seamus dubhghaill

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


Leave a comment

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)

Advertisements


Leave a comment

Execution of James Joseph Daly

james-joseph-dalyJames Joseph Daly, a member of a mutiny of the Connaught Rangers in India in 1920, is executed by a British firing squad in India on November 2, 1920. He is the last British solider to be executed for mutiny.

On June 28, 1920, Joseph Hawes leads a company of the Connaught Rangers stationed at Jalandhar on the plains of the Punjab lay down their arms and refuse to perform their military duties as a protest against the activities of the Black and Tans, officially the Royal Irish Constabulary Special Reserve in Ireland. On the following day, the mutineers send two emissaries to a company of Connaught Rangers stationed at Salon, about twenty miles away in the foothills of the Himalayas. The soldiers there take up the protest as well and, like their counterparts at Jalandhar, fly the Irish tricolour, wear Sinn Féin rosettes on their British Army uniforms and sing rebel songs.

The protests are initially peaceful, but on the evening of July 1 around thirty members of the company at Salon, armed with bayonets, attempt to recapture their rifles from the company magazine. The soldiers on guard open fire, killing two men and wounding another. The incident effectively brings the mutiny to an end and the mutineers at both Jalandhar and Salon are placed under armed guard.

Sixty-one men are convicted by court-martial for their role in the mutiny. Fourteen are sentenced to death by firing squad, but the only soldier whose capital sentence is carried out is Private James Joseph Daly of Tyrellspass, County Westmeath. Daly is considered the leader of the mutiny at Salon and the man responsible for the failed attack on the magazine. On the morning of November 2, 1920, at the age of 22, he is executed in Dagshai prison in northern India.

The Connaught Rangers do not survive much longer than Daly. In 1922 the regiment is disbanded after the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty that creates the Irish Free State. In 1970, James Daly’s body is brought home and buried at Tyrellspass. Among those in the guard of honor at the reinterment ceremony are five of Daley’s fellow mutineers – Joseph Hawes, James Gorman, Eugene Egan, Patrick Hynes, and William Coote.


Leave a comment

The Races of Castlebar

races-of-castlebarThe Battle of Castlebar occurs on August 27, 1798 near the town of Castlebar, County Mayo, during the Irish Rebellion of 1798. A combined force of 2,000 French troops and Irish rebels rout a force of 6,000 British militia in what later becomes known as the “Castlebar Races” or “Races of Castlebar.”

The long-awaited French landing to assist the Irish revolution begun by Theobald Wolfe Tone‘s Society of United Irishmen takes place five days previously on August 22, when almost 1,100 troops under the command of General Jean Joseph Amable Humbert land at Cill Chuimín Strand, County Mayo. The nearby town of Killala is quickly captured after a brief resistance by local yeomen. Following the news of the French landing, Irish volunteers began to trickle into the French camp from all over Mayo.

On August 26, leaving about 200 French regulars behind in Killala to cover his rear and line of withdrawal, Humbert takes a combined force of about 2,000 French and Irish to march on and take Castlebar. In order to avoid a head-on attack, locals advise the French of an alternative route to Castlebar through the wilds along the west of Lough Conn, which the British believe to be impassable for a modern army with attendant artillery train. When General Gerald Lake’s scouts spot the approaching enemy, the surprised British have to hurriedly change the deployment of their entire force to face the threat from this unanticipated direction.

The British have barely completed their new deployment when the Franco-Irish army appears outside the town at about 6:00 AM. The newly sited British artillery opens up on the advancing French and Irish and cut them down in droves. French officers, however, quickly identify an area of scrub and undergrowth in a defile facing the centre of the artillery line which provides some cover from the British line of fire. The French launch a bayonet charge, the ferocity and determination of which unnerve the units stationed behind the artillery. The British units begin to waver before the French reach their lines and eventually turn in panic and flee the battlefield, abandoning the gunners and artillery. A unit of cavalry and British regular infantry attempt to stand and stem the tide of panic but are quickly overwhelmed.

In the headlong flight of thousands of British militia, large quantities of guns and equipment are abandoned, among which is General Lake’s personal luggage. Although not pursued a mile or two beyond Castlebar, the British do not stop until they reach Tuam, with some units fleeing as far as Athlone in the panic. The panic is such that only the arrival of Cornwallis at Athlone prevents further flight across the River Shannon.

Although achieving a decisive victory, the losses of the French and Irish are high, with about 150 men killed, mostly to the cannonade at the start of the battle. About 80 British are killed and some 270 wounded, captured, or deserted. Following the victory, thousands of volunteers flock to join the French who also send a request to France for reinforcements and formally declare a Republic of Connacht, which lasts 3 days and collapses when the French depart.

On September 5, the British forces are again defeated at Collooney however, after that, the rebellion quickly folds. More troops gather and by the Battle of Ballinamuck on September 8, their strength is over 15,000. Ballinamuck is the end for General Humbert, who hands in his surrender. The Irish rebels fight on briefly until scattered. Killala is re-taken on September 12. More French warships sail for Ireland, but are decisively defeated by the Royal Navy near Tory Island. With that the 1798 rebellion ends. The captured French soldiers are transferred to England and eventually repatriated. The French officers of Irish origin are hanged in Dublin with the Irish rebels.