Service medal issued by state 94 years after Limerick man's death

Posthumous award for Bruff man who fought in War of Independence

Donal O'Regan


Donal O'Regan

Service medal issued by state 94 years after Limerick man's death

Owen O’Brien, Bruff, pictured circa 1917 - a photograph that was carefully kept by the family

A COUNTY Limerick man, who fought for Irish freedom and died in an internment camp, has been awarded the Service Medal (1917-1921) almost a century after his passing.

Descendants of Owen O’Brien, originally from Holycross, Bruff, petitioned Presidenet Michael D Higgins in his capacity as Supreme Commander of the Irish Defence Forces to give some posthumous recognition to their relative. 

Their wish was granted and they proudly received in the post the commendation known as the "Black and Tan" medal for his contribution to the cause of Irish freedom during the War of Independence. Owen’s grand-nephew Batt O’Brien – grandson of Owen’s brother Batt - did a lot of research in the national archives and found out a lot of information pertaining to the career of his late relative.

Owen, who was born in 1891, was the former Vice Commandant Ahane Company, Mid-Limerick Brigade IRA (Castleconnell Battalion).

Batt’s younger brother, Liam, said they decided as a family to try and get Owen O’Brien’s contribution to the Irish state recognised. 

“He was originally from Holycross but by the time of the revolutionary period he had moved to Annacotty to work there as a butter maker at the local creamery.

“Hence, he joined the Mid-Limerick Brigade IRA unlike his brothers Batt, Ned and Tom who were in the East Limerick Brigade,” said Liam.

Owen was very active during the War of Independence in Limerick and took part in many actions in the area until the truce of 1921. 

“At the outbreak of the Civil War in 1922 he sided with the Anti-Treaty IRA under the command of fellow Limerick man Liam Lynch.

“Owen was subsequently arrested by the army of the Free State in September of that year and died of pneumonia in the wretched conditions of the Curragh internment camp six months later on March 30, 1923. He was only 32,” said Liam, who lives in Shannon Banks.

On April 12, the Department of Defence announced that Owen O’Brien would be awarded the Service Medal and it arrived in the post in the last few weeks.

“We were all delighted, particularly Owen’s nephew Wille O’Brien and nieces Mary Daly and Lucy Hynes.

“We are planning a family memorial in the Republican plot in Mount St Lawrence cemetery where Owen is buried in August,” said Liam.

He came across the wonderful photograph, that is printed above, in the care of his aunt Lucy Hynes of Grange.

“It was taken over a hundred years ago so it would be rare enough. I got Michael Martin Photography to spruce it up.

“Nowadays photos are two a penny but in those days it was quite an expensive thing to get a professional photograph taken. He would have had to buy a good suit as well to look the part.

“In that era it seemed to be the done thing for those who chose military life to go and get a professional photo of themselves taken,” said Liam.

As well as striking the medal with Owen O’Brien’s name engraved on it, the Department of Defence is going to put his file up on the military archive so researchers can access his story.

“We are all delighted it all worked out. I think everyone comes to a point when they become interested in their own family’s history, regardless of what it is; and when you do, you soon realise how connected you are to it,” concluded Liam.