Monthly Archives: July 2020

Kieran’s Our City, Our Town Article, 30 July 2020

1059a. Section of Goad’s Insurance Map of Union Quay showing RIC Barracks 1920 (source: Cork City Library).

Kieran’s Our City, Our Town Article,

Cork Independent, 30 July 2020

Remembering 1920: The Terror of Curfew

One hundred years ago – late July 1920 – nightlife on the streets of Cork was under strict curfew. On 19 July Major-General Strickland issued an order of a curfew between the hours of 10pm and 3am for Cork City. A permit was required from the 21 July to be able to be on the streets outside of those times. It applied to all those within a radius of three miles of the GPO on Oliver Plunkett Street. Application for permits had to be made in writing to the County Inspector at the RIC Barracks at Union Quay. Permits were to be granted to clergyman, registered medical practitioners, and those engaged in urgent duties. All other persons outside the latter could be challenged by any policemen or soldier on duty to halt and obey orders. The penalty for non-compliance was three months’ imprisonment or a fine not exceeding £100.

On night one, the Cork Examiner records that sixty arrests were made. Arrests were made three minutes after 10pm and no leeway was made. The latest arrest was about midnight. One man charged explained that he had been engaged driving a horse in the county and that it was late when he came back to the city. Another man said he was going in home having been speaking to a friend near by for some time. Another man arrested said he was coming out from home to go to work.

Some of the young men arrested gave an interesting account of their experiences. It was about 10.15pm when one of them left his residence to speak to a man who was singing on the street apparently oblivious of the Curfew order. He went away and when the young man tried to turn into his home, he was picked up by a roaming military truck. Not having a permit he was put into the lorry. The lorry then proceeded along St Patrick’s Street and around that direction. At the bridge, a young men near the Post office was picked up and arrested. The lorry kept moving about and after some seven or eight having been arrested, it proceeded to Union Quay RIC Barracks. Soldiers with fixed bayonets were posted along the railings outside.

Some of those arrested at the RIC Barracks sang the Soldier’s Song and Wrap the Green Flag Round Me. Singing and bantering went on all the time they were detained there. At 3am, the military lorries came along again and those arrested were sent off in groups. Fourteen persons of the 60 arrested were lodged in Victoria Barracks and released shortly afterwards. A further 24 of those arrested were taken to the County Gaol off Western Road and they were also released shortly afterwards. Twenty-two were sent to the Bridewell and detained in one of the larger cells. The following day at 12noon they were brought before the Police Court. The 22 gave verbal undertakings to be at home at 10pm while the order was in force. They were subsequently discharged.

Such was the impact of the roaming military lorries with trigger happy Black and Tans, a week later the arrests in the city during the curfew are recorded as been down to their teens. An account in the Cork Examiner on 2 August further relates activities such as rifle firing, bomb-throwing, the smashing of glass windows. On Saturday, 30 July 1920 at 11.15pm, a fusillade of shots and a number of loud and terrifying explosions were heard. Black and Tans proceeded along St Patrick’s Street at a slow pace, and without warning the party indulged in indiscriminate rifle firing while a few bombs were thrown. A good deal of damage was done. 

Amongst the establishments affected by these fusillades were Cahill and Company, The Blackthorn House, Baker and Wright’s, John Burke, The Munster Arcade, Egan and Son, Farrow’s Bank, Byford & Company, Woolworths. The shutters of Mr William Lee, butcher, and the London and Newcastle Tea Company, situated on each side of the Cork Examiner Office entrance, were practically riddled with bullets. In the Chateau bar a bullet passed through the St Patrick’s Street window and smashed the glass partition inside the premises.

A determined, though unsuccessful, effort was made to bomb the Cork Examiner Office. Two bombs were thrown at the main entrance on St Patrick Street, but exploded without doing much damage beyond the disfigurement of the door and the making of a hole in the pavement. Intermittent rifle fire was also directed at the office door.

