by Pauline Murphy
Cork City was an active place 100 years ago. Everyday saw shootings and arrests. It was a dangerous place during a dangerous time – The War of Independence.
The north side of the city was a hotbed of republican activity, especially around the Shandon area even though a large RIC Barracks was situated on Shandon Street.
Nestled at the bottom of Shandon Street, near the North Gate Bridge, The Shandon Street RIC Barracks had 13 constables headed by Sergeant Charlie Chance – a notorious figure in the city who was feared for his sadistic behaviour. Sergeant Chance and his men from Shandon Street Barracks were locally known as “The Charlie Chance Murder Gang”. The notorious Sergeant was rarely seen without two revolvers strapped to each leg. He patrolled the city streets on foot but when things got more violent as the War of Independence progressed, he took to patrolling the streets in a small armoured car named “The Fiend”.
In his witness statement for the Bureau of Military History, Michael O’Donoghue, officer 2nd Battalion Cork No. 1 Brigade IRA, described the Charlie Chance Murder Gang: ”They were night and day engaged in searching houses and people, shooting, looting, burning, drinking and marauding without restraint…the mysterious Sergeant Chance regularly paraded Cork’s principal streets in a small single turreted armoured car with its name ”The Fiend” printed in large conspicuous type on the front of the turret.”
On the 23rd of April 1921 The Charlie Chance Murder Gang massacred six members of Company First Battalion, Cork No. 1 Brigade, at a farm in Ballycannon, Clogheen, on the north side of Cork City.
The O’Keefe farm at Ballycannon was known as a safe house for the IRA. On that April morning six IRA Volunteers were asleep in a barn at the farm when Sergeant Chance led his murder gang there. The IRA Volunteers were: 23 year old Daniel Crowley, 20 year old William Deasy, 20 year old Michael O’Sullivan, 23 year old Jer O’Mullane, 24 year old Daniel Murphy and 21 year old Thomas Dennehy. All came from Blarney Street near Shandon.
A post-mortem was carried out on the six dead IRA men at the request of their families and it showed that the men had been killed by bullet wounds and to the horror of the families it also showed that the Charlie Chance Murder gang had carried out mutilations on the six “Ballycannon Boys”.
Although the IRA made numerous attempts to kill him, Sergeant Chance survived the War of Independence and retired back to England in 1922 after his reign of terror in Cork had come to an end.