Journeys to a truce - 1921: Dugouts and wire tapping
Seán Healy was Captain of A-Company of the 1st Battalion of Cork IRA Brigade No. 1 Cork and worked in the Parcels Office at Glanmire Road Station (now Kent Station). In his Bureau of Military History account (WS1643) he describes in detail the creation of an arms dump in Glanmire and other reconnaissance work.
In spring 1921 after exploring various places, A-Company decided on a site located in Knocknahorgan Woods, Glanmire. They approached the owner of the land whom they knew to be a staunch supporter of the IRA movement.
He readily gave them permission to use his place and assured them of the necessary assistance that he could provide in the nature of tools and digging equipment. The chosen place was about 300 yards from the public road and was strongly wooded. The site was also overgrown with briars and furze bushes, and there was a running stream of fresh water nearby.
After cautious reflection, A-Company decided to commandeer some railway sleepers and wagon covers from the Kilbarry Railway Yard, as they had no money to purchase these. The Volunteers employed on the project, being mostly railway employees, were naturally a bit hesitant to interfere with their employer's property.
Sean noted: “If any of us were caught in the act of seizing the railway company's property and the matter reported to the company, we would lose our employment and the railway company would, no doubt, have reported the ‘pilferage’ to the British military authorities when we would suffer court martial at the hands of these people with a probable sentence of a long number of years of imprisonment.”
A-Company proceeded to Kilbarry, after making arrangements with Mr Duggan of Dublin Pike, to have a horse and cart in waiting near the railway yard. They commandeered about two dozen sleepers and three wagon covers without incident and then transported the material to Knocknahorgan.
Seán describes that it was not the company’s intention to use this dug-out as a permanent hide-out. It was to be used only for emergency purposes, on such occasions as when it would not be safe to sleep in the city, or when a big round-up was taking place.
It was also to be used as an auxiliary arms dump. They already had an arms dump at The Fisheries on the Lower Road. Keeping all of their guns and ammunition in one place was unsafe.
As quite a number of A-Company men had now been deprived of their employment, there was no shortage of manual labour. Six men took part in the construction of the arms dump. The work had to be swiftly carried out, as the men had to reach their homes each night before the curfew hour approached.
The work of excavation was difficult as they had to dig into the ground to a depth of about eight feet. When completed, the dugout was about eight feet deep by ten feet wide and ten feet in length. They used the railway sleepers as side walls, placed one wagon sheet on top and another on the base, a third was used to lap over the mouth.
To enter and leave, it was only necessary to raise the overlapping wagon cover, which was supported by a frame on the inside. The mouth was well camouflaged with overhanging branches. It took about a week to complete the job and, when it was finished, it was reasonably comfortable and dry and able to accommodate about six men. Candles were used for lighting.
Seán describes that A-Company often passed some hours in this arms dump structure where they censored captured British mails, cleaned and oiled guns, and played cards. It proved a haven of rest on nights when they had to sleep there.
He described: “The ventilation was good as we were fortunate in securing some broken drain pipes as ventilators. No noises from the curfew lorries disturbed our slumbers; no tramp, tramp of heavy boots of the marching hordes, and no list of names of the occupants, hung on the door by a landlord. It was a complete change to sleeping in a city house which had to conform to martial law regulations; but of course, we always slept with one eye open, so to speak, with loaded guns within reach.”
Seán also provides insights into the tapping of telephone lines.
Post office linesman Tom Walsh ran a wire from a telegraph pole on Albert Street, which linked up the lines leading into the Black and Tan headquarters barracks at Empress Place on Summer Hill North. The pole was adjacent to the Metropole Laundry, and close to the stables of John Wallis Sons, in Railway Street.
The staff employed by Messrs Wallis Sons and the caretaker in the laundry, were all helpful. In order to avoid the vigilance of crown enemy forces, A-Company could only operate after business hours or during weekends.
The British authorities were well aware that the IRA had some staunch workers in the ranks of the post office staff, and therefore they were very cautious about sending important messages over the public telephone. A-Company worked at it in pairs, always armed and ready to fight if we were trapped, as there was no back-door for escape.
Seán outlined of the messages: “The service messages sent and received were usually of a routine nature. Calls for reinforcements to be sent to different police stations passed fairly frequently. Loyalists and others used the phone for the purpose of reporting suspicious movements of what appeared to be IRA men.”