The following is the unchanged text of a report from The Cork Examiner from February 1915, shortly after Sgt. Michael O’Leary of Killbarry, Inchigeela, Co. Cork had won a Victoria Cross while fighting in the British army in France. It should be noted that the Army used the story to increase recruitment into the army and wanted to show the story in a heroic light. At this point World War One was just six months old and the fighting was to reach horrific proportions over the following three years. The Cumann Staire would like to thank John and Mary O’Shea, Coolroe West for the original.


Story of the Feat.


Comrade’s Details.


English Appreciation.


How Sergeant Michael O’Leary, the fair-haired Irish Guardsman, won his VC and promotion on the battlefield was related to a "Daily Mail" representative by Company Quartermaster-Sergeant J.G. Lowry of the Irish Guards.


"For more than a week", said Sgt. Lowry, "our first battalion had been holding trenches near La Bassee brickfield, and our losses were heavy. The Germans had excellent cover both in the trenches and behind the stacks of bricks, and the bombs thrown by their mortars cost us dearly.


"The night before the taking of the brick-field we lost two officers among the killed, and it was decided that the trenches were too expensive to hold. We had worked in 48-hour turns, fighting all the time, sniping and throwing hand grenades. We were up close to the Germans and we gave them as good as they gave us. The pace was fierce particularly at night.


"We were all delighted therefore when the order came that the brickfield was to be taken by assault the next day at two o’clock.


"The French were on the right. My Company is No. 2 and Sgt. O’Leary’s is No. 1. They were on our left and on their left were some Coldstreamers.


"At two o’clock exactly the next day the British and French artillery opened up on the brick-field. My company were ordered from our trench to keep up a hot rifle and machine gun fire across the German trenches and points of cover. Our business was to make the enemy keep their heads down no matter how much they were troubled by the artillery.


"The diversion we and the artillery caused led the Germans to expect something was going to happen from our direction and they devoted particular attention to our trench. After the rain of bullets and shrapnel had been kept up for twenty minutes, No.1Company was let loose on our left. They came out of their trenches with a yell; bayonets fixed and went for the enemy at the double.


"They had from 100 to 150 yards to travel and they went at a tidy pace, but were easily out-stripped by Lance-Corporal O’Leary, as he then was. He never looked to see if his mates were coming and he must have done pretty much even time over that patch of ground. When he got near the end of one of the German trenches he dropped and so did many more a long way behind him. The enemy had discovered what was up.


"A machine gun was O’Leary’s mark. Before the Germans could manage to slew round and meet the charging men, O’Leary picked off the whole of the five of the machine gun crew. Leaving some of his mates to come up and capture the gun, he dashed forward to the second barricade, which the Germans were quitting in a hurry and shot three more.

"Some of the enemy who couldn’t get away quick enough faced our men but very little bayonet work was needed. The majority did not wait and we picked them off a good lot of them from our trenches as they left their holes.


"I had a job keeping my men in the trench. "Why can’t we go across?" they shouted at me and I wanted to go as much as they did. We soon understood how necessary it was to keep up the steady fire. We actually lost more men than the storming party.


"The brickfield was won inside half an hour. We went forward and occupied the German trenches and prepared for a counter attack but one never came.


"O’Leary came back from his killing as cool as if he had been for a walk in the park and accompanied by two prisoners he had taken. He probably saved the lives of the whole company. If the machine gun had got slewed round No. 1 Company might have been nearly wiped out. We all quickly appreciated the value of O’Leary’s sprinting and crack shooting and when we were relieved that night, dog-tired as we were, O’Leary nearly had his hand shaken off by his comrades.


"Next morning he was promoted on the field to full sergeant by Major the Hon. J.F. Trefusis, and I see in this mornings paper the major has won the DSO. If any man ever deserved it, it is Major Trefusis.


"Sgt. O’Leary has brought back the Victoria Cross to the Irish Guards. We lost ours when Brigadier-General Fitz-Clarence was killed. He won his VC in the South African War.

"The 1st Battalion of the Irish Guards has been at the front since the beginning. We were in the retreat from Mons. Sergeant O’Leary joined us about three months ago. After his first three years service in the battalion he went to Canada and joined the North West Mounted Police. Although he is a quiet and unassuming chap he has many good tales to tell about his adventurous life Out West. I don’t think he’s 25 yet.


