Activities of Ballingeary IRA 1920-1921

This account is of  the  activities of  the Ballingeary Company of the I.R.A. in 1920 and  '21  was written   in 1933 by John P. and James D. Cronin, Bawnatoumple, Ballingeary, Co. Cork.

During the later months of 1920 the Black and Tans carried out a reign of terror, arson and beatings.  Prisoners were ill treated in Macroom Castle where one was beaten to death.  They murdered several people including James Lehane, Ballyvourney 15th October, Denny Mahony, Kilmichael 30th November, Jerh Casey (16 years) Rreenaniree 3rd January, 1921 and several in Dunmanway including Canon Magnor P.P. 15th December.  Major Grant signed an order on 1st December stating that all men seen in Macroom and surrounding areas with their hands in their pockets would be shot.
Flying Column Formed
During the first week of January 1921 a Brigade Flying Column was formed.  It consisted of most of the old Batt. Column, including the 12 Ballingeary men and 15 men from the 1st.Batt. Cork City under Dan Donovan ( nicknamed Sandhow) and under the overall command of Sean Hegarty.

An old house at Ullanes, Ballymakeera  was used as a training camp.  It had been used as a stall for cattle but was cleaned and whitewashed.  The men slept on bags filled with straw on the floor.  They under-went an intensive training course under Sean Murray, (ex sergeant major, Irish Guards).  It included camouflage, advancing and retreating, etc.  After five weeks training we moved to a new camp at Harringtons, Clountycarthey, Renaniree  where we were joined by 24 men from the 7th Batt, (Macroom area) who had undergone a similar course in Clondrohid.  We now numbered 62 men, armed with rifles, a few shotguns and revolvers and two Lewis machine guns.

Before dawn next morning, Feb. 11th (St Abbeys Day) we took up ambush positions on the Gortnabinna side of the Mouth of the Glen three miles nothh of Ballingeary on the road to Renaniree.   We waited until nightfall and returned to camp.  On that day the Tans raided Clondrohid and shot 16 year old Daniel O'Mahony.  Before dawn next morning the Column moved out again, crossed the Sullane and took up positions at Coolnacahera near Coolavokig  on the road betweem Macroom and Ballyvourney.    Next day we were back at the  Mouth of the Glen again.  Four lorries came as far as Renaniree but turned back.  We rotated between both sites for ten days but were in the wrong place on three occasions.  It was now decided to concentrate on Coolavokig.
On the morning of the 25th February the men had again taken their positions along a quarter mile stretch of the road.  The two machine guns had been placed high on the rocks on the northern side, one at each end.  Since Kilmichael, the Tans were very wary and usually travelled in large parties, four or five lorries with 10 to 14 men per lorry.  They also carried civilian hostages.  As dawn broke, eight lorries and two cars carrying well over a hundred soldiers approached slowly from the east.  They had armour mesh on some of the lorries and machine guns mounted on others.  When they were only about half-way into the ambush position they slowed even more and soldiers began to jump from the lorries pulling the hostages with them.  The four hostages were forced at gunpoint to walk slowly in front of the leading lorry, while some soldiers began to climb the rocks.  The volunteers had no option but to open fire.  The soldiers guarding the hostages were quickly shot and the hostages ran west the road and jumped the fence to the south and disappeared.

A fierce fight now raged as the Tans tried to break through to the west.  They had recovered a machine gun from a lorry and opened fire with it.  The men operating it were both wounded and the gun was abandoned on the roadside.  Our western machine gunner worked well and prevented them recovering any more of the guns off the lorries.  The volunteers at the western end now began to move forward and the Tans began to fall back.  Their commander, Major Seafield Grant stood by the fence trying to rally his men but he too was fatally wounded.  The Tans now retreated further and took cover in the acre plots of two cottages south of the road.  The occupants, Twomeys and Cronins had left two weeks earlier. 

