seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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The Kilmichael Ambush

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERAThe Kilmichael Ambush is carried out near the village of Kilmichael in County Cork on November 28, 1920 by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) during the Irish War of Independence. Thirty-six local IRA volunteers commanded by Tom Barry kill seventeen members of the Royal Irish Constabulary‘s Auxiliary Division. The Kilmichael ambush is politically as well as militarily significant. It occurs one week after Bloody Sunday, marking an escalation in the IRA’s campaign.

As dusk falls the ambush takes place on a road at Dus a’ Bharraigh in the townland of Shanacashel, Kilmichael Parish, near Macroom.

Just before the Auxiliaries in two lorries come into view, two armed IRA volunteers, responding late to Barry’s mobilisation order, drive unwittingly into the ambush position in a horse and side-car, almost shielding the British forces behind them. Barry manages to avert disaster by directing the car up a side road and out of the way. The Auxiliaries’ first lorry is persuaded to slow down by the sight of Barry placing himself on the road in front of a concealed Command Post, wearing an IRA officer’s tunic given to him by Paddy O’Brien. Concealed on the south side of the road are six riflemen, whose instructions are to prevent the enemy taking up positions on that side. Another six riflemen are positioned some way off as an insurance group, should a third Auxiliary lorry appear.

The first lorry, containing nine Auxiliaries, slows almost to a halt close to their intended ambush position, at which point Barry gives the order to fire. He throws a Mills bomb that explodes in the open cab of the first lorry. A savage close-quarter fight ensues. According to Barry’s account, some of the British are killed using rifle butts and bayonets in a brutal and bloody encounter. This part of the engagement is over relatively quickly with all nine Auxiliaries dead or dying.

While this part of the fight is going on, a second lorry also containing nine Auxiliaries has driven into the ambush position. This lorry’s occupants, at a more advantageous position than Auxiliaries in the first lorry because of their distance from the ambushing group, dismount to the road and exchange fire with the IRA, killing Michael McCarthy. Barry then brings the Command Post soldiers who had completed the attack on the first lorry to bear on this group. Barry claimed these Auxiliaries called out a surrender and that some dropped their rifles, but opened fire again with revolvers when three IRA men emerged from cover, killing volunteer Jim O’Sullivan instantly and mortally wounding Pat Deasy. Barry then orders his men to open fire and not stop until told to do so. Barry ignores a subsequent attempt by remaining Auxiliaries to surrender, and keeps his men firing until he believes all the Auxiliaries are dead.

At the conclusion of the fight it is observed that two IRA volunteers, Michael McCarthy and Jim O’Sullivan, are dead and that Pat Deasy, brother of Liam Deasy, is mortally wounded. Although the IRA fighters think they had killed all of the Auxiliaries, two actually survive, one very badly injured and another who escapes and is later captured and shot dead. Among the 16 British dead on the road at Kilmichael is Francis Crake, commander of the Auxiliaries in Macroom, probably killed at the start of the action by Barry’s Mills bomb.

Many IRA volunteers are deeply shaken by the severity of the action, referred to by Barry as “the bloodiest in Ireland,” and some are physically sick. Barry attempts to restore discipline by making them form-up and perform drill, before marching away. Barry himself collapses with severe chest pains on December 3 and is secretly hospitalized in Cork. It is possible that the ongoing stress of being on the run and commander of the flying column, along with a poor diet as well as the intense combat at Kilmichael contribute to his illness, diagnosed as heart displacement.

The political fallout from the Kilmichael ambush outweighs its military significance. While the British forces in Ireland can easily absorb 18 casualties, the fact that the IRA had been able to wipe out a whole patrol of elite Auxiliaries is for them deeply shocking. The British forces in the West Cork area take their revenge on the local population by burning several houses, shops and barns in Kilmichael, Johnstown and Inchigeelagh, including all of the houses around the ambush site. On December 3, three IRA volunteers are arrested by the British Essex Regiment in Bandon, beaten and killed, and their bodies dumped on the roadside.

For the British government, the action at Kilmichael is an indication that the violence in Ireland is escalating. Shortly after the ambush, barriers are placed on either end of Downing Street to protect the Prime Minister‘s office from IRA attacks. On December 10, as a result of Kilmichael, martial law is declared for the counties of Cork, Kerry, Limerick and Tipperary.

The British military now has the power to execute anyone found carrying arms and ammunition, to search houses, impose curfews, try suspects in military rather than civilian courts and to intern suspects without trial. On December 11, in reprisal for Kilmichael and other IRA actions, the centre of Cork city is burned by Auxiliaries, British soldiers and Black and Tans, and two IRA men are assassinated in their beds. In separate proclamations shortly afterwards, the authorities sanction “official reprisals” against suspected Sinn Féin sympathisers and the use of hostages in military convoys to deter ambushes.

