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


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Assassination of RIC Inspector Phillip O’Sullivan

The Irish Republican Army (IRA) kills twenty-three-year-old Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) District Inspector Phillip O’Sullivan in Dublin on December 17, 1920 while he is walking with his fiancee. O’Sullivan is from County Cork.

O’Sullivan is the son of Florence O’Sullivan and Margaret Aloysius O’Sullivan (née Barry) of Denis Quay, Kinsale, County Cork, who were married in Wicklow, County Wicklow in 1895. His father is a solicitor, practising in Kinsale.

O’Sullivan joins the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve and is commissioned as a Temporary Lieutenant on June 8, 1918. He is sent for training to HMS Hermione, an Astraea-class cruiser, from where he is sent on August 22, 1918 to “Our Allies,” the mother ship for motor launches. He later serves on Motor Launches 386 and 530. While serving on a motor launch in the Mediterranean Sea, he is awarded the Military Cross for bravery during the Second Battle of Durazzo on October 2-3, 1918. He is demobilised on July 8, 1919, with the rank of Lieutenant, but this is later reversed as he had not yet reached the minimum age of 22.

O’Sullivan then qualifies as a solicitor, and subsequently joins the Royal Irish Constabulary on July 24, 1920. He is appointed a District Inspector on October 1, 1920.

O’Sullivan is engaged to a Miss Moore and he meets her near the General Post Office (GPO) on O’Connell Street in Dublin on December 17, 1920. They are walking down Henry Street when he is assassinated by a group of four men. One man shoots him in the head, but Miss Moore manages to grab the revolver from him. A second man shoots him as he lay on the ground. He dies one hour later in nearby Jervis Street Hospital. The cause of death is listed as shock and haemorrhage resulting from bullet wounds. His body is identified by his father. He is buried in the grave of his grandfather.

O’Sullivan had been identified by Ned Kelliher, possibly also from Kinsale, who had trailed him for a week. He points out O’Sullivan to members of Michael Collins‘s Squad, one of whom is Joe Byrne. Miss Moore states that she had been warned some time previously that O’Sullivan was “one of the Black and Tans” and she should have nothing to do with him. She had dismissed the threat.

O’Sullivan’s death is registered on January 7, 1921, on foot of a certificate received from a Military Court of Inquiry, following an inquest held on December 18, 1920.

The assassination is recorded by Joe Byrne in Witness Statement No. 461 to the Bureau of Military History, dated December 16, 1950. “I remember an evening in December 1920, when I was instructed, with others to proceed to Henry Street to assist in the shooting of D.I. O’Sullivan. About four of us comprised the party. A couple of us were detailed not to take part in the actual shooting but to cover off the men who were to do the job. I saw the D.I. being shot by a member of the Squad and when the shooting was over we returned to Morelands.” Morelands is a shop on Abbey Street, Dublin, used as a base by The Squad.

O’Sullivan’s name is included on the supplementary list of the Glasnevin Cemetery War Memorial.

(From: The Royal Irish Constabulary Forum, irishconstabulary.com | Pictured: Photograph of District Inspector Philip John O’Sullivan, Cork Examiner, December 21, 1920)


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The Murders of Patrick & Harry Loughnane

Brothers Patrick and Harry Loughnane, both members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), are abducted and killed by Black and Tans at Kinvara, County Galway on November 26, 1920.

County Galway sees its share of controversial incidents during the Irish War of Independence. Most of these incidents are carried out by Crown Forces, specifically the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) and a new force, the Auxiliaries, created in order to help the RIC in dealing with militant republicanism.

Patrick Loughnane, aged 29, is a local IRA leader and Sinn Féin secretary. He was also active in the local Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA). His younger brother Harry, aged 22, is president of the local Sinn Féin club and a goalkeeper with Beagh Hurling Club.

While working on the family farm in Shanaglish, County Galway, the two brothers are arrested by the Auxiliaries. Not a word is heard from the boys until a week after their arrest when a group of Auxiliaries call Mrs. Loughnane to inform her that her sons had escaped capture. This raises fear and suspicion among the brothers’ family and friends and a search is organised. Ten days after they had been arrested, their bodies are found in a muddy pond near Ardrahan.

