seamus dubhghaill

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


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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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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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The Death of Art Ó Laoghaire

art-o-laoghaireArt Ó Laoghaire, an Irish Roman Catholic and captain in the Hungarian Hussars Regiment of the army of Maria Theresa of Austria, is killed by soldiers near Millstreet, County Cork on May 4, 1773.

Ó Laoghaire marries Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonaill, aunt of Daniel O’Connell, in 1767. She has been a widow from the age of 15 and is now 23. They have three children, Cornelius, Fiach and a third who apparently does not survive infancy.

Having returned home to Rathleigh House near Macroom, Cork, the hot-tempered Ó Laoghaire becomes involved in a feud with a protestant landowner and magistrate, Abraham Morris of Hanover Hall, Macroom. When Morris is High Sheriff of County Cork in 1771, he lays charges against Ó Laoghaire following his alleged attack on Morris and the wounding of his servant on July 13, 1771 at Hanover Hall. In October of that year, Ó Laoghaire is indicted in his absence, and Morris offers a 20 guinea reward for his capture.

The feud between the two men continues and in 1773, Morris demands that Ó Laoghaire sell him the fine horse that Ó Laoghaire had brought back from his service in the Austro-Hungarian army for £5. The Penal Laws state that no Catholic might own a horse worth more than £5 and could be forced to sell a more valuable one on demand to any Protestant at this price. Ó Laoghaire refuses to sell and challenges Morris to a duel, which Morris declines. Morris uses, or misuses, his position as magistrate to persuade his fellow magistrates to proclaim Ó Laoghaire an outlaw, who can then legally be shot on sight. Morris leads a contingent of soldiers that track Ó Laoghaire down to Carrignanimma on May 4, 1773. He gives the order to fire on Ó Laoghaire. The first shot, which kills him, is fired by a soldier called Green.

Morris and the soldiers are held to be guilty of Ó Laoghaire’s murder by a coroner’s inquest on May 17, but Morris is acquitted of the murder by Cork magistrates on September 6, 1773. Morris is shot in Cork on July 7 by Ó Laoghaire’s brother Cornelius, who sees Morris at a window of a house in Hammond’s Lane where he is lodging. He fires three shots, wounding Morris. The shots are not immediately fatal, but Morris dies in September 1775, presumably as the result of the shooting. The soldier Green is decorated for his “gallantry.”

Ó Laoghaire’s wife Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonaill composes the long poem “Caoineadh Airt Uí Laoghaire” (Lament for Art O’Leary), mourning his death and calling for revenge.

Ó Laoghaire’s tomb at Kilcrea Friary has the epitaph likely composed by his widow:

Lo Arthur Leary, generous, handsome, brave,
Slain in his bloom lies in this humble grave.


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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.