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Thread: Times of Trouble - Josephine Brown

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    Default Times of Trouble - Josephine Brown

    Am An Ghátair - Times of Trouble. In Ainm an Mhic - In the name of the son. TG4.

    November, 1919, Josephine Brown offered her services as a spy to the to Florrie O'Donoghue of the IRA's intelligence in Cork. In return, he promised to get her son back from her parents-in-law whose custody they had won in a court battle in Wales.

    Six years prior to her meeting with Florrie, Josephine was living in Wales and married a young Methodist called Coleridge Brown who converted to Catholicsm to marry her. This was very much against his family's wishes as they were staunch Methodists. In 1916 Coleridge enlisted in the British army and was sent to France. This meant the Josephine and her two young sons had to move in with his parents. Before he left for France, Coleridge wrote two letters which he entrusted to his lawyer and were only to be opened in the event of his death.

    Josephine was very ill-at-ease in this strict Protestant household and tensions were high. The family were intent on instilling the protestant faith in Josephine's two young sons Reggie and Gerald against her wishes and as she believed, her husband's wishes.

    Back in Wales Josephine leaves her parents-in-law's house as she can no longer stand the tension within and decides to return to Ireland. Her in laws persuade her to leave Reggie with them until Coleridge returns from the war. Josephine agrees reluctantly as she has little family support at home in Cork. Her mother having died in 1914 and her father died in 1916. Her only asset was the house they left her. She does however bring her youngest son Gerald, who's only a toddler, with her back to Ireland.

    Florrie is appointed the Brigade's Chief Intelligence Officer. He sets up a grass roots intelligence contact in every neighbourhood through post offices, telephone exchanges, hotels, bars and restaurants, anywhere British officers and personnel frequented. He'd meet a source in a pub and they would tap out simple messages with their fingers on the bar, morse code like. Through his contacts he collected and collated all these messages.

    Mid 1917 - Josephine receives a telegram from the army informing her of her husband's Coleridge death. Josephine sets about getting Reggie back and wrote to her parents-in-law and requested his return. They refused. Josephine had no choice but to bring a custody case.

    Fr. Dominic O' Connor was a Capuchin priest and a radical republican. Fr. Dominic was spiritual advisor to a lot of the republicans who bauked at the killing. Fr. Dominic was their confessor. He convinced them that that they had not only a right to oppose oppression but it was also their obligation.

    In late 1917, Josephine knew that she would have to show the British courts that she was financially able to take care of both her sons so she obtained a job as a secretary in Victoria Barracks. She was a war widow and the daughter of an RIC man so the British felt they could trust her. The Sixth Division was based in Victoria Barracks and oversaw the whole of Munster and a few other counties. Strategically speaking Victoria Barracks was of paramount important and was in charge of over 20,000 troops in Munster.

    Josephine lost the custody battle of her son Reggie when one of the letters Coleridge had written was opened in court saying that he did not want Reggie to be brought up a Catholic and that it was his wish that Reggie was to remain with his parents and be bought up a Methodist. Josephine never knew about any of this and was devastated.

    Josephine had no choice but to return to Cork and her job where she was promoted to a supervisory position just as the war was intensifying in Cork.

    By now Florrie was Adjutant of the Cork No 1 Brigade and was intercepting police telegraph messages. In February 1920, he intercepted one message for an important agent in Cork a Michael Quinlisk who the IRA knew had been trying to infiltrate their ranks. On foot of this message they put a bullet in his head and hung a sign around his neck saying "spies and informers beware". Quinlisk was the first spy to be killed in Cork.

    Josephine, while praying silently in the Holy Trinity Church met Fr. Dominic and she explained her situation. w
    When he found out that she worked in Victoria Barracks he asked her for a written code that he could pass to the IRA promising her that he would get your son back. Some days later Florrie arrived at Josephine's door and handed her the code and after talking Josephine was enlisted as a spy. In return the IRA would get her son back. The information that she passed to Florrie was deemed unique and she soon became one of the IRA's most important spies. Liam Tobin who ran Collin's intelligence department in Dublin rated her as their most important outside of their people in Dublin Castle.

    Josephine, while not Strickland's secretary did provide sectarian services for him. She noted that he didn't even trust his own entries into his private diary. When entering his loyalist contacts he gave them an alias. He knew that information was leaking from the barracks. By the summer of 1920, the IRA were winning the intelligence war and had by now started to execute alleged spies. On one occasion they beat a suspected informer and left him for dead. Contacted by a staff member of the hospital and informed that he was alive and talking, an IRA squad went to the hospital and dragged him out of the operating theatre and shot him dead outside the hospital front door. In a period of three weeks in 1920 the IRA executed 8 people.