This firing occupied about quarter of an hour, after which the lorries were driven away, but hour later they returned, and more rifle fire, was directed at promises on each side of St Patrick’s Street.

A visit was paid to 8 Camden Quay, and the large building occupied by the members of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union was attacked and extensively wrecked. The windows were smashed in and the clerical offices which were situate on the ground floor were damaged very considerably. A large glass partition was demolished together with the furniture of the office. The books were torn and strewn over the ground and cards of membership intended for filled up were treated in a similar manner. An unsuccessful attempt was made to prize open the safe. The upper rooms were next entered, and the chairs and tables broken, as well as the pictures, which hung on the walls. Instruments from the Union band were also confiscated.

Kieran’s new book Witness to Murder, The Inquest of Tomás MacCurtain is now available to purchase online (co-authored with John O’Mahony 2020, Irish Examiner/


1059a. Section of Goad’s Insurance Map of Union Quay showing RIC Barracks 1920 (source: Cork City Library).

1059b. St Patrick’s Street, Cork, c.1920, from Cork City Through Time (2012) by Kieran McCarthy and Daniel Breen.

1059b. St Patrick’s Street, Cork, c.1920, from Cork City Through Time (2012) by Kieran McCarthy and Daniel Breen.

Cllr McCarthy Welcomes Enhanced Re-Start Grant

Independent Cllr Kieran McCarthy wishes to remind business owners that the recent expansion of the Restart Grant scheme now includes sports clubs, which had previously been excluded. The majority of clubs will also be able to avail of the commercial rates waiver. Cllr McCarthy noted: “Applications are available through local authorities or for the City within Cork city Council.  Under the revised Restart Grant, support will also be provided for enterprises that could not access the original grant scheme. These grants will provide a much-needed cash boost to sports clubs that are at the heart of our communities. Non-rated B&Bs and rateable sports businesses will be eligible for a grant payment of €4,000. B&Bs will be eligible to apply to Fáilte Ireland”.

The maximum grant available will rise to €25,000 (up from €10,000) and the minimum payment will be €4,000 (up from €2,000). Firms that accessed the Restart Grant will be eligible to apply for a second top-up payment to a total combined value of the revised minimum and maximum grant levels. The criteria for accessing the scheme will include Enterprises that have 250 employees or less, have turnover of less than €100,000 per employee and have a reduced turnover by 25% as a result of COVID-19. The contact details for Cork City Re-Start Grants within Cork City Council are at 021 4924000 or email

Lee Fields, July 2020 (Cllr Kieran McCarthy)

Cllr McCarthy: Douglas Library to Re-open in November 2020

Independent Cllr Kieran McCarthy has welcomed the news this week that the Douglas Library has begun preparations for its re-opening in Douglas Shopping Centre. In response to a query by Cllr McCarthy at the recent Cork City Council meeting Director of Services Adrienne Rodgers highlighted that the City Council is making progress in restoring a full library service in Douglas.

The temporary pop-up facility in Douglas Community Centre has ceased due to social distancing measures and the need to focus on the full time service in just a few short months.

As Douglas Library was a lending facility, like other local libraries, one third approximately of the stock was in circulation outside of the premises at the time of the Douglas Shopping Centre fire, and this stock will be available to initiate the resumption of service in Douglas.  The Council is in discussions with the relevant government department to secure funding for additional stock, and is hopeful of a positive outcome.

Cllr McCarthy noted; “Douglas Library is a cultural focal point in the village and has a high membership with adults and in particular younger people using it. It regularly hosted a large number of weekly community events, which attracted a lot of interested local people. It is imperative that the full time library service is got up and running again; I remain committed to following the re-opening closely”, noted Cllr McCarthy.

Kieran’s Our City, Our Town, 23 July 2020

1058a. Cork Fianna member Christopher Lucey, 1916 (source: Cork City Library).

