Kieran’s Our City, Our Town Article,
Cork Independent, 13 October 2022
Journeys to a Free State: The Gaol Shooting
On Thursday night 21 September 1922, thirty-nine anti-Treaty IRA men made their escape from Cork County Gaol off Western Road. Of these two were recaptured near Ballinhassig the following day, but of the remaining in the ensuing days after their escape there was no trace.
The Cork Examiner recalls that the men got away by means of a tunnel, or rather a disused ventilation shaft. Becoming aware of the existence of this shaft, the men confined in one cell dug their way down until they met with the shaft, and then broke into the narrow passage. A man was sent down to explore and came back with the news that the tunnel was just passable and led out through a larger shaft beyond the gaol premises.
One by one then, the 39 prisoners who had access to this particular portion of the gaol went into the cell and down the narrow hole at the back, through the shaft, and up through a manhole in the centre of the road outside the gaol walls. As each man made his way out, he quickly disappeared. It was not until a considerable time afterwards that the escape was discovered, but by then the men had got clear away.
Following the escape of thirty-nine prisoners, the remaining colleagues interned there rioted on Sunday, 24 September 1922. The Cork Examiner records that circa 435 IRA volunteers went on strike while on the parade ground at 7am on the 24th. Having previously been on hunger strike, they refused to go into their cells when the time had arrived for doing so, and the National Army guards were obliged to use force in order to get them to comply with the regulations. They still refused, and the guards forced them from the recreation ground with the butts of their rifles.
The prisoners on reaching the cells smashed the doors, and refused to enter, and continued the disturbance which they had initiated on the parade ground. After some hours, during which every effort was made to induce the prisoners to desist from their conduct, the guards gave them a quarter of an hour in which to return to their cells. They still refused to obey, and an extra five minutes was give as a warning to back down. When the five minutes expired the prisoners still made no attempt to obey. The guard then fired one volley, and two of the prisoners were hit, both being seriously wounded. One of them, Lismore born but Cork based Volunteer Patrick Mangan Junior, died on the following day at the Mercy Hospital.
A military inquiry was held by the National Army. The inquiry found that Patrick Mangan met his death as the result of a rifle shot fired by a sentry “in the execution of his duty”, and that the officer, who gave the order to fire was justified, as the prisoners had sufficient warnings and ample time to comply with the order to return to their cells.
Commandant of the Gaol Mr Scott, being sworn in, noted that on the night of 23 September he received a deputation from Mr Carey, who introduced himself the Commandant of the Prisoners, at 10.30pm. He handed Commandant Scott a list of demands, and informed him if they were not granted the prisoners would go on hunger-strike the following morning at 7 am if demands were not met – (1) the cell doors and yard doors should open from 7am to 9pm; (2) there should be free communication between and all wings; (3) parcels, letters in and out should be allowed; and (4) there should also be a supply of mattresses, blankets, mugs, plates, knives and forks.
Regarding requests no.s 1, 2, and 3, Commandant Scott informed the inquest that he had instructions from Headquarters, owing to the taking of advantage of privileges previously given, that all privileges were withdrawn, except exercise two hours a day – one hour in the forenoon and one hour each afternoon. Privileges would be renewed at a later date, when according to Scott the prisoners became “amenable to discipline”. As regards request no.4, Scott deemed that the prisoners had a sufficient supply of blankets and mugs, and as regards bedding and equipment in general, he argued they were better equipped than his own men.
The tension between prison guards and prisoners was highly charged. The prisoners were boisterous all through the night, and after Mass next morning refused breakfast, except a handful of men. Commandant Scott allowed them out between 8am and 11am but was unable to get them to return them to their cells. Scott detailed that he ordered a party of soldiers to fire over the prisoners’ heads at the wall. After cautioning the prisoners that he intended firing, he ordered fire. The deceased, Patrick Mangan Junior, further desisted any order to leave. He was fired at. A priest and doctor immediately went to attend to him and he was removed to hospital as soon as possible, but was declared dead.
Chaos continued to reign in the weeks that ensued. About 8pm on 6 October 1922 there was an attack on the Cork County Gaol, apparently from the western side. The sniping was replied to by the guard with equal vigour. People in the district quickly moved within doors, and many who were going to evening devotions at St Finbarr’s West or The Lough Church, returned to their homes. The shots came apparently from the area directly west of the Gaol Walk. No casualties were sustained.
The guards, both inside and outside the Gaol, was promptly supplemented, and searches and investigations were immediately began, with the result that a number of arrests were made.
About the same time a small party of National Army troops were fired on at the Mardyke Walk near the entrance to Fitzgerald’s Park. Only a few shots were fired, and no damage was done.
1171a. Remnants of Cork County Gaol, off Western Road, Cork, present day (picture: Kieran McCarthy).