Kilmichael Ambush Site

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The Kilmichael Ambush (Irish: Luíochán Chill Mhichíl) was an ambush near the village of Kilmichael in County Cork on 28 November 1920 carried out by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) during the Irish War of Independence. Thirty-six local IRA volunteers commanded by Tom Barry killed seventeen members of the Royal Irish Constabulary's Auxiliary Division. The Kilmichael ambush was politically as well as militarily significant. It occurred one week after Bloody Sunday, marking an escalation in the IRA's campaign. Background The Auxiliaries were recruited from former commissioned officers in the British Army. The force was raised in July 1920 and were promoted as a highly trained elite force by the British media. In common with most of their colleagues, the Auxiliaries engaged at Kilmichael were World War I veterans. The Auxiliaries and the previously introduced Black and Tans rapidly became highly unpopular in Ireland due to intimidation of the civilian population and arbitrary reprisals after IRA actions – including burnings of businesses and homes, beatings and killings. A week before the Kilmichael ambush, after IRA assassinations of British intelligence operatives in Dublin on Bloody Sunday, Auxiliaries fired on players and spectators at a Gaelic football match in Croke Park Dublin, killing fourteen civilians (thirteen spectators and one player). The Auxiliaries in Cork were based in the town of Macroom, and in November 1920 they carried out a number of raids on the villages in the surrounding area, including Dunmanway, Coppeen and Castletown-Kinneigh, to intimidate the local population away from supporting the IRA. They shot dead one civilian James Lehane (Séamus Ó Liatháin) at Ballymakeera on 17 October 1920. In his memoir, Guerilla Days in Ireland, Tom Barry noted that before Kilmichael the IRA hardly fired a shot at the Auxiliaries, which "had a very serious effect on the morale of the whole people as well as on the IRA". Barry's assessment was that the West Cork IRA needed a successful action against the Auxiliaries in order to be effective. On 21 November, Barry assembled a flying column of 36 riflemen at Clogher. The column had 35 rounds for each rifle as well as a handful of revolvers and two Mills bombs (hand grenades). Barry scouted possible ambush sites with Volunteer Michael McCarthy on horseback and selected one on the Macroom–Dunmanway road, on the section between Kilmichael and Gleann, which the Auxiliaries coming out of Macroom used every day. The flying column marched there on foot and reached the ambush site on the night of 27 November. The IRA volunteers took up positions in the low rocky hills on either side of the road. Unlike most IRA ambush positions, there was no obvious escape route for the guerrillas should the fighting go against them. The ambush As dusk fell between 4:05 and 4:20 pm on 28 November, the ambush took place on a road at Dus a' Bharraigh in the townland of Shanacashel, Kilmichael Parish, near Macroom Just before the Auxiliaries in two lorries came into view, two armed IRA volunteers, responding late to Barry's mobilisation order, drove unwittingly into the ambush position in a horse and side-car, almost shielding the British forces behind them. Barry managed to avert disaster by directing the car up a side road and out of the way. The first Auxiliary lorry was persuaded to slow down by Barry standing on the road in plain sight in front of a concealed Command Post (with three riflemen). He was wearing an IRA officer's tunic given to him by Paddy O'Brien. The British later claimed Barry was wearing a British uniform. This confusion was part of a ruse by Barry to ensure that his adversaries in both lorries halted beside two IRA ambush positions on the north side of the road, where Sections One (10 riflemen) and Two (10 riflemen) lay concealed. Hidden on the opposite (south) side of the road was half of Section Three (six riflemen), whose instructions were to prevent the enemy from taking up positions on that side. The other half (six riflemen) was positioned before the ambush position as an insurance group, should a third Auxiliary lorry appear. The British later alleged that over 100 IRA fighters were present wearing British uniforms and steel trench helmets. Barry, however, insisted that, excepting himself, the ambush party were in civilian attire, though they used captured British weapons and equipment. The first lorry, containing nine Auxiliaries, slowed almost to a halt close to the intended ambush position, at which point Barry blew a whistle and threw a Mills bomb that exploded in the open cab of the first lorry. The whistle was the signal to open fire. A savage close-quarter fight ensued between surviving Auxiliaries and a combination of IRA Section One and Barry's three person Command Post group. According to Barry's account, some of the British were killed using rifle butts and bayonets in a brutal and bloody encounter. This close-quarter part of the engagement was over relatively quickly with all nine Auxiliaries dead or dying. The British later claimed that the dead had been mutilated with axes, although Barry dismissed this as atrocity propaganda. Fire was opened simultaneously at the second Auxiliary lorry, also containing nine Auxiliaries, in the ambush position close to IRA Section Two. This lorry's occupants were in a more advantageous position than Auxiliaries in the first lorry because further away from the ambushing group. Reportedly, they dismounted to the road and exchanged fire with the IRA, killing Michael McCarthy. Barry then brought the Command Post soldiers who had completed the attack on the first lorry to bear on this group. Barry reported that surviving Auxiliaries called out a surrender and that some dropped their rifles. They then reportedly opened fire again with revolvers when three IRA men emerged from cover, killing one volunteer instantly, Jim O'Sullivan, and mortally wounding Pat Deasy. Barry then said he ordered, "Rapid fire and do not stop until I tell you!" Barry stated that he ignored a subsequent attempt by remaining Auxiliaries to surrender, and kept his men firing at a range of only ten yards (8 m) or less until he believed all the Auxiliaries were dead. Barry said of the Auxiliaries who tried to surrender a second time, 'soldiers who had cheated in war deserved to die.' Barry referred to this episode as the Auxiliaries' 'false surrender'.