Kieran’s Our City, Our Town Article,

Cork Independent, 23 July 2020

Remembering 1920: Stories of the Fianna

The youth division of the Cork No.1 IRA Brigade or the Fianna was significant in their reconnaissance during 1920.  It was in 1910 that the Na Fianna Éireann was established in Cork by republicans involved in the O’Growney Branch of the Gaelic League.

Charles Meaney, in his witness statement (WS1631), held in the Bureau of Military Archives describes his involvement. Charles joined the Fianna in Cork prior to the Easter Rising of 1916. He was about fifteen years old when he witnessed several other young Fianna teenagers leaving the city for Macroom with the Volunteers on Easter Sunday 1916. He was not allowed to go with them as he was considered to be too young. After 1916, his group kept together and, later that year, the Fianna was divided into two companies, or sluaghs, as they were known – one for the portion of the city north of the River Lee, and, one for the area south of the river. There were circa 60 teenagers in the organisation at that time, but their number increased subsequently to about 100 on the rolls.

The Fianna headquarters varied from time to time. They met in An Grianán, Queen Street, now Fr Mathew Street, Cork, a room in South Main Street Cork, in Drummy’s premises, Pope’s Quay, and in McGurk’s in North Main Street.

During 1917 and 1918, Fianna activities comprised drilling, general training of a military nature, lectures in first aid and rifle and revolver shooting. During the general election of December 1918, the Fianna were very active in distributing election literature for Sinn Féin, posting bills (sometimes at night during curfew).

Early in the year 1919 when, due to increasing numbers, it was decided to form three sluaghs in Cork city. These were known as the North Sluagh, Centre Sluagh and South Sluagh. There would be on an average of from 30 to 40 boys in each sluagh. The Fianna wore a uniform consisting of a blue short pants, green shirt, saffron scarf and green slouch hat. Fianna officers wore Sam Browne belts. When engaged on route marches they always wore the latter uniform, notwithstanding the ban placed on the wearing of military uniforms by the British forces.

Charles Meaney describes that during the years 1920-21, the really active members of the Fianna in Cork numbered not more than 30 and not all of these were armed. The use of arms by the Fianna in Cork was frowned on by the IRA leaders in the city, possibly it was thought that they were too young and irresponsible. An order was issued in 1920 from the IRA in Cork forbidding the Fianna to use arms unless with the prior permission of the local brigade company leaders.

According to Charles’s account, the activities of the Cork Fianna during 1920-1921 were varied. Raids were carried out at night on the houses of pro-British people who were suspected of having guns. Three or four of them usually carried out these raids with only one of the Fianna being armed with a revolver.

Many times the Fianna were called on to act as scouts for IRA units waiting in ambush. Their job was to give warning of the approach of enemy forces. Military and police barracks were watched and movements of troops, Black and Tans and RIC were duly reported to the IRA. Suspected spies were followed by them and their activity reported on. On several occasions too, they were called, at short notice, to remove guns and ammunition from IRA arms dumps in the city, which were in danger of discovery by the enemy.

The Cork Fianna frequently destroyed quantities of enemy stores being conveyed to barracks from shops in the city. Charles Meaney makes reference in his witness statement to a daylight hold-up of a lorry with provisions outside Dobbin’s shop in Alfred Street. Four or five of the were watching near Dobbins. When the lorry was loaded they got on to it and drove it to Hardwick Street where they emptied the contents (jam and other provisions) into a store. The goods were later distributed to the relatives of men in gaol.

When an order was made by Dáil Éireann that all goods from Belfast should be boycotted by shopkeepers, the Fianna in Cork were very active in enforcing the order. Many shops suspected of stocking goods from Belfast were visited, invoices examined and the proprietors warned not to sell such goods.

Attacks on individual members of the enemy forces were a feature of Fianna activities, 1920-21. Three or four of them waylaid soldiers and Black and Tans who were sometimes in the company of girls, or, perhaps, leaving a public house in a drunken condition. Whenever the opportunity offered, they attacked them, took their equipment and, in many cases got revolvers as well.