(Pictured: The Kilmichael Ambush Monument at the ambush site)

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Death of Justin McCarthy, Jacobite General

justin-mccarthy-lord-mountcashelJustin MacCarthy, Viscount Mountcashel, a Jacobite general in the Williamite War in Ireland and a personal friend of James II of England, dies in France of complications from previous battle wounds on July 1, 1694.

McCarthy, born about 1643, is the younger son of Donough MacCarty, 1st Earl of Clancarty, head of the MacCarthy of Muskerry dynasty who holds extensive lands in the former Kingdom of Desmond. His mother is Lady Eleanor Butler, sister of James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormonde. The family has their property confiscated under Oliver Cromwell‘s regime, but it is restored to them at the Restoration of Charles II of England. McCarthy is made Viscount Mount Cashel with the subsidiary title of Baron Castleinch on May 1, 1689 and becomes a Lieutenant-General.

McCarthy becomes a professional soldier and shows great skill in his profession, but poor eyesight hampers his career. He enters the French army in 1671 and then transfers to James Scott, 1st Duke of Monmouth‘s regiment, then in French pay, and serves against the Dutch.

McCarthy comes to England in 1678 and is befriended by the future James II, who generally chooses soldiers, especially Irish soldiers, as his boon companions. Charles II decides to use his services in Ireland and makes him a colonel in Sir Thomas Dongan‘s regiment. On the outbreak of the Popish Plot, however, the discovery of McCarthy’s presence at Whitehall causes uproar. He flees the country and the Secretary of State for the Northern Department, Sir Joseph Williamson, who had issued his commission, is sent to the Tower of London.

Under the Catholic King James II, McCarthy becomes both Major General and a member of the Privy Council of Ireland. He quarrels with the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Henry Hyde, 2nd Earl of Clarendon, and probably intrigues to secure his recall.

In 1689 McCarthy takes Castlemartyr and Bandon for James. At Bandon there is a massacre called “Black Monday,” but he persuades the King to issue a general pardon to his defeated opponents. He meets James at his landing at Kinsale, and is commanded to raise seven regiments. He sits in the Irish House of Lords in the Parliament of Ireland of 1689.

With 3,000 men McCarthy advances from Dublin towards Enniskillen, which with Derry is the remaining resistance to James II. He is met by 2,000 Protestant “Inniskillingers” at the Battle of Newtownbutler on July 31, 1689. His forces are routed, he is wounded and then captured. Allowed out on parole he breaks parole and escapes to Dublin. Frederick Schomberg, 1st Duke of Schomberg, remarks that he had thought McCarthy was a man of honour, but on the other hand he expected no better from an Irishman.

McCarthy goes into exile in France and commands the first Irish Brigade of Louis XIV. His later career is hampered by his near-blindness. He dies at Barèges on July 1, 1694 and is buried there.


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The Crossbarry Ambush

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERADuring the Irish War of Independence, Tom Barry and the West Cork Flying Column of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) rout a superior force from the Essex Regiment of the British Army at Crossbarry, County Cork on March 19, 1921.

A force of one hundred IRA members under the leadership of Barry are involved in a major skirmish with up to 1,000 British troops at Crossbarry. English intelligence has determined that Barry’s West Cork Brigade is based near Crossbarry and plans a major encirclement and assault. Poor planning and timing ensures that the British forces get separated before attacking Barry’s men. Barry is a brilliant guerrilla fighter and strategist who directs an attack against an initial force of approximately 140 men, before he orders his men to break out.

Charlie Hurley, one of the Brigade commanders who is injured during the Upton train ambush, is staying in a house with a pro-republican family, where he is recuperating from serious wounds he had received at Upton a month earlier. When he realises that he is surrounded by the British forces, he flees the house, as Tom Barry comments in his book, to reduce the danger to those in the house. He is shot dead by the pursuing troops. Barry remarks that Hurley “went to meet his death like a true Irishman.” A ballad exists that commemorates him. In addition, the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) grounds in Bandon, County Cork are named after him.

Reports as to casualties differ. The IRA claims that over thirty British are killed while official British figures are ten killed and six IRA men killed. Whatever the numbers, it is probably the largest single military engagement in the Irish War of Independence as the IRA knew major battles with British troops would be a disaster for them and rarely got involved in full frontal action. While the casualties may not seem that large, Crossbarry is a major morale victory for the IRA who had “defeated” a British force of over one thousand. Prime Minister David Lloyd George states that the Crossbarry and Kilmichael ambushes convinced him of the need for a truce and a treaty with the Irish rebels.

