The ‘28th day of November’ line will never be erased from the Cork cosmos

The ‘28th day of November’ line will never be erased from the Cork cosmos

A re-enactment of Kilmichael Ambush by members of the Irish Army in 1966. 

MUCH as I love Brendan Behan and most things about him, I dislike very much his bawdy version of The Boys Of Kilmichael.

Unfortunately, like good creamery butter, it’s the version of the ballad that stuck to the lips, maybe not of the ballad singers so much but certainly to the lips of ordinary folk. Not unlike that horrible song Alice where inebriated morons can’t wait to get to the effing and blinding bit, the moronic muse is indulged thus:

The Irish Republican Army made soot

Of the whole fooooog lot.

Finding more restrained versions of the ballad quite scarce, I was obliged to moderate the language — not out of prudishness, but because the action at Kilmichael led to subsequent suffering and reprisals; as well as being a formidable boost to the struggle for independence, it warranted respectful re-telling.

The lyric below is what I used when I chose to record The Boys Of Kilmichael on an album called Uncorked some years ago. Around then, that select, pedantic post-modern coven, The Revisionists, appeared from nowhere. Their raison d’etre was to raze Irish nobility, courage and non-colonial thinking to the ground wherever they found it. The ‘false surrender’ sworn to by many who took part in the action at Kilmichael was debunked as Fenian propaganda shamefully by ignoble true-born Irishmen. I heard one Revisionist depose that Tom Barry had four or five versions of the ambush story.

I asked Paddy (Patrick) Galvin, respected Cork writer, singer and poet, to write a verse, which would respect the extraordinary bravery of the action and sling a bow-chaser at the Revisionists. Find it as the last verse in the text below.

The ‘28th day of November’ either as a song line or a cosmic weigh line, will never be erased from the Cork cosmos. If you took part in the ambush you would be shaky by now and heading for your one 118th birthday. Not totally impossible, but no-one has come forward either from the third West Cork brigade or from the Auxiliaries.

The epiphanous vision of General Tom Barry coldly walking out in uniform in front of a lorryload of elite corps of military officers with a fearsome reputation must surely take the biscuit for bravery. When he slung the Mills bomb that must have been hard to conceal into the open lorry, he and his men were attached to every historical manifestation of bravery and defiance since the battle of Clontarf. The subsequent success of the Flying Column at Kilmichael finally rocked the status of invincibility of the Auxies and the Essex regiment; but the vengeful wrath of the Empire reached terrifying proportions in ensuing merciless murders and the Burning of Cork.

And Tom Barry was the man, in a tweed sports-jacket, drinking a medium and maybe a ‘drop out of the lamp’, that I used to see in a corner of the old Counihan’s Bar near the GPO in the ‘70s. And ‘twas well he deserved that wee dram.

You can acquire Uncorked and almost every album I recorded at

Whilst we honour in song and in story

The mem’ry of Pearse and McBride

Whose names are illumined in glory

With martyrs that long-since have died.

Forget not the boys of Kilmichael,

Who feared not the might of the foe

The day that they marched into battle

They laid all the Black and Tans low.

Then here’s to the boys of Kilmichael

Who feared not the might of the foe,

The day that they marched into battle

They laid all the Black and Tans low.

On the twenty-eighth day of November

The Tans left the town of Macroom.

They were seated in Crossly Tenders

Which brought them right into their doom.

They were on the high road to Kilmichael

And never expected to stall;

‘Twas there that the boys of the column

They made a clear sweep of them all.

Chorus: Forget not the boys of Kilmichael,

Those brave men both gallant and true.

They fought with Tom Barry’s brave column

And conquered the red, white and blue.

The sun in the west it was sinking,

‘Twas the eve of a cold winter’s day.

When the Tans we were eagerly waiting

Sailed into the spot where we lay.

And over the hills went the echo,

The peal of the rifles and guns,

The flames from lories bore tidings

That the boys of Kilmichael had won.

Repeat chorus.

The battle being over at twilight

And there in that glen so obscure,

We threw down our rifles and bayonets

And made our way home to Glenure

And high over Dunmanway town, me boys,

They sang of the brave and the true;

The men from Tom Barry’s bold column

Who conquered the red, white and blue?

Repeat chorus.

There are some who will blush at the mention

Of Connolly, Pearse and McBride.

And history’s new scribes in revision

The pages of valour deny.

But here’s to the boys who cried freedom

When Ireland was nailed to the mast

They fought with Tom Barry’s brave column

To give us our freedom at last.

Final Chorus:

So forget not the boys of Kilmichael,

Those brave boys both gallant and true,

They fought ‘neath the green flag of Erin

And conquered the red, white and blue.

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