The carrying of IRA dispatches was part of the routine work of the Fianna, but nonetheless important. Boys were available at all times to carry out this work in co-operation with Cumann na mBan. P J Murphy in his witness statement (WS869) recalls his involvement in the Fianna and details that  one of the most important  dispatch houses for the IRA in Cork City and County was the Misses Wallace’s news agency shop in Brunswick Street, a small and narrow street at the back of St Augustine’s Chapel.

Towards the end of July 1920, information was received that the shop was to be raided by the British just before curfew hour which was 10pm. An ambushing party was detailed to cover both entrances to the street, P J Murphy was detailed by the Brigade Officer in Command (then Seán Hegarty) to remain outside the shop and give warning of the enemy’s approach. At the same time his job was to ensure that the clerk of the Chapel would not close the side entrance to the Chapel as this was their only means of escape, if the enemy used both entrances to the street. This detail was carried out for three consecutive nights and had no sooner withdrawn the third night when the place was raided. No arrests were made.

As the summer of 1920 progressed clashes between civilians, the RIC and Black and Tans became frequent, and often with fatal results.

Kieran’s new book Witness to Murder, The Inquest of Tomás MacCurtain is now available to purchase online (co-authored with John O’Mahony 2020, Irish Examiner/


1058a. Cork Fianna member Christopher Lucey, 1916 (source: Cork City Library).

1058b. Cork Fianna member Seamus Quirke, 1920 (source: Cork City Library).

1058b. Cork Fianna member Seamus Quirke, 1920 (source: Cork City Library).

Cllr McCarthy: Issues Paper of New Cork City Development Plan Open to Public Consultation, 18 July 2020

Independent Cllr Kieran McCarthy wishes to remind the general public that Cork City Council has launched a consultation process for the preparation of the vitally important City Development Plan (CDP) 2022-2028, which will provide the framework for how the city will grow and develop in the coming years.

This City Development Plan comes at an extraordinary time for Cork.  Last year, the city’s population grew to 210,000 following an extension of the city boundary which positioned Cork as a city of scale. Furthermore, it has been set government targets to grow by 50% over the next 20 years so that it can provide a counterbalance to Dublin.

The preparation of a City Development Plan involves a 13 step process, with three separate public consultation phases. The City Development Plan process should be completed within a two year period.

As part of this initial consultation, Cork City Council is seeking the views of the public on how to best develop Cork City to meet the changing needs of our society, environment and economy while realising the ambitions set for our city. The public is invited to read the ‘Our City – Our Future’ issues paper which is available at, at Cork City libraries and by appointment at the Planning Counter at Cork City Hall. A submission on the plan can be made as part of this initial public consultation from 26 June until 21 August 2020.

Cllr McCarthy noted: “Cork’s future is bright and filled with opportunities. There is much to celebrate and much to challenge Ireland’s southern capital. The enlargement of the city’s boundary in 2020 has solved some problems of areas needing to expand and be part of an enlarged city – so there could be more joined up resources. The enlargement though has left many blank canvasses for the city to debate and pin down such as transport and mobility, energy consumption and transition, the digital city, the circular economy, sustainable land-use and climate change adaptation”.

“Add in other debates such as those on the sustainable development goals, the new Regional Spatial Strategy Cork 2050, and there is a very real need for Cork to work harder than ever before to get ahead of the curve, seek investment, and for all to work together on Cork’s urban agenda There are no silver bullets either to any of the latter challenges. There is certainly no room for siloised thinking in the Cork of the future. But Cork in its past and in its present has never been afraid of hard work, passion and working together”, concluded Cllr McCarthy.

Cork City Council is also to engage in an extensive public consultation process to gather the views of people around the City Development Plan. This will include webinars, community engagement, surveys, a photographic competition for young people. 

