seamus dubhghaill

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


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The Clonmult Ambush

The Clonmult ambush takes place on February 20, 1921, during the Irish War of Independence.

Irish Republican Army (IRA) volunteers occupying a farmhouse in Clonmult, County Cork are surrounded by a force of British Army, Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) and Auxiliaries. In the action that follows, twelve IRA volunteers are killed, four wounded and four captured. A total of 22 people die in the ambush and subsequent executions – fourteen IRA members, two Black and Tans and six suspected informers.

The 4th battalion of the IRA First Cork Brigade, under Diarmuid O’Hurley and based around Midleton, Youghal and Cobh, had been a successful unit up until the Clonmult ambush. They had captured three RIC barracks and carried out an ambush in Midleton itself. In January 1921, the unit takes possession of a disused farmhouse overlooking the village of Clonmult. O’Hurley plans to ambush a military train at Cobh Junction on Tuesday, February 22, 1921 and at the time of the Clonmult action is scouting a suitable ambush site. However, according to historian Peter Hart, they “had become over-confident and fallen into a traceable routine.” An intelligence officer of the British Army Hampshire Regiment traces them to their billet at a farmhouse in Clonmult.

British troops, a party of the 2nd Battalion, Hampshire Regiment under the command of Lieutenant A. R. Koe, surround the house. Two IRA volunteers notice the advancing troops and open fire. Both are killed, but the shooting warns those sheltering inside the house, and a siege begins. A sortie from the house is attempted in the hope of gaining reinforcements from the local IRA company.

The acting IRA commander, Captain Jack O’Connell, manages to get away but three other volunteers are killed in the attempt. But O’Connell is unable to bring help in time. The Volunteers trapped inside make a desperate but unsuccessful attempt to escape through a narrow opening in the gable. Their hopes are dashed when British reinforcements arrive instead — regular RIC police, Black and Tans and Auxiliaries. The police also bring petrol, which an Army officer uses to set the thatched roof of the farmhouse on fire. With the farmhouse burning around them, an attempt is then made by the IRA to surrender.

What happens next is disputed. In his after-action report, Lieutenant Koe reports that at 6:30 PM six or seven rebels come out of the house with their hands up. As the Crown Forces go to meet them the remaining rebels in the house open fire. Some of the rebels outside the house are killed or wounded by the crossfire that ensues. The Crown Forces rush the house and the eight rebels inside are taken prisoner. By contrast, the surviving Volunteers claim that their men had surrendered in good faith, and had come out with their hands up, only to be shot by the police without any provocation. Opinion is divided amongst historians as to which version of the story to believe.

A total of twelve IRA Volunteers are killed in the action, with four more wounded and only four taken prisoner unscathed. Two of the IRA prisoners, Maurice Moore and Paddy O’Sullivan, are later executed in the Cork military barracks on April 28. Patrick Higgins, an IRA man who survived the killings, is sentenced to death but is reprieved due to the truce that ends the war on July 11. Hampshire Regiment historian Scott Daniell notes on the action that “like all the Irish operations, it was hateful to the British troops.”

The IRA suspects that an informer had led the British to the billet of the column wiped out at Clonmult, and over the following week, six alleged spies are executed by the IRA in the surrounding area. Mick Leahy, a local IRA officer, states that “things went to hell in the battallion” after Clonmult. Diarmuid O’Hurley, the commander of the battalion, is not at Clonmult but is later killed on May 28, 1921.


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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)