ANDY COONEY I.R.A. ACTIVIST AND MEDICAL MAN [1897 – 1968]

Many of those involved in the War of Independence had books published about their exploits. Dan Breen with My Fight for Irish Freedom [ 1924 ] was one of the earliest as was Piaras Béaslaí with his Michael Collins and the New Ireland [ 1929 ]. These were followed by many others including Guerrilla Days in Ireland by Tom Barry [1949] and later still by Towards Ireland Free by Liam Deasy [1972].
But it was not until almost a century after his joining the Volunteers in 1917 that the biography of Andy Cooney, written by Michael McEvilly, was finally published by Edmund Burke, Blackrock, Co. Dublin in March 2011. The book, called “A Splendid Resistance” was launched by Tim Pat Coogan in Glasnevin Cemetery Museum. The large attendance included family and friends, academics, members of the 1916/21 Club and republicans from many parts of the country. This biography gives a comprehensive account of his military and medical careers and I have used it extensively in the preparation of this article, but I have also used other sources such as statements to the Military History Bureau and conversations with relatives.

While giving a general overview of his life, I will concentrate on those aspects which are most connected with his native Tipperary.

Andy Cooney was born in Ballyphilip, Nenagh. His parents were John Cooney and Mary Anne Gleeson. They were married in the Parish Church, Silvermines, on February 26th 1895. The bridesmaid was Lizzie Gleeson and Tim Corbett was best man. The officiating priest was Rev John McMahon P.P. John [also known as Boss Cooney] was a native of Ballyvaughan, Portroe and the farm at Ballyphilip was purchased for him by his father, Patrick, some time previous to his marriage. Patrick was a member of the I.R.B. and was known to have taken part in Land League activities. His wife was a Mary Corbett from Co.Clare. He died in 1930 aged 96. A Patrick Cooney, Ballyvaughan who applied to be placed on the Register of Voters List at the Quarter Sessions in Nenagh in 18401 was probably his father. Mary Anne Gleeson was from Bawn. Her parents were Mary [née Duggan] and Andrew Gleeson.

John and Mary Anne Cooney had three children Patrick, Andrew and Maureen. John Cooney initially studied for the priesthood and was for a time a seminarian in Ennis. It was said that when the Bishop of Killaloe heard of his father’s Land League activities he was sent home. John was not interested in politics [though in the late 1920’s Peadar O’Donnell held a meeting at Cooney’s, Ballyphilip to organize support for his anti annuity campaign2. and also during the 1930’s Cooney’ s was visited by such activists as Frank Ryan and Seán Russell, as well as Peadar O’Donnell; this was

probably because of their friendship with Maureen Cooney3]. Boss Cooney had a passion for hurling and was also very interested in agricultural matters. He served on the committee of Nenagh Co-op of which he was founding member.

Andrew was baptised in Silvermines Church on 22nd of April 1897. His Godparents were Patrick Gleeson and Bridget Cooney. He began his education at Lissenhall School and in 1911 moved to the Christian Brothers School in Nenagh. His main interest outside school was hurling and of course he did the usual farm chores. He left the C.B.S. in 1915 with passes in the Senior Grade but had to spend time at O’Connell Schools in Dublin studying Latin which was a requirement for Matriculation. He entered U.C.D. to study medicine in 1916. While there, despite being actively involved in the Volunteers, he kept up his interest in hurling and was on the Collegians team which won the Dublin Championship in 1918 and 1919. Later when he resumed his studies he was on the U.C.D. team which won the Fitzgibbon Cup in 1926/27.

While his studies and hurling loomed large in his life, from 1917 onwards Irish republicanism was his passion. He joined C Company, 3rd Battalion, Dublin Brigade of the Irish Volunteers in June 1917. He did not sit his First Year Examinations and also missed his exams the next summer, for in June 1918 he was arrested with others for illegal drilling and spent two months in Crumlin Rd. Jail, Belfast. Following his release he was initiated into the I.R.B. by Simon Donnelly and went home to Ballyphilip until the following January. It was during this period that he got involved in volunteer activities in Tipperary. He said that because he had been in Dublin he was regarded as having more expertise in military matters, and was invited by Ned O’Leary to help out with training.

