Sunday 28 May 2017

Bloody fable of Kilmichael's dead

John A Murphy on conflicting versions of the 1920 West Cork ambush in which 17 Auxiliaries died at the hands of Tom Barry's flying column

ON TUESDAY next, the 80th anniversary of the Kilmichael ambush, the consistently high-quality television programme Léargas will deal with that major episode in the independence struggle. I was one of those asked by presenter Pat Butler to comment on its historical significance and in this article I give my views more fully, as well as adding a local and personal dimension.

Only a week after Michael Collins's squad had devastated British intelligence with the Bloody Sunday assassinations in Dublin, 17 Auxiliary "cadets" were wiped out in an ambush on a bleak roadside at Kilmichael, between Macroom and Dunmanway, by a 40-strong flying column of the West Cork Brigade under its 22-year-old commander, Tom Barry. Three members of the column died in the encounter. The term "cadet", used extensively in British reports, is misleading: The men of "C" company were ex-army and RAF officers, experienced and decorated Great War veterans whose average age was 27. They comprised a crack unit of a force specially recruited to deal with the IRA.

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