The War in Cork

Civil Resistance

Civil resistance can be defined as a popular protest taken to demonstrate opposition to a government or its policies. In addition to campaigning for better conditions and wages for workers, the Irish Labour Movement also organised acts of civil resistance in support of the Republican movement during the War of Independence. Two of these, the General Strike and the Munition Strike of 1920 would have a significant impact on the conflict.

On 5 April 1920, over thirty republican prisoners in Dublin’s Mountjoy Prison commenced a hunger strike to secure political status. By 9 April, ninety prisoners were fasting. In an effort to support the prisoners, the Irish Trade Union Council called a general strike for 13 April. The strike lasted two days and, aside from the unionist dominated areas of Ulster, the entire country came to a standstill. The strike achieved its objective as it led to the release of republican prisoners all over the country. On 20 May 1920, the largest campaign of civil resistance in the war commenced when railwaymen in Dublin refused to work on trains carrying munitions or armed British soldiers. Railwaymen in other parts of the country soon followed suit and they were joined by dockers. The strike, which lasted until 21 December 1920, led to the closure of hundreds of kilometres of railway lines and the dismissal of 15,000 railway workers and hundreds of dockers. It also seriously hampered the supply of munitions and other essential equipment to the British Army and forced troops to travel by road.


Crowd gathers as the hunger strikes at Cork Gaol continue in 1920

While its workers supported both the General Strike and Munitions Strike, the Cork and District Trades and Labour Council also organised a number of local protests. On 22 March 1920, it held a general strike to protest the killing of Lord Mayor Tomás Mac Curtáin. It also organised three stoppages in support of the hunger strike being undertaken by Lord Mayor Terence MacSwiney and other republican prisoners in Cork.  Workers from Cork also marched in Mac Curtáin’s and MacSwiney’s funeral processions.


Funeral of Terence MacSwiney crossing St Patrick's Bridge, 1920.

Guerrilla Warfare

Following the failure of the 1916 Easter Rising, the Irish Republican Army (IRA) realized it would never be able to defeat Crown forces using conventional warfare. Therefore, when the War of Independence commenced, it adopted the strategy and tactics of guerrilla warfare. In practice, this involved avoiding clashes with superior forces. Instead, Volunteers would wear down their opponents by ambushes, assassinations, sabotage, and intimidation.  Ideally, ‘hit and run’ tactics would be adopted on operations, employing the element of surprise to ensure numerical superiority. The IRA would also depend on its supporters in the civilian population for food, accommodation and other sustenance.


One of 60 explosive devices found during a building renovation on Popes Quay in 2003. Dated back to the War of Independence


Curfew notice for the Middleton area of Cork, signed by General Strickland 1920

The War of Independence can be divided into three phases. In the first (January 1919 – March 1920), the IRA carried out isolated attacks on members of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) and Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP). The second phase (March – December 1920) saw an intensification of IRA attacks and the formation of IRA flying columns and active service units. In response, the British government deployed the Black and Tans and Auxiliaries and introduced Martial Law in the south of the country.  Crown forces also commenced a policy of unofficial reprisals, the largest of which was the Burning of Cork. The third phase of the conflict (January – July 1921) saw an increase in operations conducted by the British Army and a change in the tactics it employed against the IRA. It also saw the start of the negotiations that ultimately led to the Truce of 11 July 1921.

Three Donovan brothers outside their burnt down house at Ballyadam near Carrigtwohill New Years Day 1921

IRA units in Cork city and county contained some of the most successful guerrilla fighters of the war. Among these were men such as Tom Barry, Liam Lynch, Mick Murphy and Dan ‘Sandow’ O’Donovan. Cork IRA units also conducted some of the most successful IRA operations such as the capture of Carrigtwohill RIC Barracks (3 January 1920), the capture of Mallow Military Barracks (28 September 1920) and the Kilmichael Ambush (28 November 1920).

