Remembering The Kilmichael Ambush
The Auxiliaries were promoted as a highly trained elite force by the British media, sent to Ireland in July 1920 to crush Ireland's democratic right to freedom.
The Auxiliaries in Cork were based in the town of Macroom, in November 1920 they carried out a number of raids on the villages in the surrounding area, including Dunmanway, Coppeen and Castletownkenneigh, to intimidate the local population away from supporting the IRA.
The IRA in the area led by Tom Barry knew they had to hit back soon, so on November 21st 1920, Barry assembled a flying column of 36 riflemen at Clogher. The column had 35 rounds for each rifle as well as a handful of revolvers and two mills bombs (hand grenades).
Barry scouted possible ambush sites with Volunteer Michael McCarthy on horseback and selected one on the Macroom–Dunmanway road, on the section between Kilmichael and Gleann, which the Auxiliaries coming out of Macroom used every day.
The flying column marched there on foot and reached the ambush site on the night of November 27th. The IRA volunteers took up positions in the low rocky hills on either side of the road. Unlike most IRA ambush positions, there was no obvious escape route for the guerrillas should the fighting go against them.
On November 28th at 4:20 pm the Auxiliaries in two lorries drove into view but a last-minute hick up almost thwarted the ambush. Two armed IRA volunteers, responding late to Barry's mobilisation order, drove unwittingly into the ambush position in a horse and side-car, almost shielding the British forces behind them. Barry managed to avert disaster by directing the car up a side road and out of the way.
As the Auxiliaries drove into the ambush site, Barry stood onto the road in an IRA uniform and called on them to halt. As the first Lorry stopped alongside him, Barry threw a Mills bomb into the cab which signalled the start of the ambush.
IRA Volunteers on both sides of the road opened up on the Auxiliaries, overwhelming them with fire. As they jumped from they Lorries they were confronted by more Volunteers and savage hand to hand fighting ensued.
It had been a tactic of the Auxiliaries to pretend to surrender only to open fire on Republicans, but Barry saw it coming and ordered the IRA to continue firing on the crown forces.
By the end of the ambush, the IRA had killed 17 of the 18 Auxiliaries that drove into Kilmichael and the remaining one was very seriously wounded. Three IRA Volunteers died during the operation, two reportedly killed when the crown forces had tried the false surrender.
The Crown forces in the West Cork area took their revenge on the local population by burning several houses, shops and barns in Kilmichael, Johnstown and Inchageela, including all of the houses around the ambush site.
On December 3rd, three IRA volunteers were arrested by the British Essex Regiment in Bandon, beaten and killed, and their bodies dumped on the roadside.
The ambush was a huge morale booster for the Republican movement but ever since then there have been attempts to rewrite what happened that day especially from the so-called historian Peter Hart, there was even talk of having a plaque of some sort placed at the ambush site to remember the crown forces killed that day.