Cork City Hall, July 2020

Kieran’s Our City, Our Town, 16 July 2020

1057a. Ballintemple, c.1920 from Cork City Through Time by Kieran McCarthy & Dan Breen (2012).

Kieran’s Our City, Our Town Article,

Cork Independent, 16 July 2020

Remembering 1920: B-Company’s Summer Encounters

There is much information in the witness statements surviving in the Bureau of Military History outlining the activities of the Cork No.1 Brigade and their encounters with the Black and Tans during the summer of 1920.

In the witness statement of Michael Walsh (WS 1521), a native of Blackrock, he details activities of B-Company of the second battalion of Cork No. Brigade in the south east of Cork City. Michael had been involved with the Cork Volunteers since they were founded in Cork City Hall in 1913. He was also a member of about 150 of the City Volunteers at Sheares’ Street Hall, Cork, who met early on Easter Sunday morning 1916 and who later at Macroom were informed to stand down.

In the latter half of 1916, Michael enrolled a member of the IRB, and early in 1917, he attended a meeting in the Thomas Ashe Hall, Father Mathew Quay, Cork, at which officers of the Cork city battalion (having been released from British jails) and men representing different areas in the city were present. At that meeting it was decided amongst other matters to form a Volunteer company in my own district of Blackrock, Cork. That decision was implemented at a subsequent meeting held in Ballinure, Blackrock, which was addressed by Seán Scannell, a member of the battalion staff. About 40 to 50 men from the Blackrock district attended that meeting. The B-Company area covered the districts Blackrock, Ballintemple, Ballinure, Ballinsheen and a portion of the Boreenmanna Road.

Organisation and training formed the major part of the company’s activities during 1918, but, early in 1919, armed raids on all quarries in the company area were carried out and quantities of gunpowder and gelignite seized. This was passed on to the battalion quartermaster. The gun-powder was used extensively in the making of cartridges for shotguns. At the same period a forge owned by Daniel O’Driscoll, Blackrock, was taken over, where about twelve men from the company were, engaged for three weeks preparing and drilling caps for hand grenades.

Early in the year 1919 Michael’s home was raided by the RIC at night and he was arrested and taken prisoner to the military barracks, Cork. From there he was sent to Belfast Gaol.  He took part in the hunger-strike of prisoners and, after eleven days’ strike, was brought to the Union Hospital, Belfast. He was there about a week there when he was released. On his return to Cork, he resumed duty with B-Company, 2nd Battalion, as 1st Lieutenant.

During 1919 men from B-Company were engaged in the construction of a dugout at Lakelands estate, Mahon for the storage of petrol for brigade purposes. Upwards of a dozen men were engaged periodically on this work of converting a large barn, out-offices and stores into a suitable storage depot. Before the job was completed, police and military arrived at Lakelands one day and burned the place down.

On 24 June 1920, Blackrock RIC Barracks situated about two miles east of Cork city were evacuated by the police who were dispersed to Union Quay and Douglas RIC Barracks. About 15 men of the B Company set fire to the building three days after its evacuation and completely destroyed it.

In July 1920 men from B-Company were engaged collecting a levy, which was imposed on different merchants and others in Cork by orders of the brigade.  They were supplied with a list of names of those on whom they were to call and the amount of the levy in each case. They learned afterwards that the occupiers of some of the houses in which the levy was collected had informed police headquarters about them. As a result, they received orders from the brigade to burn the houses of those people.

One night, about 7.30pm, about sixteen members of the company prepared to burn the house of an informer, a city merchant. Some of the men acted as scouts, whilst others of us ordered the occupants out of the house and proceeded to sprinkle the place with petrol. Preparatory to setting it on fire they had not completed this task when scouts warned us of the approach of RIC and Black and Tans and they had no option but to make their getaway as quickly as possible.