Politics and Propaganda

Politics and propaganda were a major part of the War of Independence. In the December 1918 general election, the Sinn Féin party won seventy-three of the 105 Irish seats in the House of Commons.  The party won all nine seats in the eight Cork constituencies. Among those elected were Liam de Róiste and James J. Walsh for Cork city, Michael Collins for South-Cork and Terence MacSwiney for Mid-Cork. On 21 January 1919, twenty-eight Sinn Féin deputies gathered at the Mansion House in Dublin and established an independent Irish assembly known as Dáil Éireann. At that meeting, a Declaration of Independence was adopted in which the deputies ratified the Irish Republic proclaimed on Easter Monday 1916 and pledged themselves ‘to make this declaration effective by every means at our command.’


James J. Walsh and Tomas MacCurtain's children

Sinn Féin deputies used Dáil meetings to publicise their campaign for an Irish Republic. After Dublin Castle suppressed the Dáil on 11 September 1919, meetings were held in secret. Two months later, Desmond FitzGerald, Dáil Eireann's Director of Publicity, produced theIrish Bulletin newspaper. Widely distributed, the paper emphasised the legitimacy of Dáil Eireann and highlighted atrocities committed by Crown forces. In August 1920, Dublin Castle made an effort to win the propaganda war by producing its own newspaper. Named The Weekly Summary, it included details of the war from a British perspective, describing IRA operations as ‘outrages’ and Sinn Féin as ‘enemies of humanity’.


Copy of The Weekly Summary. No.25, 28th Jan 1021 (CPM collection)

The killing of the Lord Mayor of Cork, Tomás Mac Curtáin, (20 March 1920), the death by hunger strike of his successor, Terence MacSwiney (25 October 1920) and the arson attack known as the Burning of Cork (11/12 December 1920) drew worldwide attention to the fight for an Irish Republic. MacSwiney’s successor as Lord Mayor, Donal Óg O’Callaghan, also gave evidence to the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland which generated positive publicity in the United States. These acts and the political campaign waged by Sinn Féin would have a major impact on the outcome of the conflict.


Lord Mayor Donal Og O'Ceallachain (Donal O'Callaghan)

The Intelligence War

The acquisition of accurate intelligence can be a vital element to the planning and success of a military operation. During the War of Independence, both the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and Crown forces developed their own intelligence networks. The Crown intelligence service was directed by the Irish administration in Dublin Castle, while IRA intelligence was led by Michael Collins. Appointed director of intelligence in 1919, Collins soon established a network of agents and intelligence officers in Dublin and the rest of the country. The three Cork IRA brigades all had their own intelligence officers. Florence O’Donoghue was intelligence officer of Cork No. 1 Brigade until April 1921. He organised an intelligence structure for the brigade and established a full-time intelligence squad.


Flor O'Donoghue

Dublin Castle depended on the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) and the Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP) to provide information on the republican movement. The British army also supplied intelligence, as did members of the civilian population. However, IRA attacks on the police and the execution of suspected spies and informers dramatically reduced the amount of information coming from these sources.

In the Cork No. 1 Brigade area of operations, both sides had successes and failures in the intelligence war. In 1921, information obtained by informers enabled Crown forces to successfully ambush IRA units at Dripsey (28 January), Mourne Abbey (15 February), Clonmult (20 February) and Ballycannon (23 March). However, when some senior IRA officers were captured in a raid on Cork City Hall on 12 August 1920, with the exception of Terence MacSwiney, all were subsequently released. For its part, IRA intelligence identified and executed important British agents such as Henry Quinlisk and Patrick ‘Cruxy’ O’Connor. It also managed to place agents in railway stations, hotels, post offices, in the police and in the center of the British military establishment in Victoria Barracks. There was also a ‘tapping station’ set up in a cottage in Blarney that enabled the IRA to listen in on telephone calls.  


