“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 BATTLE OF CLONMULT
The IRA’s Worst Defeat
Tom O’Neill M.A.