Posts Tagged With: Bureau of Military History

The Attack on Cloyne RIC Barracks, 8th May 1920

As part of the ongoing project Transition Year student Rob Mitchell has been working one day a week in the Rubicon office, exploring the history of the local area. Rob’s first task was to compile all the witness statements available in the Bureau of Military History that refer to Midleton, allowing us to gain a broad view of the War of Independence as seen through the eyes of the local men who participated. As a result Rob has been able to focus in on a number of events which involved the Midleton volunteers, one of which was the 1920 attack on the RIC Barracks in Cloyne. Rob has described the action for us.

The period between 9th February 1920 and 8th May 1920 was an uneventful one for the IRA around Midleton, except for the organisation of companies in every town in the 4th Battalion area. Although the amount of arms and ammunition available was scarce, the local volunteers were alert for opportunities to supplement their stock of weapons.

In April 1920 plans were made to attack and capture the barracks in Cloyne. Every volunteer around Cloyne was to be on the job, but the main brunt of the attack was borne by men from Cobh and Midleton. Even with the large numbers of men available success was not guaranteed, as the Barracks had been strengthened to resist attack with steel shutters put on all the buildings windows, front and rear, and the garrison had been increased. This was to be expected, as the RIC had already lost the barracks in Castlemartyr and Carrigtwohill to IRA attacks. The RIC Barracks in Cloyne would now be more cautious and alert, and the IRA plan therefore envisaged a determined defence.

'Hair Kutz' on Church Street, Cloyne, where the RIC Barracks was located in 1920

‘Hair Kutz’ on Church Street, Cloyne, where the RIC Barracks was located in 1920

Volunteer Michael Leahy traveled to Brigade HQ in Cork and obtained additional rifles and grenades for the operation, which was planned for 8th May. It was a Saturday. Some members of the Midleton company were also members of the Gaelic League, and were taking part in a play that was going to be staged the following night in Cloyne Technical School. During the day men from the Midleton company began to ‘drift’ into the school carrying arms and ammunition, which were then hidden under the props that were to be used in the play.

From about 8pm onwards, parties of volunteers were set to work blocking roads and cutting telephone and telegraph wires, thereby completely isolating the town. Men from the Cobh company arrived having crossed the harbour at East Ferry. They stood guard armed with rifles and revolvers at East Ferry to prevent British reinforcements from Cobh crossing to Cloyne via that route. Volunteers from Aghada blocked the roads from Fort Carlisle and the Coastguard Station at Rochestown Point. All other roads to Cloyne were blocked with felled trees and boulders, making the roads impassable.

The RIC Barracks in Cloyne was located on Church Street, where ‘Hair Kutz’ is today. The plan was for the IRA to enter the two public houses on either side of the Barracks after closing time (10pm). Three of the men, Patrick Whelan, Jack Ahern and Donal Leahy, were sent into the corn stores directly opposite the Barracks. Whelan and Ahern were armed with rifles, but Leahy carried only a hatchet. Their job was to lay down covering fire- a difficult job for a man armed only with a hatchet!

The corn stores opposite the RIC Barrracks on Church Street, Cloyne

The corn stores opposite the RIC Barrracks on Church Street, Cloyne from which Whelan, Ahern and Leahy laid down covering fire during the attack

A small number of men were sent into Meade’s and Powers pubs on either side of the Barracks shortly before 10pm, so they could open the doors for other volunteers when the operation was due to commence, at 10.30. The plan hit a snag when Mrs. Meade refused to let the men in. After a few moments Diarmuid Hurley decided to break the glass on the door with an iron bar to gain entry; this alerted the Barracks to what was going on, and they began to open fire. Hurley and his party of Manly, Joseph Ahern, D. King, Kelleher and Mick Desmond got into the pub and Mrs. Meade and her maid were removed to a place of safety in the town. Whelan in the corn stores shouted “Now Jack!” and Whelan and Jack Ahern began to fire down at the Barracks doors and windows. The RIC returned fire and fired verey lights into the sky to call for assistance.

Inside Meade’s pub, Ring, Desmond and Kelleher went into the sitting room and began to lay gelignite onto the wall that adjoined the Barracks. Hurley and a few others went upstairs and began banging on the wall to distract the RIC, and draw their attention away from the shenanigans downstairs. The sitting room was evacuated and the gelignite exploded, but the breach created was too small. The RIC now began to fire back into Meade’s pub through the hole in the wall. Hurley had some gelignite left over, so the lit the fuse on it and threw it through the breach, causing the RIC to scatter into separate rooms to avoid the explosion. They next got a tin of petrol and poured its contents into a ewer, which they chucked through the hole, to be followed by a cloth lit by Kelleher. A blanket of flames soon began to engulf the Barracks. The blaze spread to Meade’s pub, where curtains caught fire, making the room untenable.

