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John Francis O’Connor was born on February 13, 1883 in County Cork into a devoutly Catholic family. His father, John O’Connor, a teacher, and his mother, Mary Ann Sheehan, were both Tertiaries of the Third Order of St Francis attached to the Capuchin Church of the Holy Trinity, Cork, and a brother of Mary's had already joined the Capuchin Order and (as Fr. Luke Sheehan) was one of the first Irish missionaries to minister in Oregon, in the US.

John entered the Seraphic School at Rochestown in the Autumn of 1897 and, having successfully completed his secondary education, then entered the Capuchin novitiate on 1 October 1899, receiving the religious name of Dominic.

He was ordained a priest on 17 March 1906 in the Capuchin Friary in Kilkenny.

In response to a call from Cardinal Michael Logue, Archbishop of Armagh, Fr Dominic volunteered for chaplaincy work with British forces during the First World War.

After spending two months with a Scottish brigade in England, he transferred to a hospital unit bound for Salonika, Greece.

After approximately two years of service, Fr. Dominic resigned his post in 1917, returned to Ireland and was appointed to the Capuchin community at Holy Trinity, Cork.

(Above) Acting-President of the Republic in 1920, Arthur Griffith

During the War of Independence 1919-21 and the subsequent Civil War, Capuchins, especially Fathers Albert (Ailbhe) Bibby and Dominic O’Connor provided spiritual comfort to Republicans.

Fr Dominic soon attained notoriety in Nationalist circles and was appointed chaplain to the Cork Brigade of IRA Volunteers by Tomas MacCurtain.

As chaplain, Fr Dominic was the first to appear at the MacCurtain home in Blackpool, Cork, on the morning the Sinn Féin Lord Mayor was killed by British forces (20 March 1920).

Following the assassination, a coroner’s inquest was held and, after taking exhaustive evidence for over a week in the Crown Court, the verdict was returned against the Crown Forces.

(Above) Bishop Daniel Cohalan

In view of the awful tragedy and the feverish excitement caused by the crime, Father Dominic deemed it necessary to issue a manifesto to the citizens counselling them to calmness and abstention from reprisals:

"Let no provocation move the citizens or any of them to retaliation or to take unseemly act. Let the utmost calmness be observed. NO private individual can justify himself in punishing the evil doers.

To the prayers of all I commend the soul of our departed hero, father and friend and forget not his bereaved wife, children and friends".

Fr. Dominic also served as chaplain to MacCurtain’s successor as Lord Mayor of Cork, Terence MacSwiney, who was arrested on 12 August 1920.

Fr Dominic ministered to MacSwiney throughout his hunger strike in Brixton Prison and was present at his death on 25 October 1920. Fr Dominic wrote chillingly and poignantly of the slow and painful death of MacSwiney:

"His sufferings, no pen could write.

But he never complained, never flinched. He knew he was risking a slow, lingering death, and he was ready for it. He even thanked God for giving him the chance of a long preparation for death.

I joined him, in Brixton Jail, as a friend, as his chaplain. But ‘twas as a brother, a fellow-child of St. Francis that I bade farewell to him and sent him to meet Tomas and Eoghan Ruadh and Joan of Arc, in the company of the saint and soldier, the gentle Francis of Assisi". 

When the Acting-President of the Republic, Arthur Griffith(left), over the grave of Terence MacSwiney said: “St. Joan of Arc welcomes a comrade in Heaven” he could have added “and a brother and fellow-soldier, too”.

Upon returning to Ireland, Dominic resumed his role as the chaplain to the fighting men of the IRA.

In December 1920, Bishop Daniel Cohalan (below, left) of Cork issued a decree saying that anyone within the diocese of Cork who organised or took part in ambushes or murder or attempted murder would be excommunicated. This was in response to the killing of an RIC man who was shot on the steps of a Protestant Church after Sunday services.

Dr Cohalan was an outspoken critic during the War of Independence, condemning acts of violence on both sides. In particular, he denounced the policy of reprisals.

At the time, Fr Dominic was the chaplain to the local Cork Brigade, and he wrote to Florrie O’Donohue concerning the edict that: "Kidnapping, ambushing, and killing obviously would be grave sins or violation of Canon Law. And if these acts were being performed by the Irish Volunteers as private persons, they would fall under excommunication.

But they are doing them with the authority of the Republic of Ireland….hence the acts performed by the Volunteers are not only not sinful, but are good and meritorious".

