New Release: Archaeological map recording the Anti-Treaty IRA attack on Baile Mhic Íre, Co. Cork on the 4th of December 1922

Following on from our previous blog, which focused on the capture and movement of the Sliabh na mBan before the Baile Mhic Íre attack, today’s post concentrates on the attack itself and corresponds with the following map.

In December 1922, the National Army based themselves in Baile Mhic Íre using the village’s large hotel, The Hibernian, as their headquarters. They began searching the surrounding area and soon discovered IRA volunteer Pat Hegarty in Doire Fhínín to the west of Ré na nDoirí. He was found in possession of a revolver, a capital offence at the time.

Before his transportation to Cork City, Hegarty was held in the Hibernian Hotel, now known as Ó Scanaill’s pub. Seeing an opportunity to rescue a friend, the Anti-Treaty IRA launched an attack on Baile Mhic Íre in the early hours of Monday, the 4th of December, 1922.

Earlier that morning, the Sliabh na mBan left Kealkill and drove through Céim an Fhia, Béal Átha an Ghaorthaidh and Ré na nDoirí, making its way to Baile Mhic Íre. When the Sliabh na mBan arrived, the village was already surrounded by the IRA. To ensure that no National Army backup intervened, the main roads to Macroom, Millstreet and Bantry were blocked with stones and felled trees. The blocking of roads to slow the arrival of reinforcements was a common practice of the IRA and had been used in numerous other attacks, such as the Cloyne RIC barracks attack and the Crossbarry ambush.

Before entering the village, the Sliabh na mBan was met by a group of IRA members who formed a column behind the car. Together the car and the column approached the village along the Ballingeary Road. They were spotted by National Army member Edward Hutton, who later claimed to have seen lights on the far side of Sullane bridge while in Creedon’s public house.

The pub Hutton refers to as ‘Creedon’s’ still stands on the eastern end of the village on the north side of the N22. This part of the village is on higher ground that overlooks the Ballingeary Road and the River Sullane, so Hutton’s account is plausible but modern housing and vegetation now block that view.

Site of Creedon’s pub; local memory recalls that a bullet from the attack
was lodged in an upstairs mirror in this building for decades afterwards.

The Sliabh na mBan, with its lights switched off, was quietly rolled into the village, where sentries challenged it. It’s machine gun was fired during this confrontation, and the armoured car sped forward onto the main street (now the N22). The Sliabh na mBan turned left and went west towards the Hibernian Hotel. Into this building, volley after volley was poured from a dozen machine guns, some a considerable distance away at the rear, others within a few feet mounted on the armoured car.

Modern image of the Hibernian Hotel now known as Ó Scanaills

Though the Sliabh na mBan concentrated its attack on the hotel, the armoured car also went up and down the main street, firing into residential houses (which were used as National Army billets). The IRA kept residents and the army contingent under heavy machine-gun and rifle fire, with grenades and locally manufactured bombs also employed. The bullets came not only from the main street but also from the encircling IRA, who were located on higher ground. For many, the only course of action was to lay low in their homes.

Although many accounts of this attack commented on the ferocious amount of firepower displayed by the IRA, next to no physical remains of this survives. This may be due to the severity of the attack. For example, residents may not have seen the need to re-plaster their houses for a couple of bullet holes but would have done so if significant damage had occurred. This is a clear example of how easily Ireland’s revolutionary archaeological evidence can be lost if not recorded and protected. Luckily many locals are aware of the attack and are interested in preserving their history. Some have spotted bullet holes in the back of their houses and have ensured that these important archaeological features are not disturbed.

Bullet impact marks at the back of some of the houses on the main street of Baile Mhic Íre.

These may have come from the encircling IRA positioned to the north of the village.

To the west of the Hibernian Hotel was Boney’s Lane. This is where the National Army had parked their armoured Lancia car. Due to near-constant fire from the IRA, the National Army could not use this car during the attack.

Boney’s Lane, between CarePlus and Ó Scanaills, where the National Army’s Lancia was parked

While the Sliabh na mBan attacked the front of the Hibernian Hotel, IRA members Quill, McSweeney, and Moynihan went around the back and shot their way into the building. According to Moynihan’s account, they were in the Hibernian Hotel for ten minutes before the National Army surrendered, and Pat Hegarty was set free.

The area behind the hotel has changed slightly over the years; a supporting concrete wall has been put in place, and a modern fence erected, but the back entrance to the hotel that the IRA would have used is still visible.

