A series of articles by Mairtin MacCiarrain.  The first article deals with the Crossbarry Ambush, march , 1921 .  Thanks for the articles Mairtin.

We welcome all articles by contributors, do not be shy and make an effort , we are all historians in our own way. we welcome all comment.

CROSSBARRY   march 19 , 1921 Cork

The Crossbarry Ambush on March 19, 1921 in the village of Crossbarry, twenty kilometres south-west of Cork city was one of the largest engagements during the Irish War of Independence between the Irish Republican Army and the British Crown Forces. An IRA column, 100 strong, under Tom Barry and Liam Deasy escaped from an encircling manoeuvre by 1,200 British troops, killing between 10 and 30 of them.


The increasing success of the West Cork Brigade of the Irish Republican Army led to a spate of arrests and interrogations of suspected IRA volunteers in West Cork in an effort to ascertain the identities and headquarters of those engaging in guerrilla warfare against the British forces. On February 15 1921, the IRA mounted an abortive ambush of a troop train at Upton, in which six civilians and three IRA men died. Several other volunteers were captured. The British succeeded in breaking an IRA volunteer under interrogation and discovering that the West Cork Brigade had its headquarters in Ballymurphy. In addition, the British learned that Barry’s column had recently returned to this area after several days waiting for an ambush on the Kinsale to Bandon road. The British commanders, as a result planned a major operation to capture the IRA column, mobilising about 1,200 troops, to converge on the area from several different directions. According to Tom Barry, 400 British troops came from Cork, 200 from Ballincollig, 300 from Kinsale and 350 from Bandon. Later in the day about 120 Auxiliaries also left Macroom. The sweep was mounted early in the morning of the 19th. At Crossbarry, some of the troops descended from their lorries to proceed on foot or by bicycle to catch the IRA unaware.


One early victim of the action was Charlie Hurley, the IRA Officer Commanding of the Cork Number Three Brigade. Hurley was trapped in a house and killed at about 6:30am. Tom Barry, only becoming aware of the danger at the last minute, resolved that his men, about 100 strong, would have to fight their way out of the encirclement. Barry’s calculation was that his men, who had only 40 rounds per man, could not sustain an all day fight, which they could expect if they retired before the British. Moreover, the likelihood was that the small column would be trapped if it took this course of action. However, Barry observed that one of the British columns advancing towards Crossbarry was well ahead of the other British units. If his men could break through this British force, roughly the same strength as his own force, then they could break out of the British encirclement.

Barry laid out an ambush for the British at Crossbarry cross roads – his men being in position by 5:30 am. When the first British lorries, about 12 vehicles according to Barry’s account, reached Crossbarry, they were caught by surprise and hit by a crossfire at very close range (5-10 yards or c. 5 metres). They took significant casualties and many of them fled the scene. Barry’s men collected the British arms and ammunition before setting fire to the lorries. At this point, they were attacked again by another British column of about 200, coming from the southwest, but they too retired after a stiff fire fight. Two more British units converging on the area from the southeast tried to dislodge the IRA from their ambush position, but again without success and they too retired in disorder. Taking the chance offered by his quick victory to get away, Barry then marched his men to safety in the Gurranereigh area, while the British were still disorientated by the ambush. There was another brief exchange of fire at long range as the IRA column got away. The action had lasted for under an hour. Major Percival of The Essex Regiment on realising what had happened rushed to the scene with his troops, but was only able to open a long range fire on the fleeing IRA men. He later blamed the action on the Auxiliary column which had gone to the wrong rendevous point and had therefore left a gap in the encirclement. There were some further combats along the IRA column’s line of retreat at Crowhill and Rearour but with no further casualties on either side

Barry reported that three of his men were killed in the fight and another three wounded. British accounts claimed that six IRA men had died. The IRA claimed that over thirty British soldiers were killed in the action. The British admitted just ten killed and three wounded. The RIC memorial records that one RIC constable and six soldiers were killed.