"He seemed surprised that his comrades thought he had done something wonderful"



The "Globe" says, "When Amadis or Orlando hew whole armies of pagans in pieces, or slaughtered Ogres as one might kill flies, the modern reader dismisses their mythical exploits with a smile of contempt. When Hector is raging around the walls of Troy, or Jason is holding wild bulls by the horns, he puts it all down to poetic licence and turns for consolation to the more credible adventures of Ulysses or the poignant lament of Andromache. Will the deeds of our Paladins at the front like wise pass into myth, when a thousand years have rolled over this old world and mankind has become even more aceptical and less muscular than today? One would like to know for instance how the story of that nameless hero who laid four Germans with no better weapon than a shovel will be received by the cultured inhabitants of Greenland a millennium hence. How will they regard the exploits of Corporal O’Leary? It will be fortunate if they do not class him with Fingal and Achilles, with no better reason than the inherent unlikelihood of such a tale been true. Future ages must look after themselves. We know that O’Leary and the warrior with the shovel are veritable flesh and blood.



The "Evening Standard" says –As a Russian volunteer ranker expressed it to a paper a few months ago "Things which would be reckoned noble and heroic in ordinary life seem common-place here." That feeling breathes through Michael O’Leary’s own description of his feat on February 1st. Gen. French in giving an account of the way in which the party of Irish and Coldstream Guards stormed successively two German barricades in a village, terms it an instance of "indomitable pluck." The barricades were brilliantly taken. And Gen. French is a man who has seen war at close quarters, and is more capable than most men of keeping a sense of proportion, and the foremost man in this exhibition of indomitable pluck was Michael O’Leary, who led the way and in the words of the official account, killed five Germans on the first barricade, three on the second and took two prisoners. Yet, this hero of the barricades of Cuinchy is marvellously indifferent to his own achievements in sending news of the affair to his relatives. Probably this is a reflex of his actual feelings at the moment.



Other tributes collected by the London Evening News are: -


Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – "No writer in fiction would dare to fasten such an achievement on any of his characters, but the Irish have always had a reputation of being wonderful fighters, and Lance-Corporal Michael O’Leary is clearly one of them."


Mr. Thos. Scalan, MP – "I heard early this week of the great achievements of the Irish Guards. All Ireland is proud of O’Leary. He fully deserves the high honour that has been conferred upon him. Ireland is grateful to him."


The Countess of Limerick, - "The Irishman never fails. O’Leary is typical of the Irish man and the Irish Guardsman. His exploit – the finest thing in the whole war – does not surprise me.

The leader of the famous Driscoll Scouts; - "Magnificent O’Leary’s exploit was thoroughly Irish in method and execution. This splendid Irish Guardsman deserves to rank as one of the greatest heroes of modern warfare.


Mr. T.P. O’Connor, M.P.; - "I am moved to admiration by the splendid courage of so many men and officers of every race. I am particularly proud that one of my own people should have been so foremost in these wonderful and brave achievements. It is only one of the many exploits which reveal the Irish as great fighters and is a vindication of Mr. Redmond and his colleagues in calling upon their people to rally to the great cause of the Allies."






The "Globe" dedicated to O’Leary the following; -


"The Celtic fighting men of yore

Faced fearful odds, and bravely bore

Their proud shields to the kill.

Today O’Leary’s daring shows

The blood of old Cuchullin flows

In Erin’s warriors still.


Recruiting Headquarters at Whitehall have been quick to see in the exploits Lance-Corporal O’Leary the means of adding to the ranks of the new armies, and that the story of the thrilling encounter is to be read from recruiting platforms.



In an interesting letterto his old school teacher Mr. O’Dea, Kilbarry, Sgt. Michael O’Leary VC writes under date Jan. 7th: - "Thanks very much for your parcel of the 2nd inst. I was so glad to hear from you, as it was the last thing in the world I expected and I assure you they were welcome as I had just run out. We thoroughly enjoyed the cigars, me and my mate, and smiled when we blew the smoke towards the Germans. I hadn’t a bad Christmas, taking it all round. We had some Christmas pudding sent by Princess Mary and enjoyed it as well as the cigarettes, pipes and tobacco. The fighting around Christmas was very quiet but on St. Stephen’s night they thought to attack us. We had a two round contest. I said to my mate that this would be a three round contest but no, the shower of lead we sent across in the second round was too much for them. They know what the Irish Guards are to their grief – they are not so fond of attacking us now. They dread our steel and know to their cost that the Irish Guards are great bayonet fighters.


