Florence O’Donoghue, historian and head of intelligence of the Cork No. 1 Brigade of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) during the Irish War of Independence, dies on December 18, 1967, in Mercy University Hospital, Cork, County Cork.
O’Donoghue is born in Rathmore, County Kerry, on July 22, 1894, the son of farmer Patrick O’Donoghue and Margaret Cronin. He moves to Cork in 1910, where he works as an apprentice in the drapery trade.
The 1916 Easter Rising is a watershed in O’Donoghue’s life. In December 1916, he joins the Cork branch of the Irish Volunteers. In early 1917, he is elected unanimously First Lieutenant of the Cyclist Company and as a result devotes all his spare time to Volunteer work. He begins writing weekly for two years for The Irish World newspaper. By May 1917, he is sworn into the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) and in October, Tomás Mac Curtain appoints him head of communications of the Cork Brigade. He replaces Pat Higgins as Brigade Adjutant in February 1917. He is a key organiser in the sensational jailbreak of Captain Donnchadh Mac Niallghuis on Armistice Day 1918 and takes personal responsibility for his protection. Michael Collins is the last officer from Volunteers General Headquarters to visit Cork shortly after Christmas 1919, until the truce in 1921.
O’Donoghue builds up an intelligence network and agents which includes his future wife, Josephine Marchment. She is head female clerk at the 6th Division Headquarters at Victoria Barracks, Cork, and passes on secret British Army correspondence to him. He recruits people to open letters, tap phone lines and intercept telegrams. The Irish Republican Army has 2,000 active members in Cork which are also used for intelligence gathering. By March 1920, after killing a Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) Inspector, he is on the run and serving full-time in the IRA. In November of that year, the Cork Brigade kills six British Army officers and executes five Cork civilians on suspicion of spying.
After two and a half years of fighting, a truce is agreed upon on July 11, 1921. When the Dáil approves the Anglo-Irish Treaty, in January 1922, the IRA splits into pro- and anti-Treaty camps. Over the coming months and after being elected onto the army’s executive as Adjutant General, O’Donoghue warns of the dangers of an Irish Civil War. In June 1922, he resigns from the army’s national executive and a month later, on July 3, 1922, from the army. Civil war does break out on June 28, 1922 between pro- and anti-Treaty factions, much to his dismay.
During the Irish Civil War, O’Donoghue remains neutral and tries to organise a truce to end the fighting. In December 1922, he forms a group called the “Neutral IRA”, along with Seán O’Hegarty, composed of pro-truce IRA men. He claims he has 20,000 members in this group. He campaigns for a month’s truce between the two sides, so that a political compromise could be reached. However, his efforts come to nothing and in March 1923, he winds up the “Neutral IRA,” judging that its objectives cannot be achieved. The Irish Civil War ends on May 24, 1923.
O’Donoghue serves as major in the Irish Army from 1939-1946. He forms a Supplementary Intelligence Service that is to remain behind enemy lines in the event of an invasion. He also teaches guerrilla warfare tactics to new army recruits.
O’Donoghue marries Josephine Brown (née Marchment) in April 1921 and they have four children. The couple also adopts two children from Josephine’s first marriage, including Reggie Brown, whom O’Donoghue kidnaps from his grandparents in Wales in 1920. He becomes a rate collector and remains outside politics.
In later years O’Donoghue becomes a respected historian. While in the army he edits An Cosantóir, the Irish Army’s magazine. He convinces Éamon de Valera to establish the Bureau of Military History to record personal accounts from the Irish War of Independence. He is a recording officer until 1948. His most famous work is his biography on Liam Lynch, entitled No Other Law.
O’Donoghue dies on December 18, 1967, and Tom Barry gives the graveside oration. His papers are in the National Library of Ireland (NLI) and his statement to the Bureau of Military History is in the Military Archives.