1923 – A column of 65 Anti-Treaty fighters from Cork and Kerry IRA units, under Tom Barry, attacks Millstreet, Cork, under cover of darkness. They use 12 machine guns and take three National Army posts in the town, taking 39 prisoners and capturing one Lewis gun and 35 rifles. However they fail to take the main post in the Town Hall, held by 23 Free State soldiers. They withdraw after several hours – one party to Ballyvourney in Cork and the other to the Pap mountains in Kerry. Two Free State soldiers are killed and several more wounded. The National Army reports six Anti-Treaty fatalities and 19 wounded but the Republicans admit to only three wounded.
Below are some accounts (from the different sides) of what happened that day:
… The new year began on a relatively quiet note. Round-ups were carried out in Churchtown on 2 January and in Newtown on 3 January. However, the Cork Examiner of 6 January reported that fire was opened on a party of National Troops’ close to Newmarket, and that the ‘Irregulars were under the command of T. Barry, a well-known member of the Irregular forces’.The presence of Tom Barry in the locality should have alerted the Free State authorities to an imminent attack. That attack came in Millstreet on Thursday 4 January 1923. It was described by the Cork Examiner as ‘a desperate and carefully planned attack made on ‘the military posts in Millstreet’. The seriousness of the attack warranted a special investigation by Commandant General Galvin, 0/C 1st Southern Division of the Free State forces. He reported from HQ 1st Southern Division, Kanturk, on 8 January 1923 as follows:
Re the attack on Millstreet. I have the honour to report that I visited Millstreet on Sunday Jan. 7th for the purpose of fully investigating the attack by Irregulars on that town. The strength of the attacking party was at least 300 not counting the number they used to hold the different roads and approaches to the town.The main body of the Irregulars came from the Kerry border, a large proportion from Ballyvourney. They were assisted by local Irregulars from Millstreet and a party from North Cork. L. Lynch and T. Barry were the two principal leaders in the attack. The first object of the attack was to destroy the wireless station, which was erected at the end of the town, 300 yards from the HQ at the Carnegie Hall. This post was taken completely by surprise and captured, the sentry being shot by Thompson gunfire, receiving ten bullet wounds. Two other posts were simultaneously surprised and captured, Murphy’s in the centre of the town and a post known as the old police barracks. This post made a gallant stand for at least three hours until finally, their ammunition being exhausted and as the Irregulars were pouring Thompson gun fire and rifle grenades into their position, they were compelled to surrender. In these three posts the Irregulars captured one Lewis gun and thirty-five rifles.The next attack was launched on HQ at the end of the town, known as the Carnegie Hall. On this post the most determined attack was made. The Irregulars used six machine-guns and concentrated a heavy fire on the building from various vantage points. Our troops, who numbered twenty-three, had only one Lewis gun in the building and replied vigorously to the fire of the attackers who advanced under cover of machine-gun fire as far as the entrance of the hall and succeeded in setting fire to the door. Were it not for the bravery of Sgt Maj. J. O’Mahony, who rushed in the face of machine-gun fire and succeeded in quenching the fire, the whole building would have been burned to the ground. It was whilst engaged in putting out the fire that this gallant W.O. was killed, leaving the army to mourn the loss of a very brave soldier. He leaves a widow and three children. Great credit is also due to the bravery of the Lewis gunner, Vol. John Kelleher, who did not wait even to dress, but rushed to his post and poured a continuous fire on the Irregular position. The following are also worthy of recommendation. Capt. H. Kiely, 0/c of the town, Lieut Bissett, Vol. James O’Sullivan and Vol. Bohan. These men were mainly instrumental in saving the town and it was due in great extent to their efforts that the Irregulars were forced to withdraw. The main body of the Irregulars,
who are supposed to have suffered heavy casualties, six at least being killed, retreated in the direction of the two Pap Mountains in Kerry and the remainder in the direction of Ballyvourney. The morale of our troops in Millstreet is very high and every man considers the withdrawal of the Irregulars a victory for the National Army. The men are held in very high esteem by the civilian population of the town and they are very loud in their praise for their gallant defence of the town against overwhelming odds. The houses of Capt. Kiely and Lieut Tagney, both natives of Millstreet, were looted by the Irregulars before their departure and a considerable quantity of clothing was taken, including millinery. It has been ascertained that of the two who attacked and shot the sentry at the wireless station, one was dressed as a priest and the other as a woman.”
