JOSEPHINE O’DONOGHUE – CORK, IRA INTELLIGENCE OFFICER
Military Service Pensions Collection – MSP34REF55794
Josephine O’Donoghue, as Josephine Brown, went to work i n early 1917 as a clerk and typist at Cork Military Barracks and in late 1919 managed to contact officers of the Cork Brigade of the IRA and offer her services. From then, until the Truce, she collected and transmitted original documents, copies of documents, and information relating to British personnel, equipment and troop movements. She had access to extremely valuable information, which included the correspondence of Major General Sir Peter Strickland, OC of the 6thDivision, and military governor of the Munster martial law district.
‘Under the direction of the Brigade officers I paid special attention to scouring information with regard to the personnel and movements of the British Intelligence staff attached to the 6th Division, and transmitted a list of the officers of this staff. As a result of information given by me concerning the movements of members of this staff three British Intelligence officers were captured by the IRA at Waterfall near Cork. These officers were wearing civilian clothes, and were subsequently executed.
Information as to the movement of troops which resulted in the Upton ambush was given by me also.
In the winter of 1920 a letter was sent to Capt. Kelly who was in charge of the British intelligence operation in the 6th division area, informing him that IRA men passed along a certain road on the outskirts of the city each night a short time before curfew. I saw the letter and as it was not possible to make a copy of it, and realising that the matter may be very urgent, I brought out the original letter, showed it to the Brigade IO and returned it to the file the next morning. I learned afterwards that the information was accurate, that it referred to the Brigade O/C and other members of the Brigade staff who were sleeping outside the city at the time, and that the road referred to was watched on the following nights. The writer of the letter was subsequently executed by the IRA.
I brought out and passed on to the Brigade IO much other original matter in cases where several copies of a document were made in the offices, including on one occasion a general order issued by General Strickland (which was afterwards quoted in an tÓglach) relating to general policy and tactics to be pursued by his forces in seeking out and attacking IRA columns.’
In order to enhance her intelligence gathering Josephine Brown actually contrived to have three other women working in the barracks, sacked for unreliability. This gave her access to a far greater amount of confidential information. This she shared with the Cork Brigade IO, Intelligence Officer, Florence O’Donoghue – whom she secretly married in 1921. Florence O’Donoghue went so far as to organise the kidnapping, from the UK, or her child, who was in the custody of his grandparents. So valuable an asset was Josephine O’Donoghue that her pension application was endorsed by Sean O’Hegarty, the Cork Brigade OC, national Deputy Director of Intelligence, Liam Tobin and East Cork Flying Column OC, Tom Barry.
‘On another occasion, early in 1921, I think, I secured a copy of a letter from General Strickland to his GHQ outlining his proposals for a large scale round up in the mountainous districts of west Cork and East Kerry, intimating his requirements of troops, transport and aeroplanes and giving details of the proposed operation. This round up took place on the 5th and 6th of June 1921. Between two and three thousand men in fourteen columns took part, and were assisted by several aeroplanes. Due, however, to the advance information which the IRA had, not a single officer or man was captured in the round up.
Where it was not possible to get copies I made shorthand notes of important documents, or on such points as appeared to be of special value. In other cases I took the actual letters after they had been made up for post, and passed them over to the Brigade IO. These were opened and copied, then re-sealed and put back into the next day’s post by me.
On one occasion there was a letter from Captain Kelly to the effect that he had got a man in as a ‘stool pigeon’ among the internees in the barracks. After this letter had been transmitted to Michael Collins by the Brigade IO a general instruction was issued by the IRA for the appointment of Intelligence Officers in all jails and internment camps, for the purpose of counteracting activities of this type, preventing undesirable talk amongst prisoners and keeping the IRA informed of any suspicious characters amongst the prisoners.
I secured information in several cases where civilians had sent in information relating to the IRA. Six civilians were executed by the IRA as a result.
Over the whole period I was recording and passing on to the Brigade IO lists of names and home addresses of enemy officers; some of these were subsequently used in cases of reprisals in England. I secured also particulars of Stokes mortars with which the enemy were supplied towards the end of 1920. These particulars were used in training notes by the IRA.
Many details were given by me of the views, characters and peculiarities of the officers directing the enemy activities in Cork. Descriptions of almost all of them were passed on to the IRA, notes of transfers and new arrivals were notified and the minutes of the 6th Division weekly conferences frequently secured and transmitted. Everything I could do was done to give the IRA as complete a picture as possible of the personnel, methods and resources of the British forces opposed to them.
From about the end of 1920 there was very considerable concern in the 6th division offices because of the continued leakage of information, most of which could not have come from any other source. All the staff were subjected to very rigid supervision, and it became more and more difficult to bring out actual documents. I continued to make shorthand notes and bring these, but concealed. On days when even this was not possible I memorised important points as well as I could and passed on the information to the Brigade IO. But even in this period opportunities of securing actual documents occurred, and the Strickland order referred to above was brought out by me in this period.
I was the only member of the 6th Division working for the IRA and was entirely without assistance in the office where I worked. A man in the 17th Brigade offices was also working for the IRA but as the offices were entirely separate I had no contact with him and we were unable to give each other any assistance. Several members of my staff were dismissed and one male member interned but suspicions of me, which I think existed, were never confirmed before I left the employment.
After the Truce I went to Cobh with two members of the Brigade Intelligence Staff for the purpose of getting my sister, who was travelling to the USA, to identify and ascertain the destination of a family named Connors or O’Connor. This family were [sic] going to the USA to join a member of it who had been in the IRA but had given information to the enemy, and had been got out of the country secretly by the British authorities. As a result of this action of my sister and myself this man was traced by the IRA and subsequently shot in New York.’