Exactly what happened to the two brothers will never be known, however, witnesses, including others arrested at the same time tell a tale of merciless brutality. After being arrested the brothers are beaten for hours in Gort Bridewell and then tied to the tailgate of a lorry, bound to each other, and dragged along the roads to Drumharsna Castle, the headquarters of the Black and Tans, where they are beaten again. At 11:00 PM that night they are taken from Drumharsna Castle to Moy O’Hynes wood where they are shot. Witnesses recount on Saturday morning, Harry is still alive and is heard moaning. On Sunday morning, the Auxiliaries take the bodies to Umbriste near Ardrahan where they are set on fire. After failing to bury the bodies because of the rocky ground they throw them into a muddy pond and, to make their discovery more difficult, throw dirty oil into the water.

After the bodies are discovered they are examined by a local doctor. The letters “IV” are carved into the charred flesh in several places, two of Harry’s fingers are missing, his right arm is broken and hung over his shoulder. Both of Patrick’s legs and wrists are broken. The doctor believes it possible that hand grenades had been put into their mouths and exploded.

A memorial to the two brothers is later built on the spot where they died.

(From: Stair na hÉireann | History of Ireland, http://www.stairnaheireann.net)


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Bloody Sunday (1920)

More than 30 people are killed or fatally wounded in a day of violence in Dublin on November 21, 1920, during the Irish War of Independence. It goes down in Irish history as the first “Bloody Sunday,” though unfortunately not the last.

Through the centuries the British have crushed Irish revolutionary movements through the use of spies and informers. Michael Collins, Minister for Finance of the Irish Republic, head of the secretive Irish Republican Brotherhood and Irish Republican Army (IRA) Chief of Intelligence, is in the process of beating the British at their own game. The day begins in the early morning hours with an IRA operation, organised by Collins, to assassinate members of the “Cairo Gang” – a team of undercover British intelligence agents working and living in Dublin. IRA members go to a number of addresses and kill or fatally wounded 16 men, mostly British Army intelligence officers. Five other men are wounded.

When word of the success of the operation gets back to Collins, knowing the caliber of the men in England‘s infamous “Black and Tan” force, he sends a message to the Gaelic Athletic Association, telling them to cancel that day’s Gaelic football match between Dublin and Tipperary. However, it is too late and the match goes on.

Later that afternoon, lashing out blindly, the Black and Tans surround Croke Park during the match and move in. Their supposed purpose is to attempt to capture members of Sinn Féin who might be in the crowd, but they soon open fire indiscriminately on the players and spectators. They kill or fatally wound fourteen civilians and wound at least sixty others before members of the Auxiliary Division, another brutal force created to crush the Irish insurrection, finally manages to get them to cease-fire.

That evening, two Irish republicans and members of Collins’ squad, Dick McKee and Peadar Clancy, who had helped plan the earlier assassinations, along with a third man, a civilian named Conor Clune, who happened to be caught with the others, are beaten and shot dead in Dublin Castle by their captors, who claim they were killed during an escape attempt.

Overall, Bloody Sunday is considered a victory for the IRA, as Collins’s operation severely damages British intelligence, while the later reprisals do no real harm to the guerrillas but increase support for the IRA at home and abroad.

(Pictured: The headline of the Dublin Evening Herald reads ‘Latest Stories about Irish Tragedies’, 22nd November 1920. The newspaper reports on the massacre at a Croke Park football match, shootings in Dublin, and the discovery of a priest’s corpse in a Galway bog. Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)


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The Sack of Balbriggan

The tragic events of the sack of Balbriggan, County Dublin by Black And Tans on September 20, 1920 have left an unforgettable memory on the town.

Peter Burke, the Head Constable of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC), is accompanied by his brother William, a Sergeant, as they enter Smyth’s pub (now the Millrace Pub) for a drink. There are confusing accounts of what transpires there but shortly afterwards Burke is shot dead and his brother is seriously wounded.

Word quickly reaches Gormanston Camp where the Black and Tans are stationed. A large body of them arrive a short time later in two or three lorries, firing indiscriminately in the streets. They station their vehicles outside the barracks on Bridge Street. They also burn twenty houses and many families spend several nights sleeping outdoors in fear for their lives.