When visiting Baile Mhic Íre, we were able to access the back of the Hibernian Hotel (now Ó Scanaills) where we were shown an old stone stable that the National Army had billeted in at the time of the attack.

Two people were killed in Baile Mhic Íre on the 4th of December, and about three more subsequently died of their wounds. One of the fatalities in the village was Sergeant Thomas Nolan, a member of the National Army stationed in a building to the west of the Hibernian Hotel. He is believed to have been killed while standing in an upstairs room overlooking the main street when machine gun fire came up through the ground floor ceiling of the house.

The second person killed that day was an innocent bystander, Cornelius O’Leary. On the day of the attack, he was visiting his sister Mary Twomey who lived in a house across the road from the Hibernian Hotel. According to a family member, Mary was pregnant and lying in bed upstairs. She feared for her life when the attack began, so Cornelius went up to her with some holy water. While in the bedroom, he was shot and killed by a bullet that came through the window.

There is a slight dispute over which building Sergeant Nolan was killed in. According to some sources, it was the building where the CarePlus pharmacy is located; according to others, it’s the grey building next door.

The National Army held out for many hours but received no help as the IRA had blocked off the main roads to Macroom, Millstreet and Bantry. At 11 am, they surrendered unconditionally and, according to the IRA, handed over 95 rifles, 20 shotguns, 11 revolvers and a large amount of ammunition. Nevertheless, some members of the National Army claimed to have smashed their rifles and guns before they handed them over, so they could be of no use.

The IRA rounded up the National Army and marched them west along the route of the modern N22 towards the Kerry border. Some accounts mention that they were brought to Loo Bridge Station, where they were released. Though this station was closed in the 1950s, the building still stands today and is used as a private house. The railway tracks have been pulled up, but the track bed is still visible as a small country road. It is not difficult to imagine a century ago, nearly a hundred National Army members stood here wondering what their fate would be.

Image 1: Former Loo Bridge Station with track bed visible. Image 2: Surviving signal post from Loo Bridge Station.

Both the National Army and IRA accounts agree that those who surrendered received a frosty welcome in Killarney. According to Hutton, they were left on the outskirts of the town, where they had difficulty finding a place to stay that night. The following day they were received at the Great Southern Hotel, which was acting as a headquarters for the National Army. There they were given thirteen days and nights of guard duty as punishment for losing Pat Hegarty and their weapons at Baile Mhic Íre.

To find out what happened to the Sliabh na mBan after these events, see our first map, which can be found here and read our next blog, which will be released on the 9th of December, a hundred years to the day that the Sliabh na mBan was recovered by the National Army. 

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The Sliabh na mBan Movement Mapping Project is funded as part of Cork County Council’s Decade of Centenaries Programme financed by the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media. It is being delivered by Abarta Heritage and historian Niall Murray as part of the Landscapes of Revolution Project. 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.

Special thanks to the people of Baile Mhic Íre for their assistance in this project, especially Donal and Gearóid Ó Scanaill, who generously brought us around the village and shared their stories. Thanks also to Mary Hoare, who kindly shared the tragic story of her relation Cornelius (Connie) O’Leary, with us and Sean O Ceilleachair who provided important information on the death of Seargeant Nolan.

Select Bibliography

Brother P. J Kavanagh. (1978-1979) “Carlow Men in Cork Ambush”, Carloviana Journal of the Old Carlow Society, 2 (27), pp. 4-6

Dónal Ó hÉealaithe (editor), Memoirs of an Old Warrior: Jamie Moynihan’s Fight for Irish Freedom 1916-1923 (Cork: Mercier Press, 2014)

Meda Ryan, The Day Michael Collins was Shot  (Dublin: Poolbeg Press, 1989)

Patrick Twohig, The Dark Secret of Béalnabláth (Cork: Tower Books, 1991)

  1 comment for “New Release: Archaeological map recording the Anti-Treaty IRA attack on Baile Mhic Íre, Co. Cork on the 4th of December 1922

  1. John Whelan
    December 5, 2022 at 5:02 am

    Thank you from the bottom of my heart, very interesting history. I have a question, my father or Da, John Whelan who hailed from New Town Cross, was in the Flying Columns and we had a picture of him and fellow soldiers carrying colt 45’s, there were 50 in the picture. Unfortunately picture was lost. If you can direct me to where I might find the picture, I would be deeply grateful, Salinte John Whelan

    Like

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