    Florrie procrastinated about his side of the bargain. Kidnapping the child was the only option but this could end Josephine's very valuable career as a spy. But Josephine was no pushover and after six months withdrew her services. Florrie had to seek permission from Michael Colllins for the kidnapping which was duly granted. Florrie and Jack Cody went to Wales and kidnapped the child and brought him back to Cork unhindered and for the first time in two years, Josephine was reunited with her son.

    On foot of alleged information that Josephine acquired, two of her own neighbours, the Blemens, were taken in the middle of the night and shot. A picture of Josephine has emerged as a type of "Lady McBeth" who killed protestant youths in Cork.

    Scotland Yard investigated the kidnapping and even came to Cork in 1921 to interview Josephine but they didn't find the child. It's very odd that given the situation, she was allowed to remain in her job in Victoria Barracks. Strickland knew very valuable information was leaking and he must have known that Reggie was kidnapped from Wales by two men. All the while Josephine continue to work in Victoria Barracks.

    How did Strickland fail to make the connection between Josephine, the kidnapping and the IRA? In fact it beggers belief.

    Fr. Dominic married Josephine and Florrie in April 1921 in the middle of the night because by this time Florrie was on the run. Later Florrie adopted Reggie and Gerald and they had four more children.

    The Cork No 1 Brigade killed at least 27 alleged spies in 1920-1921 but it is unclear if any died on the foot of information supplied by Josephine.

    There is a list of programme contributors below:- McCarthy argues that if you lived beside Josephine and were protestant, you were likely to get a knock on your door in the middle of the night and taken out and shot. Borgonovo and De Rís argue that there is no evidence to support this yet.

    Programme contributors, Aoife Uí Fhaoláin, Mary Harris, Liam Ó Mathúna, John Borgonovo, John Paul McCarthy, Eamon Lankford, Seoirse de Rís. McCarthy stated that "Guerilla warfare frightens him. Once it starts its very hard to bring it to an end unless the architects are killed".

    Good on TG4 for bringing the lesser know history of the War of Independence to the public's attention and more importantly, highlighting the role of women in the War.

    I have to admit, until this week I have never heard of Josephine. Has anyone any further information on her?
    Last edited by runwiththewind; 18th November 2012 at 03:01 AM.
    If we got rid of all the papists, there'd be no trouble whatsoever. The place will be nirvana. Schomberg.

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    Politics.ie Member Cabbage/Turnip's Avatar
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    i watched this documentary the last night it was a great watch. TG4 really are up there when making documentries RTE lag well behind in my opinion.

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    Politics.ie Member former wesleyan's Avatar
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    As this was just after Ne Temere, I don't blame the father. It was the custom before Ne Temere to bring up the boys as Protestants and the girls as Roman Catholics. Was the letter produced during the documentary ; or was it ever independently verified ?
    "What Michael Collins accepted in '22,De Valera accepted in'27 and Gerry Adams accepted in '98.Sooner or later they all come around to accepting the Treaty"

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    Quote Originally Posted by former wesleyan View Post
    As this was just after Ne Temere, I don't blame the father. It was the custom before Ne Temere to bring up the boys as Protestants and the girls as Roman Catholics. Was the letter produced during the documentary ; or was it ever independently verified ?
    I assume the letter was handed over the the family by his lawyer on his death and was accepted by the court as authentic. No mention of the second letter though.

    It was loosing the custody battle that drove her into the arms of the IRA.

    What I don't get though is the fact that she remained working in Victoria Barracks unhindered even after the kidnapping, Strickland knew valuable information was leaking. How in god's named did he not connect the kidnapping and the leaking of information back to her. It's beyond stupid really.

    Unfortunately the British military documents of that era wont be released for another decade and when they are they could blow our historical understanding of that era wide open. Josephine, as supervisor of the typing pool, had access to most of the files and would have known who the IRA suspected and all she had to do is find out if they were right or not.

    Pity the programme didn't refer to Scotland Yards investigative papers, if there are available. What do they think happened to the child? Did they think the child disappeared into oblivion and the kidnapping had nothing to do with Josephine.

