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Searc's Web Guide to to 20th Century Ireland - Tom Barry (1898-1980)
Tom Barry was born and educated in Roscarbery, County Cork. He was a clerk in Bandon until 1915 when he joined the British Army and served in the Middle East for the duration of the First World War. In 1919 Barry enrolled at a business college in Skerrys and joined the West Cork Brigade of the IRA. He was appointed Brigade Training Officer and organised the Brigade's Flying Column throughout the War of Independence.
Barry took the republican side in the Civil War and was briefly imprisoned by the Free State in the Curragh Internment Camp from where he escaped to rejoin his Column. After the Civil War Barry was unemployed until 1927 when he started working for the Cork Harbour Commissioners. He was 'on the run' during 1936 and 1937 when he was Chief of Staff of the IRA.
Barry resigned from the IRA in 1938 and during the Second World War he was an Operations Officer in the Irish Army's Southern Command.
In 1949 Barry published a best-selling account of his time in the West Cork Flying Column entitled Guerilla Days in Ireland. In this extract he relates the ambush of two lorries of British Army Auxiliaries by the IRA at Kilmichael, County Cork on November 28th, 1920.©
Fifteen seconds later, the first lorry came around the bend into the ambush position at a
fairly fast speed. For fifty yards it maintained its speed and then the driver, apparently
observing the uniformed figure, gradually slowed down until fifty yards from the Command
Post, it looked as if they were about to stop. But it still came on slowly and, as it
reached thirty-five yards from the small stone wall, the Mills bomb was thrown, an
automatic barked and the whistle blew.|
The bomb sailed through the air to land in the driver's seat of the uncovered lorry. As it exploded the rifle shots rang out. The lorry lurched drunkenly, but still came on impelled by its own weight, the foot brake no longer pressed as the driver was dead. On it came, the Auxiliaries firing their revolvers at the IRA who were pouring lead into them, and then the lorry stopped a few yards from the small stone wall. Some of the Auxiliaries were now fighting from the road and the fight became a hand-to-hand one. Revolvers were used at point blank range, and at times rifle butts replaced rifle shots. So close were the combatants, that in one instance the pumping blood from an Auxiliary's severed artery struck one attacker full in the mouth before the Auxiliary hit the ground. The Auxiliaries were cursing and yelling as they fought, but the IRA were tight lipped, as ruthlessly and coldly they outfought them.
It was not possible to see the efforts of the IRA except those near me. There Jim (Spud) Murphy, John (Flyer) Nyhan and Mick O'Herlily were fighting splendidly. Once I got a side glimpse of Flyer's banoyet being driven through an Auxiliary, whom I had thought dead as I passed him, but who had risen to fire and miss me at four yards range. There was no surrender called by those Auxiliaries and in less than five minutes they had been exterminated. All nine Auxiliaries were dead or lying sprawled around the road near the little stone wall, except the driver and another, who with the life smashed out of them were huddled in front of the lorry.
At the opening of the attack I had seen the second lorry come around the entrance bend, but did not know the progress of the action at that part of the road. Now that we had finished with the first lot, we could see the second lorry parked thirty yards at our side of No.2 Section. The Auxiliaries were lying in small groups on the road firing back at No.2 Section, at about twenty-five yards range. Some men of No.2 were engaging them. Waiting only to reload revolvers and pick up an Auxiliary's rifle and some clips of ammunition, the three riflemen from the Command Post, Murphy, Nyhan and O'Herlihy, were called on to attack the second party from the rear. In single file, we ran crouched up the side of the road. We had gone about fifty yards when we heard the Auxiliaries shout 'We surrender.' We kept running along the grass verge of the road as they repeated the surrender cry, and actually saw some Auxiliaries throw away their rifles.
Firing stopped, but we continued, still unobserved, to jog towards them. Then we saw three of our comrades on No.2 Section stand up, one crouched and two upright. Suddenly the Auxiliaries were firing again with revolvers. One of our three men spun around before he fell, and Pat Deasy staggered before he, too, went down. When this occurred, we had reached a point about twenty-five yards behind the enemy party and we dropped down as I gave the order, 'Rapid fire and do not stop until I tell you.'
The four rifles opened a rapid fire and several of the enemy were hit before they realised they were being attacked from the rear. Two got to their feet and commenced to run back past No.2 Section, but were both knocked down. Some of the survivors of our No.2 Section had again joined in and the enemy, sandwiched between the two fires, were again shouting, 'We surrender.' Having seen more than enough of their surrender tactics, I shouted the order, 'Keep firing on them. Keep firing NO.2 Section. Everybody keep firing on them until the Cease Fire.'
The small IRA group on the road was now standing up, firing as they advanced to within ten yards of the Auxiliaries. Then the 'Cease Fire' was given and they was an uncanny silence as the sound of the last shot died away...
Within seven or eight minutes Pat Deasy was borne away, and the Flying Column 'fell in' with its task completed. Eighteen men carried the captured equipment over their own, the enemy rifles slung over their backs. One man had a sandbag full of Auxiliaries' papers and notebooks...
The Flying Column came to attention, sloped arms, and was inspected...
The lorries were now ablaze. Like two huge torches, they lit up the countryside and the corpse-strewn, blood-stained road, as the Flying Column marched up and down, halted, drilled and marched again between them. For five minutes this errie drill continued until the Column halted in front of the rock where Michael McCarthy and Jim O'Sullivan lay. There it executed the 'Present Arms' as its farewell tribute to those fine Irish soldiers. The Column formed sections, and the order of march was given. A half-an-hour after the opening of the fight, it moved away to the south, aiming to cross the Bandon River before the British held Manch Bridge...
I looked at them and a thrill of pride ran through me as I thought that no army in the world could ever have more uncomplaining men. They had been practically thirty hours without food, marched twenty-six miles, were soaked through, nearly frozen on exposed rocks and had undergone a terrible baptism of fire. Their discipline was of the finest. Compulsion or punishments were not required for this Volunteer Army; they risked their lives and uncomplainingly suffered. © Searc's Web Guide 1997-2008