This account is corroborated in the Cork Examiner of 8 January with some minor differences. The Cork Examiner says that ‘the Irregular in clerical dress is supposed to have been Liam Lynch. It was he who shot the sentries.’ The republican casualties are reported by the doctor in attendance as seven killed and nineteen wounded, and ‘the Post Office was also visited and all money taken’.” The republican attitude to the attack is summarised in a letter from the 0/C 1st Southern Division to 0/C all commands. ‘The Millstreet stunt was damned good. The fire was a terror — twelve Machine guns. Sixty-five of our fellows were there, they captured thirty-nine prisoners, thirty-eight rifles and one Lewis gun. Such a night never fell out of the heavens. Two of ours slightly wounded and one badly.'” Despite the note of glee in the report, not capturing the town was a serious setback for a republican column said to have been led by CIC Liam Lynch and Tom Barry, and a commensurate blow to their morale. Pro-Treaty relief at the successful defence of the town must have been tempered by the knowledge that, despite many republican casualties, many prisoners had been taken by the republicans and that the pro-Treaty forces had not dented the capacity of the republicans to mount serious attacks on well-garrisoned towns. The size of the republican column that attacked Millstreet is unclear — accounts vary from 300 in Commandant Galvin’s report to sixty-five in the republican report. The Cork Examiner, put the number at ‘close on 150 with 18 machine-guns’.” This column then seems to have billeted around Freemount and Dromina because, on Wednesday 17 January, ‘troops from Charleville, under Comdt Cronin and Comdt O’Brien, encountered a large party of Irregulars, near Dromina on the Freemount side’, while engaged in rounding-up operations. They arrested four armed republicans. However, when the troops ‘proceeded in the direction of Freemount, they were attacked `by about a hundred Irregulars who used Thompson guns, rifles and Peter the Painters’? This engagement seems to have petered out before a second engagement took place, beginning at Aughrim Cross:
Cornett Cronin’s section was engaged by another Irregular outpost in the direction of Freemount. The entire column was beaten back across country in the direction of Freemount and a pitched battle ensued for over three hours. Our troops held the position they had gained … awaiting reinforcements from Buttevant. As these were delayed … our troops were obliged to retreat in the Liscarroll direction. Here they were joined by the column from Buttevant. Both columns then returned to the place of attack … the Irregulars were greatly reinforced and had a column of 150 men … our troops were greatly outnumbered being only 50 strong. Irregulars were under the command of Alph. Conroy and Paddy O’Brien.”
The Free State troops were forced to disengage and retire to base. The Aughrim battle and the Millstreet attack indicated a revitalised republican campaign, with much larger numbers in combined columns. The republicans came within a whisker of capturing Millstreet and they had the better of the Free State troops in the Aughrim encounter. A change to operating in large columns seemed to enhance their prospects of success. In mid-January their star seemed to be in the ascendant again in North Cork.
The above extract “Millstreet and Aughrim” on the encounter is from the book “The Munster Republic: The Civil War in North Cork” (from page 109 – 113) pub. 2009 which can be viewed on Google Books
GUNMEN’S CAMPAIGN. FIGHTING IN COUNTY CORK. January 7. Fighting at Cork broke out again during the week-end, and lasted for seven hours, the rebels finally retreating leaving seven killed and nineteen wounded. Millstreet was the principal scene of the fighting. Here the rebels captured an outpost by a trick. A woman shot two sentries and then signalled to the. rebels, who rushed the post. Fifty Irregulars, using thirteen machine-guns, attacked the main body of the Free State troops in the Carnegie Library, but were repulsed. Liam Lynch, the rebel chief of staff, led the attack dressed as a priest. Armed men entered Enniskeane railway station and placed a tin of explosives in the office with a lighted fuse and a detonator. Tho stationmaster, Mr Graham, and his wife and children were on the premises. Mr Graham seized and flung out the tin. The detonator exploded, severely injuring him. The mine did’ not explode. The “Daily Telegraph” gives further details of the Millstreet fighting., The ‘Free State force consisted of fifty men. The majority were stationed in the Carnegie Library and a few in the old police barracks. Two irregulars, one disguised as a priest and believed to be Liam Lynch, and another dressed in girl’s clothes, approached a sentry-box and killed the sentries. The main body attacked under an intense machine-gun fire and compelled the garrison to surrender. Then the whole of the irregulars, comprising 150 men, attacked the library, concentrating thirteen machine-guns, incendiary bombs, and rifle-fire on the building. Several attempts to rush the building were repulsed by the garrison of three officers and twenty nine men, who withstood the attack all night. During the night several public houses were looted, and a considerable sum of money was stolen from the Post Office.
– from “Irish Peace Feelers“
The two men killed that day:
Commanding Officer(s): Denis Kiely
National Army Service: Number 29884
File dates:2 March 1923 – 26 October 1933
Subject Information: File relates to Honora Pomeroy’s application under the Army Pensions Acts in respect of the death of her son Henry Pomeroy who wounded on 4 January 1923 (the IRA attack on the Carnegie Hall, Millstreet – leg riddled with machine gun bullets) and died on 19 January 1923 at the Mercy Hospital, Cork. Reference made to payment of Dependant’s Allowance from Army Funds. Reference also made to Pomeroy having served in the British Army. File contains: report from an Gárda Síochána detailing Honora Pomeroy’s circumstances – See more:
Henry Pomeroy (b.1879) was the son of Henry Pomeroy and Nora Cotter, Garraneduff. [More on Henry Pomeroy – edit draft]
Jeremiah Mahoney, originally of Mill Lane, but living at the Killarney Road with his wife and three children, and also in the Royal Irish Rifles in WWI, was also killed in the 1923 attack on the Carnegie Hall [edit draft]
We thank John P. Kelleher whose Grandfather, John Kelleher of Dromsicane, Millstreet, was a Lewis gunner that day, and is mentioned in the above truly superbly researched feature …for reminding us of the upcoming anniversary. John Kelleher is buried in Drishane Graveyard (2016)
Tomorrow (4th Jan. 2017) is the 94th anniversary of the Attack on Millstreet’s Carnegie Hall. Due to the inspiring courage of people like John Kelleher we still have this splendid building which provides such important services for the entire community. (S.R.)