Denis Spriggs was a volunteer in C Company, 1st Battalion of the IRA’s No.1 Cork Brigade. He lived in Strawberry Hill, just off Blarney St. in the northside of Cork City. Spriggs was a plasterer by trade and was active in the Cork branch of the plasterers’ union, OPATSI. Spriggs was a teenager of only 16 years when he joined the IRA, after lying about his age so he could serve his country. Spriggs was forced on the run and while visiting his mother, a neighbour gave away his presence.
During the period between the announcement of a truce between the IRA and British forces, IRA volunteers in Cork were informed that there would be a possibility of British reprisals, and warned not to stay at home. The British forces had not yet killed any member of the IRA in Cork City in direct combat, all Cork City volunteers were assassinated or targeted when not on direct military duty. The Anti-Sinn Féin Society and off-duty British troops were responsible for the intimidation and killing of republicans in response to IRA actions. During the period between the announcement of the Truce and the complete cessation of hostilities – 8-11 July – it was believed that unofficial British reprisals would target IRA volunteers in the city.
At midnight on 8 July, 1921, Denis Spriggs’s home was raided by the 2nd Battalion, South Staffordshire Regiment of the British Army, commanded by Lieutanant A. d’Ydewalle. The raid was planned specifically to capture Spriggs, as the later British military inquest found. Spriggs was unarmed and complied with his arrest. Yet, Spriggs was taken only 100 yards away from his home, put up agaisnt the convent gate at the top of Blarney St. and shot dead. The British said this was because of his attempting to escape. This was of course highly suspect, considering the fact he complied with his arrest and could not defend himself. This was nothing new in the British policy of justifying murder in their terror campaign in Ireland. Spriggs was the 9th IRA member killed in Cork City while “trying to escape”. The South Staffordshire Regiment were also responsible for the killing of an unarmed civilian, William Horgan, a few months beforehand.
This was nothing new to the British Army, who were indicted in multiple executions of enemy forces in World War One. Their “Shoot-to-kill” policy was endemic in Ireland and was to continue for decades, as evidence of the killing of 3 unarmed IRA volunteers in Gibraltar in 1988, where the soldiers responsible alleged they were justified in opening fire on unarmed people. The fact that Spriggs was unceremoniously executed near his home, after a deliberate British raid to find him, at a time local volunteers were noticed of possible British reprisals, heavily suggest that the killing of Spriggs was a pre-meditated assassination by the British Army of a young Cork Volunteer just 2 days before the war would end.
Less than 24 hours after the killing of Spriggs, four British soldiers were killed in Ellis Quarry, near the Lough. Two of the soldiers were from the South Staffordshire Regiment, the same regiment that was involved in the killing of Spriggs. This, and the fact one of the participants in the – unsanctioned – killings was an associate of Spriggs suggests it was an attempt at justice over the unlawful execution of Spriggs. He was 19 at the time of his death.