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


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Capture of Mallow Barracks

The Cork No. 2 Brigade, Irish Republican Army (IRA), attacks and captures a military barracks in Mallow, County Cork, on September 28, 1920, the only military barracks to be captured during the Irish War of Independence. British forces later burn and sack the town.

Mallow had been a garrison town for several hundred years. Eight miles to the north lay Buttevant where one of the largest military barracks in the country is located. Not far from Buttevant are the great military training camps of Ballyvonaire, while nineteen miles to the northeast is Fermoy with its large permanent military garrisons and huge barracks adjacent to the big training centres of Kilworth and Moorepark. Twenty miles to the southeast is the city of Cork with its many thousands of troops both in the posts within the city and at Ballincollig, about six miles west of it, on the Macroom road. Thirteen miles westward a detachment from a British machine gun corps holds Kanturk. Every town and village has its post of Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) men armed to the teeth.

The idea of capturing the barracks comes from two members of the Mallow IRA Battalion, Dick Willis, a painter, and Jack Bolster, a carpenter, who are employed on the civilian maintenance staff of the barracks which is occupied by the 17th Lancers. Willis and Bolster are able to observe the daily routine of the garrison and form the opinion that the capture of the place would not be difficult. They are instructed by their local battalion officers to make a sketch map of the barracks. After that is prepared, Liam Lynch and Ernie O’Malley go with Willis and Tadhg Byrnes to Mallow to study the layout of the surrounding district. Among the details of the garrison’s routine that Willis and Bolster report to the Column leaders, is the information that each morning the officer in charge, accompanied by two-thirds of the men, take the horses for exercise outside the town. It is obvious to the two Mallow volunteers that this is the ideal time for the attack.

Situated at the end of a short, narrow street and on the western verge of the Town Park, Mallow barracks stand on an unusually low-lying location and is relatively small in size. Surrounded by a high stone wall, the barracks can be approached from the town park as well as from the main street. The various details are carefully studied by Lynch and O’Malley. While Willis and Bolster are allotted tasks within the walls of the barracks, Byrnes and Jack Cunningham are chosen to attack with the main body of the column which includes Commandant Denny Murphy of Kanturk.

On the morning of September 27, at their Burnfort headquarters, the men are ordered to prepare for action. Under cover of darkness they move into the town and enter the Town Hall by way of the park at the rear. The eighteen men of the column are strengthened by members of the Mallow battalion, a number of men posted in the upper storey of the Town Hall, from which they can command the approaches to the nearby RIC barracks. Initially it is planned that Willis and Bolster will enter the military barracks that morning in the normal manner, accompanied by an officer of the column who will pose as a contractor’s overseer. The officer is Paddy McCarthy of Newmarket, who would die a few months later in a gun battle with the Black and Tans at Millstreet.

McCarthy, Willis and Bolster enter the barracks without mishap. Members of the garrison follow their normal routine, with the main body of troops under the officer in charge leaving the barracks with the horses. In the barracks remain about fifteen men under the command of a senior N.C.O., Sergeant Gibbs.

Once the military has passed, the attackers, numbering about twenty men and led by Liam Lynch, advance toward the bottom of Barrack Street. All are armed with revolvers which are considered the most convenient and suitable weapons for the operation. Lynch has issued strict instructions that there is to be no shooting by the attackers, unless as a last resort. Inside the walls are McCarthy, Willis and Bolster, their revolvers concealed. Then Ernie O’Malley presents himself at the wicket gate with a bogus letter in his hand. Behind him and out of sight of the sentry are the other members of the main attacking party, led by Lynch, O’Brien and George Power. When the gate is opened sufficiently, O’Malley wedges his foot between it and the frame and the soldier is overpowered and the attackers rush in. McCarthy, Bolster and Willis immediately go to the guardroom where they hold up the guard. Realising what is happening, Sergeant Gibbs, rushes toward the guardroom in which rifles are kept. Although called upon to halt, he continues even though a warning shot is fired over his head. As he reaches the guardroom door, the IRA officer and one of the volunteers in the guardroom fire simultaneously. Mortally wounded, the sergeant falls at the guardroom door.