The RIC Barracks ('Hair Kutz', the yellow building) was flanked by two pubs, Meade's (the red building to the left) and Power's (to the right of 'Hair Kutz')

The RIC Barracks (‘Hair Kutz’, the yellow building) was flanked by two pubs, Meade’s (the red building, now Cuddigans, to the left) and Power’s (now The Tower, to the right of ‘Hair Kutz’)

While the volunteers in Meade’s evacuated the room, heavy rifle fire was still being exchanged on the street outside. The IRA men in Power’s pub, on the other side of the Barracks, succeeded in blowing open another hole in the wall with gelignite, but found that the raging fire prevented them from entering the building. At this point the garrison threw what looked like a white pillow case or a white piece of cloth out the window as a token of surrender. The RIC evacuated the building and were lined up on the street. Patrick Whelan ran into the Barracks in search of equipment, and discovered a large box of arms and ammunition which he managed to get outside.

Flushed with victory, the volunteers began to sing ‘The Soldiers Song’, while the boys from Ballymacoda, who were in ‘great form’ began to shout ‘Up Ballymacoda!’. Mick Leahy, aware that identifying themselves was perhaps not the smartest move, quickly ordered them to stop. The victory at Cloyne RIC Barracks was elating for the volunteers of the 4th Battalion, filling them with confidence. It was one of the last attacks possible before the disastrous events at Clonmult, which would follow in 1921.

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The 1920 Midleton Ambush- Battle on the Main Street

One of the aims of this project will be to share information about the town and the environs. To kick off we are going to look at a remarkable account of an event that took place right in the centre of the town during the War of Independence. It forms one of the statements in the Bureau of Military History, which collected reminiscences from those involved in the 1916 Rebellion and the War of Independence. One of the accounts was provided by Commandant Patrick J. Whelan, who had served with ‘B’ (Midleton) Company, 4th Battalion, Cork No.1 Brigade and the 4th Battalion Flying Column during the War of Independence.

The burnt cottage at Clonmult, where 12 members of the local Flying Column were killed (a further two were executed later). Many of these men had participated in the Midleton Ambush.

The burnt cottage at Clonmult, where 12 members of the local Flying Column were killed (two more were later executed). Many of these men had participated in the Midleton Ambush.

Patrick Whelan was born in Co. Wexford on 10 February 1896, but moved to Cobh with his family at an early age. He was later one of a number of members of ‘B’ Company who worked at Pat Hallinan’s Engineering Works in Midleton. On the night of 29 December 1920 he was one of the members of the Column who decided to launch an attack on a patrol of R.I.C. (Royal Irish Constabulary) and Black and Tans in the town. Patrick has left a remarkable account of events that evening, when the Main Street of Midleton was briefly transformed into a battleground:

The whole column, including Jack Aherne and myself, moved into Midleton under cover of darkness, and assembled at a saw-mills in Charles Street [now Connolly Street]. From the saw-mills, Jack and I continued on to the main street. We arranged that I would take up position at the corner of Charles Street which is situated about midway in the main street, and at right-angles to it. Jack posted himself further down the main street, in the vicinity of the Midleton Arms Hotel.

We were armed with .45 Webley revolvers and wore trench coats and capes. I was only about five minutes at my post when I saw a patrol of Black and Tans, marching slowly towards me. They move in pairs, about six paces apart and on both sides of the street, four pairs on my side and two pairs on the opposite side, together with an old R.I.C. man named Mullins. All were armed with rifles and revolvers, with the rifles slung on their shoulders.

In the last pair on my side was a Constable Gordon with whom I was well acquainted before I joined the column. When passing, he noticed me and, evidently surprised at seeing me, shouted, “Hello, Paddy!”. I said, “Hello, Gordie!”, which was my usual way of addressing him. For a moment, I thought he would leave the ranks and come over to me, but fortunately he carried on with the patrol. I am sure my heart missed a beat or two. Gordon knew me well. He had not seen me for the previous few months, and now he was looking at me wearing a trench coat and cap, items of apparel which I had never previously worn in his presence. I remember wondering if he suspected something was afoot. If he did, he kept his suspicions to himself, as the patrol continued sedately down the street. I waited until he had passed Jack Aherne, when I went and collected him, and reported back to Diarmuid Hurley, comparing notes on our way. We had a perfect picture of the whole patrol, and lost no time in describing their disposition to Hurley. He immediately issued his orders.