Another evening, a large party of Black and Tans, about 70, surprised about eight of the company on the old Blackrock Road about 7pm one night. The Tans called them to halt. Two of the men complied with the order and were taken into custody. The remainder of them made their escape. When the Tans observed them escaping, they opened fire, wounding one of their party in the leg. They were pursued from Old Blackrock Road to Church Road, a distance of 1½ miles – the Tans leaving their cars and following them on foot firing as they went. At Church Road they succeeded in getting clear away. The following morning at about 6am the company entered the house of another man, one of those who had given information to the police and, having ordered the occupants outside, burned it to the ground. At about 12noon the same day, they returned to the previous informer’s house and completed the job of burning it too.

During July 1920 about thirteen of B-Company including Michael were engaged at revolver practice one evening at Skehard in the Blackrock district. They were surprised by many Black and Tans who immediately opened fire wounding the of our men named John Cotter. He received a bullet wound in the shoulder. However, they all got clear away. John Cotter was treated at the South Infirmary, Cork and recovered from his wound.

On various occasions B-Company lay in ambush positions at night at Ballinlough, Old Blackrock Road and Church Road, Blackrock. They were armed with revolvers and shotguns, the intention being to ambush police and Black and Tans patrols which, occasionally, patrolled the district by night on foot. On the nights they lay in wait for them they failed to appear. It is possible and most likely that some information of their presence may have been conveyed to the British by some of their sympathisers in the area.

Kieran’s new book Witness to Murder, The Inquest of Tomás MacCurtain is now available to purchase online (co-authored with John O’Mahony 2020, Irish Examiner/


1057a. Ballintemple, c.1920 from Cork City Through Time by Kieran McCarthy & Dan Breen (2012).

1057b. Ballintemple, present day (picture: Kieran McCarthy).

1057b. Ballintemple, present day (picture: Kieran McCarthy).

MacCurtain Street Public Transport Improvement Scheme, 14 July 2020

Cork City Council, in conjunction with the National Transport Authority,  has unveiled details of the next phase of the transition to a more sustainable transport system in the city.

The MacCurtain Street Public Transport Improvement Scheme aims to support economic activity and enhance access to the city centre through significantly improved options for walking, cycling and public transport. 

The proposed plans are available to view in the virtual public consultation room on

Under the scheme, the public realm will be improved and new traffic arrangements put in place on MacCurtain Street and adjoining streets so as to make the area more accommodating for shoppers, pedestrians and cyclists. The new arrangements will be complemented by the recently opened Mary Elmes pedestrian/cycle bridge. The other streets covered by the scheme include Leitrim Street, Coburg Street, Bridge Street, St Patricks Quay, Brian Boru Street, Merchants Quay, Andersons Quay as well as Cathedral Walk and part of Mulgrave Road.


The scheme will deliver extensive improvements for pedestrians. The reorganisation of traffic flows will significantly reduce traffic volumes on the MacCurtain St and wider footpaths, reduced speed and an upgraded public realm will help create a more attractive environment for all. In making these changes MacCurtain St will transition from traffic dominated street  to a pleasant visitor destination. Junction operation, pedestrian crossings and public lighting will all be upgraded across the entire scheme area.

The establishment of safer walking and cycling routes for school students is a particular priority given the concentration of schools within a relatively small area of the city centre. Over reliance on cars to transport students to schools is a significant contributor to traffic congestion and the scheme provides for viable alternatives to the practice.


Cycling facilities are to be improved considerably under the scheme with:

  • Two way segregated cycle connectivity along St. Patrick’s Quay and Camden Quay
  • Two way segregated cycle tracks on Merchants Quay and across Christy Ring Bridge and new cycleways on Leitrim Street.

These facilities will provide better connections to existing cycleways at Popes Quay and Penrose Quay as well as Mary Elmes Bridge and the City centre. The proposed new segregated two-way cycle routes will complement the improvements delivered under previous projects and provide the connectivity needed to link to other planned cycling infrastructure including Horgan’s Quay, South Mall, Docklands and further afield. The existing public bike stations will be retained but will be realigned to better suit the new street layout. Additional bike parking will be provided at key locations throughout the area.

