As a consequence of the ambush at Dillon's Cross in which
one auxiliary was killed and a number injured, Cork City went through a
period of terror the extent of which had never before been
Some time after the ambush a large group of Black and Tans
opened fire without the slightest warning or provocation near the corner of
King Street (now MacCurtain Street) and Summerhill North. The shooting was
totally indiscriminate. Women and children huddled in doorways or ran for
shelter. The streets soon became deserted. Some panic-stricken people took
refuge at the railway station, and could hear rifle and revolver fire
continue for more than twenty minutes.
However, the worst
was yet to come. At 10 pm. Alfred J. Huston, the Superintendent of the Cork
city fire brigade, ordered the ambulance from Grattan Street fire station to
Dillon's Cross in case there were casualties from a fire which was raging.
(A number of houses in the vacinity of Dillon's Cross had been set alight by
irate British forces). As the ambulance was travelling through Patrick
Street the firemen came upon a fire at Grant and Co., a department store at
the southern end of Patrick Street. The driver of the ambulance described an
encounter they then had - "On reaching the comer of Patrick Street, I, who
was driving, saw forty or fifty men walking in a body in the centre of
Patrick Street, coming towards us in very mixed dress - some with khaki
coats, some with khaki trousers, and some wore glengarry caps".
pm Captain Huston received a report of the fire in Grant's. He found that
'the fire had gained considerable headway and the flames were coming through
the roof'. The fire brigade was successful in containing this fire. If it
had spread to the English Market, which was located to the rear of Grant's,
a major conflagration could have occurred. While the fire in Grant's was
being fought, Captain Huston received word from the town clerk that the
Munster Arcade and Cash's department store were on fire. It was now about
11.30p.m. These two buildings were situated on the eastern side of Patrick
Street. All available units of the fire brigade were immediately sent to
fight these fires, which were spreading rapidly.
Despite the best efforts
of the fire brigade, the fires spread to adjoining buildings and caused
extensive damage. The blaze in the Munster Arcade spread to the following
establishments - Egan's Jewellers, Sunner's, Forrest's, the Dartry Dye Co.,
Saxone Shoe Co., Burton's Tailors, Thompson's and Cudmore's. The fire from
Cash's spread to the Lee Cinema, Roche's Stores, Lee Boot Co., Connell &
Co., Scully's, Wolfe's and O'Sullivan's. All of these buildings were totally
before dawn, two of Cork city's historic buildings would also be
destroyed by flames. On Sunday 12 December Captain Huston received word that
both City Hall and the nearby Carnegie Library had been put to the torch.
Seven members of the fire brigade tried in vain to fight the flames and,
like the buildings in Patrick Street, both places were completely destroyed.
As they fought the flames the members of the fire brigade were subject to
continuous harassment from crown forces, who fired on them, turned off
hydrants and slashed hoses with their bayonets.
In his report to the Lord
Mayor, Captain Huston wrote; "I have no
hesitation in stating I believe all the above fires were incendiary fires
and that a considerable amount of petrol or some such inflammable spirit was
used in one and all of them. In some cases explosives were also used and
persons were seen to go into and come out of the structures after breaking
an entrance into same, and in some cases I have attended the people have
been brought out of their houses and detained in by-lanes until the fire
gained great headway".
Widespread looting also occurred throughout the night.
A young girl who lived at Clankittane, near Victoria Barracks, recalled
seeing a lorry-load of Auxiliaries returning to the barracks in the early
hours of Sunday, December 12th. The lorry, which was full of stolen goods,
stopped outside Hennessy's public house. Some drunken Auxiliaries dismounted
and banged on the door of the pub, shouting for the owner. When someone put
their head out of an upstairs window, an Auxiliary made a threatening
gesture with a revolver and demanded that the doors be opened and drink
As to the question of who actually started the fires, many witnesses
gave statements that groups of armed men, some in uniform, others in
civilian clothes, were responsible for the destruction wreaked upon the
From his office in Victoria Barracks Major F. R. Eastwood, the brigade
major of the 17th Infantry Brigade, compiled the following
Official Military report on the state of Cork City for the period
from 10 p.m. on Saturday, December 11, 1920, to 5.30 a.m. on Sunday, December
12, 1920, during which period the city was in complete control of the
(1) Three arrests were made.
(2) At 22.00 hours, Grant &
Co., Patrick Street, was found to be on fire. Warning was sent to all fire
(3) At about 00.30 hours, Cash & Co. and the Munster Arcade
were reported on fire.
(4) At 05.30 hours the majority of the troops were
withdrawn, and the remainder at 08.00 hours.
(5) Explosions were heard at
00.15 hours, but were not located. No shots were fired by the troops.
Brigade Major, 17th Infantry Brigade. Cork.
The fact that the
burning of Cork occurred while the city was, as Major Eastwood stated, 'in
complete control of the military' is in itself a damning indictment of the
British forces then in occupation of Victoria Barracks.
Writing about the
burning of Cork, Florence O'Donoghue, intelligence officer of Cork No. 1
Brigade at the time of the atrocity, stated; "It is difficult to say with
certainty whether or not Cork would have been burned on that night if there
had not been an ambush at Dillon's Cross. What appears more probable is that
the ambush provided the excuse for an act which was long premeditated and
for which all arrangements had been made. The rapidity with which the
supplies of petrol and Verey lights were brought from Cork barracks to the
centre of the city, and the deliberate manner in which the work of firing
the premises was divided amongst groups under the control of officers, gives
evidence of organisation and pre-arrangement. Moreover, the selection of
certain premises for destruction and the attempt made by an Auxiliary
officer to prevent the looting of one shop by Black and Tans: 'You are in
the wrong shop; that man is a Loyalist,' and the reply, 'We don't give a
damn; this is the shop that was pointed out to us', is additional proof that
the matter had been carefully planned beforehand".
The action of the British
security forces in Cork on the night of 11/12 December brought widespread
condemnation upon the officers and men who garrisoned Victoria Barracks.
Whatever remaining goodwill the citizens of Cork may have had for the
British forces was now gone.
of Cork city centre detailing areas damaged and