Commandant Michael Fitzgerald
Monument to Michael Fitzgerald at Fermoy.
Following the September, 1919 attack on a British armed party outside the Wesleyan church at Fermoy in which one soldier was killed, a number of local volunteers were arrested and detained. However, despite the threat of heavy penalties, no jury could be empowered to try the prisoners and they remained in custody at Cork Jail. On August 11, 1920 Michael Fitzgerald, together with a number of other untried prisoners, began a hunger strike for release, which ended in his death sixty-seven days later.
Michael Fitzgerald was secretary of the local branch of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union. He joined the Volunteers in Fermoy in March, 1914 and at the time of his arrest he was O/C First Battalion, Second Cork Brigade. He had previously been imprisoned after his successful capture of Araglen police barrack on April 20, 1919, when he was arrested at Clondulane. Some ammunition was found in the house in which he lived and he was sentenced to two months imprisonment. He was released at the end of August, in time to take part in the action at Fermoy.
The grave at Kilcrumper Cemetery where the bodies of Michael Fitzgerald and Liam Lynch are buried side by side.
When he died in Cork Jail on October 17, 1920 his remains were borne by his comrades to the Church of S.S. Peter and Paul in the city centre. His funeral next day was occasioned by an arrogant display of force and disregard for the people who had come to pay their last tributes. After the mass, British military wearing steel helmets and carrying fixed bayonets, invaded the church and walked over the seats to the altar rails. An officer with a drawn revolver handed a notice to the priest to the effect that only a limited number of persons would be allowed to take part in the funeral. A machine gun was mounted at the church gates and armoured cars toured the vicinity. Notwithstanding the threats and the menacing attitude of the military, thousands took part in the funeral procession. Armoured cars and lorries carrying heavily equipped forces shadowed the cortege to the city boundary.
His body lay in St. Patrick's Church, Fermoy overnight, and on the following day the huge crowds attending the funeral at Kilcrumper were threatened by the same type of intimidation as was displayed in Cork. Barbed wire entanglements were set up by the British and machine guns were mounted on the bridge. His comrades assembled that afternoon paid a last tribute of three volleys to the first IRA volunteer to be buried at the republican plot at Kilcrumper Cemetery in Fermoy.
General Liam Lynch had a particular friendship with and admiration for Michael Fitzgerald. When Lynch lay dying, after being shot by Free State forces in the Knockmealdown Mountains on April 10, 1923, his final request was to be buried with Michael Fitzgerald in Kilcrumper. That last wish of his was fulfilled and their graves have now become a place of national pilgrimage.