Then Dominic concluded: "Therefore the excommunication does not affect us. There is no need to worry about it.

There is no necessity for telling a priest in confession that you went to Mass on Sunday, so there is no necessity to tell him one is in the IRA, or that one took part in an ambush or killing etc".

So, in fact, Coholan’s excommunication edict had little effect on the Volunteers.

Later, for his devoted ministrations to MacSwiney, Fr Dominic was sent to Gaol.

Soon after his return to Ireland, Fr, Dominic and Fr. Albert were arrested at the Friary in Church Street. They were taken to Dublin Castle and in January 1921 were court martialled. 

While Fr. Albert was released, Fr. Dominic was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment.

Fr. Dominic’s “crime” was to have attended Lord Mayor MacSwiney in Brixton Prison.

Fr. Aloysius wrote of Dominic’s trial in his Witness Statement (number 201):

(Above) The Seraphic School at Rochestown, where the young Fr. Dominic studied.

(Below) Fr. Dominic O'Connor OFM Cap. being led away after the battle of the Four Courts (1922). (Photo courtesy Capuchin Archives).

"The offence and charge were (1) that in a letter written by him he had made statements or spread reports calculated to cause disaffection to His Majesty, and (2) having a memoranda the publication of which would be likely to cause disaffection to His Majesty.

The Memorandum Book contained - as Father Dominic explained in his statement - only the depositions taken from the dying Lord Mayor.

At the conclusion of the evidence the Court closed and Father Dominic remained in custody awaiting the promulgation of his sentence, which was not announced to him until January 29th. The sentence was five years’ penal servitude, with two remitted, i.e. three years’ penal servitude.

The British Government had on more than one occasion undertaken to the Lord Mayor of Dublin that political prisoners would receive special treatment, that is, that they would not be regarded as criminals but would enjoy certain [rights and] privileges consistent with the [taking] of their liberty or detention for political expediency, but those undertakings were not kept to and the punishment for political offences has been, over and over again, as is Father Dominic’s case, penal servitude or imprisonment in convict prisons with criminal convicts and under the same conditions".

On 31 January Father Dominic was led, handcuffed, under military escort to the boat at Dún Laoghaire and from Holyhead to London.

In the prison at Wormwood Scrubs his clerical attire was taken from him and, garbed in ordinary criminal convict clothes and again handcuffed, he was taken to Parkhurst Convict Prison on the Isle of Wight.

Fr Dominic served about a year of his imprisonment in Parkhurst Prison.

Following the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty in December 1921, there was a general amnesty and he was released in January 1922. On 25 February 1922, he was granted the freedom of Cork “as a mark of respect for his valuable services rendered to the first two Republican Lord Mayors of Cork”.

With the onset of the Civil War, the Capuchins in Church Street, Dublin, were once more involved in ministering to besieged Republicans. In June 1922 the Four Courts, located only a couple of hundred metres from the Friary, was attacked by Free State forces, and Fr. Dominic assisted by Fr. Albert, provided spiritual comfort, assisted in the evacuation of the wounded, and later facilitated the surrender of the defeated garrison.

During the Civil War, Capuchins continued to provide spiritual assistance to combatants, even though the bishops had pronounced excommunication against the “irregulars.” As far as the Capuchins were concerned, men acting in good faith and in daily danger of death were entitled to whatever spiritual comfort they could provide.

As the war continued, Fr Dominic returned to Holy Trinity, Cork. On 26 November 1922 the decision was made by the Provincial Definitory of the Capuchin Order to have Fr Dominic transferred to the Province’s Mission in Bend, Oregon. This was the location of Fr Luke Sheehan’s (Fr Dominic’s uncle) pioneering missionary work some years before. Dominic’s great friend, Fr Albert Bibby, was also assigned to America. Albert’s health was poor and he died at Santa Iñes Mission on 13th February 1925, attended by Fr Dominic.

In August 1935 Fr Dominic sustained serious injuries in a car accident from which he never fully recovered. He died on 17 October 1935 and was buried in Bend, Oregon. His remains, along with those of Fr Albert were later repatriated to Ireland and both were buried in Rochestown Cemetery on 14 June 1958.

       (c) 2014 Joe Connell

These articles are abbreviated from "Rebels' Priests - ministering to Republicans, 1916-23" by Joe Connell, published by Kilmainham Tales Teo. Further details here 

To see the other articles in this series go to the
'Priests and Friars' homepage here

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