By this time the majority of the attacking party is inside the gate. Military personnel in different parts of the barracks are rounded up and arms are collected. Three waiting motor cars pull up to the gate and all the rifles, other arms and equipment found in the barracks are loaded into them. The prisoners are locked into one of the stables, with the exception of a man left to care for Sergeant Gibbs. The whole operation goes according to plan, except for the shooting of the sergeant. Twenty minutes after the sentry had been overpowered the pre-arranged signal of a whistle blast is sounded and the attackers withdraw safely to their headquarters at Burnfort, along the mountain road out of Mallow.

Expecting reprisals, the column moves to Lombardstown that night, and positions are taken up around the local co-operative creamery as it is the custom of the British to wreak their vengeance on isolated country creameries after incidents such as what had just occurred. The Mallow raid, however, has greater repercussions than the destruction of a creamery and co-operative stores. The following night, large detachments of troops from Buttevant and Fermoy enter Mallow. They rampage through the town, burning and looting at will. High over the town, the night sky is red with the flames of numerous burning buildings.

Townspeople run through the blazing streets, in search of refuge. A number of women and children are accorded asylum in the nearby convent schools. Another group of terrified women, some with children in arms, take refuge in the cemetery at the rear of St. Mary’s Church, where they kneel or lay above the graves. It is a night of terror such as which had never before been endured by the people of Mallow.

The extent of the wanton destruction outrages fair-minded people all over the world. Details of the havoc that had been wrought and pictures of the scenes of destruction are published worldwide.

(Pictured: Townspeople gather in front of one of the many buildings in Mallow which were reduced to ruins during British Army reprisals)


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The Rathcoole Ambush

rathcoole-ambush-monumentThe Rathcoole Ambush, one of the largest ambushes of the Irish War of Independence, takes place at Rathcoole, County Cork on June 16, 1921.

The railway line between Banteer and Millstreet had been cut in several places so the British Auxiliary forces based at Millstreet have to travel to Banteer by road for their supplies twice a week. As a result, a combined force of 130 Irish Republican Army (IRA) volunteers from the Millstreet, Kanturk, Newmarket, Charleville and Mallow battalion columns are mobilised to attack the Auxiliaries as they return from Banteer. The volunteers are under the command of Paddy O’Brien from Liscarroll.

On the night before the ambush the IRA volunteers sleep at Rathcoole Wood, which overlooks the planned ambush position. Shortly after sunrise the following morning, Captain Dan Vaughan lays six land mines on the untarred road and covers them with dust. After a wait of several hours a convoy of four armour-plated lorries, each mounted with a machine gun and carrying ten men, is observed heading for Banteer.

The volunteers prepare themselves and at 6:20 in the evening, as the lorries pass through the ambush area on their return journey, three of the land mines explode with devastating results. One mine detonates as the last of the four lorries drives over it and another explodes under the leading lorry in the convoy. Both vehicles are out of action with the two other lorries trapped between them. A third mine explodes amid a party of Auxiliaries as they attempted to outflank the position. A bitter firefight develops. Each time Auxiliaries attempt to outflank the IRA they are driven back, suffering losses of more than twenty dead and over a dozen wounded.

When it becomes clear that the IRA cannot achieve a complete victory because of their limited ammunition supply, the order for withdrawal is given and the whole force retires without a single casualty. Although no arms are captured during the action, a reconnaissance party from the column returns the next day to search the ambush position and recovers 1,350 rounds of ammunition which the Auxiliaries had left behind them as they removed their dead and wounded.

The ambush at Rathcoole is one of the Irish Republican Army’s most successful actions during the War of Independence. A week after the ambush, British Forces from Kanturk, Buttevant, Ballyvonaire, Macroom, Ballincollig, Killarney and Tralee carry out a widespread search throughout the Rathcoole area. Michael Dineen, a Volunteer in Kilcorney Company is taken from his brother’s house at Ivale by a party of Auxiliaries and shot dead. On the evening of July 1, the Auxiliaries set fire to and destroy the wood at Rathcoole from where the ambush had been launched. That same day that they shoot and kill a local man, Bernard Moynihan, as he is out cutting hay.

