Seal of approval as historic items come home to Cork 100 years after 1921 IRA kidnapping 

The hip flask and seal returned to Bandon after an IRA kidnapping in 1921

Liam Collins

One hundred years after the dramatic IRA kidnapping of the Earl of Bandon and his neighbour Charles Sealy-King, two historic items — a hip flask and a family seal — that disappeared for a century have been returned to Bandon.

“The fact that our history lives and breathes, and its real relevance still persists, is proven yet again,” says Jane O’Hea O’Keeffe, who played the role of ‘go-between’ with the descendants of the kidnappers and their victims.

On Midsummer’s Day 1921 at about 6.30am, an IRA unit acting on the orders of Tom Barry broke into Castle Bernard overlooking the town of Bandon, Co Cork, to kidnap the 4th Earl of Bandon (71). When they couldn’t locate him, they set fire to the historic castle. As the fire began to take hold, Lord Bandon and his wife fled the building, into the arms of the IRA detachment, and he was taken away by his captors.

The same day, Tuesday, June 21, another unit kidnapped Charles Sealy-King (61), a near neighbour of Lord Bandon and a prominent British government official in Cork.

Both men survived, if scarred by the experience. Sealy-King was released when his hiding place was discovered 10 days later by a British army patrol. A week afterwards he left Ireland and died in England in 1941, his house having been ‘torched’ during the Civil War.

The day after the Anglo-Irish Truce, on July 12, 1921, Lord Bandon was released at the gates of his ruined castle and he too left for England, where he died in 1924.

Close to 100 years later, in August 2020, author Jane O’Hea O’Keeffe received an unexpected letter from a Mrs Mary (Wren) Crowley, who lives in Sligo.

She explained that she was the widow of Paddy Crowley, whose father Michael Crowley of Kilbrittain, was a young engineering student and member of the 3rd Brigade of the IRA in 1921.

“She had recently seen a photograph of the skeletal ruins of Castle Bernard on the front cover of my book Voices from the Great Irish Houses Cork and Kerry,” explains Jane O’Hea O’Keeffe.

“The book is based on an oral history collection, compiled by my husband Maurice and I for our Irish Life and Lore organisation.

"Lady Frances Carter, daughter of Percy Bernard, 5th Earl of Bandon, was recorded for the project. Coincidentally, my childhood home was in Coolfadda, directly across the river from Castle Bernard.”

Mrs Crowley wrote how her husband Paddy died in June 2018, but he had inherited a collection of documents and items from the Crowley family’s involvement in the IRA during the War of Independence.

He had always been anxious that two items, which he understood from his father had been taken from Castle Bernard in June 1921, should be returned to their owners.

O’Keeffe made contact with Lady Frances Carter, who was naturally intrigued by the story and agreed that her contact details be shared.

A hip flask and a family seal —  used to seal letters with wax — duly arrived at Castle Bernard, the Carter family home built in the grounds of the castle in Bandon.

It turned out that the 4th Earl had been partial to a drop of brandy and it may be assumed that the hip flask had been replenished during his time in captivity, which was largely spent playing cards with his captors.

Although it does not carry the crest of the Earl of Bandon, it is assumed that he left it behind when he was released or made a present of it to one of his captors.

The seal, however, did not belong to Lord Bandon, but to his friend Charles Sealy-King who was kidnapped the same day.

It is not clear how the items came into the possession of Michael Cowley as he was not involved in the kidnappings.

He told the Bureau of Military History of the events that day as follows: “Arrest of Ld (Lord) Bandon. Burning of Castle Bernard. Men involved: John O’Neill, J O’Mahony, J Roche, Denis O’Brien. Same day: Arrest of Sealy-King, Bandon. Men involved Patrick O’Sullivan, Patrick J O’Leary.”

Jane O’Hea O’Keeffe believes that Michael Crowley may have guarded the kidnapped men during their time in captivity and the items were either gifted or surrendered to him.

“It may have taken 100 years, but the wishes of the late Paddy Crowley, son of Michael Crowley, have now been fulfilled. I feel privileged to have played a small role,” she says.