Posts Tagged With: Royal Irish Constabulary

Midleton and the 1867 Fenian Rising

In 1867 the Fenian movement attempted an armed rising in Ireland in an effort to wrest the country from British rule. However, poor planning and successful Government infiltration of the organisation meant that the effort was doomed to failure. The rising was sporadic and quickly fizzled out. However, the London Times of 8 March 1867 illustrates that Fenian members in Midleton were determined to take part:

A formidable insurrection has broken out in this county [Cork], and is, probably, simultaneous with a similar movement in other places. Last night, at about 11 o’clock, the telegraph wires belonging to the two companies having stations at Cork were cut, the Magnetic Company’s wires being destroyed a little way beyond Charleville, about 36 miles from Cork and the Electric Company at Midleton, whence they radiate to several quarters. At an apparently preconcerted hour bands of armed insurgents assembled at Midleton, at Carrignavar, in the neighbourhood of Cork, at Kilmallock, Knocklong, and Rathduff…

The rising began in Midleton- that is, the assembly there seems to have been the earliest. The Fenians collected on the fair green  to the number of about 50, and marched through the town in military order. They were all armed, and had haversacks of provisions. At the end of the town, near Copinger’s-bridge, they were met by an armed police patrol of four men. The Fenian leader called on the patrol to surrender, and the demand was followed up by a volley, by which one of the four constables were killed and another slightly wounded. The uninjured men returned the fire, with what effect is not known, and made their escape hastily into an adjoining house, whence they afterwards regained the barracks. The Fenians marched from Midleton to Castlemartyr, leaving the police barrack at the former town unmolested. On the route they were joined by several parties of armed men, and arrived in Castlemartyr with a force about 200 strong. Daly, the Fenian leader, drew up his men in front of the police-barrack, which had been closed and barricaded on their approach, and called on its occupants to surrender. The policemen, who did not exceed six or seven in number, replied by a well-directed fire, killing Daly and wounding several of his band. The remainder then retired in the direction of Killeagh, to which place small parties of men were seen making their way from Cloyne, Youghal and several other places during the night. 

Mugshots of Fenians taken in Mountjoy Prison in 1866. The Fenians were some of the first people in Ireland to have mugshots taken, as it was a relatively new practice at the time (New York Public Library)

Mugshots of Fenians taken in Mountjoy Prison in 1866. The Fenians were some of the first people in Ireland to have mugshots taken, as it was a relatively new practice at the time (New York Public Library)

The Cork Examiner of 7 March 1867 added further detail regarding the particulars of the incident at the bridge in Midleton:

The precise circumstances of the occurrence in Midleton are these:- A few minutes before eleven o clock, the Fenians assembled in the Main-street of the town, as already stated, and after the interview with the gentleman who mistook them for police, they moved down to the bridge close by the National Bank and here they drew up on the left side of the approach to the bridge. The patrol, consisting of Acting Constables Greany, Sub-constables O Donnell, Sheedy, and O Brien, passed on towards the bridge, at the other side of the road. When they had passed slightly beyond the Fenians, they were challenged by, it is believed, Daly, their leader, and called upon to surrender in the name of the Irish Republic. The police were then close to Mr. Green’s gate, and the Fenians were but a few yards away from them, assembled four deep. When the police did not obey the call, Daly seized Sub-Constable O Donnell’s rifle, and presenting a revolver at his head, fired. O Donnell at the same time pushed Daly slightly from him, and thus caused the pistol ball to glance around the back of his head, the powder singeing his hair. At the same moment, the party of Fenians fired a volley. A ball entered Sub-Constable Sheedy’s breast, low down near the stomach on the right side, and after running a short distance up the chapel road, he fell and bled probably to death. The other policemen fled in the same direction, and O Donnell, who was wounded in the head, took shelter in a house. As the others fled, the Fenians fired after them, and the Acting-Constable had a number of extraordinary escapes. Bullets grazed the back of his hand, passed through his cap, touched his knee, and cut the edge of his ammunition pouch. He, with Sub-constable O Brien, got round by Mr. Green’s house, and having taken shelter there till morning, got back to the station, escorted by Mr. Green, who had great influence and popularity in the town. After Sheedy fell he was stripped of his rifle and accoutrements. Daly took Sub-constable O Donnell’s rifle with him. Greany and O Brien retained theirs. The gate and wall in front of Mr. Green’s residence were thickly marked with the volleys of bullets fired by the insurgents, and subsequently, a dozen revolver cartridges were found on the foot path there, as well as two large hand grenades with fuses attached. The cartridges were patent make, manufactured by Gladstone and Co. of London. It is also said that the first assembly of the Midleton Fenians was at the Cork road, where they were formed in three divisions, but being there surprised by the police they scattered and subsequently met at the house of a person of some position in the town, at the door of which a sentry was posted, and all persons entering closely scanned. Thence they are believed to have proceeded to the Bank Bridge. The police say they were only armed with pistols, but a gentleman who passed close to them, says that they had rifles and swords. After the encounter of the bridge, they are said to have gone by Ballinacurra towards Castlemartyr. The firing in Midleton is described as being as regular as that of disciplined troops. Another circumstance stated is that suspicious looking strangers wearing cloaks were seen in Midleton early in the evening, and they are believed to have come from the direction of Cork. Cars heavily laden are also known to have passed through the town about one o clock. Constable Greany found, near the bridge, a pike ten feet long, this morning.


London Times 8 March 1867

Fenian Rising Pages on

Mountjoy Prison Portaits of Irish Independence: Photograph Albums in Thomas A. Larcom Collection

Categories: Nineteenth Century | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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.


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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