(Pictured: Monument at the site of the Rathcoole Ambush)


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Birth of Activist & Feminist Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington

hanna-sheehy-skeffingtonJohanna Mary “Hanna” Sheehy-Skeffington, Republican activist and feminist, is born in Kanturk, County Cork, on May 24, 1877.

Sheehy is the eldest daughter of Elizabeth McCoy and David Sheehy, an ex-Fenian and Member of Parliament (MP) for the Irish Parliamentary Party, representing South Galway. One of her uncles, Father Eugene Sheehy, is known as the Land League Priest, and his activities land him in prison. He is also one of Éamon de Valera‘s teachers in Limerick. When Hanna’s father becomes an MP in 1887, the family moves to Drumcondra, Dublin.

Sheehy is educated at the Dominican Convent on Eccles Street, where she is a prize-winning pupil. She then enrolls at St. Mary’s University College, a third level college for women established by the Dominicans in 1893, to study modern French and German. She sits for examinations at Royal University of Ireland and receives a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1899, and a Master of Arts Degree with first-class honours in 1902. This leads to a career as a teacher in Eccles Street and an examiner in the Intermediate Certificate examination.

Sheehy marries Francis Skeffington in 1903, and they both take the surname Sheehy Skeffington, which they do not hyphenate but use as a double name. In 1908, they found the Irish Women’s Franchise League, a group aiming for women’s voting rights.

Sheehy-Skeffington gets into numerous scuffles with the law. She is jailed in 1912 for breaking windows of government buildings in support of suffrage as part of an IWFL campaign. That same year she also throws a hatchet at visiting British Prime Minister Herbert Asquith. She loses her teaching job in 1913 when she is arrested and imprisoned for three months after throwing stones at Dublin Castle and assaulting a police officer in a feminist action. While in jail she goes on hunger strike and is released under the Prisoner’s Temporary Discharge of Ill Health Act but is soon rearrested.

Being free from her teaching job enables Sheehy-Skeffington to devote more time to the fight for suffrage. She is influenced by James Connolly and during the 1913 lock-out works with other suffragists in Liberty Hall, providing food for the families of the strikers.

She strongly opposes participation in World War I which breaks out in August 1914, and is prevented by the British government from attending the International Congress of Women held in The Hague in April 1915. The following June her husband is imprisoned for anti-recruiting activities. He is later shot dead during the 1916 Easter Rising after having been arrested by British soldiers.

Sheehy-Skeffington refuses compensation for her husband’s death, which is offered on condition of her ceasing to speak and write about the murder. Rather, she travels to the United States to publicise the political situation in Ireland. In October 1917, she is the sole Irish representative to League for Small and Subject Nationalities where, along with several other contributors, she is accused of pro-German sympathies. She publishes British Militarism as I Have Known It, which is banned in the United Kingdom until after the World War I. Upon her return to Britain she is once again imprisoned, this time in Holloway prison. After release, Sheehy-Skeffington attends the 1918 Irish Race Convention in New York City and later supports the anti-Treaty Irish Republican Army (IRA) during the Irish Civil War.

In 1926, Sheehy-Skeffington becomes a founding member of Fianna Fáil and is elected to the party’s Ard Comhairle. During the 1930s, she is assistant editor of An Phoblacht. In January 1933, she is arrested in Newry for breaching an exclusion order banning her from Northern Ireland. At her trial she says, “I recognize no partition. I recognize it as no crime to be in my own country. I would be ashamed of my own name and my murdered husband’s name if I did…Long live the Republic!” She is sentenced to a month’s imprisonment.

Sheehy-Skeffington is a founding member of the Irish Women Workers’ Union and an author whose works deeply oppose British imperialism in Ireland. Her son, Owen Sheehy-Skeffington, becomes a politician and Irish Senator.

Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington dies in Dublin on April 20, 1946, at the age of 68 and is buried with her husband in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin.