Kieran’s Our City, Our Town Article,
Cork Independent, 6 July 2017
The Wheels of 1917: Amnesty Disturbances
The evening of Sunday 24 June 1917 was one of violence on Cork streets. It followed the arrival home of the eight Irish Volunteers in Cork City (see last week’s article) on the previous day and a procession and speech-giving at the National Monument. Members of Sinn Féin continued their campaign of action over the ensuing 24 hours. The Cork Examiner records that the demonstrations began as a crowd of Sinn Féin supporters returned from a camogie match between Plunketts and Clan Emer, at O’Neill Crowley Grounds, Western Road. They were escorted by the Piper’s Band. When the Gaol Cross was reached an attack was made on the gaol, stones being thrown and some windows broken. Cheers were also raised for the Cork volunteers who were prisoners there, and these were answered with cheers from within the gaol walls.
This crowd then proceeded to Sheare Street and retook possession of the Irish Volunteer Hall, which the military had taken over. From mid afternoon until after 11pm riots were pursued. It started with an organised attack by youths on the Recruiting Office on St Patrick’s Street, the plate glass windows of which were smashed on the previous Saturday night. The smashed area was boarded up but the youths broke down this structure with sticks, removed recruiting posters from the window and tore down the flags, which hung over the facia board. A young man climbed the tramway pole opposite the offices and cut down the Union Jack, which had flown there since the beginning of the war. This was thrown into the river.
The crowd now numbered several hundreds, and young women whose relatives were in the war, incensed Sinn Féin supporters by attacking them. Under District Inspectors Walsh and Swanzy, the police – armed with carbine rifles, bayonets, revolvers and batons – were on the streets in full force. The police charged the crowd on St Patrick’s Street. Carbine rifles were lowered and bayonets fixed, and revolver shots cracked out now and again. The corner of King Street (now MacCurtain Street) and Bridge Street was the stand-off of the rival parties of both sides. The police on St Patrick’s Bridge prevented persons coming into St Patrick’s Street where Sinn Féin members were in strength. Canon O’Leary, Rev Father McSweeney, and other clergy of SS Peter and Paul’s Church, as well as 1916 veteran J J Walsh, arrived onto the streets during the disturbances counselling the people to go home, but their advice was ignored.
The answer by the police was to re-charge and re-charge. Several persons were wounded in the bayonet thrusts, by being struck with the butt end of the rifles. One man received shot wounds. Many fell and suffered bruises by being trampled on. All the wounded were all taken to the North Infirmary for treatment. One of the men, Abraham Allen aged 25 years, living at the North Mall, was shot in his thigh.
Shortly before midnight it seemed as if the centre of the city was about to return to normal and it was decided that a number of the police return to the Bridewell and Tuckey Street Barracks. About twenty police were marched to Woodford Bourne’s corner on Daunt’s Square, where they were ordered to halt, preparatory to proceeding to their respective barracks. There were very few civilians in this particular portion of the street at the time, but without warning a fusillade of stones, came from a dark corner at the square. A number of the police were struck, while many stones reached window on the Grand Parade tide at the street. A bayonet charge followed. The stone-throwers, who were few in number, ran through Castle Street, pursued by some of the police, and a number of women who had congregated at the entrance to Cornmarket Street. At the upper end of Castle Street, the stone-throwers entered North Main Street, and escaped their pursuers.
Portions of the crowd that had been driven from the flat of the city by baton and bayonet charges earlier in the evening began to return towards St Patrick’s Street, and another collision followed with the police. Many injuries were sustained. The crowd was soon dispersed. About 12.15am Sergeant Grey was brought to the Bridewell suffering from wounds under his left eye. It was caused by a revolver bullet, received in the course of action. Through the counter attacks on the baton and bayonet charges in St Patrick’s Street, several other policemen also sustained wounds.
About 11.15pm the military arrived on the scene, and took up positions between Fr Mathew Statue and Cash’s Drapery Store at the Winthrop Street intersection. This detachment was fully armed and cut off communication to the centre of the city. Their preparations for eventualities were elaborate. They had machine guns, which they placed in position to command St Patrick’s Street. They were accompanied by a chaplain, and brought with them a motor ambulance and stretcher bearers. The police in batches patrolled the various streets and cleared the crowds from the centre of the city, subsequently cutting off communication to it. It was nearly midnight when the violence quietened down and the military were withdrawn at 1.45am.
Secret Cork (2017) by Kieran McCarthy is now available in Cork bookshops or online at Amberley-books.com
902a. View from Daunt Square side of St Patrick’s Street, c.1930 (source: Cork City Through Time by Kieran McCarthy & Dan Breen)
902b. View of Grand Parade c.1910 (source: Cork City Through Time by Kieran McCarthy & Dan Breen)