100th anniversary of Battle of Clonmult

100th anniversary of Battle of Clonmult

Clonmult Ambush anniversary procession passing through Main Street, Midleton, 1935.

Today marks 100 years since the IRA's greatest loss of lives in a single engagement against Crown Forces during the entirety of the War of Independence.

On February 20, 1921, 12 members of the East Cork Flying Column were killed, four were wounded and four captured during the Battle of Clonmult. Members of the flying column of the Fourth Battalion, First Cork Brigade, led by Commandant Diarmuid O’Hurley had moved their operations to a disused farmhouse at Garrylaurence, near the village of Clonmult, between Midleton and Tallow in East Cork, in early 1921.

The Clonmult IRA unit which was active in Midleton during the War of Independence. Photo: Cork City and County Archives.
The Clonmult IRA unit which was active in Midleton during the War of Independence. Photo: Cork City and County Archives.

O'Hurley had received orders from higher ranks in the Volunteers during the week to leave Clonmult with all his men and prepare to ambush a military train near Cobh Junction. 

In preparation for their departure the following day, some of the Volunteers had gone to Confession in Dungourney.

"Some of the survivors of the battle concluded afterwards, that it was while returning from confession that a former British soldier spotted their Volunteers and reported the location to the British Army," Tom O'Neill, author of The Battle of Clonmult: The IRA's Worst Defeat writes.

Ruins of the farmhouse after the battle.
Ruins of the farmhouse after the battle.

On Sunday, February 20, O'Hurley along with two others, left Clonmult for Cobh Junction. 

They were planning for the train ambush early the following week.

Captain Jack O’Connell was left in charge of the men at Clonmult with instructions to leave the house that fateful Sunday evening.

The plan would never come to fruition, however, as soldiers of the Hampshire Regiment arrived on foot that evening to the farmhouse led by Lieutenant Koe.

Attacked by the Crown Forces, five members of the group fled to seek help but only O’Connell managed to get away.

Annual Clonmult Ambush commemoration at Midleton cemetery, 1959.
Annual Clonmult Ambush commemoration at Midleton cemetery, 1959.

Local Crown reinforcements called upon by Koe arrived at the farmhouse with petrol and set alight the thatched roof of the building, forcing the men inside to surrender.

Seven men who left the house and surrendered were lined up and murdered.

Patrick Higgins, who also surrendered, was shot through the mouth but survived as the bullet lodged in his teeth. 

One of the Hampshires convinced the rest of the British soldiers to spare the remaining survivors and eight men were captured and taken to Midleton RIC Barracks. 

Clonmult Ambush commemoration at Midleton cemetery, 1959.
Clonmult Ambush commemoration at Midleton cemetery, 1959.

They were then moved to Victoria Barracks where they were sentenced and two of the Volunteers were later executed.

The annual commemoration event has been postponed this year due to Covid-19, however, in a statement on social media, organisers invited people to fly the tricolour as a mark of respect to the Irish men who lost their lives that day.

Clonmult Ambush commemoration at Midleton cemetery, 1959.
Clonmult Ambush commemoration at Midleton cemetery, 1959.

"We will have an online video to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Clonmult, which will be available to view on our YouTube Channel – 'Clonmult Ambush Site' or via our Facebook page 'Clonmult Ambush Site'.

"Despite the postponed commemoration we still want to mark the centenary of the battle to honour those who fought and subsequently died a result of Clonmult. 

"We are requesting all those in the local and wider community to fly the tricolour on Saturday the 20th and Sunday the 21st of February as a mark of respect," they said. 

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