Part of a British field telephone from Castletownroche


The War in Cork-Biographies

Commandant Daniel SandowODonovan

Cork No. 1 Brigade, IRA


Commandant Daniel 'Sandow' O'Donovan


Daniel O’Donovan was born on Barrack Street, Cork city, in October 1892.  He was the second of eight children born to John and Eliza O'Donovan (née Connolly).  The family later moved to the north-side of the city and settled on the Old Youghal Road.  Educated at the North Monastery, O’Donovan was later employed in Murphy’s Brewery.  While there, he acquired the nickname ‘Sandow’ because of his resemblance to Eugen Sandow, the German bodybuilder who appeared on posters advertising Murphy’s Stout.

In December 1913, O’Donovan joined the Cork City Corps of Irish Volunteers.  He mobilised with the Cork City Battalion on Easter Sunday 1916, in accordance with the original plans for the Rising.  Following the Rising, he became known for his leadership ability and on 3 September 1917, led the raid that removed the arms stored in Cork Grammar School for its Officer Training Corps.  During the War of Independence, he commanded the 1st Battalion of Cork No. 1 Brigade of the IRA, the Brigade Flying Column and the Cork City Command.  He also participated in many major IRA operations including the attack on Blarney RIC Barracks (1 June 1920), the attack on King Street RIC Barracks (1 July 1920), the killing of RIC Divisional Commissioner Gerald Bryce Ferguson Smyth (17 July 1920) and the Coolavokig Ambush (25 February 1921). 

O’Donovan was opposed to the Anglo-Irish Treaty.  During the Civil War, he commanded Cork No. 1 Brigade of the Anti-Treaty IRA and took part in a number of operations.  He later married Kathleen Roche and the couple had four children.  Daniel ‘Sandow’ O’Donovan died in Mallow, Co. Cork on 31 July 1975 and is buried in St. Finbarr’s Cemetery.



Vice-Commandant Frank Busteed

6th Battalion, Cork No. 1 Brigade


Vice-Commandant Frank Busteed

Frank Busteed was born at Kilmuraheen, Doughcloyne, Co. Cork, on 23 September 1898, but he spent his childhood years in Cork City.  He had a mixed religious and cultural background. His father, Samuel, was Protestant and his mother,Norah (née Condon-Maher), was Catholic. His father died when he was two years old and he was raised by his mother who came from a strong nationalist family.

In 1909/10, Busteed joined Fianna Éireann.  In 1916, he joined the Blarney Company of the Irish Volunteers and, in January 1919, he became the Commander of A Company, 6th Battalion, Cork No. 1 Brigade.  The following year, he became Vice-Commandant of the 6th Battalion and, in 1921, he was appointed the Commander of the Battalion’s flying column.  During the War of Independence, Busteed was a judge in Republican Courts and took part in many major IRA operations.  He was in command of the IRA column at the Dripsey Ambush (28 January 1921).  His unit was responsible for the capture and execution of Mrs Maria Lindsay and her chauffeur, James Clarke, as well as the capture and execution of Major Geoffrey Lee Compton Smith.  Mrs Lindsay, Clarke and Compton Smith were all held as captives in an effort to prevent the execution of IRA prisoners in Victoria Barracks, Cork.

Frank Busteed fought with the Anti-Treaty IRA during the Civil War.  In 1924, he emigrated to the United States where he married Anne Marron.  The couple raised six children and, in the 1930s, they moved to Cork City.  During the Emergency, he served in the Defence Forces with the rank of Lieutenant.  He died on 9 November 1974 and was buried in St. Finbarr’s Cemetery.



Maria Georgina Lindsay



Maria Georgina Lindsay


Maria Georgina Rawson was a member of a landed estate family from Baltinglass, Co. Wicklow.  In 1887, she married John Lindsay, the eldest son of George Crawford Lindsay, a linen merchant from Banbridge, Co. Down.  The couple moved to Leemount House and Estate in Muskerry, Co. Cork, when John Lindsay purchased it in 1901.  John Lindsay passed away in 1918, leaving his wife to manage the estate with her butler and chauffeur, James Clarke.


