Following on from our previous posts, which outline the events of the capture of the Sliabh na mBan from Bandon barracks and its use in the Baile Mhic Íre attack, today’s blog is the final in the series and focuses on the recovery of the armoured car by the National Army. This information ties in with our first map, commissioned by Cork County Council, which shows the movements of the car pre and post-attack.
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.
After the attack on Baile Mhic Íre, the Sliabh na mBan was ‘half driven, and half pushed’ across ‘mountain roads, cow paths and boreens’ towards Béal Átha an Ghaorthaidh. The slow progress of the car was due to the damage it had suffered earlier in the day, i.e. National Army grenades had landed under the Sliabh na mBan and seriously damaged its wheels. Members of the IRA mentioned that a tyre on one of the wheels was completely gone and that the metal wheel rim was marking the road, essentially leaving a trail of breadcrumbs for the National Army to follow. To counteract this, bushes were dragged over the marks to cover them up.
According to local knowledge, the car was taken down to Cronin’s hotel in Guagán Barra before making its way up the narrow roads to Donncha Pad Cronin’s farm in Doire an Longaigh. Here the IRA copied the National Army by removing pieces from the car, such as the air valve, carburettor needle, turret and Vickers gun, which were hidden separately nearby. The Sliabh na mBan was then parked and covered in furze and rushes in one account and under stacks of straw and ricks of hay in other versions. In contrast, Twohig stated that it ended up under ‘lithar’ 40 yards from Cronin’s front door. Whatever its exact location, the car was well hidden from the authorities.
During the attack on Baile Mhic Íre, the National Army came under tremendous fire, which caused serious injury and even death. Sergeant Thomas Nolan (aged 24) was killed while standing in an upstairs room overlooking the main street while seventeen other soldiers were badly wounded. Two of these injured soldiers later died in the Mercy Hospital in Cork City. Their names were Private William McNeice (aged 26) and Corporal or Sergeant George McGlynn.
The deaths and injuries of their fellow soldiers no doubt spurred the National Army to find the Sliabh na mBan. In addition, there was a genuine fear that the armoured car might be used again by the IRA to attack other areas under National Army control. This can be seen in some newspaper articles of the time, which refer to strong barricades and mines being laid outside buildings occupied by troops.
The day after the attack, two Crossley tenders left Macroom visiting several towns and villages close to Baile Mhic Íre, including Baile Bhuirne, Béal Átha an Ghaorthaidh, Ré na nDoirí, Inchigeelagh, Johnstown and Dunmanway. They made inquiries about the car and appeared to have received reliable information because soon afterwards, two columns of troops were brought up from Cork City to search the Béal Átha an Ghaorthaidh area. Thomas Daly, a member of the National Army, remembered how he travelled with his fellow soldiers by Inchigeelagh to Béal Átha an Ghaorthaidh, where they spent the night, but their sleep was not peaceful. Nervous about the possibility of being attacked, they kept a watch all night and parked their lorries across the road to avoid being ambushed.
The next day the National Army searched every ‘house, haybarn and wood’ in the area for the car. A local story claims that the army made it up to Cronin’s farm in Doire an Longaigh, but when they started searching the area, they noticed a man on a white horse in one of the upper fields watching them. When they called out to him, the man on the horse turned and rode away, arousing their suspicion and drawing them away from the car.
According to Twohig’s book, Commandant Peadar Conlon of the National Army entered Cronin’s yard with his men and set up a machine gun which was pointed towards the house. The women living in Cronins were lined up against the wall and asked where the Sliabh na mBan was. When they gave no satisfactory answer, a volley of bullets flew over their heads, hitting the wall and reigning mortar over them.
Luckily for the women, this episode did not escalate as the car was soon discovered under animal bedding. According to one newspaper report, six magazines for Lewis gun ammunition, two thousand rounds of .303 ammunition and machine gun belts were found in the car. Once the National Army had ascertained that it was not booby-trapped, the Sliabh na mBan was taken from Cronin’s yard. According to one source, the National Army discovered that the car would not start, so they attached it to two of Cronin’s horses which pulled it up onto the road. There it was hitched to a lorry with steel rope which snapped a number of times as it pulled the heavy armoured car to Macroom.
According to local newspapers at the time, the National Army was warmly welcomed by the public when they towed the Sliabh na mBan into Macroom. No doubt, many breathed a sigh of relief that night. From Macroom, the armoured car was later brought to Cork City for repairs.
Though it has been a hundred years since these dramatic events, the Sliabh na mBan is still in existence and can be seen for free at the Curragh Military Museum in Co. Kildare.
Special thanks to Niall Lucey of the Gougane Barra Hotel for his valuable assistance in this work.
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)