Kieran’s Our City, Our Town Article,
Cork Independent, 18 August 2022
Journeys to a Free State: The Re-taking of Cork City
Kilkenny-born journalist Frank Geary (1891-1961) had a front row seat of the unfolding Irish Civil War. In 1922 he joined the Irish Independent as a staff reporter. On 3 August 1922, he was sent by his editor to cover the unfolding Civil War in Cork. To get to Cork he had to sail via Liverpool because all Irish regional roads were blocked, but he was then the first to get news out of Cork.
Frank’s notes, which have survived and have been published, recall the landing of the National Army under General Emmet Dalton and their advance to Cork City to clear the retreating Irregulars or Republicans. His account of the days of the Battle of Rochestown is told from his perspective of being in the city and viewing the manoeuvres of the Irregulars as they tried to send reinforcements to Rochestown and the attempt to retain the city.
By Thursday morning 10 August 1922, the Irregulars retreated from Rochestown and blocked the roads at several other points, in order to delay the advance of the National soldiers. Early on Thursday afternoon, the National forces reached Douglas, and the Irregulars commenced evacuating Cork City, which was occupied by the National troops before night fall.
Frank recalls that by mid-Thursday afternoon that there was repeated activity of Irregulars all over the city. Bands of men with rifles flung over their shoulders were marching around. The Imperial Hotel, the County Club and the Ex-Soldiers League had again been vacated. News was being distributed that the National Army were advancing on the city. A Republican War News had been published by Irregulars and was being sold on the streets. It comprised three or four pages of typewritten text.
Frank stood on the opposite bank to Union Quay barracks. Outside the barracks there was an assortment of motor vehicles of all kinds and descriptions – lorries, five-seaters, two-seaters, and bicycles and sidecars. Big crowds still congregated around the quays. A messenger arrived at the barracks. Almost out of breath, he gave a message with desperate haste. Men ran here and there into the building and out of it. A number of the irregulars rushed on to the road. They got around a big five-ton lorry. They pushed it and got it going, and then, splash, it was in the adjacent River Lee.
Frank continues: “The men rush to another car, a fine five-seater. They push it into the river. Another and another and another and yet another meet with similar fates before the horrified gaze of the crowd. Several motorcycles, many of them with sidecars, were pushed into the water. One pretty little two-seater motor car just gets caught in the woodwork on the quay and doesn’t fall. It hangs there, betwixt and between, a funny-looking sight. The whole quayside is now cleared”.
At 3pm, suddenly Frank witnessed a volley of rifle and revolver shots ringing out. People ran and sought refuge in every open door. The volleys were apparently been fired as a warning for, as minutes later there was a loud resounding boom. A dense volume of black smoke burst up from the barracks, followed by the crash of falling masonry. Smoke arose from every window, from every chimney, even from between the very slates. In other parts of the city, there were explosions in other Republican strongholds followed by smoke and fire. Elizabeth Fort, off Barrack Street, the Bridewell in Cornmarket Street, Tuckey Street police barracks, Empress Place police barracks and high up on its hill Victoria Barracks was also in flames.
Frank writes of a city that had fallen and which was destroyed by smoke and the stench of burning buildings: “Cork has fallen. The irregulars are evacuating. As it was in Limerick they are going, going, going! Explosion follows explosion with terrifying rapidity. Cork has been my worst experience from this point of view. Like the waters of many rivers converging into a big lake, the smoke of many fires has converged into one dense mass, which hangs like a deadly pall over the whole city. The air below, as it were, is imprisoned and one stifles with the heat, the oppressive heat, and the acrid smell of burning buildings”.
In the midst of the burning Frank describes that looting had begun, and parades of men, women and children flocked to the burning buildings and take everything they can lay their hands on – motor-bicycles, wardrobes, beds, chairs, tables were amongst the materials looted. People even braved the danger of exploding bullets and bombs, and physically went into the burning buildings and carry away various articles of furniture.
At 4pm Frank describes that there was another big explosion. This one was an attempt to blow up the Parnell Bridge. It was only partially successful. A big gaping hole was blown in the wooden groundwork and part of the steel work was rent asunder and twisted like a piece of paper. Pedestrian traffic over the bridge is still possible.
By 5pm large crowds of citizens thronged the streets. Frank writes that there was not a shop open in the city. At the first explosion all the shops were quickly shuttered and closed down. All the factories and workshops in and around the city were also closed. The tramway service, too, was suspended, and was not resumed that evening. Just before the Irregulars departed they also visited the General Post Office and wrecked the telegraphic department. The telephone exchange was also visited and here the apparatus was also smashed. Several bridges on the main line to Dublin were also blown up hampering any railway communications.
By 7.30pm, the announcement spread that National army troops had arrived and were actually in the city – they were crossing Parnell Bridge. The first of them was preceded by an armoured car. The advance guard came slowly. Frank details that tens of thousands of citizens thronged the thoroughfares to view the scene. The following day Frank travelled onto Waterford by boat to write about his experiences there.
My thanks to Billy Collins for alerting me to Frank Geary’s story.
Kieran’s Remaining National Heritage Week tours:
Thursday 18 August 2022, Views from a Park – The Black Ash and Tramore Valley Park, historical walking tour in association with the KinShip Project; meet at Halfmoon Lane gate, 6.30pm (90 minutes; no booking required).
Saturday 20 August 2022, Douglas and its History, historical walking tour in association with Douglas Tidy Towns; Discover the history of industry and the development of this historic village, meet in the carpark of Douglas Community Centre, 2pm (no booking required, circuit of village, finishes nearby).
Sunday 21 August 2022, The Battle of Douglas, An Irish Civil War Story, historical walking tour, meet at carpark and entrance to Old Railway Line, Harty’s Quay, Rochestown; 2pm, (free, 2 hours, no booking required, finishes near Rochestown Road).
1164a. Armoured Car with National Army soldiers on Union Quay, Cork, 10 August 1922, photograph by W D Hogan (source: National Library, Ireland).