Corporal, later Sgt, John Francis Kavanagh in Irish Brigade

Kavanagh kavanagh medal card
Kavanagh in uniform  

Sean Francis Kavanagh was born on January 20, 1890 and died in August 1965. The Civil Registration shows a John Francis Kavanagh registered Dublin South in Jan - Mar 1890 Vol 2 page 549. The photograph shows him as Cpl, but April 1916 pay list has him as L/Cpl (with pay to match) and we know by 1918 he was a Sergeant.

1901 census The family are living at Upper Buckingham St, Dublin. His father is a "horse shoer" and his two older brothers ar apprentices in the horse shoeing trade.

1911 Census has John Kavanagh, single, living with his parents John & Mary Kavanagh at 43 Foley St., North Dock, Dublin. He is aged 21 and a farrier, the trade given by Casement. Note two Kavanagh families living next door to each other in Foley St, Dublin.

John Kavanagh joined the South Irish Horse which was a unit of the Special Reserve based in Dublin. No actual Territorial Force regiments of the Yeomanry were established in Ireland and so the South Irish Horse provided a mounted form of part-time soldiering. It was mobilised on declaration of war but very soon split up. B Squadron moved to France as GHQ Troops on 17 August 1914, one of the very few non-regular units to form part of the original BEF. War Diary of B Squadron. Only 2 of the 1914 Star men in SIH appear to have become POWs. Kavanagh's rank was "shoeing smith" which ties with Casement having him as a farrier by trade.

1914 Aug 5. Mobilised in Dublin

1917 Aug 17 Sailed from Dublin

1914 Aug 19 Lands in France at Le Harve

1914 Taken prisoner early in the war in the autumn of 1914, he went to Doenitz camp when captured, rather than Sennelager, then on to Limburg before the main Irish POWs arrive on 17 Dec 1914. He then followed the rest of the Irish Brigade through Limburg, Zossen and Danzig

American Consul mentioned South Irish Horse in connection with Kavanagh and Irish-American newspaper 'The Gaelic American' on 27 November 1915 pointed to this man. The identification of the NCOs photo in that issue was made by returning POWs and the Irish Police

Casements last words to Irish Brigade

Described by Monteith as a close friend of Michael O'Callaghan, and "an NCO of the type that delights a commander's heart. There is nothing of the martinet about him, but he could handle men. A barrack room scrap was smoothed down by him as a raging sea by a flood of oil"

He was still a Territorial in South Irish Horse, and I assume that the Corps of Hussars number on his MIC dates from 1917 renumbering of Territorials

1915 April. Kavanagh was one of the early recruits to the Irish Brigade, and appears have joined after Dowling (end March 1915), but before Plunkett's arrival (early May 1915).

1915 Dec As would be expected, Kavanagh volunteered for service in Egypt.

1916 Apr 10 Kavanagh recalls meeting Casement at the Hotel Saxonia in Berlin. Casement was nervous and gave him pay for the brigade before leaving for Ireland. Asked Kavanagh what men could be relied on for special missions

kavanagh pass

1917 Nov 4. A letter from Hahn shows that Kavanagh was still a Corporal at this date. He presumably was promoted Sergeant when Dowling left for Ireland.

1918 Kavanagh appears to have been the senior man at Danzig after Dowling departed for Ireland in April, Keogh had disappeared from the camp to work as a civilian, as was Quinlisk and O'Toole was in Berlin.

1918 May 1. Zerhusen tells Gaffney that he heard from Kavanagh that Keogh was behaving badly, had been drunk, misbehaved in Dresden, and that Keogh had misappropriated the St Patricks Day funds from the previous year that Gaffney had sent the Brigade

1918 Nov 7. Gaffney gets a letter from a group in the Brigade, who denounce Gaffney and Chatterton Hill as not being "true Irishmen". The letter is signed by Keogh, Kavanagh, Forde, Mallon. Delamore, Carroll, Collins, Wilson, Daly, P. McGrath

1918 Nov 12. O'Toole tells Gaffney that Keogh and Kavanagh want to get Gaffney replaced by Hansen, a German-American, as their "leader".