The Black and Tans loot the business of John Derham, a local Town Commissioner, on corner of Bridge Street and Clonard Street and they burn several local businesses and several houses including eight cottages on Clonard Street, known locally as Sinn Féin Alley.

Several licensed premises are also destroyed including Landy’s and the Gladstone Inn, now Harvest Pub and Milestone Inn. The Black and Tans are set on destroying the premises of Smyth and Co. on Railway Street however they burn down another factory, Balbriggan Sea Mills, built by the English company, Deeds Templar. Only the factory chimney remains.

Several locals are dragged into the barracks for questioning and two are murdered, Seamus Lawless, a local barber, and Sean Gibbons, a dairy farmer. A plaque on Bridge Street commemorates them. Both are buried in Balscadden cemetery. Peter Burke is buried in Glenamaddy, County Galway.

Fulham Terrace has been named in honour of the bravery of Dr. Fulham on the night along with the names given to Lawless and Gibbons Terrace in the town.

(From: “The Sack of Balbriggan, 20th September 1920,” http://www.balbriggan.info, February 20, 2020)


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Birth of Oliver Joseph St. John Gogarty

Oliver Joseph St. John Gogarty, Irish poet, author, otolaryngologist, athlete, politician, and well-known conversationalist, is born on August 17, 1878 in Rutland Square, Dublin. He serves as the inspiration for Buck Mulligan in James Joyce‘s novel Ulysses.

In 1887 Gogarty’s father dies of a burst appendix, and he is sent to Mungret College, a boarding school near Limerick. He is unhappy in his new school, and the following year he transfers to Stonyhurst College in Lancashire, England, which he likes little better, later referring to it as “a religious jail.” He returns to Ireland in 1896 and boards at Clongowes Wood College while studying for examinations with the Royal University of Ireland. In 1898 he switches to the medical school at Trinity College, having failed eight of his ten examinations at the Royal.

A serious interest in poetry and literature begins to manifest itself during his years at Trinity. In 1900 he makes the acquaintance of W. B. Yeats and George Moore and begins to frequent Dublin literary circles. In 1904 and 1905 he publishes several short poems in the London publication The Venture and in John Eglinton‘s journal Dana. His name also appears in print as the renegade priest Fr. Oliver Gogarty in George Moore’s 1905 novel The Lake.

In 1905 Gogarty becomes one of the founding members of Arthur Griffith‘s Sinn Féin, a non-violent political movement with a plan for Irish autonomy modelled after the Austro-Hungarian dual monarchy.

In July 1907 his first son, Oliver Duane Odysseus Gogarty, is born, and in autumn of that year he leaves for Vienna to finish the practical phase of his medical training. Returning to Dublin in 1908, he secures a post at Richmond Hospital, and shortly afterwards purchases a house in Ely Place opposite George Moore. Three years later, he joins the staff of the Meath Hospital and remains there for the remainder of his medical career.

As a Sinn Féiner during the Irish War of Independence, Gogarty participates in a variety of anti-Black and Tan schemes, allowing his home to be used as a safe house and transporting disguised Irish Republican Army (IRA) volunteers in his car. Following the ratification of the Anglo-Irish Treaty, he sides with the pro-Treaty government and is made a Free State Senator. He remains a senator until the abolition of the Seanad in 1936, during which time he identifies with none of the existing political parties and votes according to his own whims.

Gogarty maintains close friendships with many of the Dublin literati and continues to write poetry in the midst of his political and professional duties. He also tries his hand at playwriting, producing a slum drama in 1917 under the pseudonym “Alpha and Omega”, and two comedies in 1919 under the pseudonym “Gideon Ouseley,” all three of which are performed at the Abbey Theatre. He devotes less energy to his medical practice and more to his writing during the twenties and thirties.

With the onset of World War II, Gogarty attempts to enlist in the Royal Air Force (RAF) and the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) as a doctor. He is denied on grounds of age. He then departs in September 1939 for an extended lecture tour in the United States, leaving his wife to manage Renvyle House, which has since been rebuilt as a hotel. When his return to Ireland is delayed by the war, he applies for American citizenship and eventually decides to reside permanently in the United States. Though he regularly sends letters, funds, and care-packages to his family and returns home for occasional holiday visits, he never again lives in Ireland for any extended length of time.