"Our officers are very brave men; they dread nothing. When the Germans are advancing you can see them walking up and down the trenches among the men with a smile on their faces saying, "Give it to them, boys" and telling the sergeant, "Let the men at them. Then comes the word, "Fix bayonets, charge," and you should see them flee before us. It would remind you of one hitting a bunch of flies with his hand and they all make off. We came out of the trenches a few days ago for a rest. It was a God sent to be away from the muck and slush. We shall be back again in a few days and there will be something doing. I hope all are well. Remember me to the friends and neighbours and tell them I will be back someday victorious. I hope you got my card. The weather is very bad here, always raining, but we are well prepared for it. I know you will be glad to hear I am promoted to Lance Corporal and am getting on well. I am writing home this evening. Excuse scribble and haste"




While the Gaelic League in Dublin resoluted Kuno Meyer,

It was Private Michael O’Leary who took the Mauser fire;

‘Twas Michael from Inchigeela who turned the Maxims down,

While the Coiste Gnó playboys sat and snarled in Dublin town.


It was Sgt. Michael O’Leary who broke the barricade,

Who too the chance, and won the cross that crowns the bayonets trade;

‘Twas ‘M’anam do Dhia’ and ‘How’s your heart,’ and ‘How could we forget?’

But Michael from Inchigeela will fill a ballad yet.


Oh! A fair and pleasant land is Cork for wit and courtesy.

Ballyvourney East and Baile Dubh and Kilworth to the sea;

And when they light the turf tonight, spit, stamp, swear as of yore,

It’s the Sgt. Mike O’Leary’s ghost that wards the Southern shore.




At the weekly meeting of the Macroom Board of Guardians on Saturday, references were made by the Chairman, (Mr. R. Brophy), and other members to the great bravery displayed by Lance-Corporal Michael O’Leary, Irish Guards, a native of Kilbarry, Inchigeela, Co. Cork, at Cuinchy, and to the awarding of the Victoria Cross to that courageous Irish soldier.


The Chairman; Gentlemen, there is an important matter that I desire to bring before you. It concerns a family living in my division, and I am proud to say that that family possesses a very brave man. I refer now to Lance-Corporal Michael O’Leary of the Irish Guards, who is the son of a cottier of ours, living in the electoral division of Inchigeela and certainly from the few things that have come before me there is no doubt that he must be a very brave young man (hear, hear) Owing to his bravery at Cuinchy he has won the Victoria Cross (hear, hear). The official account of his brave act is as follows: - "The Victoria Cross is awarded to No. 3556, Lance-Corporal Michael O’Leary, 1st Battalion, Irish Guards, for conspicuous bravery at Cuinchy on the first of February, when forming one of a storming party which advanced against the enemy barricades. He rushed to the front. And himself killed five Germans, who were holding a first barricade, after which he attacked a second barricade about 60 yards further on, which he captured after killing three of the enemy and making prisoners of two more. Lance-Corporal O’Leary thus practically captured the enemy’s position by himself, and prevented the rest of the attacking party being fired on."


Mr. M. Murphy; - He must be a brave man (hear, hear).


The Chairman; - The members of this Board should be proud of a son of a tenant of ours, who has brought such a great honour to Ireland (hear, hear). He has won the Victoria Cross and that means that his own Colonel and the highest officer in the army must salute him.

Mr. M. Murphy;- It is a great honour for a poor man to gain (hear, hear).


The Chairman;- It is a great honour to Macroom Union and also to Ireland (hear, hear). In this war, as also in every other war, Irishmen were always to the front (hear, hear).


Mr. John M. Fitzgerald, M.C.C.;- That goes without saying. I suppose the Victoria Cross is worth a million other honours. The Chairman mentioned that The Cork Examiner had made arrangements to publish pictures of Lance-Corporal O’Leary and his parents and their home.


Mr. Fitzgerald M.C.C.;- Those pictures appear in this morning’s issue and they are excellent. The Cork Examiner leads the way again with their news and pictures.

The Chairman read a number of telegrams from English newspapers paying tributes to Lance-Corporal O’Leary’s bravery and said as a parishioner in the district in which Lance-Corporal O’Leary lived he felt very proud of having such a brave man in the district.

Mr. Fitzgerald M.C.C.;- We are all proud of him.


Mr. M.Murphy;- Everyone should be proud of him. He has done his own share to bring the war to an early and satisfactory conclusion


Mr. Fitzgerald M.C.C.;-There are many Irishmen serving with the colours who would gain a similar honour if they were afforded the opportunity.

The Chairman said that that was so.

The matter ended.