Maria Lindsay was a woman of strong unionist convictions.  She would also have been known to the British officers in Ballincollig Barracks and to Major General E. P. Strickland, the General Officer Commanding the 6th Division in Cork.  On 28 January 1921, she learnt that an IRA ambush party had taken up positions at Godfrey’s Cross, near Coachford.  She told a local priest, Father Ned Shinnick, and also travelled to Ballincollig Barracks to inform the British Army.  Father Shinnick got word to the ambush party but his warning was ignored as he had denounced the IRA in the past.  Later in the day, British troops from Ballincollig surprised the ambush party and captured eight of its members.  Five of those captured were later sentenced to death by a court martial.


The IRA learned that Mrs. Lindsay had informed the British about the ambush and on 17 February, Volunteers seized her and James Clarke and held them captive in an effort to halt the executions.  She sent a letter to General Strickland informing him that, if the condemned IRA men were shot, then she and her chauffeur would be executed.  Her plea was ignored, and the men were executed on 28 February 1921.  Mrs. Lindsay and Clarke were then executed by the IRA.  Their remains have never been recovered. 



Michael MickMurphy

2nd Battalion, Cork No. 1 Brigade, IRA


Michael 'Mick' Murphy


Born in Cork on 30 March 1894, Michael ‘Mick’ Murphy was a well-known sportsman, member of the Gaelic Athletic Association and senior IRA officer.  As a young man, he initially supported William O’Brien’s All-for-Ireland League but, in 1913, he joined the Irish Volunteers.  On Easter Sunday 1916, he mobilised with the Cork City Battalion in accordance with the original plans for the Rising.  He avoided arrest in the aftermath of the Rising and, over the next three years, spent much of his time reorganising the Volunteers.

In 1918, Murphy was sworn into the Irish Republican Brotherhood.  The following year, he was appointed Commanding Officer of the newly formed 2nd Battalion of the Cork No. 1 Brigade of the IRA, located on the south-side of the city.  During the War of Independence, he took part in many significant IRA operations including the attack on King Street RIC Barracks (1 July 1920), the Barrack Street Ambush (9 October 1920) and the Parnell Bridge Ambush (4 January 1921).  He also took part in the execution of a number of suspected spies and informers.

In April 1920, Murphy took over command of the brigade flying column.  On 13 June 1921, he was arrested at a public house on Douglas Street.  After giving a false name, he was charged with resisting arrest and sentenced to six months hard labour to be served on Spike Island. Released on 20 November 1921, he took the Anti-Treaty side during the Civil War.  After that conflict ended, Mick Murphy resumed his sporting career and went on to win a number of GAA championship medals.  He died on 20 September 1968 and is buried in St. Finbarr’s Cemetery in Cork.



Captain Peg Duggan

Thomas Kent Branch, Cumman na mBan


Captain Peg Duggan


Margaret ‘Peg’ Duggan was born in the townland of Kilnap, Co. Cork, on 8 August 1892.  She was one of eight children born to Patrick and Elizabeth Duggan (née Lavery).  When she was young, the family came to live on the Commons Road in Cork City but it later moved to 49 Thomas Davis Street in Blackpool.  In 1912, Peg and her sisters, Sarah, Brigid and Annie joined the South Parish Branch of the Gaelic League at An Grianan, on Queen Street.  They also attended the inaugural meeting of Cumann na mBan in Cork, which was held in a hall known as An Dún, which was also on Queen Street (now Fr. Mathew Street).

When the Volunteers in Cork asked that a member of Cumann na mBan be appointed captain to act outside the governing body, Peg Duggan was selected.  In August 1915, she attended the funeral of Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa in Dublin.  Following the 1916 Easter Rising, she stored weapons for the Irish Volunteers and, over the next two years, she was active in visiting and raising funds for republican prisoners and providing further assistance to some when they were released.