Crossbarry Ambush
(Saturday 19th March 1921)

The following is a list of the republican soldiers who took part in the ambush at Crossbarry Co. Cork on Saturday 19th of March 1921.

Irish Republican Army :

Staff Officers

Surname Forename Rank

Deasy Liam Brigade Adjutant

Barry Tom Column Commandant

Begley Flor Assistant Brigade Adjutant

Lucey Dr. Con Brgade M.O
Sullivan Tadhg Column Quartermaster

Crowley Mick Brigade Engineer (Section Commander)

First Battalion

Surname Forename Address Rank Company

Hales Sean Knocknacurra Section Commander Ballinadee

Hales William Knocknacurra Volunteer Ballinadee

Hales Bob Knocknacurra Volunteer Ballinadee

O’Donoghue Con Rathrout Volunteer Ballinadee

O’Donoghue Jack Rathrout Volunteer Ballinadee

O’Donoghue Denny Rathrout Volunteer Ballinadee

Crowley Jim Kilanetig Volunteer (Wounded) Ballinadee

Crowley Tim Horsehill Volunteer Ballinadee

Healy Matt Rathrout Volunteer Ballinadee

Corkerry Jack Cloghane Volunteer Ballinadee

O’Leary Johnny Howes Strand Volunteer Kilbrittain

Lordan Denis Maryboro Section Commander Kilbrittain

Monahan Peter Volunteer (Killed) Kilbrittain

Roche Jack Kilbrittain Volunteer Kilbrittain

O’Brien Denny Clounboig Volunteer Kilbrittain

O’Sullivan Paddy Glanduff Volunteer Kilbrittain

Lehane Con Timoleague Volunteer Timoleague

Murphy Con Carhue Volunteer Timoleague

Hodnett Jimmy Carhue Volunteer Timoleague

Deasy Mick Volunteer Timoleague

Keohane Tim Volunteer Timoleague

O’Driscoll John Timoleague Volunteer Timoleague

Minnihane Dan Timoleague Volunteer Timoleague

McCarthy Bill Volunteer Barryroe

Holland Dan Volunteer Ballyroe

Coleman Michael Volunteer Ballyroe

O’Brien Denis Butlerstown Volunteer Ballyroe

O’Sullivan Denis Volunteer Ballyroe

Callanan Con Volunteer Ballyroe

O’Donovan Dan Burrane South Volunteer Clogagh

Daly Con Ballinascarthy Volunteer (Killed) Clogagh

Dempsey Paddy Volunteer Clogagh

O’Donovan Mick Volunteer Clogagh

O’Donovan Dan Clogagh Volunteer Clogagh

Mehigan Denis Dangan Volunteer Bandon

Kearney Mick Bandon Volunteer Bandon

Buckley Bill Bandon Volunteer Bandon

McCarthy Con Bandon Volunteer Bandon

Hurley Frank Laragh, Bandon Volunteer Mount Plesant

O’Brien Con Laragh, Bandon Volunteer Mount Plesant

O’Brien Jerh Tullyglass Volunteer Mount Plesant

Lordan John Coolinagh Section Commander Mount Plesant

Lordan Jim Coolinagh Volunteer Mount Plesant

Desmond Bill Volunteer Mount Plesant

Canty Dan Farnalough Volunteer Mount Plesant

Staunton Stephen Volunteer Mount Plesant

Desmond Jer Volunteer Mount Plesant

O’Callaghan Denis Lauravoulta Volunteer Mount Plesant

O’Callaghan John Lauravoulta Volunteer Mount Plesant

O’Brien Denny Tullyglass Volunteer Mount Plesant

Corcoran Dan Bengour Volunteer (Wounded) Mount Plesant

