A tribute to uncle Joe

I chanced to look out a front window and saw, to my amazement, soldiers crawling past the gateway near the boreen. The time was now about 3,00 p.m. I immediately gave the alarm and, almost at once, the military opened fire on us from all sides.”

On 20th February 1921 during an action in Clonmult, seven miles northeast of Midleton, County Cork the IRA suffered its greatest loss of volunteers in conflict. Almost the entire East Cork flying column was wiped out in a single defensive action. Twelve men were shot dead and eight men were taken prisoner.

It was at once a deadly blow to the IRA and battle of terrible cruelty; several of the volunteers were callously shot following their surrender and only the arrival of a British Army officer prevented the killing of the injured and remaining volunteers.

In this excellent survey of the battle, its context and aftermath, Tom O’Neill provides insight into the days preceding the battle, the activities of the column over those fateful days and through the eyes of witness, the progress of the battle itself. An invaluable guide to the battle and the history of the IRA in Cork.

“I got into the haggard, but, seeing the other boys fall, decided there was no hope of escape and dashed back again into the house amidst a hail of bullets, none of which, fortunately hit me.” 

“I undertook the heartbreaking task of uncovering their faces and identifying them, calling out each consecutively. This sad task took me some time, but between sobs of anguish, I managed it. There were two distinct pauses as I went along the row, as I had great difficulty in naming Liam Adhere (jos. Aherne’s brother) and Jerry Aherne (first cousin of Jos.) I will not even attempt to describe the mental anguish of Diarmuid O’Hurley. All four of us – Diarmuid, Jos., Jacko and  myself – sobbed with a terrible grief and sense of loss at the fate that had befallen our beloved comrades, some four or five of whom had bullet holes in their faces, just below their eyes, where they had been shot by the Tans*whilst prisoners. There was nothing we could do but cover their faces again, and take our sad departure to Leamlara.”

The term Tan is a colloquial term in reference to the British Soldiers, as they wore a black and tan coloured uniform. Sometimes they were referred to as the ‘black n tans’.

These so-called soldiers were essentially savages. The British were short on troops and therefore released prisoners and put a uniform on them, gave them elementary training and unleashed them on the Irish inhabitants.

Methods don’t really change; it’s a very simple recipe – give an insecure person a uniform, a bit of power and just allow the control freak in them to fester. Something we all are unfortunately experiencing today.

Amongst the twelve deaths was my great uncle Joe Morrissey, who was a volunteer. He was 19 years old and shot close range in the face, along with his colleagues; even though they had surrendered their arms. In Cork today there is a memorial grave for these twelve brave young men. Mere teenagers standing up for what was right, fighting the exact same dark forces we are today. All they wished for was to be left alone in peace and have their basic right of freedom and independence.


The IRA’s Worst Defeat

Tom O’Neill M.A.




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  1. SazzyLilSmartAzz

     /  August 6, 2012

    This is one of the saddest posts I’ve ever read Digger. I salute your Uncle Joe and may he rest in peace. May God bless the Irish.

  2. Y’know, I just figured somewhere in Digger there must be a bit of Irish blood pumping about… thanks for the link to this. In my humble opinion the Irish throughout the years (centuries even) show what a small band of poor folk can accomplish when united against a gargantuan (in comparison) force that seemingly has all the money and resources in the world behind it. The resistance against outsider aggression has unfortunately never, ultimately, been successful. Once the Island was divided and South became a Republic out went the British Army and in came the British jewish banker. (I was stunned – though I shouldn’t have been – to recently read that Oliver Cromwell, the devil himself, reversed the ban on jews in England, inviting them back to Britain).

    So despite having (in my mind) never ‘won’ the war I think our forefathers and relations left us with a useful lesson – it is fight that is important in that it unifies the populace, and even instills a sense of pride in the young. Pride for the blood of the brave boys and men spilt and soaked into the soil; pride they would give their lives for such a noble cause. Pride exemplified by the stories and songs passed down thru the generations. To my mind this is what the jewish elite are so anxious to rub out with their open immigration policies and the dumb-dumb tube in every house and the babies born to unwed 17 year old girls with no husband/father in the picture. Anything to take away a child’s sense of identity. The tele replaces the songs and stories, the girl seldom has the time/inclination to pass on the history and the new migrant’s story superceeds the history of the land. And I even forgot about the educational systems… All it takes is 1 generation blinded from the history for it to be lost to future generations within that family.

    God bless all the souls who freely risked (and those who bravely gave, your 19 year old Uncle Joe most certainly included) their lives for the cause of Freedom in Ireland. Heroes yesterday, today, and forever. May we, by exhibiting similar bravery and will, make our forebearers proud, and may our offspring know their history and continue to aggressively resist tyranny in all its many forms.

    • Thank you KP, for just a beautifully expressed comment. Yes the decimation of the Irish, by this same brutal force. Now that was a country/people who really did lose 6 MILLION of it’s people in their real potato holocaust.

      Thank you for contributing.


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