Sunday 16 June 2019

Fascinating lecture to tell story of one of the darkest nights in Cork history

Workers clearing rubble on Patrick Street in the aftermath of the ‘Burning of Cork’
Workers clearing rubble on Patrick Street in the aftermath of the ‘Burning of Cork’

Bill Browne

On the morning of December 12, 1920, an infamous date that is forever etched in the history of Cork City, its citizens awoke to find a scene of utter devastation with palls of black smoke clouding the skyline.

The events of the previous night will be the subject of a fascinating illustrated lecture entitled 'Cork Burning' taking place at the Kilmurry Independence Museum Musem next Wednesday evening (January 16). 

The lecture will be delivered by historian Michael Lenihan of 'Pure Cork' and 'Cork Burning'. 

Following the Kilmichael ambush in November 1920, which claimed the lives of three auxiliaries and three IRA volunteers, tensions were high across Cork, one of the key centres of IRA activity. 

As such, it would not take much to inflame passions even more and the Dillon's Cross ambush on the afternoon of December 11, during which one British soldier died, pushed the British forces to breaking point. 

Hell bent on revenge, the 'auxies' first torched houses around the Dillon's Cross area before rampaging through the heart of the city setting fire to buildings using petrol and grenades. 

The words of Sinn Fein activist Liam De Roiste as he walked through the city the following morning summed up the utter scene of devastation left in their wake. 

"Last night in Cork was such a night of destruction and terror as we have not yet had. An orgy of destruction and ruin: the calm sky frosty red - red as blood with the burning city, and the pale cold star looking down on the scenes of desolation and frightfulness."

The finest premises in the city are destroyed, the City Hall and the Free Library (Carnegie Hall).

They were among more than 200 buildings destroyed or damaged during the night, including almost 60 business premises, many of which were also looted, with the damage estimated to run to more than £2.5 million - an astronomical sum at the time. 

Even as fire-fighters tried to tackle the fires, Auxiliaries and Black and Tans shot at them and cut their hoses with bayonets in an effort to ensure the maximum possible damage was caused. 

o add further insult to injury, Sir Hamar Greenwood, the chief secretary for Ireland, denied any involvement by crown forces and the British government even went as far as to blame Cork's own citizen's for the devastation. Using eyewitness accounts, contemporary sources and images taken at the time Mr Lenihan will build a picture of events before during and after that infamous night. 

He will cover topics including Cork City before December 1920, the Black and Tans, Auxiliaries and K Company, Republican Cork, a time-line of events before and during the burning of Cork City, official investigations into its causes and compensation & rebuilding. 

Admission will be free to Kilmurry Historical and Archaeological Society members and €5 for non-members.