Uncovering Midleton’s Main Street Buildings Burned in the War of Independence’s First Official Reprisal

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One of the major aims of this project is to identify surviving sites that played a role in the War of Independence. Michael Fletcher, the Middle Tennessee State University PhD student who has been working on the project over recent months, has been attempting to confirm the locations of the buildings burned on Midleton’s Main Street by British Forces in January 1921. This act was the first official reprisal of the War of Independence, which came as a result of the Midleton Main Street ambush of a few days before. Michael is now in a position to put forward the buildings he has determined were the ones impacted by this historic event. He explains in the post below.

We have been working to complete the full picture of our analysis of the Midleton Ambush by determining the buildings impacted by the official reprisals carried out in consequence of it. As some of the information in the previous post has proven inaccurate, I will set out our current conclusions, as well as the evidence that led us to them.

In total, seven houses were burned by the British in reprisal for the Midleton Main Street Ambush. Four houses were burned outside of Midleton proper, and we will discuss these in the next post. Some of you might ask why we do not include the Midleton Garage and Engineering Works in our list. It is not there because we do not believe that the British burned it as part of the reprisal, or, at least, that they did not do so on purpose. The British never took responsibility for that fire and at least one eyewitness report and one newspaper article express their doubts about the British setting the blaze. We can add to this a report that the owner of the garage was a Unionist, as well as the fact that the fire did not begin until midnight, much later than the very public burnings of the other buildings, and occurred on the wrong end of Main Street. All the other buildings that suffered are situated south of Charles (Connolly) Street.

careys

An image from The Freeman’s Journal of 6 January 1921, showing Edmond Carey’s house after the burning.

Edmond Carey’s building sits at No. 50, Main Street (all addresses reflect current numbering). Eyewitness reports and newspaper accounts all agree this building was burned. A photo in the Freeman’s Journal of January 6, 1921 (above), shows the building with the name “E. Carey” painted over the front door. While this photograph edits out the surrounding structures, the British Pathé film clip, (which you can view here), locates the building next to the current Batt Murphy’s pub, as both the arched doorway and arched carriage entrance are clearly visible.

carey

Carey’s as it is today, now Walsh’s Pharmacy

Paul McCarthy’s sits a few doors down from Carey’s building at No. 54, Main Street. The 1911 census has McCarthy’s address as, at that time, 51 Main Street (the numbering system on the census does not correspond to those on the Main Street). The next building on the census return, 52 Main Street, was The Midleton Arms Hotel (today J.J. Coppingers’). No known photo exists of the house after the reprisal, but in his recollections of the Midleton Ambush, I.R.A. Volunteer Dan Cashman notes specifically that he took up a position in McCarthy’s doorway prior to the ambush. The site was also pointed out to us by local historian John Fenton during our December workshop.

mccarthys

McCarthys, today Midleton Chiropody Centre. This building was not only burned out by the reprisals, but it’s doorway can also be identified in which IRA Volunteers launched their attack during the Midleton Ambush.

John O’Shea’s building is located at No.76, Main Street, across the alley from Finins Restaurant. It is still owned by the family with the name “O’Shea” displayed over the front door. We further verified the location by comparing architectural elements between the Freeman’s Journal photograph from January 6, 1921, with the present structure. Even though it has been somewhat modified, the silhouette is the same, as are the size and placement of the windows on the façade.

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O’Shea’s as it appeared in the 1921 Freeman’s Journal

With the addition of the reprisal sites, we are now in a position to identify all the locations associated with both the Midleton Ambush and follow on reprisals in the Main Street. We will explore the ambush itself in further detail in a future post. Our next post will focus on our efforts to obtain further information on both local safe houses and those locations burned outside of the town. If you have any information that you feel would be of assistance to the project, please contact us at landscapesodrevolution@gmail.com

o sheas

O’Shea’s as it appeared in 1921 and today

References

Freeman’s Journal 6 January 1921.

British Pathé: Reprisals By Order 1921.

Picturing Midleton’s War of Independence

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The Landscapes of Revolution team were delighted recently to take delivery of a large number of historic Midleton photographs. The photographs were graciously loaned by local resident John Fenton. Many of the pictures were collected by John’s uncle, noted bandleader and local historian, the late Dick Cashman, and they include Cashman’s valuable annotations concerning Midleton’s historic buildings and people.