    Did any historian ever interview him, I wonder or his children who are surely alive today.
    Last edited by runwiththewind; 18th November 2012 at 12:17 PM.
    If we got rid of all the papists, there'd be no trouble whatsoever. The place will be nirvana. Schomberg.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Cabbage/Turnip View Post
    i watched this documentary the last night it was a great watch. TG4 really are up there when making documentries RTE lag well behind in my opinion.
    Yes they are great and they highlight the lesser know personalities. In fairness, I should probably have known who Florries wife was but I didn't and certainly didn't anything about her central role in their intelligence.

    These women in telephone exchanges and post offices, pubs and restaurants were just as important as the men doing the actual fighting.
    If we got rid of all the papists, there'd be no trouble whatsoever. The place will be nirvana. Schomberg.

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    Another fine programme from TG4, though it was too short as it rushed the period after the kidnap.
    Few questions :
    Am an Ghatair , I've never come across the word " gatair " before, anyone else ?
    The guy John Paul McCarthy seemed to be of some authority on the era, who is he ?
    Anyone know anything as to how the kidnapped son turned out ? Did he live in Cork as an adult ?
    Finally, a comment, John A is a beautiful Irish speaker, his blas is a gem.

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    Quote Originally Posted by cricket View Post
    Another fine programme from TG4, though it was too short as it rushed the period after the kidnap.
    Few questions :
    Am an Ghatair , I've never come across the word " gatair " before, anyone else ?
    The guy John Paul McCarthy seemed to be of some authority on the era, who is he ?
    Anyone know anything as to how the kidnapped son turned out ? Did he live in Cork as an adult ?
    Finally, a comment, John A is a beautiful Irish speaker, his blas is a gem.
    Not sure which university he is affiliated to but he writes a lot for the Irish Independent.

    Agreed that the programme was too short and could have done with a chapter on their lives after the WOI.
    If we got rid of all the papists, there'd be no trouble whatsoever. The place will be nirvana. Schomberg.

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    Politics.ie Member Little_Korean's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by cricket View Post
    Anyone know anything as to how the kidnapped son turned out ? Did he live in Cork as an adult ?
    I was wondering the same. Reggie must have had quite a few issues left over from the whole episode.

    Never heard of Josephine Brown before. Tom Barry makes no mention of her in his memoirs, perhaps from the sheer oddity of it and how it would look.

    That Brown was spying on a quid pro quo basis does raise the issue of how reliable her info was, it being the basis of her use of IRA 'services.'

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    Quote Originally Posted by Little_Korean View Post
    I was wondering the same. Reggie must have had quite a few issues left over from the whole episode.

    Never heard of Josephine Brown before. Tom Barry makes no mention of her in his memoirs, perhaps from the sheer oddity of it and how it would look.

    That Brown was spying on a quid pro quo basis does raise the issue of how reliable her info was, it being the basis of her use of IRA 'services.'
    The programme did say that there was tension between Florrie and Josephine from their first meeting. It was six months before Reggie was kidnapped. Some of the historians hinted that they may have been romantically involved from the outset. Collins wanted to us his IRB men in England to do the kidnapping but Florrie insisted on going and bringing his own man with him. Chances were they were romantically involved since they first met. They only met in early 1920 and were married in April 1921. This would indicate that the information was reliable and continued to spy until the British left the barracks.

    Between losing the custody battle and meeting Florrie for the first time was a two year time frame. It could have been the Josephine's position was well established in the barracks and when information began to leak she wasn't suspected.

    Would love to know what her in-laws thought happened to their grandson. Shame they didn't follow that up. How did she keep the child hidden from the end of 1920 to the end of the WOI in July, 1921?
    If we got rid of all the papists, there'd be no trouble whatsoever. The place will be nirvana. Schomberg.

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    "Florrie is appointed the Brigade's Chief Intelligence Officer. He sets up a grass roots intelligence contact in every neighbourhood through post offices, telephone exchanges, hotels, bars and restaurants, anywhere British officers and personnel frequented. He'd meet a source in a pub and they would tap out simple messages with their fingers on the bar, morse code like. Through his contacts he collected and collated all these messages."

    That's a great system, and an active imagination might permit one to believe that it worked all the time. As the saying goes, 'wars are times for settling scores.' It's likely that many people were executed on the flimsiest of evidence or gossip; a man who served in the British military during the Great War, or a drunk known for shooting his mouth off and beating his wife could become a target of the IRA too.

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