Doyle Jim Kilmore Volunteer Kilpatrick

Doyle Jer Kilmore Volunteer Kilpatrick

Crowley John Volunteer Kilpatrick

Kelleher Tom Crow Hill, Upton Section Commander Crosspound

Second Battalion

Surname Firstname Address Rank Company

Murphy Jim Clonakilty Section Commander Clonakilty

Nugent Dan Clonakilty Volunteer Clonakilty

Barry Jack Clonakilty Volunteer Clonakilty

O’Leary Con Brownstown Volunteer Ardfield

O’Sullivan Dan Cahir Volunteer Ardfield

McSweeney Eugene Castlefreke Volunteer Kilkernmore

McSweeney Jack Castlefreke Volunteer Kilkernmore

Third Battalion

Surname Firstname Address Rank Company

O’Donovan John Aultagh Volunteer Aultagh

Kearney Peter Lettergorman Section Commander Clubhouse

O’Connell Patsy Edencurra Dunmanway Volunteer Clubhouse

O’Donovan Pat Nedinagh Volunteer Clubhouse

Hurley Mick Gortnamuckly Dunmanway Volunteer Bredagh

O’Leary Denis Drimoleague Volunteer Knockbue

Fourth Battalion

Surname Firstname Address Rank Company

O’Leary Jerh Corran, Leap Volunteer (Killed) Corran

Dempsey Jack Dromindy Volunteer Drinagh

McCarthy Tim J. Lissane, Drimoleague Volunteer Bredagh

O’Neill Sean Baltimore Volunteer Baltimore

Fifth Battalion

Surname Firstname Address Rank Company

O’Driscoll Michael Snave, Bantry Volunteer Coomhola

Lucey Daniel Cooryleary, Bantry Volunteer Coomhola

O’Connor Jack Kealkil, Bantry Volunteer Kealkil

O’Sullivan Patrick Milleney, Bantry Volunteer Bantry

Keohane Patrick Parsons Bridge, |Bantry Volunteer Parsons Bridge

Norris Willie Caheragh Volunteer Caheragh

O’Driscoll Denis Caheragh Volunteer Caheragh

Sixth Battalion

Surname Firstname Address Rank Company

O’Sullivan Michael Inchintaglan, Adrigole Volunteer Adrigole

O’Sullivan Matt Lackavane, Adrigole Volunteer Adrigole

McCarthy John Castletownbere Volunteer Castletown

Spencer Dick Rossmacowen Volunteer (Wounded) Rossmacowen

O’Shea Tim Droumard, Ardgroom Volunteer Ardgroom

Sheehan John Barrakilla, Ardgroom Volunteer (Wounded) Ardgroom

O’Connell Christy Eyeries Section Commander Eyeries, Kilcatherine, Inches

O’Driscoll Sean Eyeries Volunteer Eyeries, Kilcatherine, Inches

O’Dwyer Tim Eyeries, Caileroe Volunteer Eyeries, Kilcatherine, Inches

O’Sullivan Pat Eyeries Volunteer Eyeries, Kilcatherine, Inches

McCarthy Murt Inches Volunteer Eyeries, Kilcatherine, Inches

McAuliffe Jerry Croumlane Volunteer Eyeries, Kilcatherine, Inches

O’Sullivan Dan Gorth Volunteer Eyeries, Kilcatherine, Inches

O’Sullivan John Kilcatherine Volunteer Eyeries, Kilcatherine, Inches

Seventh Battalion

Surname Firstname Address Rank Company

Allen Tim Ballydehob Volunteer Ballydehob

McCarthy Tom Schull Volunteer Schull

Outside of Battalion Area

Surname Firstname Address Rank Company

McCarthy Jerh Dreeney, Skibbereen Volunteer U.C.C.