IRA irregulars at the RIC Barracks (now the Garda Station) likely during the Truce (Dick Cashman/John Fenton Collection)

IRA irregulars at the RIC Barracks (now the Garda Station) likely during the Truce (Dick Cashman/John Fenton Collection)

While the collection covers about 75 years of Midleton history, several represent the town as it was during the War of Independence. This allows us to more easily imagine what the town looked like during this pivotal period in history. Of particular importance are two photographs showing a number of IRA irregulars in the yard of the former RIC barracks (the current Garda station), probably very soon after the Treaty. None of the people in the photographs are named. If anyone has any information concerning their identities, please contact us at landscapesofrevolution@gmail.com. Another valuable photograph shows the funeral procession of IRA commander, Diarmuid Hurley on September 14, 1921.

IRA irregulars at the RIC Barracks (now the Garda Station) likely during the Truce (Dick Cashman/John Fenton Collection)

IRA irregulars at the RIC Barracks (now the Garda Station) likely during the Truce (Dick Cashman/John Fenton Collection)

We have scanned and annotated this collection for inclusion in a future database of the material culture of the War of Independence. If anyone has anything they would like to share with us, please use the email address above. Landscapes of Revolution would like to thank John Fenton for allowing us to see this incredible collection of Midleton’s past. This is truly a valuable piece of history.

The funeral of the O/C of the Midleton Company, Diarmuid Hurley, in 1921v (Dick Cashman/John Fenton Collection)

The funeral of the O/C of the Midleton Company, Diarmuid Hurley, in 1921 (Dick Cashman/John Fenton Collection)

The Pilot Study: An Introduction to the 4th Battalion, Cork No. 1 Brigade Area

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Our initial pilot study area will focus on the revolutionary landscape of the 4th Battalion, Cork No. 1 Brigade area during the War of Independence. This area roughly correlates geographically with East Co. Cork. We hope to identify, assess, record and map those sites, buildings and locations which played a role in the conflict in the locality. These include everything from training areas to safe-houses, police and military barracks, prisons, production areas, stores, Dáil Courts and of course conflict and ambush sites. Additionally we intend to explore the later landscape of memorialisation, from the graves of the dead to the memorials erected to the memory of individuals and groups.

A 1930s sketch map by Moss Twomey of the 4th Battalion Area in the Military Archives Pension Files (Military Archives)

A 1930s sketch map by Moss Twomey of the 4th Battalion Area in the Military Archives Pension Files (Military Archives)

As well as examining the IRA Volunteers, the project will also seek to encompass Cumann na mBan activity, civilian activity, RIC activity and military and para-military activity. At the end, we hope to have a greater understanding of how much of the landscape of guerrilla war in East Cork survives, and what it can tell us about the events of 1919-21 in this area. From there, we hope to broaden out the study to look at larger areas both in Cork and countrywide.

The cottage in Clonmult where members of the 4th Battalion were trapped and killed on 20 February 1921. It represented the worse loss of life for the IRA during the conflict. They had withdrawn there following the Midleton Ambush, which had itself led to the first official reprisal of the War, the aftermath of which was filmed by Pathé (Imperial War Museum)

The cottage in Clonmult where members of the 4th Battalion Flying Column were trapped and killed on 20 February 1921. It represented the worse loss of life for the IRA during the conflict. They had withdrawn there following the 29 December 1920 Midleton Ambush, which had itself led to the first official reprisal of the War, the aftermath of which was filmed by Pathé- you can view that footage by clicking here (Imperial War Museum).

Our starting point in identifying sites has been the array of online resources now available, particularly the Witness Statements of the Irish Military Archives. We will discuss these and other online sources in future posts, but this material will be supplemented through information gleaned from previous historical analysis, local studies and through community-engagement. It is the intent that the local communities will have an opportunity to play a key role in the identification and recording of the sites, and we will also seek to include a component where material culture associated with the War of Independence in the area can be recorded on special open days.

O'Donoghue's Pub in Knockraha- as Canavan's Pub during the War of Independence it was one of the most important Safe Houses in the 4th Battalion area (Rubicon Heritage)

O’Donoghue’s Pub in Knockraha- as Canavan’s Pub during the War of Independence it was one of the most important Safe Houses in the 4th Battalion area (Rubicon Heritage).