During the War of Independence, Peg Duggan’s home on Thomas Davis Street was used as a ‘safe house’ and meeting place for members of the IRA.  She also operated a florist shop on Parliament Street that was also part of the IRA communications network.  On 20 March 1920, she was among the first to arrive at the home of Tomás Mac Curtáin to comfort his family after he was killed.  During the Civil War, Peg Duggan supported the Pro-Treaty National Army. She died on 17 October 1964 and is buried in St. Finbarr’s Cemetery.



Captain Tadhg OSullivan

2nd Battalion, Cork No. 1 Brigade, IRA


Captain Tadhg O'Sullivan

The son of farmers, Patrick and Kitty O’Sullivan (née O’Leary), Tadhg O’Sullivan was born on 7 January 1887 in the townland of Annagh Beg, Co. Kerry.  As a young man he moved to Cork where he found work as a delivery driver.  A committed republican, he soon joined the Irish Volunteers and became a leader in the Cork Branch of Na Fianna Éireann.

During the War of Independence, O’Sullivan was a captain in the 2nd Battalion of Cork No. 1 Brigade of the IRA.  Following the death of Tomás Mac Curtáin, he was a member of the Coroner’s Jury that delivered the historic verdict of ‘wilful murder’ against senior members of the British government and RIC.  After the inquest, he was arrested and interned in Belfast but was released after he went on hunger strike.  On 8 October 1920, O’Sullivan took part in the Barrack Street Ambush.  He also took part in many other IRA operations, including the capture and execution of suspected spies and informers.

On the evening of 19 April 1921, O’Sullivan was outside No. 23 Douglas Street when he saw two plain clothes policemen and an RIC patrol converging on him.  In an effort to avoid arrest, he ran across the road and up the stairs in No. 82, pursued by the police who were firing their revolvers at him.  He was mortally wounded while climbing out a top floor window and he fell down into the back yard.  Despite the restrictions imposed by the British authorities, on 22 April, hundreds of people lined the streets of Cork to pay tribute to Tadhg O’Sullivan when his remains were taken to St. Finbarr’s Cemetery.



Commander Tom Barry

Flying Column, Cork No. 1 Brigade, IRA


Commander Tom Barry

Thomas Bernadine ‘Tom’ Barry was born at Kilorglin, Co. Kerry, on 1 July 1887; the second of eleven children of Thomas and Margaret Barry (née Donovan).  After his father resigned from the RIC in 1901, the family moved to Rosscarbery, Co. Cork.  On 30 June 1915, he enlisted in the British Army, becoming a member of the Royal Field Artillery.  He went on to serve in Mesopotamia and Egypt and was demobilised on 7 April 1919. Flying Column, Cork No. 1 Brigade, IRA.

On returning to Ireland, Barry became an active member of the National Federation of Discharged Sailors and Soldiers which advocated for better conditions for ex-servicemen.  In July 1920, he joined Cork No. 3 Brigade of the IRA and, in the following autumn, was appointed commander of the brigade flying column.  He soon became known as an aggressive and efficient commander who mastered the principles of guerrilla warfare.  Under his leadership, the column inflicted several significant defeats on Crown Forces, most notably at Toureen (26 October 1920), Kilmichael (28 November 1920) and Crossbarry (19 March 1921).  Barry’s men also executed suspected informers and burned the homes of a number of loyalists as a reprisal for the destruction of the homes of local republicans.


Tom Barry in later life addressing a crowd at the unveiling of a memorial to Michael Collins at Sam's Cross

During the Truce, Barry was appointed IRA Liaison Officer for Munster.  On 22 August 1921, he married Leslie Price, a member of Cuman na mBan, who had taken part in the Easter Rising. During the Civil War, he fought with the Anti-Treaty IRA and held the rank of Commandant-General.  His popular autobiography,Guerilla Days in Ireland,was published in 1949.  He remained active with the organisation until 1938.  Tom Barry died on 2 July 1980 and was buried in St. Finbarr’s Cemetery.