The first action with which he was concerned was the raid for arms on Castle Otway which was owned by a retired British Army Major Finch. This occurred in September 1918 and was organized by Seán Gaynor. The raid was well planned and the unit surrounded the Big House which was thoroughly searched. In the event there was no opposition and the raiders came away with three miniature rifles, two shotguns, one 45 revolver and a few hundred rounds of ammunition. It is also possible but not certain that Andy was one of the eighty men who, under Seán Gaynor, went to Waterford to assist at the 1918 election. He returned to Dublin after Christmas 1918 and resumed his studies. He acted as a steward at the first meeting of the Dáil on 21st January 1919. He remained in Dublin until the summer when he finally succeeded in passing his first medical exam. He continued with his I.R.A. activities in Dublin during the following year but somehow succeeded in passing his second year exams in 1920.

 

BORRISOKANE BARRACKS

He then returned to Ballyphillip for the summer holidays and was involved in the attack on  Borrisokane Barracks. According to Andy Cooney’s own account4 he was asked by Paddy Slattery5 on Wednesday 23rd June 1920 to go to Dublin to collect hand grenades and bombs. He went with Jim Devanney [Toomevara]. They travelled via Limerick and Limerick Junction. They collected their supplies from various locations in Dublin and also called at the shop in Mary St where Jim Devanney worked as a chemist. They arrived home with two suitcases and a Gladstone bag and alighted in Cloughjordan where they were met by Darby Collison. Preparations for the attack were made by blockading the roads with trees. This was done under the supervision of Ned O’Leary. The previous week a petrol lorry was held up. The petrol was taken and transferred to bottles and buried in a sandpit in Cullenwaine. On the eve of the attack the petrol and some rifles were conveyed in horse carts from Cullenwaine to within a mile of Borrisokane.6 The plan was to break into the barracks from an adjoining house. Andy Cooney and Michal Kennedy [Nenagh] did most of the work with hatchets and hammers7. Andy got onto the roof of the barracks. He made a hole in the roof but then found that there was wire netting under the roof. He could not burst it with the hatchet. He got one of the bombs, dropped it through the hole and jumped down before it exploded. The netting was broken and further bombs and petrol were thrown in and the barracks started to burn. Jimmy O’Meara [Toomevara] offered to take Andy’s place on the roof but no sooner had he done so than he fell back with a bullet in his arm. Andy appealed for others to take his place and brought O’Meara to Dr Quigley, [not aware that Tony Courtney was with the other unit across the street with a full first aid pack]. Just as they were about to leave Dr Quigley’s house Michael Kennedy was carried in, badly wounded.

Though the R.I.C. had not surrendered, the Brigade O.C. Frank McGrath decided to order the volunteers to withdraw [he had been instructed by G.H.Q. to withdraw before daylight]8 Not all of the officers, Seán Gaynor in particular, agreed with that decision. The immediate problem was to get the wounded men out without delay. A lorry was commandeered and driven to Puckane via Kilbarron where Jimmy O’Meara was left with Fr. Fogarty who drove him home to Toomevara in a pony and trap. Michael Kennedy was brought to Ned Slattery’s of Ballycommon and Andy Cooney cycled into Nenagh for Dr Louis Courtney who realised that Kennedy was seriously ill. Dr Courtney returned to Nenagh and accompanied by two nuns took the wounded man to St. John’s Hospital in Limerick for surgery. However he did not recover and died a month later. He was 27 years of age. It was a very tragic outcome to the attack as he had been shot by his own men who were posted across the road.
This was the main military incident in which Cooney took part in Tipperary. He did not give a statement to the Military History Bureau but many of the other participants in that attack have done so. These accounts do not always agree on details, e.g. one stated that 150 men took part while another gave the number as 200. Some criticised the early withdrawal while others thought it was the right decision. Andy’s account is based on his private papers and on a statement which he gave to the Pensions Bureau in 1937.

