Kieran’s Our City, Our Town Article,
Cork Independent, 14 September 2023
Launch of New Cork City Revolution Trail
Hot on the heels of a large interest in this year’s National Heritage Week comes Cork City Council’s Cork City Revolution Trail. Recently launched it brings together information on thirty Cork City centre sites associated with the Irish War of Independence. The trail is an online story map and can be accessed on A City Remembers on www.corkcity.ie. It charts what happened on the streets of Cork a century ago during the revolutionary period. Journey back in time and learn about the historical significance of 30 local sites.
The trail is still very much a work in progress and it is anticipated that up to 50 sites could feature along the route in the future. The Cork City Revolution Trail was written by historians Gerry White and John Borgonovo and it is designed by Serena O’Connor.
At the launch of the online trail, Gerry White spoke upon a number of key sites, many of which he has wrote at length upon and Cork City is lucky to have so much research published by him. There are some examples and extracts from the revolutionary trail below.
One of the first sites on the trail is Victoria Barracks. During the Irish Revolution, this Barracks was the largest and most significant British Army installation in Munster. Following the 1916 Rising, Commandant Thomas Kent of the of the Irish Volunteers was court-martialled, executed and buried in the Detention Barracks. In 1921, thirteen members of the IRA were executed in the barracks and buried in the grounds of Cork Male Prison.
From 1919-1922, the barracks contained the headquarters of the British Army’s 6th Division, which had Munster as its area of operations and the 17th Infantry Brigade, which was responsible for Cork city and county. Lord Mayor of Cork Terence MacSwiney was court-martialled there on 16 August 1920. Members of K Company of the Auxiliary Division of the RIC, the unit primarily responsible for the Burning of Cork, were also based in the barracks. After the Treaty, the barracks was occupied by Cork No. 1 Brigade. It was burned by anti-Treaty IRA forces during the Civil War in August 1922.
On 17 July 1920 on South Mall at the Cork County Club an IRA unit from Cork No. 1 Brigade entered the Cork County Club on the South Mall and shot dead Lieutenant Colonel Gerald Bryce Ferguson Smyth, the RIC Divisional Commissioner for South Munster. Smyth was associated with the incident in Listowel RIC Barracks known as the ‘Listowel Mutiny’. RIC County Inspector George Craig was also wounded in the attack, which took place in the club lounge.
On 9 October 1920, during the ‘Barrack Street Ambush’, an IRA unit from the 2nd Battalion, Cork No. 1 Brigade, (including Captain Tadhg O’Sullivan) ambushed a lorry carrying British soldiers near the junction of Cobh Street and Barrack Street. One soldier was killed in the ambush. Three other soldiers, one IRA Volunteer, and a number of civilians were also wounded.
The revolution trail also showcases the incident at Broad Street/ Broad Lane on 17 November 1920. In what became known as the ‘Broad Street Massacre’ on the night of 17 November, a number of RIC constables entered No. 2 Broad Street where they shot dead Patrick Hanley, a seventeen-year-old member of Na Fianna Éireann and wounded Stephen Coleman. The constables then forced their way into nearby 17 Broad Lane where they shot and wounded Charlie O’Brien, who was also a member of Fianna Éireann and IRA member Eugene O’Connell. The shootings were probably a reprisal for the IRA killing of RIC Sergeant James O’Donoghue at White Street earlier that evening.
The Burning of Cork on 11-12 December 1920 features. At around 9pm, two hours after the IRA ambushed a patrol of Auxiliaries at Dillon’s Cross, the largest the largest arson attack committed by the Crown forces during the War of Independence took place in the centre of Cork. Known as The Burning of Cork, it resulted in the destruction of the eastern side of St Patrick Street, the City Hall and the Carnegie Free Library. £2,000,000 worth of damage was done and around 2,000 people were made unemployed.
The trail also showcases the site of the shop belonging to Nora and Shelia Wallace. From 1919 to 1921 this shop served as a secret communications centre and headquarters for the IRA’s Cork No. 1 Brigade. Sheila served as the Brigade Communications Officer, while Nora acted as a courier and intelligence agent. The sisters also organized Irish Citizen Army branches in the city.
At Parnell Bridge on 4 January 1921, during the Parnell Bridge Ambush, an IRA unit from the 2nd Battalion, Cork No 1 Brigade, led by Mick Murphy, ambushed a ten-man RIC patrol as it walked along Union Quay. All ten policemen were wounded in the ambush, two mortally, with a number of civilians also injured. Additional IRA units fired at police reinforcements coming from Elizabeth Fort on Barrack Street.
At 86 Douglas Street: Drapery shop owned by Mary Collins, President of the Saint Brigid’s Branch of Cumann na mBan. This premises was used to collect funds for numerous republican organisations and to store weapons for the IRA’s 2nd Battalion of the Cork No. 1 Brigade. From early 1921 it also functioned as a battalion headquarters.
At 92 Douglas Street there was drapery shop owned by Cuman na mBan member Mary Clifford, was used as an office by the intelligence officer of the IRA’s 2nd Battalion, Cork No. 1 Brigade. Republican couriers dropped and collected messages there, while Clifford hid sensitive records and fugitives there.
See www.corkcity.ie/en/a-city-remembers-cork-1920-to-1923/ to read up on more of the sites across the impressive Cork City Revolution Trail.
1219a. The recent launching of the Cork City Revolution Trail with Lord Mayor of Cork Cllr Kieran McCarthy and Gerry White, Historian.
Kieran’s Upcoming September Tours (end of season, all free, 2 hours, no booking required)
Saturday 16 September, Ballinlough – Antiquities, Knights, Quarries and Suburban Growth; meet at Ballintemple Graveyard, Temple Hill, 2.30pm.
Sunday 24 September (two tours), The Friar’s Walk; Discover Red Abbey, Elizabeth Fort & Barrack Street area, in association with Autumnfest on Douglas Street; Meet at Red Abbey tower, off Douglas Street, 11am.
Sunday 24 September, Shandon Historical Walking Tour; in association with Cork Walking Festival, meet at North Main Street/ Adelaide Street Square, opp Cork Volunteer Centre, 5pm.