Surname Firstname Address Rank

Finn Ted Crossbarry Scout

Collins J. Crossbarry Scout

Twomey Tadhg Crossbarry Scout

Cronin Paddy Crossbarry Scout

Doolin Denny Crossbarry Scout

Begley Neilus Killeens Scout

Hartnett Bill Killeens Scout

Buckley Danny Inagh Scout

Buckley Miah Inagh Scout

O’Leary Paddy Ballyhandle Scout

Falvey Jack Ballymurphy Scout

Delaney Denny Belrose Scout

O’Mahony Jerome Belrose Scout

Lordan Jim Dunkerreen Scout

McCarthy Pake Upton Scout

Cronin Battie Clashinimud Scout

Clonmult Ambush Co Cork January 1921 . Severe setback for IRA in Cork.

In January 1921 the active service unit of the Fourth Battalion of the First Cork Brigade took possession of a disused farmhouse in a secluded position overlooking the village of Clonmult. Commandant O’Hurley decided to ambush a military train at Cobh Junction on Tuesday February 22nd 1921.
He set out to make the necessary arrangements accompanied by Vice-Commandant Joseph Aherne and Captain Patrick Whelan. On Sunday February 20th Michael Desmond and John Joe Joyce left the farmhouse to go to the nearby spring when they noticed that the house was being surrounded by British forces.
They both died as they fought to return to the house, but not before they had warned those inside of the situation. A sortie from the house was attempted in the hope that assistance could be organised from the local company.
The acting O/C, Captain Jack O’Connell managed to break through but was unable to bring help on time. The Volunteers trapped inside made a desperate but unsuccessful attempt to escape through a narrow opening in the gable. With the farmhouse burning around them an attempt was made to surrender but many of the Volunteers were killed in a hail of bullets from the Black and Tan forces who had come to reinforce the British regulars. Of the prisoners taken two were later executed, five others had their sentence commuted and one, Captain Higgins, who had been shot through the mouth had his life spared by the advent of the Truce.
Surname Firstname Rank Company Outcome
Aherne James Captain Cobh Killed while jumping a fence 200 yards from the house, attempting a sortie to organise aid

Aherne Jeremiah Volunteer Midleton Killed

Aherne Joseph Vice-Commandant Midleton Left Clonmult prior to the ambush to make arrangements for the Columns transfer to Dooneen

Aherne Liam Volunteer Midleton Killed

Dennehy Donal Volunteer Midleton Killed

Desmond David Volunteer Midleton Killed

Desmond Michael Volunteer Midleton Killed while attempting to fight his way back to the house from the spring Garden

Glavin James Volunteer Cobh Killed while trying to breach the gable

Hallahan Michael Volunteer Midleton Killed on the doorstep while attempting a sortie to organise aid

Harty Volunteer Captured, death sentence commuted

Hegarty Richard Volunteer Garryvoe Killed at a fence in front of the house while attempting a sortie to organise aid

Higgins Paddy Captain Captured, sentenced to death, saved by the Truce of July 11

Joyce John Joe Volunteer Midleton Killed while attempting to fight his way back to the house from the spring

Moore Maurice Volunteer Cobh Captured and executed at Cork military barracks April 28th 1921

Morrissey Joseph Volunteer Athlone Killed

O’Connell Jack Captain, Acting O/C Cobh Succeeded in crossing the British lines and attempted to organise local aid

O’Hurley Diarmuid Commandant Bandon Left Clonmult prior to the ambush to make arrangements for the Columns transfer to Dooneen, Killed May 28th 1921

O’Leary J. Volunteer Wounded while trying to breach the gable, captured, death sentence commuted

O’Sullivan Christopher Volunteer Midleton Killed

O’Sullivan Paddy Volunteer Cobh Captured and executed at Cork military barracks April 28th 1921

Terry Edmund Volunteer Captured, death sentence commuted

Walsh Volunteer Captured, death sentence commuted

Whelan Patrick Captain Left Clonmult prior to the ambush to make arrangements for the Columns transfer to Dooneen

Admin : it is strongly believed that an informer was responsible for this action.

The Scramogue Ambush

was an incident in Ireland’s War of Independence.