Seán Gaynor replaced Frank McGrath as Brigade O.C. and began organising an Active Service Unit or Flying Column in October. This initially was composed of twenty men under Ned O’Leary [Beechwood] who was later replaced by Seán [Jack] Collison, Moneygall. Andy was involved in another incident during the Christmas holidays of that year. When he came home he intended joining up with the A.S.U. But he found it had been disbanded for Christmas and the arms dumped in Trenche’s of Loughton9. He met up with Jim Devanney with whom he had shared digs in Dublin. They decided to ambush a lorry which brought pay to the R.I.C. in Ballingarry from Birr. They found out it would be travelling the following Friday. They contacted Widger Meagher and with twelve men from Toomevara they recovered the guns from Trenche’s and marched across country towards Shinrone. They stayed in billets on Wednesday and Thursday but were informed by scouts that there were eight lorries on the way so they withdrew and returned the arms to Loughton. Andy was involved with the Toomevara volunteers through his friendship with Jim Devanney and also through the Harty family Clonolea who were his first cousins. Paddy Harty was with him at Borrisokane, Jack was a member of the A.S.U. and with his brothers Mick and Andy was interned in Wormwood Scrubs Prison in March 192010.
Andy Cooney returned to Dublin after the summer holidays but did not resume his studies which would have entailed full time hospital work. Instead he became a full time volunteer. He was involved in the incidents at Pembroke St. where British agents were shot on Bloody Sunday and later that day went to Croke Park. He joined an Active Service Unit that was being formed in Dublin. He was sent to Kerry as a fulltime organiser. Andy was promoted to the rank of Staff Captain, attached to G.H.Q. staff. He remained in Kerry until the Treaty negotiations.
CIVIL WAR

He returned to Dublin and took the anti treaty side in the Civil War. He was involved in the midlands and east and eventually ended up in the Four Courts. He was captured and imprisoned in Mountjoy where he was O/C of the prisoners in C Wing. He had many a verbal joust with the Deputy Governor, Páidín O Keeffe11. An escape attempt was planned. Guns and a Free State uniform were smuggled in by members of Cumann na mBan. During the attempt [which failed], one prisoner, Peadar Breslin, was killed. Andy Cooney took responsibility for the affair and was placed in solitary confinement. The prison Council, [Rory O’ Connor, Liam Mellows and Peadar O’Donnell] decided that Cooney could not be allowed to take sole responsibility so they went to the authorities and after some days he was allowed back on C Wing but lost all privileges [e.g. cigarettes] until Christmas. After Christmas he was transferred to Newbridge internment camp but in February he was returned to Mountjoy. In August he was sent to Arbour Hill with Tom Derrig and George Plunkett but after four days they were returned to Mountjoy. On the 13th of October a mass hunger strike was decided on. Andy Cooney was totally opposed to it but he took part in it and continued for the full forty one days. At one stage up to 8000 prisoners including 51 women were on strike. Andy, with Peadar O’ Donnell and others, was transferred to Kilmainham. The strike was eventually called off after 41 days and the deaths of two prisoners. Having been once again transferred to the Curragh, Cooney was eventually released on May 29th, 1924, after nearly two years of internment. He was one of the last to be released. He returned to his army activities and was appointed Q.M.G. by Frank Aiken. He also resumed his studies at U.C.D. Towards the end of 1925 moves were afoot by some republicans to enter the Dáil.
This led to a split in the I.R.A. and the Chief of Staff, Frank Aiken, decided to go with Fianna Fáil. Andy Cooney was appointed in his place. He was sent to America to raise funds through Clan na Gael. When he returned Cooney decided to concentrate on his studies [he was succeeded as Chief of Staff by Moss Twomey who had been acting Chief of Staff while he was in America]. He finally qualified as doctor in January 1928.

In 1929 he married Frances Brady, a member of Cumann na mBan. She was a native of Belfast where her father was a wealthy linen manufacturer. They were married in University Church, St. Stephen’s Green and Moss Twomey was best man. The celebrant was Fr Gerard Brady, brother of the bride. Almost immediately they left for America where Andy was to represent Comhairle na Poblachta. He had been asked by Sceilg [J.J. O’ Kelly] to set up a parallel organization to Clan na Gael in the United States. The new organization would work openly in contrast to the Clan which was a secret society. This did not meet with the approval of Joe McGarrity who was then the leading figure in the Clan. After some time Cooney realised that his task was an impossible one and resigned as envoy.

When he returned from America he decided, because of the political situation, to set up medical practice in London where his son Seán was born. The family came back to Dublin in 1932 and, in 1933, Andy, who had received a B.Sc. in Public Health, was appointed Secretary of the Hospital’s Commission. This was a senior post as the Commission was designed to overhaul the development of hospital services in the country. This appointment may have owed something to the influence of Seán McEntee, who was a friend of the Brady family in Belfast. Andy stayed in that position for eight years. During that time “The main achievement was the development of a modern general hospital service throughout most of the country”.