However at the eastern end, where the Cork city men were positioned, things were not going so well.  The machine gunner here was an ex-British Army  officer known as Crux O'Conner who was regarded with suspicion by some of his companions.  He fired a few rounds and then abandoned the gun, falsely stating that it was jammed.  Nobody thought of checking it and it lay idle for the rest of the fight.  This allowed the British to reach the shelter of some small fields east of the cottages but they were prevented from escaping further by the Macroom men who were positioned south of the road.  Some of the lorries had stopped outside of the ambush position and the last lorry driver succeeded in reversing to safety and escaped back to Macroom to raise the alarm. 

The Ballingeary and Kilnamartyra men successfully crossed the road and with the Macroom men closed in on the soldiers in the acres who now retreated into the cottages.  They broke loopholes in the wall but this was a disadvantage to them as we directed our fire into them.  Wounded men lay on the roadside and in the acres.  Some crawled to the doors and begged to be let in but were refused.  We did not fire on these men.  After a while the fire from the cottages was reduced to random shots and we felt that victory was near.  If we could capture the western cottage the soldiers to the east could be out-flanked and would have to surrender.  Plans were prepared to bomb the cottage.  However the men had been so engrossed in the fight that a large convoy of reinforcements had arrived unnoticed.  Hundreds of soldiers were dismounting and attempting to encircle the area.  Some of the men were rushed east to stall them.  Word now reached us that more troops were approaching from the west but were delayed by roadblocks.  After fighting a stiff rearguard action for  half an hour the column escaped from the area without any casualties and quickly retreated north westwards.  British casualties were 14 dead and 24 injured.  We were bitterly disappointed to leave such a prize of guns and ammunition behind.  The fight had lasted over four hours and had been heard for miles around.  Local volunteer Denis O'Leary on hearing the prolonged gunfire had attempted to join the Column but was prevented by the arrival of the reinforcements.   

Thirty four lorries of reinforcements from Cork, Ballincollig, Bandon, Clonakilty, Millstreet and Macroom passed through Macroom.  Fourteen arrived from Kerry. Eight from Skibbereen and Bantry passed through Ballingeary and four more came from Dunmanway, bringing over six hundred troops altogether.  A plane circled overhead but failed to spot us as we moved quickly from the scene.  British soldiers burned houses in the area, including the two cottages which had sheltered them.  They shot cattle and fowl and used a donkey for bayonet practice.  That evening they shot and badly wounded Jerh Lucey in Ballyvourney.  The Macroom men now headed for Ballinagree.  The Column divided into two groups, one headed west towards Cooolea and the other towards Mullaghanish with orders to regroup in Kilgarvan.  While this group were having tea in houses in Coomnaclochy , Ballyvourney,  four lorries of soldiers approached.  They dismounted and advanced in a line across the fields.  After a brief fight in which they suffered three more casualties they ran back to the lorries and quickly left the area.  All volunteers reached safe houses in Kilgarvan that night.  The Kilgarvan company had information that reinforcements and supplies for Kenmare were to pass through by train.  The Column joined forces with them and lay in ambush at Morley's Bridge for six days before it was learned that they had arrived by sea from Castletownbere.  The Column returned to Coolea.  Two large cars had been commanded from loyalists and were driven from Cork by Jim Grey (1st Batt.) and James D. Cronin (local company).


Carrigbawn Round-Up
On the 15th March the Column was ordered to move to Ballingeary.  The Lewis guns, ammunition, bedding and the officers were transported in the cars, while the men made their way on foot to Pats (Padraigs) Cronins house at Gurteenflugh.  The local men hadn't been home since Christmas and they visited their families.  It was late when they all reported back and it was only then they realised that Crux O'Connor was missing.

Under cover of darkness British troops had filled trenches on the Renaniree road and as dawn broke on the 16th    March a large convoy moved into the area.  The alarm was raised by Danny Leary, Bawnaneel,  Ballingeary who began to whistle loudly.  Two local volunteers John J. Cronin (Gurteenakilla) and Con D. Cronin (Bawnatoumple) were alerted and began to run to warn the Column.  John's route was blocked by troops at Gurteenowen and Con came under heavy fire at Carrignadoura, but escaped.  The sound of the gunfire alerted the Column, who quickly moved east from the house and into a large cummer.  Soldiers were already at Bán  a Mháire Cross, but they waited there for other soldiers, whose arrival was delayed by road blocks at Currahy and Keimaneigh. 