Gogarty suffers from heart complaints during the last few years of his life, and in September 1957 he collapses in the street on his way to dinner. He dies on September 22, 1957. His body is flown home to Ireland and buried in Cartron Church, Moyard, near Renvyle.

(Pictured: 1911 portrait of Oliver St. John Gogarty painted by Sir William Orpen, currently housed at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland)


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Murder of George Clancy, Mayor of Limerick

george-clancyGeorge Clancy, Irish nationalist politician and Mayor of Limerick, is shot in his home by Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) Auxiliaries and dies on March 7, 1921 during the Irish War of Independence.

Clancy is born at Grange, County Limerick in 1881 to a family with a strong republican tradition. He is educated at Crescent College, Limerick, and thereafter at the Catholic University in St. Stephen’s Green, now University College, Dublin. Among his friends at the university are James Joyce, Francis Sheehy-Skeffington, Tomás Mac Curtain and Terence MacSwiney. He helps form a branch of the Gaelic League at college and persuades his friends, including Joyce, to take lessons in the Irish language. He plays hurling and is a good friend of Michael Cusack. With Arthur Griffin he joins the Celtic Literary Society. It is said that he is the model for the character of Michael Davin in Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

Clancy graduates in 1904 and finds a position teaching the Irish language at Clongowes Wood College and is active in the Gaelic Athletic Association. Due to ill health he has to return to his home at Grange. In 1908 he comes to Limerick to teach Irish. In 1913 he joins the Irish Volunteers. In 1915 he marries Máire Killeen, a teacher. After the 1916 Easter Rising he is arrested and imprisoned in Cork, but is released before he comes to trial following a hunger strike.

Clancy helps in Éamon de Valera‘s election campaign in East Clare. He nearly dies of Spanish flu during the 1918 epidemic but recovers and, in January 1921, he is elected Sinn Féin Mayor of Limerick.

On the night of March 6, 1921 three Auxiliaries come to Clancy’s house and one of them shoots him, injuring him fatally. His wife is also injured in the attack. The previous Mayor, Michael O’Callaghan, is also murdered on the same night by the same group.

Suspicion immediately falls upon members of the Black and Tans, but a British inquiry into the murder, like most such inquiries through the years, absolve Crown forces of any blame. One of Clancy’s killers is later said to be George Nathan who dies in the Spanish Civil War in July 1937.


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The Rineen Ambush

File source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Rineen_Monument.JPGThe Rineen ambush is carried out by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) on September 22, 1920, during the Irish War of Independence. It takes place at Drummin Hill in the townland of Drummin, near the hamlet of Rineen, County Clare.

The Volunteers in County Clare have been active since 1917 and by late 1920 have forced the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) to abandon most of its small rural barracks in the county. This gives the IRA greater freedom to move in the countryside. In August 1920, the RIC are reinforced by the British deployment of Black and Tans and Auxiliaries to the county. Five RIC men, eleven IRA volunteers and four civilians have been killed in County Clare during the two years before the ambush.

The Rineen Ambush is ordered by the leadership of the IRA’s Mid-Clare Brigade, who had noticed that a RIC lorry travels every week on the Ennistymon to Milltown Malbay road. John Joe Neylon, leader of the local IRA battalion, is put in charge, although the actual attack is led by Ignatius O’Neill, the Officer Commanding. He is a veteran of World War I who had formerly fought with the Irish Guards. The ambush party has only nine rifles and some grenades, the remainder being armed with shotguns or handguns. They prepare to attack the lorry from a railway bridge that overlooks the road at Rineen.

As the IRA party is lying in wait, Alan Lendrum, the local resident magistrate, drives unwittingly into a roadblock of the IRA’s West Clare Brigade, in an unrelated action. He is stopped at a railway crossing at Caherfeenick near Doonbeg. When the IRA demand he surrender his car, he draws an automatic pistol and the IRA men shoot him twice in the head, fatally wounding him. The IRA weights his body with stones and dumps it in a nearby lake. Even though the British Military inquest establishes that Lendrum had died of gunshot wounds, members of the RIC in Clare spread a false version of events and claim that Lendrum had died of drowning.