Public Transport

The improved public transport corridors set out in the scheme will reduce journey times and enhance bus service reliability. New bus lanes are to be provided along a number of streets including Leitrim St, Cathedral Walk, Coburg St Devonshire St Bridge Street and St Patricks Bridge. Reduced traffic volumes will improve public transport movement along Mac Curtain St. There will also be a reorganisation of coach parking which under current arrangements experiences traffic congestion. The bus prioritisation measures and related general traffic changes will enable re-routing of some bus services onto MacCurtain Street and Coburg Street and improve services between the city centre and suburbs as well as the commuter towns to the north and east of the city. The scheme has been designed to be fully compatible with the forthcoming Cork Bus Connects Programme as set out in the Cork Metropolitan Area Transport Strategy (CMATS).

The MacCurtain Street Scheme is the latest phase of works to be progressed as part of the City Centre Movement Strategy (CCMS). To date, this strategy has supported the delivery of significant changes to the traffic flow, improved cycle facilities and public realm upgrades at and around Parnell Place, Popes Quay, Grenville Place, Prospect Row, Grattan St, St Patrick St, Lower Glanmire Rd, Penrose Quay and Mary Elmes Bridge.

Full details of the MacCurtain Street Public Transport Improvement Scheme will be available at

Kieran’s Question to CE and Motions, Cork City Council Meeting, 13 July 2020

Question to CE:

To ask the CE for an update on progress on re-opening Douglas Library? (Cllr Kieran McCarthy).


To ask for a presentation from Open Eir on the progress of fibre broadband roll-out in Cork City (Cllr Kieran McCarthy).

That a centenary commemoration event be created to mark the hunger strike of Terence MacSwiney (Cllr Kieran McCarthy).

In lieu of removal of trees due to health and safety, that a tree replacement programme be implemented at Ballinlough Community Park and on The Marina (Cllr Kieran McCarthy).

That the City Council upgrade the crossings signals at the crossroads of Wallace’s Avenue, Boreenmanna Road, and Victoria Avenue, similar to those developed within the city centre (Cllr Kieran McCarthy).

Cork City Hall, July 2020

Kieran’s Our City, Our Town Article, 9 July 2020

1056a. Hibernian House, formerly Cork City’s County Club, built 1829 (picture: Kieran McCarthy).

Kieran’s Our City, Our Town Article,

Cork Independent, 9 July 2020

Remembering 1920: The Assassination of Commissioner Smyth

The targeting by IRA Brigade No.1 of RIC Cork City barracks in early July 1920 turned into targeting by mid-July 1920 of high ranking RIC officers. By far the most sensational shooting of a Government official occurred in Cork as a late hour on Saturday evening, 17 July 1920, at the County Club on the South Mall. Colonel Gerard Bryce Ferguson Smyth was a First World War veteran from the Royal Engineers and newly appointed Chief Commissioner of the RIC.

Almost a month earlier at Listowel, County Kerry on 19 June 1920, his campaign strategy against the IRA shocked even the toughest of his RIC officers. Smyth noted that no co-operation meant shoot on sight. Many RIC men, from County Inspectors to Constables, resigned in protest against the task assigned when presented with Smyth’s note.

“…Police and military will patrol the country at least five nights a week. They are not to confine themselves to the main roads but take across the country, lie in ambush, and when civilians are seen approaching shout ‘Hand up.’ Should the order not be immediately obeyed, shoot, and shoot with effect. If persons approaching carry their hands in their pockets and are in any way suspicious looking, shoot them down … We want your assistance in carrying out this scheme and wiping out Sinn Féin”.

In the second week of July 1920 Smyth was called to England and appeared at the Irish Office where he was queried on newspaper accounts of his speeches made in Listowel and Killarney. On his arrival back to Ireland he went to Kerry on business related to the holding of the Assizes. He arrived to Cork on Friday 16 July to be present for the Cork City Assizes, to be held the following Monday.