1918 Nov. Zerhusen writes that he went to Munich with Kavanagh at this time to talk to Bavarian Government, to ensure that they were prepared to have the Irishmen in Bavaria. They had an interview with Senator von Ruhr. When the Bavarian government agreed to accept the Irish in Bavaria, they returned to Danzig to fix the passes. Kavanagh, memoirs say the same. Men who wished to do so went to Munich, others went to Berlin and a few stayed in or around Danzig. Kavanagh was acting as the senior Brigade man at this time.

hamburg dock police

Kavanagh on garrison Escort transport Duty, Hamburg

Kavanagh and Zerhusen went to Hamburg, and stayed at Zerhusen's house at Richter Strasse, Uhlenhorst, Hamburg for one night. There they picked up Irish Brigade papers that Mrs Zerhusen had been holding in safe keeping. They later deposited these in banks in Hamburg and Berlin. They appear to have called on Mrs Grabisch in Berlin to complain that she was advising Brigade men to hand themselves over to the British Army.

Zerhusen and Kavanagh then went to Munich where they met Keogh, Granaghan and Delamore. Kavanagh says

1918 Dec. Kavanagh served first in the German Army and later in the Hamburg mounted dock police after the war until his return to Ireland. Timews Jun 1919

1919 Jun 19. Kavanagh was sent as part of a military advance on the city to take back the municipal buildings from the Workers Council. In the end the troops were captured without bloodshed and marched to the town hall, then to the Gnoden Church, and from thence to an open field called Heiligengeistfeld, where they were menaced by machine guns. The editor of the Red Flag paper warned their captors not to harm them as troops were advancing on the city. The captured troops were then taken to the city prison, where Kavanagh was released the next morning, and got back to barracks. He was granted 14 days leave after his ordeal.

Shortly after this event, Kavanagh transferred to the Hamburg Dock Police. He was stationed at the Vedel, and from here they controlled the Customs Station and 600 dock workers. Here here came into contact with IRB gun runners, liasing with Jack McGee who was in charge of the gun smuggling operation. Kavanagh names the agents he worked with as Hughie O'Rourke, P.H.Henry, P. Keegan, Willie Devine, Paddy O'Flaherty, Mick O'Dowd, Pat Devlin and Tom O'Connor.

kavanagh engagement

Kavanagh gets engaged 27 Sep 1919 under his assumed name

1919 Set 27. He became engaged to, and later married, Marguerita Augusta Julia Hollman of Hamburg.  She had a sister Anna, and they were half-German, half-French. John and Marguerita Kavanagh had one child in Germany born before he went back to Ireland in 1922.

1920 Dec. Following Bloody Sunday, 21 Nov 1920, 3 men on the run from Ireland arrived on SS Vindicut and transferred in Hamburg Docks to the SS Manchuria. I cannot find the first ship, but the Manchuria certainly was sailing between Hamburg and New York at this time.

1921 Jan 7. He was summoned to New York by Jimmy McGee, and took the place of a stoker on the SS East Indian. He met McGee in New York, and was sworn in as a member of the IRB. He also met Harry Boland in New York. It is unclear why he had to go to New York. He was a steward at a rally at New York's Madison Square Gardens on 7 January 1921 at which Boland was the speaker. Soon after this he returned to Hamburg on the SS Mongolia as a crew member.

Arms were purchased and piled up in a Hamburg warehouse. The Anita was seized in Hamburg on 21 Oct 1921 laden with arms for Ireland. Briscoe, the man running the operation, bought an old tramp steamer, the Karl Marx, and a seagoing tugboat, the Frieda. Briscoe loaded the Karl Marx with cement and had it sail north and south and north again shadowed by the suspicious Royal Navy. Meanwhile the arms-laden little Frieda slipped away and made a daring and successful run to Waterford docking on 11 November 1921after a difficult 10 day voyage with 200 rifles and 20,000 rounds of ammunition.