What then of the pilot study area, that of the 4th Battalion? Up the time of the Truce in 1921 it consisted of 19 Volunteer Companies, based largely on a local parish basis. The designations of these companies and their relative strengths at that date are presented in Table 1 below:

COMPANY LOCATION STRENGTH JULY 1921
A Cobh 201
B Midleton 142
C Youghal 116
D Carrigtwohill 32
E Knockraha 83
F1 Dungourney, Mogeely, Castlemartyr 64
F2 Clonmult 41
G Lisgoold 64
H Leamlara 53
I Ladysbridge 35
J1 Killeagh 35
J2 Inch 44
K Cloyne 37
L Aghada 84
M Shanagarry 31
N Ballycotton 22
O Ballymacoda 60
P Glounthaune 41
R Churchtown South 25
TOTAL 1210

Table 1. 4th Battalion Companies & Strengths as of July 1921 (IRA Nominal Rolls at the Military Service Pensions Collection (MA/MSPC/RO/31)

The former site (at right) of the Carrigwohill RIC Barracks. The ferocity of the attack on this Barracks on 2 January 1920 was seen by many as a major turning point in the War of Independence. Though the Barracks in no longer extant, much of the landscape that played a role in the action survives (Rubicon Heritage)

The former site (at right) of the Carrigwohill RIC Barracks. The ferocity of the attack on this Barracks on 2 January 1920 was seen by many as a major turning point in the War of Independence. Though the Barracks is no longer extant, much of the landscape that played a role in the action survives (Rubicon Heritage).

In addition to these companies an Active Service Unit/Flying Column was also in operation from the Autumn of 1920. A membership list for the Column is currently being compiled. Cumann na mBan in the 4th Battalion area was centred on Midleton District Council, A Company, which comprised six branches, namely Midleton, Cobh, Carrigtwohill, Aghada, Churchtown and Cloyne. After the Truce a re-organisation in the IRA led to a number of 4th Battalion companies being split off to create the 10th Battalion, with companies in Aghada, Cloyne, Killeagh, Churchtown South, Ballycotton, Ladysbridge, Ballymacoda, Killeagh, Shanagarry, Inch and Youghal. 

The former RIC Barracks in Cloyne, attacked on 8th May 1920 (Rubicon Heritage)

The former RIC Barracks in Cloyne, attacked on 8 May 1920 (Rubicon Heritage)

It is this area of operations that will form the nucleus of our study area. We intend to explore each company area within the 4th Battalion zone, beginning with Midleton. In addition to the archaeological component the project will also be building resources on the website, including the names of those involved. To check out what we have currently on this see the Resources page here.

The site of the Dáil Court in Knockraha. These Courts were a way in which the Dáil and Republicans exercised control over those areas from which the Civil Power had withdrawn during the War of Independence (Rubicon Heritage).

The site of the Dáil Court in Knockraha. These Courts were a way in which the Dáil and Republicans exercised control over those areas from which the Civil Power had withdrawn during the War of Independence (Rubicon Heritage).

References

Military Archives of Ireland MA/MSPC/RO/31. Military Services Pension Collection. Cork 1 Brigade 4th Battalion (11/7/21 Only). 

Military Archives of Ireland MA/MSPC/RO/38. Military Services Pension Collection. Cork 1 Brigade 10th Battalion (1/7/22 Only).

Military Archives of Ireland MA/MSPC/CMB/12. Military Services Pension Collection. Midleton District Council 4th Battalion 1 Brigade Area.

Welcome to Landscapes of Revolution

This post represents the launch of a new archaeological project dedicated to identifying and exploring the archaeological traces of the Irish War of Independence. The project is an initiative of Rubicon Heritage Services Ltd., in partnership with the Center for Historic Preservation in Middle Tennessee State University. A major component of the project will be community-engagement throughout the landscapes where this conflict occurred. Stage 1 consists of a pilot study of the War of Independence landscape of the area of operations of the 4th Battalion, Cork No. 1 Brigade. This roughly correlates geographically with East Co. Cork. Over the coming weeks and months we will be exploring this battalion zone on a company-by-company level, in an attempt to shed further light on what the landscape of guerrilla war looks like, how it survives today, and how we can utilise and manage it. You can follow our progress via this blog (you can sign up for updates of new posts in the sidebar) and also you can keep track of us on Facebook (here) and Twitter @LoRArchaeology.