There were sixteen of us, all intimate with the lay-out, knowing every house and doorway in the main street. Ten of us took positions in doorways between Charles Street and along about forty yards of the main street up to the Midleton Arms Hotel. The remainder did likewise on the opposite side of the street. I was at the corner of Charles Street and Main Street, and Diarmuid Hurley was at the Midleton Arms Hotel end of Main Street, on the same side as I was. It was decided that, when the patrol was between our two positions on the return journey, Hurley would open fire, and this was to be the signal for all of us to go into action. Each one of our party was armed with a revolver.

We were only about five minutes in position when the patrol returned- still in the same order as I had seen it earlier. Hurley judged his shot to perfection, and at once all of us opened fire. The patrol was taken completely by surprise and, in comparatively short time, the attack was over. Some of the Tans did fire back at us, and there were a few narrow escapes on our side. Dan Cashman of Midleton was fortunate to be carrying a cigarette case in his vest pocket- it was badly dented by a bullet, but it probably saved his life. Jim McCarthy of Midleton, although not a member of the column, took part in the attack, and was wounded in the wrist. Otherwise, we escaped unscathed.

But what of the patrol? Constable Mullins was shot dead, and about six other Tans wounded, some of whom died later from their wounds. Some of the patrol threw their rifles on the street and ran away. “Gordie” escaped uninjured, and somehow I was glad of this as I still think he was not of an evil nature. Two of the Black and Tans were lying on the footpath near me, bleeding profusely.

Sergeant Moloney of the Midleton R.I.C. had been sent earlier to the house of a British ex officer, to collect the latter’s uniform. The sergeant was returning to barracks with the uniform, and as his return coincided with the attack, he came under our fire, was shot in the foot, and dropped the uniform convenient to where I was, and only a few yards from one of the wounded Black and Tans. I knelt down beside the Tan and spoke to him. He told me his name, which I have now forgotten, and said he was from Liverpool. He said he would resign if he recovered from his wounds. He then offered me his wallet. I took it from his hand and put it back in the breast pocket of his tunic, and told him I was doing so. I then got the uniform which Sergeant Moloney had dropped, folded it and placed it under the Tan’s head. The poor fellow lost a lot of blood, and I expect he was one of those who eventually died of wounds.

I cannot say with any certainty now what number of rifles and revolvers we captured that night. I do know I secured one rifle and one revolver, and I’m sure the rest of our lads were just as successful. This attack took place only a few hundred yards from the R.I.C. barracks and about five hundred yards from the military post. The whole affair lasted about twenty minutes. We withdrew by the same route as we had arrived. All the boys were in great form, and they had every right to be, but I recall having mixed feelings, due to my intimate contact with the wounded Black and Tan.

Patrick’s account is a fascinating insight into the main incident of the War of Independence in Midleton. Three R.I.C. and Black and Tan patrol men died as a result of the nights actions. These were Constable Martin Mullen, twenty-one year old Constable Ernest Dray and twenty-three year old Constable Arthur Thorp.

The Flying Column’s attack in Midleton led to the first official reprisals carried out by the British military during the War of Independence. Brigadier-General Higginson, commanding in the area, had leaflets distributed around the town (one of which survives in the National Museum of Ireland) informing residents that a number of houses would be burned in response to the attack. Those targeted were the houses of John O’Shea, Paul McCarthy and Edmond Carey of Midleton as well as a number of homes in Ballyrichard and Ballyadam. Extraordinary British Pathe film survives of the aftermath of this reprisal, showing the damage it caused to the town. To see the video click here.

The ambush and its consequences were undoubtedly some of the most dramatic episodes in Midleton’s history, when just over 90 years ago the busiest part of the town was suddenly transformed into a warzone.

References

Bureau of Military History Witness Statement 1449. 1956. Statement of Commandant Patrick J. Whelan, Vice Commandant, 4th Battalion, Cork No. 1 Brigade

Hart, Peter (Ed.) 2009. Rebel Cork’s Fighting Story 1916-21

Categories: War of Independence | Tags: , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

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