22 February 2001 Edition

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The Cúl na Cathrach ambush

25 February 1921

The story of one of the bloodiest engagements of the War of Independence will be recreated by local historians as part of the commemoration of the 80th anniversary of the Cúl na Cathrach Ambush, east of Baile Mhic Íre (Ballymakeera), Co. Cork this Sunday, 25 February.

Local songs and folklore feature varying accounts of the number of casualties. It is known that the Irish side, the First Cork Brigade Flying Column under Brigadier Seán Ó hÉigeartaigh, OC, comprising a contingent from Cork City and members of the 7th and 8th Battalions from Macroom and the Muskerry Gaeltacht region respectively, suffered no losses while the British admitted a total of 28 injured. It is understood that among the British dead was their commander, Major Siefield Grant.

The commemoration of the ambush will be addressed by Sinn Féin Tyrone Assembly member Barry McElduff, while the proceedings will also feature a wreath laying ceremony and a piper's tribute at the site.

A map and written account outlining the historical event will be available on the day as will a commemorative badge to mark the occasion. Refreshments will be available in Tigh Uí Chonaill, Baile Mhic Íre afterwards.

The local organising committee are hoping for a large attendance at the ambush site, located on the N22, approximately three kilometres east of Baile Mhic Íre village and approximately 10 kilometres west of Macroom, County Cork.

The ceremony is due to begin at 3pm, Sunday 25 February, 2001.

Engaging the enemy

The Cúl na Cathrach Ambush was planned and carried out by the newly formed Flying Column of the First Cork Brigade of the IRA.

The Brigade Headquarters had been transferred from Cork City to the local 8th battalion area, which had its own active service column of about 30 volunteers armed with rifles and revolvers. These were reinforced by up to 15 men from the Cork City battalions and by the nearby column of the 7th or Macroom battalion.

Intense training took place during the months of January and February 1921. The ambush positions were occupied for several days before the enemy finally arrived.

The British may have been forewarned or may have spotted some movement because they drove very slowly into the ambush position with four civilian hostages walking in front of the lead touring car. They also stopped and sent a couple of men up to the rocks for a look. Two local volunteers who were positioned nearest to the road as a result of their being armed only with shotguns were forced to open fire on them. At this point the battle commenced.

Unfortunately, the convoy of lorries had not fully advanced into the ambush position. The result was only the men in the eastern positions were able to engage the enemy, together with the Lewis machine gun on the western side.

The Lewis gunner at the eastern end, who was in the best position to inflict damage, abandoned his post and fled while the last in the convoy of enemy lorries managed to turn about and escaped towards Macroom.

The survivors of the leading lorries were gradually driven into the cover of the two cottages. The occupants of the lorries to the rear tried an encircling manoeuvre to the south but were driven back by the Macroom men, who had moved east to engage them after the battle had commenced.

After about three hours fighting, the enemy survivors had been completely hemmed in to the two cottages. The IRA on the north side had repositioned for a final assault when a huge column of enemy lorries approached from the east.

The IRA had little choice but to disengage and withdraw after four hours of battle.

The Cúl na Cathrach Ambush took place 80 years ago this week.

An Phoblacht
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