Pats  and his sisters worked hard and successfully covered the two cars with loads of furze and bedding.  As the Column moved upwards in the cummer soldiers appeared on the top of Leaca from the Kerry side.  Scouts reported that troops were approaching on foot from Carrignadoura side and that troops were on the eastern side of the Meelin and on the Fuhirees road.  An aeroplane began to fly low over the glen and we felt sure that he should have spotted us.  The situation looked bad as we were almost surrounded.  The Column numbered 37 men and since Coolavokig we were very low in ammunition, around 14 rounds per man.  It began to rain and a thick blanket of fog came down over the mountains.  The Column moved quickly upward and westwards and formed a circle on the western end of Carrigbawn.  The men lay in holes in the bog and covered themselves with fionán.  The fog cleared briefly around 3p.m. and we could see soldiers all around, down in the valley, on top of Meelin and a long line extending northwards on Leaca.  Thankfully the fog returned again and soon afterwards we heard the sound of lorries leaving.  When darkness fell a scout was sent down and he reported back that all was clear.  It became known as the Carrigbawn Round-Up.  It is believed between 350 - 400 soldiers were involved.

It was now decided for safety sake to disband the Column and the men returned to their companies.  Some of the Corkmen opted to stay in the area and were warmly welcomed by the locals.  O'Connor was now regarded as a traitor and all companies were warned about him.  On March 23rd. he led Black and Tans to a hideout at Clogheen near Cork City.   Six volunteers were trapped there and after a fight in which they were all wounded, they surrendered.  They were then brutally beaten and tortured to death when they refused to yield information.  Three of these men had been members of the Column and had fought at Coolavokig.  They were nailed to doors and had their tongues cut out.  O'Connor was sentenced to death by the I.R.A. but survived a sniper attack in Cork.  He was later seen boarding a ship in Cork under a false name.  He was traced to New York and shot there almost a year later.

By the end of January the arms fund had reached £85.  Ian McKenzie Kennedy (Scotty) was entrusted with the money and travelled to England at great risk to himself to purchase arms.  He returned on March 24th with eleven new Webley .45 revolvers hidden in a crate of plough socks.  An underground foundry was constructed at Carrigbawn, Ballingeary  to manufacture hand grenades and bombs.  Local volunteers scoured the countryside for scrap metal, old pig troughs and plough boards etc.  A year earlier Scotty had provided the "74/14/12" recipe for gunpowder to the officers.  The charcoal was made near Glenflesk and the powder was manufactured in Ballyvourney.  The bombs were then loaded at Brigade headquarters which had been moved from the city to Gurtyrahilly,Collea  before being delivered to companies in Cork and Kerry.  Since the Coolavookig attack  Black and Tan raids west of Macroom had ceased completely.  When the Southern Division I.R.A. covering all of Munster was set up its headquarters were also at Gurtyrahilly.  Officers included Liam Lynch and Liam Mellows.  An officer training camp was set up in Cuam Rua, Gougane Barra.  Volunteers from all over the county and elsewhere attended.

The local company was now stretched to the limit.  A twenty four hour guard was kept on all roads leading to the area, Mouth of the  Glen, Currahy, Pass of Keimaneigh, and Leaca Road.  It involved a rota of sixteen every day.  Food, workers and supplies had to be maintained at the training camp and at the bomb factory at Carrigbawn.  Large numbers of dispatches had also to be delivered.  Volunteers also had to check the identity of students at the Irish classes.

On April 9th the Column was mobilised again and joined the Kilgarvan men for an attack on Kilgarvan Barracks, only to find it had been abandoned a few hours earlier.  They now lay in ambush at Loo Bridge for three days but withdrew when the site became too well known.  Local man Jerh McCarthy (Upper Currahy, an uncle to the Lynch's) took part in Headford Ambush with No. 2 Kerry Brigade.