Although in strict military sense not related to the ambush, it has serious consequences for the ambush. It is quite quickly noticed that the magistrate is missing and the military in Ennistymon decide to send out a search party of ten lorries of soldiers.

The RIC lorry passes safely through the ambush position, travelling from Ennistymon to Milltown Malbay, due to some confusion among the IRA over the numbers they face. However when they learn that there is only one lorry, it is attacked on its return journey from Milltown Malbay. The lorry is hit by a grenade and blasted at close range by rifle and shotgun fire. The shooting is over in seconds, with five out of the six RIC men being killed outright. The sixth man manages to run about 300 yards before being shot dead. Five of the dead are Irish RIC officers and one is an English Black and Tan. The IRA take their weapons and burn the lorry.

Not long after the lorry has been set ablaze, the ten-lorry search party arrives on the scene. A running fight develops, as four IRA riflemen keep the troops at bay while the other volunteers make their escape. Two IRA volunteers and several British soldiers are wounded in the firing. Padraic O’Farrell lists the casualties as three British soldiers killed, but this is not confirmed by the other sources.

The British forces, enraged by the ambush and the escape of the IRA force, take out reprisals on civilians in the surrounding area. Immediately after the action ends, they burn the house and farm of the O’Gorman family and shoot a local farmer, Sean Keane, who later dies of his wounds.

That night, a mixed force of police and soldiers raid the Lahinch home of Dan Lehane, whose two sons had taken part in the ambush. They shoot him dead and burn his house. Patrick Lehane, who is hiding in the attic, perishes in the blaze. Several other houses are burned in Lahinch and a further eight are razed in Milltown Malbay. A separate RIC raid takes place in Ennistymon, in which several homes and businesses are burned.

In what may have been a belated reprisal for the ambush, four IRA men are arrested by the Auxiliaries at Killaloe on November 16, beaten, interrogated and then shot dead. Another two are summarily executed in the same manner on December 22 at Kilkee.

The reprisals are condemned in the British, Irish and international press. In the House of Commons, the British Labour Party tables a resolution condemning the reprisals and calling for an investigation. This is defeated by 346 votes to 79. Hamar Greenwood, the Chief Secretary for Ireland, defends the State Forces’ actions, saying that the houses destroyed were those of “notorious Sinn Féiners…I am convinced that the people of those two villages knew of this ambush.”

In Clare itself, according to IRA man Anthony Malone, the ambush has two effects. One is that the RIC becomes careful to travel in convoys of no less than three lorries. The other is that, as a result of the reprisals, the civilian population becomes embittered against the British and adopt a more defiant attitude to the British military and Black and Tans.

The death of Resident Magistrate Alan Lendrum, however, according to pro-republican Catholic priest Sean Gaynor, “was not to our credit.” On October 1, the local IRA remove Lendrum’s body from the lake, put it in a roughly constructed coffin and leave it on the railway tracks at Craggaknock railway station for British forces to find.

(Pictured: Monument for the attack at Rineen during the Irish War of Independence, designed by Walter Kiernan)


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Patrick Pearse Arrives in Ros Muc

patrick-pearse-cottagePatrick Pearse arrives in Ros Muc, County Galway on September 13, 1903 and takes up residence at his cottage in Inbhear.

Born in Dublin on November 10, 1879, Pearse joins the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) in September 1913, becoming Director of Military Organisation of the Irish Volunteers in 1914 and is later co-opted into the IRB’s secretive Military Council, which infiltrates the Volunteers for the Easter Rising.

A writer and Irish language enthusiast long before he becomes a revolutionary, Pearse first comes to Ros Muc in 1903 as a 23-year-old handpicked by Conradh na Gaeilge to act as an Irish examiner.

Pearse develops a strong affinity with the area, buying land on Loch Eileabhrach in 1905, upon which he builds a cottage in 1909. Unusually for a professional at the time, he has it thatched in the style of poor country dwellings and on his regular visits between 1903 and 1915, spends time in the cabins of the poor, soaking up the folklore which finds its way into his writings.

