The burnt out shell of the house where twelve East Cork volunteers
shot dead by British forces in 1921.
The greatest loss of life incurred by the
Cork I.R.A. occurred at Clonmult, seven miles north of Midleton, where almost
the entire East
Cork flying column was wiped out in a single defensive action.
Twelve men were shot dead and a further two were later
In January 1921, the East Cork column, under Commandant Diarmuid O'Hurley, took
possession of an old farmhouse close to the quiet village of Clonmult. Twenty men had been chosen by O'Hurley and his
officers to take part in a number of planned operations and the house and farm
were to be used as training and living quarters by the volunteers. After undergoing
a month of intensive training, the first target of the Volunteers was to be a
military train at Cobh Junction. Having made a survey of the scene O’Hurley
timed the attack for Sunday, 20th. February.
On the Sunday afternoon the Volunteers prepared
their equipment, ready to leave at 4.15 p.m. When volunteers Michael Desmond and John Joe Joyce
went to a well to fill their water bottles they spotted a company of the
Hampshire Regiment surrounding the house. They immediately drew their revolvers
and fought their way back into the house but both were hit a number of times
and later died. The remainder of the column, realising that escape was unlikely,
made the decision to try hold out as long as possible while a few tried to slip
away and bring back reinforcements.
As five men, led by the acting 0/C Jack
O'Connell, lined up for a desperate break-out, heavy fire was opened up by the
troops outside. In the dash from the bullet-riddled cottage Michael Hallahan
was mortally wounded before he got any further than the doorstep, Richard
Hegarty fell as he sought cover behind the fence in front of the house and
Cobh-man James Ahem was killed when he tried to jump a fence some 200 yards
from the house. Jeremiah O'Leary was badly wounded but managed to get back to
the farmhouse. Only Captain Jack O'Connell was successful in getting through
the withering fire of the British.
O'Connell frantically tried to organise
reinforcements for his trapped comrades. He contacted three local Volunteers,
one of whom raced to Conna his bicycle, some six miles from Clonmult, where the
North East Cork column was located. Meanwhile the battle raged relentlessly
around the cottage. The British were the first to be reinforced when, within an
hour of the start of the battle, a number of Black-and-Tans arrived. After a
two-hour fight the thatch on the cottage was set alight by the Black-and-Tans
and troops. With a blazing roof over their heads, the trapped Volunteers tried
to make a breach in the gable and soon a narrow opening had been made.
Volunteers Glavin and O'Leary tried to force their way through the narrow
passage, but almost immediately fell back with head wounds. With no other means
of escape possible, the men in the cottage had no option but to surrender.
Before leaving the house, they destroyed their rifles.
When the Volunteers emerged from the house with
their hands up, the first seven to come out were immediately mown down by the
waiting Black-and-Tans. While lying on the ground volunteers Liam Aherne,
Jeremiah Aherne, David Desmond, Christopher Sullivan, Donal Dennehy, Joseph
Morrissey and James Glavin (from Cobh) were finished off by the enemy. The wounded volunteer,
Jeremiah O'Leary, had lapsed into unconsciousness prior to the surrender and
was being removed from the house by three comrades. The action saved their
lives as it gave a British military officer time to get the policemen under
control before the other prisoners emerged from the blazing house.
The North East Cork column, upon hearing of the
plight of their East
Cork comrades, had at
once set out to help them. Unfortunately, the six-mile journey by foot meant
that they were too late arriving at Clonmult.
In addition to those who had been murdered, nine
volunteers had been captured by the troops. They were tried by court-martial
and sentenced to death. The death sentences imposed on O'Leary, Terry, Walsh,
Garde and Harty were later commuted and Captain Higgins, recovering from severe
wounds, was spared by the advent of the truce in July. However, Cobh men Paddy O'Sullivan and Maurice Moore were executed
at Cork military barracks on 5 May,
1921, despite extensive
appeals for mercy.
It is believed that the men at Clonmult were
given away by an informer. A British ex-serviceman, out trapping rabbits at
Clonmult, had noticed the presence of the column in the farmhouse and informed
the British authorities. When he was subsequently captured and court-martialled
by the North East Cork column, the man is said to have confessed to his