he Coffey brothers and the Bandon Valley massacre

Published in 20th-century / Contemporary History, Issue 5 (Sept/Oct 2012), Letters, Revolutionary Period 1912-23, Volume 20

Sir,—Volunteers James and Timothy Coffey were from Breaghna, Enniskeane, Co. Cork, the eldest boys in the family of eight of farming parents James and Margaret Coffey. In the early hours of Monday 14 February 1921, the soldiers of the Essex Regiment and Black and Tans were escorted by two masked civilians, who were members of the ‘Anti-Sinn Féin Society’, to the home of the Coffey brothers. They were led directly to the room where 24-year-old James and 23-year-old Timothy were sleeping. James was no. 66 and Timothy no. 67 on a ‘black list’ (number; name; address; ‘SF activities’; and ‘whether on the run’) of 168 IRA volunteers from Upton to Dunmanway, which had been compiled by the Essex Regiment in the Bandon and Dunmanway Barracks from information supplied by both Catholic and Protestant informers.
The two brothers were ordered out of their beds and hastily got dressed before being led to the top of O’Donoghue’s field nearby. There they were interrogated about the death of a 56-year-old local farmer, Thomas Bradfield from Knockmacool, who had been abducted and murdered on 1 February 1921. Following interrogation (and torture), both brothers were executed at the top of the field. The seed of the now infamous Bandon Valley massacre was sown when the two masked men led Crown forces into the Coffey home, and matured several months later when those same forces vacated the military barracks in Dunmanway, leaving behind, unfortunately for some people, a diary containing their names, and those of other informers.
One of the masked men made a lucky escape after being captured by the local IRA. He fled to England and was awarded £225 by the Irish Grants Committee for his dislocation. The escapee later appealed for a greater sum and received a further £200, which he described as ‘beggarly treatment’, stating that ‘my loyalty cost me thousands of pounds’. His supporter in the claim, RIC District Inspector and RAF Flight Lieutenant B.D. Hignaw, claimed that the escapee had supplied life-saving anti-IRA information as a resolute and fearless supporter of the British flag.
The Coffey brothers are buried in the cemetery of the Church of the Assumption, Ahiohill, and Thomas Bradfield in Killowen cemetery. The monument to the Coffey brothers has stood there, silent and neglected, while historians from all sides have discussed and argued over the circumstances of the Bandon Valley massacre. They have got their dates wrong, the names of those killed wrong, the family connections wrong and, most important of all, have overlooked the missing link of the murder of the Coffey brothers and the black list of 168. Historians such as John A. Murphy, the late Peter Hart, Eoghan Harris, Meda Ryan, Brian Murphy, Niall Meehan, John Borgonovo, Kevin Myers, Ruan O’Donnell, Tim Pat Coogan, Jack Lane, John Regan, Paul McMahon and John Dorney have all had their say on the Bandon Valley massacre, but none of them have ever mentioned the murder of the Coffey brothers (they probably don’t even know where their monument stands).
Rather than making a historical football out of the Bandon Valley massacre, isn’t it about time that the historians put their heads together and delved into the unresearched facts and then let all the dead rest in peace?—Yours etc.,
JOHN DESMOND
Bandon
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