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Remembering 1920: Attacks on RIC barracks begin

Thursday, 9th January, 2020 9:04am

The first week of January 1920 witnessed another scaling up of agitation by the general headquarters of the Irish Republican Army.

Following the failure of the Independence Petition at the Paris Peace Conference, the continued banning of non-violent republican organisations and the outlawing of Dáil Éireann, offensive action was officially sanctioned against crown forces.

In the counties of Cork, Limerick, Cork, Tipperary, Kerry, Clare, and Dublin attacks on police patrols escalated.

From January 1920, arms raids of Royal Irish Constabulary barracks began. Those barracks in rural areas were the first to be targeted as many of them were not overly defended. Successful arms raids and the taking of mail for intelligence purposes gave many local IRA units purpose without real exposure to injury and death.

Historian Dr Joost Augusteijn in ‘The Atlas of the Irish Revolution’ details that by the summer of 1920, almost one third of all RIC barracks had been evacuated. By the end of 1920, a total of 553 barracks were destroyed.

Many of the attacks have been written about at length by local historians across the country and the events remembered as appropriate throughout the decades and live on in folk memory. Regional newspapers such as the Cork Examiner wrote at length on countrywide events in its crammed editorial sections.

Journalists had to submit their work to the national censor’s office for fear of offence against the Defence of the Realm Act (1914 and its extensions). Whilst turning each page of the Cork Examiner from 1916 to the end of 1920 for research for this column from 1916 to the end of 1920, there is an apparent loosening up of what republican activity stories could be published.

It is clear that more and more information on IRA activity was published throughout 1920. That is despite the threat in September 1919 when the Cork Examiner suffered under the crown’s censorship for advertising the Dáil Éireann Loan Scheme.

However, agitation and harassment were felt by both sides through the IRA and through crown officials.

Between Friday 2 January and Sunday 4 January 1920, the Cork Examiner records that four county Cork police barracks were raided by members of the IRA – Carrignavar, Carrigtwohill, Kilmurry, and Inchigeela.

In the early hours of Friday morning 2 January 1920, revolver shots were fired at long range through the upper part of the window of the police barracks at Carrignavar. An additional precaution against attacks on this police barracks had been taken before the attack. Sheet-iron plate inside the ground floor windows was erected to three-quarter lengths.

The shots from outside were well-directed as they hit the unprotected upper quarter of the window and some of the bullets lodged in the wall of the room. None of the occupants of the barrack were injured and nothing was taken.

In Carrigtwohill early on Saturday evening, 3 January 1920, the sergeant and two constables were on patrol duty. In the late afternoon, about 5pm men on bicycles began to arrive in the village. The police took little notice of the early arrivals, thinking they were men who, through one cause or another, were kept out later than they had estimated, and were, therefore without lights.

But when men in twos and threes came along the road at only short distances apart, the police became suspicious, and, on the sergeant’s order, they endeavoured to hold up one man. The young man was not to be trapped by this sudden and unexpected challenge and took off on his bike but fell off shortly afterwards. He took heel and outpaced his pursuers.

However, the police were convinced that something out of the ordinary was about to happen and they immediately returned to barracks. This was about 9.30pm and they telephoned another barracks in Midleton with a warning. They tried to ring up Queenstown but they found that the lines had been cut.

Shortly after, the attack on the barracks began. It was mainly from the back. Behind the barracks there was a wall about five feet high, and beside it was a hay shed. Concealed behind these, the raiding party opened fire. That was shortly after 10pm and a continuous fusillade was kept up until 2.30am.

It was only when the barrack’s ammunition was exhausted that the raiding party ventured to approach the barracks. The attackers then blew away one end of the barracks with gelignite.

They rushed in through the breach and took the police prisoners captive and handcuffed them. Some of the raiders were disguised, others were not but all had revolvers. They then searched the entire place, and took away rifles, ammunition and accoutrements.

On Saturday night, 3 January 1920, a party of armed men attacked the police barrack at Kilmurry. The barrack comprised five policemen and the building was an ordinary-sized house.

At 11pm, the noises of rifle fire filled the air. This firing continued for some time. The police returned the fire, and after an interchange of shots, the attacking party were beaten off.

The constabulary barracks at Inchigeela was raided on Sunday 4 January 1920 by a party of armed men. The Inchigeela incident took place between 9.30pm and 1am. Dr Gould, the medical officer of the Inchigeela Dispensary District, who had been attending a patient on the Ballingeary side, was held up at a barricade in his motor car just outside the village.

Eleven men of the Ballingeary IRA Company formed a scouting party whilst six armed with revolvers and shotguns took on the local barracks. Dr Gould was informed that he could not proceed for a period of two hours and was directed to a nearby cottage. The barracks was raided for arms and mail by the six members of the company. It was also targeted twice more in the ensuing weeks – 7 March 1920 and 23 May 1920.

If you missed one of the 52 columns last year, which focussed on life in Cork in 1919, check out the indices on my website www.corkheritage.ie.

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