abroad to commission a Celtic Cross headstone from Thomas McCarthy, Monumental Sculptor, Copley Street, Cork. This was unveiled on Easter Sunday by Senator Bill Quirke, Fethard who fought alongside Thomas on that fatal day in 1922. Bill noted that Thomas O’Dea was ‘fundamentally a soldier and a brave man’.
Commemorations followed in the 1940’s and 1950’s with orations being delivered by Leo Skinner, TD/solicitor on several occasions, as did Michael Davern, TD and Frank Loughman, TD. The Mitchelstown Brass and Reed Band led the march to Brigown and in 1949, Thomas Brunnock, an Araglin comrade that fought with Thomas in 1923, sent a wreath from Boston. This year is the 100th anniversary and it’s good to see the monument in Brigown being brought back to its original condition, and it’s only fitting for a local hero who fought with distinction and gave his life for Irish freedom to be remembered.
Where Martyred Heroes Rest – The Story of the Republican Plot Kilcrumper, Fermoy (Tomás Ó’Riordáin). Published by Liam Lynch National Commemoration Committee
The Nationalist and Irish Examiner newspapers
Irishgenealogy.ie and militaryarchives.ie websites