THE centenary of the Kilmichael Ambush was held virtually today, to commemorate the day when local IRA volunteers, led by Tom Barry, killed 17 members of the RIC’s Auxiliary Division.
Maura O’Donovan’s father Pat O’Donovan, who hailed from Drominidy, Drimoleague, was one of the 36 IRA volunteers commanded by Tom Barry who carried out the significant military attack, which occurred one week after Bloody Sunday.
Maura is thrilled this year’s event could still take place, albeit virtually.
“It will be different, but it is good something will be held. It is right to commemorate and honour these heroes,” said Maura.
The military attack by the members of the West Cork Flying Column marked an escalation in the IRA’s campaign and it provided them with a morale boost in their campaign for independence.
Maura revealed that the volunteers had a very long day waiting for the Auxiliary Division members to arrive.
“They were very hungry as they were fasting all day,” she said. They volunteers were very cold and wet, as the ambush didn’t start until around 5pm. The conditions were tough and they had to wait for the right time to strike.
“My father left his house a day before the ambush to stay in a safe house near Enniskeane and prepare for the ambush. Nobody else within our house knew where he was going when he left, as he couldn’t tell them for fear of retribution.
“It was all kept top secret as they couldn’t risk the British finding out. The volunteers had a priest call to their safe house to hear their confession as they knew going out that day, they might never return. This was only a few days after 14 people were killed in Croke Park, so the country was in a very volatile state.”
Pat’s role in the such a significant even as the Kilmichael Ambush represents a huge source of pride for Maura and the extended O’Donovan family.
“November 28 was always a special day in our house. We always commemorated the anniversary. My father and his fellow comrades used to go to mass in Castletownkenneigh in the morning, before going on to Kilmichael.
“As the years progressed, the event got bigger which was great to see. My daughter Siobhan used to sing The Boys of Kilmichael on that day.
“It was the highlight of our lives growing up, knowing that our father played a part in that famous day in Irish history.”
Maura’s father Pat was a member of the Drinagh Coy, 3rd Cork Brigade IRA and he was the rifleman in Kilmichael. Pat was a very private man and he kept his memories of the Kilmichael Ambush fiercely guarded, Maura said.
“Two days after the ambush, Pat’s immediate family still had no idea as to his whereabouts. They knew he was part of the ambush due to his membership of the IRA. Neighbours even came to the house with a specially made coffin as everyone feared the worst. It was very tough that three IRA volunteers were killed on the day; tough on their families and local communities.
“My father didn’t come home until about a week after the ambush. He couldn’t come home immediately because he knew the house was being watched. When he came home, he was always on guard and watching for potential situations. He was living on the run, moving from safe house to safe house and practically sleeping with one eye open. When you reflect back on their journey, they had a tough time. He was very proud that he fought for freedom. He was glad to play his small part in the quest for freedom. He used to always say to my mother, that he fought for freedom and not for money.”
Following his role in the Kilmichael Ambush, Pat continued to stay active within the IRA. He was on the anti-treaty side after the Civil War broke out and he spent six months in Mountjoy jail after being arrested at a Drinagh Co-Co social dance.
Maura revealed that the only thing Pat mentioned about his tenure in Mountjoy was ‘that he got a free spin to Dublin’. Maura never heard her father discuss his time in jail.
“It was amazing, after he got out he never mentioned his time in there to anyone. He embarked on a new path. Pat emigrated to New York in 1924, where he had two brothers already working. He worked there for 11 years to make money for a dowry, before beginning his new married life in Dunmanway. He just got on with his life on a daily basis. He reared a family, but he always remained active in politics.”
Despite his quiet nature, Maura always knew her father was fiercely proud of his part in the ambush
“He did reveal to us just before he died, that he wished he had lived to see a united Ireland. He always felt it was a shame we didn’t get the 32 counties. My father died on January 1, 1981 at the age of 81. My mother Nellie was always proud of being the last surviving widow. Dad and his fellow comrades used to meet up occasionally and reminisce about their varied lives. In the event of a funeral, they would give a guard of honour and perform a three-volley salute. When my father was buried, he was the last to have his comrades fire over him,” said Ms O’Donovan.
Maura’s brother Denis O’Donovan is also very proud of the role their father Pat played on that historic day.
“It was a huge victory for the local IRA volunteers. They operated under harsh times. It was so difficult for them to meet up, train, and source arms. He was a very private man and didn’t discuss much about his involvements.
“He did reveal that he had a far harder time during the Civil War as all their dugouts were gone from the War of Independence. My father was Anti-Treaty and he fought on the Republican side during the Civil War. The Free State Army was in control of West Cork, but he was still active. He had one lucky escape. He was at hay and he was on his own. He was surrounded and fired upon. They never asked for him to surrender.
His local knowledge and instinct ensured his safety. He got to the nearest ditch and just ran for his safety,” said Denis.
All the IRA Volunteers had great respect for their commander Tom Barry, Denis recalled.
“He was a great leader. They accepted his word and went to battle with him.”