Journeys to a truce - 1921: The Dripsey Ambush
As the Irish War of Independence progressed in early 1921, the movements of British troops throughout the country were tabulated.
Where it was noticed that convoys were maintained on a regular basis between any two points, suitable preparations were then made for an ambush on the route. In this way, it was calculated that a convoy of three lorries of soldiers would proceed from Macroom to Cork on 27 January 1921.
It was decided by members of the sixth battalion of the Cork IRA Brigade No.1 to ambush British troops at a bend in the main road between Dripsey and Coachford.
It is almost fourteen years since this column visited the story of the Dripsey Ambush and at that time I referenced historian PJ Feeney’s fine book ‘Glory O, Glory O, Ye Bold Fenian Men, A History of the Sixth Battalion, Cork’s First Brigade, 1913-1921’. In it he highlights the story of the Dripsey Ambush and that the site had high firing ground on the near side and its open stretch on the off side would expose the soldiers to the full fire of the attackers.
Positions were taken up on the 27 January 1921, but the military did not depart on that day owing to some technical delay at Macroom. The ambushers, anticipating that the convoy would probably proceed within 24 hours, decided to remain overnight at their posts.
For that reason, by 28 January news of the impending attack soon became known amongst the local people, and in due course a local lady named Mrs Lindsay of Leemount House, Coachford whose sympathies were known to be with crown authorities heard about it.
Mrs Lindsay decided to inform the military at Ballincollig, and ordered her chauffeur named Clark to drive her to the local barracks, a distance of about twelve miles. Not far from her house she came upon the local Roman Catholic curate, Rev. E. Shinnick, informed him of her purpose, and requested that he advise the ambushers to abandon their project.
Passing through the ambush cordon without hindrance, she safely reached Ballincollig and accurately described the position to the commanding officer of the Manchesters who were then stationed there.
In the meantime Father Shinnick approached the attackers, and without stating the source of his information, informed them that the military were now aware of their plans. He suggested that they retire from the spot as quickly as possible.
The ambushers, thinking that this was simply a move on the part of Fr Shinnick to have bloodshed avoided, decided to remain at their posts. At Ballincollig, full preparations were made for a surprise attack, and a strong military party arrived at Dripsey Bridge about 3pm.
There they divided into two sections, one group advancing along the by-road towards Peake, whilst the remainder proceeded along the main road to Coachford.
The Peake road party were able to approach the ambushers from the rear, and both sections opened fire simultaneously.
The ambushers - now on the defensive - were armed but were outranged by the service rifles of the military, and decided to retire under cover of a rear guard party of six men. In the early stages of the encounter, it was discovered that the military had made one tactical error by not also closing in from the west or Coachford side.
Taking full advantage of this oversight, the main body of the ambushers quickly slipped through the gap in the attack, and with nightfall approaching, they were soon clear. Their comrades though remained at their posts.
However, there came a point where there was no alternative but to surrender. Ten men were arrested.
From Dripsey, they were conveyed to Victoria Barracks in Cork city. Crown troops confiscated sixteen shotguns with 101 rounds of ammo, four rifles with 33 rounds of ammo, three revolvers with 86 rounds of ammo and six bombs.
The man heading up the Dripsey ambush was Captain James Barrett. He was born at Killeen, Donoughmore on 29 June 1880. He was employed by the Cork and Muskerry Railway Company and was station master at Firmount for nearly two decades before his death. He was captain of Aghabullogue football team.
He joined the Donoughmore Company of the Irish Volunteer movement in 1914. He was Quartermaster within the C Company of the Sixth Battalion Cork no.1 IRA Brigade.
He was wounded in the leg at Dripsey, taken prisoner and brought to Cork Military Barracks. His leg was amputated but he died shortly after. He was buried in Donoughmore.
Subsequently Mrs Lindsay was kidnapped by members of the Sixth Battalion and was used as leverage to free the captives. However, that strategy did not work.
On 28 February 1921, five IRA men were executed. They were all members of the Sixth Battalion, Cork no.1 IRA Brigade – Jack Lyons, Timothy McCarthy, Thomas O’Brien, Daniel O’Callaghan and Patrick O’Mahony.
After the execution of the IRA captives, and arising after careful discussion with general headquarters in Dublin, and a brigade meeting at Blarney, the decision was taken to execute Mrs Lindsay and Clarke, her chauffeur.
In early March 1921, they were shot by a firing squad consisting of six volunteers under the command of Vice-Commandant of the Sixth Battalion, Frank Busteed.
In the past decade, Frank Busteed’s memorabilia was donated to the Cork Museum by his grandson, Brian O’Donoghue. It is currently on display with a written up history of Frank’s life and times.
The first Dripsey Ambush memorial was a simple wooden cross, which was erected by friends and relatives of those who died. Anne MacSwiney, a sister of Terence MacSwiney, unveiled it in 1924. A local committee of locals and members of Dripsey Pipe Band was formed to consider a larger memorial.
Cork sculptor Seamus Murphy was chosen to create a slender limestone obelisk at the ambush site, which was unveiled on Easter Sunday in April 1938.