The Cork Examiner records that on Saturday evening, 17 July 1920 at 10.30pm, a party of men, whose numbers were between twelve and fifteen entered the County Club building by the usual entrance on the South Mall. All carried revolvers in their hands, and some wore masks or other disguises. Some of the men approached the hall porter Edward Fitzgerald, pointed revolvers at him and warned him not to make any noise. He was ordered to walk in front of the party into the vestibule, presumably so that the men would not be visible from the entrance. In the vestibule at the bottom of the stairs about eight or ten of the men remained, still covering Mr Fitzgerald.

The others of the party proceeded to the smoking room and throwing open the door entered. Only four men were in the room at the time. There were Commissioner Smyth, County Inspector George Fitzgerald William Craig, Mr Barker, secretary of the club and one other member. The men hesitated at the doorway for a second or two, and cried out, “Where is he?”. Another evidently catching sight of Colonel Smyth fired at him. In all five or six shots were fired. Mr Smyth got out of the room but collapsed in the passage outside of the door. County Inspector Craig was also wounded in the leg.

Michael O’Donoghue, Engineer Officer with the 2nd Battalion of the Cork No.1 Brigade, in his witness statement (WS1741) in the Bureau of Military History, outlines that his men were involved in the targeting of Colonel Smyth. He outlined that his men on coming into the room of the County Club said to Colonel Smyth – “Your orders are to shoot at sight”. “Well, so are ours”. Thenshots rang out.Michael outlined that the young men having their mission accomplished, pocketed their revolvers and retired to the street mingling with the crowd, which was then leaving a nearby cinema, and disappeared.  

An armoured car and military lorries and swarms of police descended on the South Mall within minutes and surrounded the area to carry out an intense but after a fruitless search they cleared the streets. Later that night soldiers and Black and Tans proceeded through the streets of Cork City, firing in all directions as they proceeded. An IRA volunteer, Blarney Street resident James Bourke, who was an ex-British soldier, was shot dead at about 3am at North Gate Bridge. Over twenty other local citizens were injured.

Eighteen jurors were called to attend the inquest of Colonel Smyth the following day, Sunday 18 July 1920, but only nine attended. After a number of hours delay the numbers had not been assembled to swear in a jury. The Coroner abandoned the inquest.

On Sunday evening 18 July, Michael O’Donoghue recalls further chaos on the streets of Cork. At 7pm he was passing the Courthouse and the streets ahead were almost completely deserted. Crossing from Patrick Street towards Castle Street the next moment, he heard the roar of lorries tearing down Patrick Street and bursts of rifle fire. Looking back, he saw several of hurrying stragglers drop to the ground. An armoured car entered Parade from St Patrick’s Street, machine guns roaring. As Michael reached the safety of the hallway of our digs, he could hear the whine of bullets along the Grand Parade outside. Stealing to a window overlooking the Grand Parade, he ventured to look down north and south along the thoroughfare. Five figures still lay huddled on the pavement near Castle Street corner, and two others on the street near Singer’s Corner.

Michael notes in his witness statement: “The military have been given a free hand this night and all the police have wisely being kept in barracks. Later, an ambulance from Fire Brigade Station drove down the Parade and picked up the victims”. It was the first and the bloodiest of the many nights of terror, which Cork citizens were to witness in the ensuing weeks and months ahead.

Kieran’s new book Witness to Murder, The Inquest of Tomás MacCurtain is now available to purchase online (co-authored with John O’Mahony 2020, Irish Examiner/


1056a. Hibernian House, formerly Cork City’s County Club, built 1829 (picture: Kieran McCarthy).

1056b. Entrance to Hibernian House, formerly Cork City’s County Club (picture: Kieran McCarthy).

1056b. Entrance to Hibernian House, formerly Cork City’s County Club (picture: Kieran McCarthy).