The flying columns of the North and South Roscommon Irish Republican Army Brigades under Patrick Madden (O/C South Roscommon Brigade) ambushed a nine-man British Army (Ninth Lancers regiment) and Royal Ulster Constabulary (RIC) patrol in a Crossley tender at Scramogue, on March 23, 1921, (on the Strokestown-Longford road) which resulted in the death of six members of the British forces.

Two British army officers (Alfred Peek and Lt Tennant), an RASC driver and one RIC man (Con Edward Leslie) were killed in action. Peek, who commanded the 9th Lancers at Strokestown, County Roscommon had threatened to burn every house within five miles if one of his men were killed. In addition, after the ambush, two men in civilian clothes approached IRA commander Madden and told him that they were prisoners on the tender. Under questioning, it turned out that they were RIC men (Black and Tans) under arrest – both (Con Buchanan and Con Evans) were killed.

There were 39 men in the ambush party armed with 17 rifles, 2 or 3 revolvers and 20 shotguns. Among the IRA who took part were ‘Cushy’ Hughes, Frank Simons and Luke Duffy, Seán Leavy (O/C 3rd Battalion North Roscommon Brigade), Martin Fallon (O/C Flying Column North Roscommon Brigade).

Two men from the North Roscommon brigade (Pat Mullolly and Brian Nagle) who had taken part in the ambush were arrested after the ambush and the brother of one (Michael Mullolly) was shot dead in his home by RIC men.

The Selton Hill Ambush

was an incident during the Irish War of Independence, which occurred on March 11, 1921.

An Irish Republican Army flying column was ambushed by members of the Auxiliary Division of the RIC, at Selton Hill, near Mohill, County Leitrim. Six IRA officers of the Leitrim Brigade (including Sean Connolly from Longford, Seamus Wrynne V/C; Joseph O Beirne (or Beirne); John Reilly; Joseph Reilly and Capt M. E. Baxter ), were killed. The Auxiliaries were based in the town of Mohill.

Ernie O’Malley states that “Men from Bedfordshire Regiment were seen by a badly wounded IRA officer, who survived, to use rifle butts on the skulls of two wounded men.” He also says that the location of the column was given to the local D/I of the RIC by a doctor who had been in the British Army. The doctor had been given the information by an Orangeman. The Orangeman was later killed by the IRA but the doctor escaped to England. Leavy says six were killed and that they were betrayed by two of their compatriots. He does say that that one was promptly executed by the IRA and that the other escaped to England but died later in an accident

The Sheemore Ambush

was an incident during the Irish War of Independence, which occurred on March 4, 1921.

An Irish Republican Army flying column, no. 1 Column, South Leitrim Brigade of the I.R.A., carried out an ambush on the Black and Tans, at Sheemore, near Carrick on Shannon, County Leitrim. The British suffered numerous casualties, and admitted one fatality, a captain in the Bedfordshire Regiment, although local sources claimed several more were killed.

The Black and Tans later ran amok in Carrick on Shannon, burning and looting. Among the premises they burned were Carrick on Shannon Rowing Club and the Premises of the Local newspaper, the Leitrim Observer.

The Ambush.

