Our latest map, commissioned by Cork County Council, focuses on the movement of the famous Sliabh na mBan armoured car after it was taken from Bandon by the Anti-Treaty IRA in December 1922. This work was undertaken by the Landscape of Revolution team, Abarta Heritage Ltd and historian Niall Murray as part of Cork County Council’s Decade of Centenaries Programme supported by the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media. As with our previous maps, it is intended to serve as a starting point for those interested in the exploration, examination and future management of the archaeological remnants of these important sites.
The Sliabh na mBan is probably the most recognised armoured car in Ireland’s revolutionary history. This is mainly due to its connection with the Béal na Bláth ambush, which resulted in the death of General Michael Collins on the 22nd of August 1922. The driver of the Sliabh na mBan at this time was Jock McPeake, a member of the National Army who defected to the Anti-Treaty IRA after witnessing a number of executions that he felt were unjust during the Civil War.
Before defecting from the National Army, Jock McPeake, with the help of IRA Volunteer Billy Barry, stole the Sliabh na mBan from Bandon. The armoured car had been parked at what was known in some accounts as the Devonshire Arms Hotel and in other accounts as Lee’s Hotel (the last known place that General Michael Collins stayed before the Béal na Bláth ambush). The National Army used this hotel as a barracks throughout the Civil War and it still stands today under a new name, the Munster Arms Hotel.
The Sliabh na mBan had been safely parked at the barracks with extra precautions taken to ensure it could not be removed without permission. For example, the air valve was extracted from the engine, but McPeake and Barry found it in an officer’s pocket and started the car. When questioned by National Army sentries, McPeake and Barry claimed they were taking the car on the urgent orders of Chief Officer Pringle. According to Ryan’s account, John Sullivan, a National Army officer, became suspicious of McPeake and Barry and tried to stop them by jumping on the car. Sullivan supposedly held onto the vehicle as it was driven across Bandon Bridge and up Convent Hill before he was forced to let go.
The car was driven towards Crookstown, passing through Newcestown, where IRA members Charlie Foley and Tom Crofts were picked up. The Sliabh na mBan is thought to have then gone through Béal na Bláth, where it had previously been in August 1922. The car was then brought to Galvin’s house in Clodagh, a well-known West Cork Brigade safe house.
(An extract from a 1940 account to the Department of Defence by Mary Scannell (formerly Galvin) of her role in the movement of the Sliabh na mBan on the night of December 2, 1922. Source: Mary Scannell file, MSP34REF56883, Military Service Pensions Collection, Military Archives)
Later, in the early hours of Sunday, December 3rd, the Sliabh na mBan went through the nearby village of Kilmurry, where IRA members Tim Farrell and Jamie Moynihan were picked up. The car then journeyed to Kealkill, avoiding the main roads by driving through fields, bogs and narrow boreens. In one account, a story is told that the great weight of the car caused it to sink several times and that planks had to be used to dig it out of the mud when travelling along the Coolmountain bog road.
The car spent the night hidden in Kealkill but left early on the morning of the 4th of December for the Baile Mhic Íre attack. The car would play a significant role in this event which sought to rescue IRA Volunteer Pat Hegarty who was imprisoned in the Hibernian Hotel by the National Army.
The map below is the first of two created, which follows the movements of the Sliabh na mBan armoured car across County Cork before and after the Baile Mhic Íre attack. A second map focusing on the attack itself will be released on the 4th of December 2022, the centenary of this event.
Dónal Ó hÉealaithe (editor), Memoirs of an Old Warrior: Jamie Moynihan’s Fight for Irish Freedom 1916-1923 (Cork: Mercier Press, 2014)
Mary Scannell file, MSP34REF56883, Military Service Pensions Collection, Military Archives
Meda Ryan, The Day Michael Collins was Shot (Dublin: Poolbeg Press, 1989)
Patrick Twohig, The Dark Secret of Béalnabláth (Cork: Tower Books, 1991)