Andrew Cooney, Irish republican and medical doctor, is born on April 22, 1897 in Ballyphillip, Nenagh, County Tipperary.
Cooney is the second of three children of John Cooney and Mary Ann Cooney (née Gleeson), middling farmers. While his grandfather, Patrick Cooney, from nearby Garrykennedy, is reputed to have been a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) and an Irish National Land League activist, his father does not have any inclination towards radical politics. He is educated at Lissenhall national school and St. Joseph’s CBS, Nenagh. In October 1916, he commences studies in medicine at University College Dublin (UCD) just as the Irish War of Independence is getting underway. He plays briefly with the College’s hurling club.
In 1917, Cooney joins the Third Battalion of the Dublin Brigade of the Irish Republican Army (IRA). A year later he is jailed for two months in Mountjoy Prison and Crumlin Road Gaol, Belfast, for illegal drilling. Joining the IRB at the end of 1918, he assists in the December 1918 election by protecting candidates and acts as a guard at sittings of the First Dáil. On June 26, 1920 he plays a major role in the attack on Borrisokane Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) barracks. He takes part in the Bloody Sunday operations of November 21, 1920, at 28 Upper Pembroke Street where a number of British agents are killed, and attends Croke Park afterwards. He then goes on the run as a full-time Volunteer and serves with the Dublin Brigade active service unit (ASU).
After the Anglo-Irish truce of July 1921, Cooney is appointed Officer Commanding (O/C) of the 1st Kerry Brigade, IRA, reorganising it and forming a flying column. Opposing the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921, he does not immediately break with GHQ, who sends him to organise the 1st Eastern Division. Later in January 1922, the Chief of Staff, Eoin O’Duffy, asks him to become O/C of the 3rd Eastern Division, but later rescinds the appointment. In March 1922 he is appointed O/C of the 1st Eastern Division of the anti-Treaty IRA during the Irish Civil War.
That same year he is captured by Free State forces and interned in Mountjoy Prison, where he becomes O/C of the prisoners in C Wing. He accepts responsibility for an attempted escape bid on October 10, 1922, in which a fellow prisoner, Peadar Breslin, is killed and another man is wounded. After sojourns in Newbridge and Arbour Hill Prison, he is moved with the other leaders to Kilmainham Gaol, where he spends forty-one days on hunger strike. Removed to Harepark Camp, the Curragh, on January 1, 1924, he is among the last to be released on May 29, 1924.
Cooney succeeds Frank Aiken as Chief of Staff of the IRA on November 18, 1925. Central to the reorganisation scheme he puts in place is the need to secure American funds for the IRA and to combat Frank Aiken’s fundraising work in the United States since December 1925 on behalf of the embryo Fianna Fáil organisation. Receiving permission on April 21, 1926, he departs on a fund-raising trip to the United States, but returns to Ireland in October. He resigns as chief of staff in favour of Maurice Twomey, but retains his position as chairman of the IRA executive until November 21, 1927, when he obtains leave to complete his medical studies.
After internship in the Mater Hospital, Dublin, Cooney finds temporary employment in London, but remains in touch with GHQ. On September 27, 1929, he marries the German-educated Frances (‘Frank’) Brady, daughter of a wealthy Belfast linen family and former Cumann na mBan activist and hunger-striker. The marriage is not a success. Failing to secure employment due to police harassment and the loyalty test then in force, he and his wife are obliged to emigrate to London, where he practises as a GP, still maintaining his IRA links. Their only child, Seán, is born there in 1931. He returns to Ireland in August 1932, after Fianna Fáil’s accession to power.
An intimate friend of Maurice Twomey, who is still Chief of Staff, Cooney remains in the upper echelons of the IRA and attends its conventions. Signifying his standing in republican circles, he is chosen to unveil, inter alia, the Fenian memorial in Glasnevin Cemetery and the Seán Treacy plaque in Talbot Street, Dublin, and is a regular speaker at commemorations. In March 1940, he attempts to intercede with Éamon de Valera on behalf of hunger-striking republicans, and is later arrested, but released.
After the discovery of a German spy ring in the hospitals commission’s subsidiary, the Dublin Hospitals Bureau, Cooney is forced to resign in April 1942 on refusing to take a loyalty pledge to the state. He returns to private practice. He becomes active in the unsuccessful campaign to save Charlie Kerins, Chief of Staff, from being hanged in 1944. In anticipation of emigrating, he finally resigns from the IRA in 1944, though military and police surveillance continue until March 1945.
In August 1945, Cooney joins the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, working with displaced persons in the American zone in Germany, and gains rapid promotion. After joining the International Refugee Organisation (UNRRA’s successor) on July 1, 1947, he becomes the chief medical officer of an area including the American sector of Berlin and containing 150,000 displaced persons. He later holds a similar post in Bavaria.
Appointed a part-time member of the hospitals commission by the inter-party government in September 1949 and in severe financial straits, Cooney emigrates alone to the United States on December 2, 1950, and never returns. While employed in a tuberculosis sanatorium in New Jersey, he obtains by examination his licence to practise medicine in Maryland on January 14, 1954. Admitted a member of the American College of Chest Physicians, again by examination, on November 23, 1954, he secures, at the age of 57, his first ever permanent post in medicine, in a similar hospital in Pikesville, Maryland. His republican activities continue through Clan na Gael during his U.S. years, and he is a frequent speaker at commemorative events.
Cooney suffers a stroke in December 1961 that confines him to a wheelchair. He dies at the age of 71 on August 4, 1968, at Carroll County General Hospital, Carroll County, Maryland. He is buried in Youghalarra, Nenagh, County Tipperary.
(Pictured: Liam Lynch with some of his Divisional Staff and Officers of the Brigades, including the 1st Southern Division, who attend as delegates to the Army Convention at the Mansion House, Dublin, on April 9, 1922. Cooney is first on the right in the 3rd row back.)