Pearse has a rival for the affections of the locals in the shape of the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, the Queen’s representative in Ireland. William Ward, 2nd Earl of Dudley also spends summers in the area, where he organises hunts with gentry and children’s fetes.

In response, Pearse organises an evening of Irish festivities for Ros Muc. Pearse gives scholarships to local gaeilgeoiri boys to his St. Enda’s School in Dublin.

Pearse’s last visit to the cottage is in 1915, when he composes the rousing oration for the funeral of Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa. The following April, he goes one step further, declaring a Republic on the steps of the General Post Office (GPO) in Dublin.

After Pearse’s execution on May 3, 1916, his cottage passes to his mother Margaret. In 1921 it is burned down by the “Black and Tans” and Auxiliaries. Restored by Ó Conghaile and then again by Criostóir Mac Aonghusa, by 1943 Pearse’s sisters Senator Margaret Mary Pearse and Mary Brigid Pearse hand the cottage to the State.

Opened in 2016, a new visitor centre next to Pearse’s Cottage provides an introduction to the Irish language, Gaeltacht culture, and Pearse’s connection to Ros Muc.

(From: “Patrick Pearse’s cottage: a cultural visit to Ros Muc,” Darragh Murphy, The Irish Times, January 13, 2016)


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The 1921 Drumcondra Ambush

tolka-bridge-drumcondraAn encounter between eight young Irish Republican Army (IRA) volunteers and a large body of the Black and Tans takes place at Tolka Bridge in Drumcondra on January 21, 1921 during the Irish War of Independence.

On Friday, January 21, 1921, eight men from the 1st Battalion IRA, set out to stage an ambush at Binn’s Bridge on Lower Drumcondra Road. The plan is to attack a Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) patrol which uses the road to travel from their base at Gormanston, County Meath, near Drogheda.

Led by Lieutenant Francis “Frank” Flood (19), Michael Francis ‘Mick’ Magee (24) Patrick Doyle (29), Thomas Bryan (24), Bernard ‘Bertie’ Ryan (21) and Dermott O’Sullivan (17) set off at 8:30 AM for Binn’s Bridge. They are to ambush RIC Auxiliaries (Black and Tans) travelling into Dublin from Gormanston. However, the Auxiliaries do not arrive. The witness statement of Harry Colley, former Adjutant, IRA Dublin Brigade 1920-21, says “they had actually been sent to carry out the ambush at Binn’s Bridge, but for some reason of their own, when they reached the position, moved up beyond Tolka Bridge, to Clonturk Park.” According to Dermott O’Sullivan, the only survivor, when it appears that the Black and Tans will not be coming their way, the party leaves the Binn’s Bridge site and heads to Tolka Bridge in Drumcondra.

However, the police receive a tip-off from Sergeant Singleton of the Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP). It is also said, that as the British army unit is approaching the bridge over the River Tolka in Drumcondra, they are warned by a man by the name Robert Pike from Tolka Cottages.

The ambushers commence an attack upon two lorries of RIC constables, who return fire until the vehicles are able to accelerate out of range. Then the Black and Tans arrive in motor lorries and an armored car at the rear of their position to cut off their escape. Some volunteers manage to dash across fields to safety but others are arrested as they attempted to seek refuge in houses in the vicinity. All of the prisoners are found in possession of revolvers and ammunition, and Frank Flood is also found to have a grenade in his pocket.

In an attempt to escape the Auxiliaries, Michael Magee and Séan Burke run across a field of garden allotments in Clonturk Park. The Auxiliaries shoot Magee, mortally wounding him in the legs and lower torso. Magee is captured but soon dies of his wounds.

So at the end of the day, of the eight men involved in the action at Drumcondra, two men, Burke and Dunne, escape the scene. The five remaining, Frank Flood, Thomas Bryan, Bernard Ryan, Patrick Doyle and Dermot O’Sullivan are captured and Magee dies of his wounds. The captives are tried by a court-martial that lasts two days. All of the accused are convicted of High Treason and sentenced to death.

On March 14, 1921, all of the men, save Dermot O’Sullivan, are hanged at Mountjoy Prison. Citing his age of only 17 years, the British commute O’Sullivan’s sentence to life in prison. He is released from Portland Gaol at the end of August 1921.


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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)