Role played by Bertie Ahern’s father in IRA a century ago revealed in military files

Con Ahern turned down for a pension despite involvement in War of Independence

Former taoiseach Bertie Ahern whose father Con died in 1990. File image: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

Former taoiseach Bertie Ahern whose father Con died in 1990. File image: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

 

Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern’s father was turned down for a military pension despite claiming to have risked his life on a nightly basis to carry despatches for the IRA when he was just 15.

Cornelius ‘Con’ Ahern, who was born in 1904, was one of the founding members of the Nohoval IRA company near Kinsale in Co Cork in 1919.

Mr Ahern became the company’s armed scout, a job which he did on a “practically whole time” basis during the War of Independence, he claimed in his unsuccessful pension application.

It has been released by the Military Service Pensions Collection (MSPC) . Its ninth release of files relates to claims lodged by 1,170 individuals, or by their dependants, and contain new information on the War of Independence and the Civil War.

Mr Ahern told the pensions referee that in his role he had to deliver despatches using his own transport which often meant walking 10 miles or more even in the Black and Tans were operating in the district.

“It fell to my lot as armed scout in the Nohoval company of the advance guard to protect and if necessary to sacrifice my own life for to save my fellow comrades when raiding for arms, blowing up bridges or trenching roads to impede the movements of Britain’s armed forces,” he wrote to the pensions referee.

“My services were nearly whole time as it didn’t matter what time day or night, rain-lashed roads, whether the Crown Forces were operating in the area or not, these despatches had to be got at all cost to their designation.

“My home was HQ for despatches as it was on the direct line of brigade and battalion despatches passing through to any other brigade or battalion.”

Raiding houses

During the period before the treaty in July 1921, he was involved in raiding the houses of those in his district opposed to the IRA and interrogated those who “ridiculed the IRA”.

After the Truce, he was one of a number of men who occupied Kinsale barracks.

He took the anti-Treaty side in the Civil War and was second in command of the local company.

Part of Con Ahern’s application for a pension for service during the War of Independence. Image: Military Service Pensions Collection
Part of Con Ahern’s application for a pension for service during the War of Independence. Image: Military Service Pensions Collection

He claimed to have been involved in blowing up bridges in the area and was arrested by National Army forces in August 1922 and interned in Cork Female Prison in September 1922.

He was later interned in Tintown, the temporary facility for anti-Treaty prisoners at the Curragh, and went on hunger strike with other prisoners in 1923. He gave up his hunger strike when it was called off by the camp council.

Mr Ahern was turned down for a pension in November 1954 by the Department of Defence. No reason is given for the refusal and Mr Ahern does not appear to have appealed the decision.

Only a sixth of those who applied for pensions were granted them. You had to prove “active service” which involved being in direct combat with the enemy, a criteria which most former IRA volunteers did not meet.

He did, however, successfully apply for a medal for services rendered during the revolutionary period.

Letter informing Con Ahern his application had been turned down. Only a sixth of those who applied for pensions were granted them. Image: Military Service Pensions Collection
Letter informing Con Ahern his application had been turned down. Only a sixth of those who applied for pensions were granted them. Image: Military Service Pensions Collection

He moved to Dublin in the early 1930s to train for the priesthood, but did not complete his studies with the Vincentian Order. Instead, he became the farm manager at All Hallows College in Drumcondra. He died in 1990. His wife Julia died in 1998 at the age of 87 while her son was engaged in the Good Friday Agreement negotiations.

All three of their sons became Fianna Fáil politicians. Bertie Ahern served as Taoiseach from 1997 to 2008, Noel was a TD from 1992 to 2011 and a junior minister while Maurice, the oldest brother, was a former Lord Mayor of Dublin.