It was a very cold, but dry March morning in the year 1921. As the congregation made their way out of Gowel Church from the First Friday Mass they were confronted by a convoy of between thirty and forty people made up of Black and Tans, military and police. The men were lined up for searching on one side while a lady took care of the women. There was no panic and as nothing was found,there were no arrests. Gowel Church had been singled out that morning as a likely place for members of the South Leitrim Flying Column to slip in and make their First Friday. There was an added reason why they should go there. Rev. Fr. Edward O’Reilly, who was curate of Gowel, was also unconcealably friendly towards the volunteers. The R.I.C.(Royal Irish Constabulary) probably knew this and that the volunteers would go to church where they would be welcomed. After they searched the interior of the church the party remounted three Crossley tenders and continued on its way back to Carrick-on-Shannon. About a mile and a half down the road, on the slopes of Sheemore, a group of no. 1 Column, South Leitrim Brigade of the I.R.A. awaited them. On the eve of the First Friday, March 3, 1921, no. 1 Column was in the Drumshanbo-Kiltubrid area. A tip-off was received from Joe Nangle of Drumshanbo that the tans had intended to search Gowel Church the following morning. At dawn, on that morning, they moved to the Sheemore area through Keonbrook. There were seven in all; Brigadier Sean Mitchel, who was in command, Charles E. McGoohan of Ballinamore, Michael Geoghegan of Aughacashel, Mattie Boyle of Carrick-on-Shannon, Michael Martin of Ballinamore, Joe Nangle of Drumshanbo and Harry McKeaon. They all took up positions behind a low wall which ran on the brink of an eighty foot high rock face on the side of Sheemore. From their positions they were looking down four hundred yards from the road. They lay and waited. As the noise of the approaching lorries grew louder they prepared for what was to be a successful engagement for the fight for independence. At the command from Mitchell they opened fire. The tans then jumped from the lorries in confusion and took cover behind a wall which ran along the road. The police ran despite the shouts from the soldiers to stand their ground. The officer in command tried to use field glasses to spot the positions of the I.R.A. when McGoohan shouted, “leave this shot to me,” and with deadly aim lowered the enemy. After three quarters of an hour the I.R.A. withdrew. The British made no attempt to follow them. Instead they gathered up their dead and wounded and returned to Carrick. Mention must be made of the brave Miss Early from Effrinagh who risked going back to the scene of the ambush for an article believed to have been a handkerchief one of the ambushers left behind which might prove to be of use to any tracker dogs. After the ambush it remained for the locals to face the consequences; burnings, reprisals. It is impossible to say how many English were killed at Sheemore. The estimates are from fifteen to twenty and one officer killed. As is the case of so many ambushes, one will never know.

The Kilmichael Ambush co Cork

(Irish: Luíochán Chill Mhichíl) on November 28, 1920 was a turning point in the Irish War of Independence. There, between the hours of 4:05 p.m. and 4:20 p.m., thirty-six local Irish Republican Army volunteers under the command of 23-year-old Tom Barry killed 17 members of the British state’s elite paramilitary Auxiliary Division of the RIC. The Kilmichael ambush was of great political significance as it came just a week after Bloody Sunday (1920) in Dublin and marked a profound escalation in the IRA’s guerrilla campaign.
The Auxiliaries were commissioned officers and were initially designed to provide an officer class to the Black and Tans, the paramilitary police raised by the British to put down republican guerrillas in Ireland. However, they quickly became a separate force following their establishment in July 1920 and were regarded as a highly trained elite force by both sides in the conflict. The Auxiliaries engaged at Kilmichael all had previous experience in World War I. While they were officially part of the RIC in effect they were independent of it. The Auxiliaries and the Black and Tans rapidly became highly unpopular in Ireland for their intimidation of the civilian population and their arbitrary reprisals for IRA actions – including house burnings, beatings and killings. Only a week before the Kilmichael ambush, the Auxiliaries had fired on a football crowd in Dublin’s Croke Park, killing 14 civilians.

The Auxiliaries in Cork were based in the town of Macroom, and in November 1920 they carried out a number of raids on the villages in the surrounding area, including Dunmanway, Coppeen and Castletownkenneigh in order to intimidate the local population away from supporting the IRA. Tom Barry, in his memoirs, noted that the IRA had, up until Kilmichael, hardly fired a shot at the Auxiliaries, which, “had a very serious effect on the morale of the whole people as well as on the IRA”. Barry’s assessment was that the West Cork IRA needed a successful action against the Auxiliaries in order to be effective.

On November 21, he assembled a flying column of 36 riflemen at Clogher. The column had just 35 rounds for each rifle as well as a handful of revolvers and two mills bombs (hand grenades). Barry scouted possible ambush sites on horseback and selected one on Macroom-Dunmanway road, on the section between Kilmichael and Gleann, which the Auxiliaries coming out of Macroom used every day. The flying column marched there on foot and reached the ambush site on the night of the 27th. The IRA men took up positions in the low rocky hills on either side of the road.