(Pictured: Crossbarry Ambush Memorial, Crossbarry, County Cork)


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Birth of Alice Taylor, Writer & Novelist

alice-taylorAlice Taylor, best-selling Irish writer and novelist particularly known for her nostalgia works looking back at life in a small village, is born on February 28 , 1938, on a farm in Lisdangan, Newmarket in northern County Cork.

Taylor is educated at Drishane Convent. She works in Bandon before marrying Gabriel Murphy. They have four sons and one daughter. When she marries she moves to Innishannon in the southern part of the county in 1961. There she runs a guesthouse, the local post office, and a shop.

In 1984 she edits and publishes a local magazine, Candlelight, and in 1986 she publishes an illustrated collection of her poetry. However it is the launch of her book To School Through the Fields, published in May 1988, which brings her fame. She has numerous interviews on national shows including RTÉ Radio‘s Gay Byrne Show and The Late Late Show. The next books are equally successful and have been sold internationally. Since then she has moved on to novels which have also become best sellers.

Her husband dies in 2005. Taylor remains very connected to the village of Innishannon where she continues to live. Since her eldest son has taken over responsibility for the shop, she has been able to devote more time to her writing. One of the programs she has been involved in is the restoration of the old Innishannon Tower.


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The Assassination of Michael Collins

michael-collinsMichael Collins, soldier and politician who is a leading figure in the struggle for Irish independence in the early 20th century, is shot and killed in ambush at Béal na Bláth, County Cork, on August 22, 1922.

In August 1922, the Irish Civil War seems to be winding down. The Irish Free State has regained control of most of the country and Collins is making frequent trips to inspect areas recently recovered from anti-Treaty forces.

His plan to travel to his native Cork on August 20 is considered particularly dangerous and he is strenuously advised against it by several trusted associates. County Cork is an Irish Republican Army (IRA) stronghold, much of it still held by anti-Treaty forces. Yet he seems determined to make the trip without delay. He has fended off a number of attempts on his life in the preceding weeks and has acknowledged more than once, in private conversation, that the Civil War might end his life at any moment. On several occasions Collins assures his advisors that they will not shoot him in his own county.

On August 22, 1922 Collins sets out from Cork City on a circuitous tour of West Cork. He passes first through Macroom then takes the Bandon road via Crookstown. This leads through Béal na Bláth, an isolated crossroads. There they stop at a local pub, now known as the The Diamond Bar, to ask a question of a man standing at the crossroad. The man turns out to be an anti-Treaty sentry. He and an associate recognise Collins in the back of the open-top car. As a result, an ambush is laid by an anti-Treaty column at that point, on the chance that the convoy might come through again on their return journey.

Shortly before 8:00 PM, Collins’ convoy approaches Béal na Bláth for the second time. By that time most of the ambush party has dispersed and gone for the day, leaving just five or six men on the scene. Two are disarming a mine in the road, while three on a laneway overlooking them, provide cover. A dray cart, placed across the road, remains at the far end of the ambush site.

Shots are exchanged. Collins, who suffers a head wound, is the only fatality. Almost every other detail of what happens is uncertain, due to conflicting reports from participants and other flaws in the record.

michael-collins-bodySome of the most disputed details include how the shooting starts, what kind of fire the convoy comes under, where the ambushers’ first shots strike, where Collins is and what he is doing when he is hit, whether anyone else is wounded, whether the armoured car’s machine gun is fully functional throughout the engagement, who moves Collins’ body, and who is nearby when Collins falls.

Many questions have been raised concerning the handling of Collins’s remains immediately following his death. Among them are the inordinately long time the convoy takes to cover the twenty miles back to Cork City, who searched his clothes, and what became of documents he is known to have been carrying on his person.

Collins’s body is transported by sea from Cork to Dublin. He lay in state for three days in Dublin City Hall where tens of thousands of mourners file past his coffin to pay their respects, including many British soldiers departing Ireland who had fought against him. His funeral mass takes place at Dublin’s Pro Cathedral where a number of foreign and Irish dignitaries are in attendance. Some 500,000 people attend his funeral, almost one fifth of the country’s population at that time.

No official inquiry is ever undertaken into Collins’s death and consequently there is no official version of what happened, nor are there any authoritative, detailed contemporary records.

An annual commemoration ceremony takes place each year in August at the ambush site at Béal na Bláth, County Cork, organised by The Béal na mBláth Commemoration Committee. There is also a remembrance ceremony in Dublin’s Glasnevin Cemetery at Collins’s grave on the anniversary of his death.