1922 Feb He is summoned to Berlin by the Irish Envoy, John Chartres, and get a Dail Eireann passport for himself and his family. He got a Dail Eireann passport on 18 March 1922, which gave him and his family a month to get to Ireland.

Briscoe also ran the City of Dortmund, to and from German ports, with an all-IRA crew. In one of his finest operations, just before a peace treaty was agreed with Britain, Briscoe landed a haul of machine guns and a million rounds of ammunition in Ireland from the gunrunning ship Hannah. The Hannah set sail from Bremen March 23, 1922. Arrived April 3, 1922.

John Francis Kavanagh

1922 Mar 28, John Kavanagh and his wife and child (Desmond) sailed back to Ireland with Keogh plus his wife and 2 children (Joseph and Roger). on board the SS City of Dortmund, captained by Charles McGuinness. They had a very stormy crossing to Ireland

1922 Apr 2. The ship arrived in Cork where , they were met by Commandant Buckley and Capt Fitzgerald, 1st Cork Brigade of IRA.. They stayed that night at the Thomond Hotel, Georges St, and went up to Dublin the next day. They saw the Minister of External Affairs, George Gavin Duffy, the next day in his offices in Kildare St. However Duffy was very brusque with them and told them they should have stayed in Germany. They then went to Beggars Bush barracks, but were unable to see General Duffy. Next they went see Harry Boland in Stratford St, Boland was not there at the time, but they saw a Humphry Murphy, who did not believe their tales and threw them out.

1922 May he joined the Free State army, and served for two years in it.

His son Pearse was born while Kavanagh was stationed at Arbour Hill Barracks (Collins Barracks or Royal Barracks at different points in time). Indicating that Kavanagh was in the Free State Army at that time.

1924 July. Kavanagh left the Free State army as a sergeant. He had served with Keogh, as they sent a joint letter to the Irish Ministry of Defence asking for compensation, and putting their losses from joining the Irish Brigade at £723. The Irish government appear to have paid them £50 for the purposing of getting them to return to Germany

There was at five child of his marriage to Marguerita Hollmann.

1932 Aug. Attended Joseph Dowling's funeral

1935 Aug 5. Attends Casement memorial service in Dublin

Irish Times report of Dec 1937

1937 He ran into problems with eviction in Dublin.

kavanagh airport workers

1939 Airport workers group, Sean Kavanagh is back row, extreme left, his address is given as "airport"

1940 He worked at Collinstown (Dublin) Airport as a caretaker, and the airport only opened in 1940. We know he moved to England, and that must have been around this time. Collinstown, to the north of Dublin, was selected as the location for the new civil aerodrome. It had been a British military air base during World War I, but had been unused since 1922. Construction of the new airport began in 1937. By the end of 1939 a grass airfield surface, internal roads, car parks and electrical power and lighting were set up. The inaugural flight from Dublin took place on 19 January 1940 to Liverpool. In 1940 work began on a new airport terminal building. It opened in early 1941. During World War II, services were severely restricted at Dublin Airport until late 1945 and the only international scheduled route operated during this time was by Aer Lingus to Liverpool. Three new concrete runways were completed by 1947.

1960 Kavanagh moved back to Dublin from England and he and his wife went to live with Pearse and Brid.

1965 Aug. John Kavanagh dies. And his wife Marguerita Kavanagh died in 1978.

Kavanagh book

In 1997 his grand-daughter, Eileen Keely, tried to publish a book that he had written many years earlier, but without success. There is a reference to the copyright in 1997 - The betrayal of Roger Casement and the Irish Brigade, a 274 page book written in 1955 by Sean Francis Kavanagh, 1891-1965. There were 5 copies of this memoir made. I have read one that was sold by a member of the family, and included the information in this life of Kavanagh. Unfortunately, like Keogh, Kavanagh tries to portray himself as the hero of the Irish Brigade, and all his statements have to be verified to separate the truth from the aggrandizement. But it does have the advantage of being a first hand account, and one can put it beside other first hand accounts.

Sean Kavanagh book on Irish brigade

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