As dusk fell between 4.05 and 4.20 on November 28, 1920 on a desolate roadside at Dus a’ Bharraigh in the townland of Shanacashel, Kilmichael Parish, near Macroom the ambush took place.

Just before the Auxiliaries came into view, two armed IRA men, responding late to Barry’s mobilisation order, drove unwittingly into the ambush position in a horse and side-car, almost shielding the British forces behind them. Barry managed to avert this by directing the car up a side road and out of the way. The IRA got the Auxiliaries’ first lorry to slow down by placing Barry himself on the road, wearing what Barry claims was an IRA officer’s tunic given to him by Paddy O’Brien, but what the British would later claim was one of their own uniforms. The British would also claim that the IRA had worn British uniforms including steel trench helmets, however Barry insisted that, with the exception of himself, they were all dressed in civilian clothes, although they were using captured British weapons and equipment. The lorry, containing nine Auxiliaries slowed almost to a halt 35 yards (c. 30 metres) from the ambush position before Barry gave the order to fire and the lorry was hit by hand grenade, thrown by Barry into the open cab. A savage close quarter fight ensued. According to Barry’s account, some of the British were killed using rifle butts and bayonets. The British later claimed that the dead had been mutilated with axes, although Barry dismissed this as absurd. All nine Auxiliaries in the first lorry were killed.

While this fight was still going on, a second lorry, also containing 9 Auxiliaries, had driven into the ambush position and its occupants were exchanging fire with the IRA squad who had not engaged the first lorry. When Barry brought the men who had attacked the first lorry to bear on the second lorry, he claims the Auxiliaries called out to surrender, but then opened fire when the IRA men emerged from cover, killing two of them. Barry then says that he ordered, “Rapid fire and do not stop until I tell you”. Barry states that he ignored a subsequent attempt by the Auxiliaries to surrender, and kept his men firing at a range of only ten yards (8 metres) until he believed all the British troops were dead. In fact, two survived, though badly injured. Among the dead was Colonel Crake, commander of the Auxiliaries in Macroom. Two IRA men, Michael McCarthy, Jim O’Sullivan were killed outright and Pat Deasy (brother of Liam Deasy) was mortally wounded. .

Two officers survived the ambush. One, HF Ford, survived, though shot in the head, brain-damaged and paralysed. Ford was left for dead by the IRA. Ironically, the severity of his injuries saved his life. He was picked up by the British the following day and taken to hospital in Cork and was later awarded £10,000 in compensation. The other survivor, Cecil Guthrie, escaped, badly wounded from the ambush site but he asked for help at a house where two IRA men were staying and they killed him with his own gun. According to Father Pat Twohig’s “Green Tears for Hecuba”, Guthrie was identified as the member of the Auxiliaries who had previously murdered the uninvolved civilian Séamus Ó Liatháin in Ballymakeerahe. His body was dumped in Annahala bog. In 1926, on behalf of the Guthrie family, Kevin O’Higgins, Irish Free State Minister for Home Affairs, interceded with the local IRA. Guthrie’s remains were disinterred and handed over to the Church of Ireland authorities at Macroom. He was soon buried in a proper grave.

Many of the IRA men were severely shaken by the action and some of them were physically sick. Barry tried to restore discipline by making them form up and perform drill, before they marched away. Barry himself may have been psychologically affected by the fight, as he collapsed with severe chest pains on December 3 and had to be secretly hospitalised in Cork City. It is likely that the ongoing stress of being on the run and the commander of the flying column along with a poor diet as well as the intense combat at Kilmichael contributed to his medical problems.

