Reviews of the book Death on the Pier

Story of the Cobh Pier Head shooting and the Moon Car / Review in the Irish Times, Monday 7th August 2017


Review of Death on the Pier by Cllr. Kieran McCarthy, local historian and originator of Cobh Rebel Walking Tours:

Through his book ‘Death On The Pier’ John Jefferies has done a great service to not only the memory of the victims of the pier head attack, to students of Irish history everywhere and to generations yet to come, but above all he has done a great service in the search for the truth of this story.

I specifically mention the ‘truth’ because what John achieved through his book was to enlighten his readers that what was going on in the background and in tandem with the pier head tragedy was an equally important if not bigger story.  John has shone a light on a place in our history that few historians or investigate journalists have ever laboured with much enthusiasm – namely the matter of the army mutiny of 1924.

During the mid-1980’s while working at Irish Steel in Haulbowline, I was approached one day in the fitter repair shop by a man named Liam O’Callaghan. Liam had heard that I was at that time undertaking research for a book on the Cobh Republican Volunteer Movement.  He took great delight in showing me some photographs of a recently discovered Rolls Royce car he had uncovered in a bog in north Cork. It was there and then that I had learned for the first time about the Moon Car and the Cobh pier head attack.

Two books later, and in the run-up to the publishing of ‘Republican Cobh & The East Cork Volunteers since 1913’ in 2008, I found myself again discussing the Pier Head attack with John Jefferies.  John had, in fact agreed to work on the manuscript for me as proof-reader. He also made available to me for publication, a copy of the original wanted poster of the five republican suspects for the attack, as it had been in the possession of a family relative.  Over the years, John mentioned he was planning to do a more thorough investigation in the form of a book on the pier head attack, believing there was a much bigger story to be told around it. How right he had been.

As much as I had waited and looked forward to reading John’s finished study, I was not prepared for what turned out to be such a masterly work of research. It is one of the best and easiest books to read that I have come across. The layout and chapter composition is second to none and of course, John’s use of such an extensive source pool is most impressive.

From the moment, you turn the first page, you are instantly gripped and waiting to see what comes next. I heard someone say recently that this story has it all, tragedy, violence, intrigue, cover-up, escape and of course ‘politics’ and would therefore be a ready-made story for the Hollywood big screen.  In fact, there would be very little here in this story that a film director would have to change or embellish to make it a box-office hit.

John Jefferies did his book a further justice in my opinion by devoting a chapter to Private Aspinall the poor soldier who lost his life on the pier. Aspinall who shortly before wrote to his mother expressing his looking forward to returning home soon to Manchester, could not have known from his peaceful and tranquil surrounds on Spike Island and in Cobh, that he would soon lose his life to such an armed action.

One can only try to imagine what thoughts were flashing through the mind of the young soldier as the bullets were cracking the pier surface around him, before he was eventually struck in the back. I am sure what he wasn’t thinking, was that this was all down to a very poor settlement that one way or the other, was forced upon the Irish people by his own government a few years before. Nor would he, while lying amongst the mayhem, as the life was ebbing from his body, have time to consider that his soon to come passing, and the multiple injuries of his colleagues around him, would soon be the cause of a huge political cover-up.

In conclusion, I must again congratulate John Jefferies on an impressive work of history. It must have been a most difficult task for John to achieve the level of impartiality he had, bearing in mind that one of the central figures in the Cobh story was a family relative.  I have absolutely no doubt that in the years to come when any history student is tasked with researching either of the topics of the pier head attack or the army mutiny, it will be John Jefferies book ‘Death On The Pier’ they will be guided towards first for references.

Thanks to Kieran for this review.  For more information on Kieran’s recently launched Cobh Rebel Walking Tours visit his website at


Death on the Pier- The Cobh Pier Head Shooting and the Story of the Moon Car

Review by Anne McSweeney for Pen & Sword publishers

“Have just finished reading Death on the Pier by John Jefferies, which begins with a brief history of British military involvement in Cork Harbour; leading up to the Irish Civil War and the Cobh Pier Head shooting, which took place in 1924, at a time when it had been broadly accepted that all hostilities had ended.”

“The story, which involves the shooting of unarmed soldiers and civilians alike, being mowed down as they stepped ashore in Cobh, is written in an interesting manner and has obviously been well-researched- the author has related the facts in an unbiased manner.

The aftermath of the attack has been handled in a sensitive way.

Anyone who is interested in automobiles will be fascinated by the story of the Yellow Rolls Royce, mounted by two Lewis machine guns which was used in the attack.

The print is easy to read and the illustrations are clear.

I have no hesitation in recommending this book”.

Anne McSweeney  – Author

Anne McSweeney is a Cobh based author who recently launched her third book “From Walterstown Castle to the House of Windsor”.  Anne’s previous books are “The Tips of Her Toes in the Ocean” and  “Watching the Wild Waves in Motion”.