Cooney remained part of I.R.A. and was elected to the Army Council in 1933. He refused to sign a loyalty test and resigned from the Hospitals Commission. It appears that he resigned from the I.R.A. in 1944. He had a number of temporary medical appointments and in 1945 he secured a position as Chief Medical Officer with the UNRRA- the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Organization. This had been founded in 1943 and had its headquarters in New York, the chairman being Mayor Fiorello La Guardia, after whom the airport is named. With the second world war over, there was a great need for medical personnel to deal with the enormous problem of supplying humanitarian aid to displaced persons in most of Europe. Twenty five posts were available to Irish applicants and Cooney was the first to be appointed. He worked in Holland and Germany until 1949.

During his life Andy spoke at many public gatherings. One of the first was at Toomevara in 1926 where he presided at a ceremony during which a memorial was unveiled [ by Seán Lemass] to the Devanney brothers Jim and Tom who were both shot by Black and Tans. In 1933 he was asked to give the oration at the principal Easter Commemoration Ceremony at Glasnevin.
That same year, on Sunday May 14th, he was invited to unveil a memorial in the Duagh Republican plot to six North Kerry volunteers. He was introduced by Denis Quille of Listowel who referred to his days in North Kerry when he was known as Brigadier Browne. At a meeting in College Green, Dublin in June he shared a platform with Maurice Twomey, Seán McBride, Maud Gonne and Hanna Sheehy Skeffington. In March 1935 he unveiled a memorial on the wall of the Castle Barracks in Roscrea to the memory of four Tipperary men executed there in 1923. In September 1937 he was chosen by the National Graves’ Association to unveil a plaque in Talbot St. , Dublin to his fellow Tipperary man, Seán Treacy, who was killed in action there on October 14th 1920.

One of his last public appearances in Ireland was to formally open the G.A.A Park at Newport Co Tipperary on May 21st 1950. This park was dedicated to the memory of Paddy Ryan [Lacken] who died in New York 1st January 1944. Andy was invited to perform the ceremony by Seán Gaynor who was chairman of the memorial committee. About this time too he was asked by Tom Barry to unveil the memorial at Lady’s Bridge to Michael O’Brien, one of the Manchester Martyrs.

Cooney had returned from Germany in 1949 because of a chance meeting with Seán McBride on a plane. That meeting led to a conversation with Noel Browne, Minister for Health. Andy expected to be appointed to the full time post of .Chairman of the Hospitals Commission. In the event he was given the position of part time Commissioner. He was not satisfied. Because of this and also because he had become estranged from his wife and son he decided to emigrate to America where he renewed his links with Clan na Gael. Eventually he obtained a position as a specialist in the treatment of T.B. patients in Maryland. In 1961 he was considering retiring to Ireland when he suffered a stroke. He died on 3rd of August 1968. At Kennedy Airport on the way home the remains, accompanied by his son Seán, were met by a guard of honour of old comrades led by Bill Kavanagh [Nenagh] and Tadhg Brosnan [Kerry].

A large tricolour wreath was laid on the casket by Hugh Kelly [ Borrisofarney], a member of the  Toomevara Greyhounds and of the A.S.U. who had been with him at the attack on Borrisokane Barracks. Prayers were said by Michael Flannery [Knockshegowna].

On arrival at Shannon the funeral was met by Rev. E Murphy, Silvermines, as well as relatives and friends and it proceeded to St Mary’s of the Rosary, Nenagh. Next day, High Mass was offered by Rev E. Murphy assisted by Rev J. Cooney C.C, Nenagh and Rev. Michael Hillery C.C., Nenagh. Dean Hamilton, P.P. Nenagh, presided. Interment was at Youghal where Rev G. Brady P.P., V.F., Belfast recited the prayers at the graveside and the Rev .E. Murphy paid tribute in Irish. As well as family and friends the attendance included Col. B. McGuirk who represented President De Valera, Tomás Mac Giolla [then president of Sinn Féin], Tomás Malone [Seán Forde] and his wife, Mr and Mrs Ben Doyle, Eamonn de Barra, Frank Driver, Mr and Mrs. Moss Twomey, Dr Eileen McCarvill, Dan Gleeson, [Dublin] Dan Gleeson [Nenagh], Drs L and T Courtney, John Joe Sheehy and District Justice Bill Sweetman.

The Nenagh Guardian, 10th August, 1968, published a photograph and a detailed account of his career. It is unattributed.

 

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