The principal source for what happened at the Kilmichael ambush is Tom Barry’s own account, as detailed in his book, Guerrilla Days in Ireland (1949). However Barry’s version of events was disputed in The IRA And Its Enemies (1998) by Professor Peter Hart. Hart claims that Tom Barry’s claim of a false surrender is an invention and that the surviving Auxiliary officers were exterminated after they had surrendered. This was what the British authorities stated publicly at the time, but it was never accepted as fact by the IRA veterans of the ambush. Hart backs up his argument by citing an account of the ambush by Paddy O’Brien in the general history of the period by Liam Deasy, which did not mention a false surrender. Hart claims that Barry disarmed the Auxiliaries in the second lorry, most of whom were wounded and then had them killed. Hart’s critics, notably the historian Meda Ryan, argue that although O’Brien’s version does not mention a false surrender, it does not detail the killing of wounded or disarmed men either.

In Tom Barry’s own words, he told his men before the action that, “the fight could only end in the smashing of the Auxiliaries or the destruction of the flying column… The Auxiliaries were killers without mercy. If they won, no prisoners would be brought back to Macroom. The alternative now was to kill or be killed; see to it that those terrorists die and are broken”. These words indicate to Hart that Barry did not anticipate taking prisoners in the ambush. To others it is an unremarkable example of pre-battle rhetoric signifying little of substance in the context of the debate on Kilmichael.

Controversy continues in Ireland over Hart’s claims. Meda Ryan, author of Tom Barry, IRA Freedom Fighter (2003,5), disputed Hart’s claim to have interviewed an anonymous IRA veteran alleging a massacre of wounded Auxiliaries. Hart states that he interviewed an IRA participant in the ambush on November 19, 1989, though the last surviving IRA Kilmichael veteran, Ned Young, died on November 13, 1989. Hart claimed to have conducted anonymous interviews with two IRA ambush veterans, between 1988 and 1990, one of them an unarmed ambush scout. According to Ryan, the second last veteran of Kilmichael, Jack O’Sullivan, died in January 1986, and the last ambush scout died in 1972. Ryan’s dating is not disputed. Hart also claimed to have sourced additional information from interviews conducted by a Father Chisholm, but again the interviewees are anonymous and therefore cannot be verified. In addition Hart claimed that an unsigned typed ‘report’ of the battle he found in the Imperial War Museum is Barry’s after battle report to his superiors, captured by the British. Ryan and another historian, Brian Murphy, assert that it is a forgery because it contains errors of fact Barry that would not have made – for instance, stating that two IRA volunteers had been mortally wounded and one killed outright, when the reverse was true. In addition, the document contains information known only to the British authorities, but unknown to Barry. Barry did not know that Guthrie, the Auxiliary who escaped, is “now missing”, or even that he escaped in the first place. Barry referred to seventeen Auxiliaries dead on the road. This was incorrect, as one, HF Ford, was severely wounded and left for dead. The ‘report’ correctly attests to “sixteen of the enemy . . . being killed”. As Meda Ryan pointed out in History Ireland (Vol 13, No 5): “in other words, the ‘report’ correctly attests to British casualties (and also to arms captures) known to the British but unknown to Barry, while it incorrectly states facts about Irish casualties that were known to Barry but unknown to the British.” Peter Hart omitted the sections of the ‘report’ that subsequently cast doubt on its authenticity from his published version.

In his replies to criticism in ‘History Ireland’ in 2005 Peter Hart did not explain the interview anomalies and the omissions from his published account. Historian Brian Murphy, in his The Origin and Organisation of British Propaganda in Ireland in 1920 (2006), drew attention to the manner in which Peter Hart reproduced sophisticated British propaganda accounts of the ambush. Murphy detected the hidden hand of chief propagandist Basil Clark in Dublin Castle, the seat of British Administration in Ireland, in the writing of these reports, including the allegation of mutilation of British Auxiliaries by axes at Kilmichael. Murphy traced the origin and authorship of news reports appearing in newspapers to the Dublin Castle strategy of “propaganda by news”. According to Murphy, Basil Clarke’s media spin later become Peter Hart’s historical spin.