A Black and Tan named O'Carroll had begun supplying revolvers and ammunition to the Macroom Company with a view to getting a pardon to return home to the west of Ireland.  According to him the garrison had been reduced to around seventy five men as a result of the four ambushes and minor attacks and because of desertion.  The Column mobilised again on May 15th and moved to Macroom.  Under cover of darkness the men climbed over the walls and occupied the grounds of the castle.  The Macroom men were then supposed to burn the house of a loyalist who entertained the officers.  If the Tans went to his aid they were to be ambushed by them on the Coolehane road.  Some of the Column were then to attack and hold the castle gate while the rest were to rush and bomb their way into the castle.  However the Macroom men failed to burn the house and after waiting almost two hours, within two hundred feet of the castle the Column withdrew.  It caused a lot of anger as the men involved had taken a great risk.
The Big Round-Up
During the first week of June  1921 we received reports of a big build up of troops in all the surrounding towns in Cork and Kerry and on June 5th hundreds of soldiers approached the area.  The company worked hard all day and night removing all weapons and hiding bombs.  The foundry in Carrigbawn  was dismantled and hidden and all evidence of the training camp was removed.  One of the Column's motorcars was also removed to Borlin.  Officers from both headquarters were escorted to safe houses in Kerry and then most of the volunteers also left.  That evening large columns of foot soldiers arrived in Ballingeary.  Their Commanding Officer, Major Percival (later General) rode a white horse.  He set up his headquarters in Jerry Connellys yard in  Derryvaleen.  By dawn they had closed all the roads.  All Ballingeary, Coolea, Ballyvourney and the Cleadach valley were surrounded and searched.  Two men were shot at Cleadach, while 84 year old Sean Jerh Kelleher was shot in Ballyvourney, and Daniel O'Riordan was shot at Carrigaphooka.

Horse drawn artillery guns were brought in and Shehy mountain was shelled for almost two days, killing two sheep.  The searches lasted until June 10th but were a complete failure as not even one round of ammunition was captured.  Newspaper accounts put the number of troops involved at between 10 and 15 thousand.  As the searches moved south towards Dunmanway, Tom Barry's Column left their hiding place at Castledonovan and moved to Borlin and the over the mountains to Coom Rua and Gougane.  They were warmly welcomed by the locals during their stay there.   The search  was known as The Big Round-Up. 

On July 11th  1921 the Truce between the British and Irish forces  was declared.  Work had resumed at the Foundry in Carrigbawn  and continued during the Truce.  The Training Camp had also resumed at Coom Rua and courses on machine guns, mine laying and booby traps were given even though all these activities were in breach of the Truce.  During some of this period, James D. Cronin, Gurteennakilla served as bodyguard and chauffeur to Mrs McSweeney, widow of the late Lord Mayor of Cork, Terence McSweeney.  Most of the company attended the victory parades at Coolavookig and Macroom and the big parade in Cork City.  Dan Sullivan and Tadg Callaghan were released from jail in March 1922, having served 18 months.

The Column was again mobilised in April 1922 and occupied Macroom Castle and parts of the town during the Officer's Crisis.  Four British spies had been captured and executed in Macroom.  Brigade  Major  Montgomery (later General) had halted the withdrawal of British troops and demanded a search of the town.  On April 30th he led a large force of soldiers to the Square and demanded access to the Castle.  However they found themselves surrounded and had to withdraw.  On May 4th they arrived again.  This time the Column had taken positions at the eastern end of the town and after another tense confrontation Montgomery finally admitted defeat and returned to barracks.

(1)  Jerry Connelly's house is now Partick and Kathleen Creedons, Derryvaleen
(2)On 16/12/1942 during World War 2  General Percival surrendered an army of 65,000 soldiers and all of Malay and Singapore to the Japanese without a fight.  Most of these men died in prisoner of war camps.
(3)General Montgomery (Monty) rose to the rank of Field Marshall and became one of the most famous Generals of World War Two.

Edited by  Donal Cronin, Bawnatoumple, Ballingeary, Co. Cork.