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Activities of Ballingeary IRA 1920-1921

This account is of  the  activities of  the Ballingeary Company of the I.R.A. in 1920 and  '21  was written   in 1933 by John P. and James D. Cronin, Bawnatoumple, Ballingeary, Co. Cork.

During the later months of 1920 the Black and Tans carried out a reign of terror, arson and beatings.  Prisoners were ill treated in Macroom Castle where one was beaten to death.  They murdered several people including James Lehane, Ballyvourney 15th October, Denny Mahony, Kilmichael 30th November, Jerh Casey (16 years) Rreenaniree 3rd January, 1921 and several in Dunmanway including Canon Magnor P.P. 15th December.  Major Grant signed an order on 1st December stating that all men seen in Macroom and surrounding areas with their hands in their pockets would be shot.
Flying Column Formed
During the first week of January 1921 a Brigade Flying Column was formed.  It consisted of most of the old Batt. Column, including the 12 Ballingeary men and 15 men from the 1st.Batt. Cork City under Dan Donovan ( nicknamed Sandhow) and under the overall command of Sean Hegarty.

An old house at Ullanes, Ballymakeera  was used as a training camp.  It had been used as a stall for cattle but was cleaned and whitewashed.  The men slept on bags filled with straw on the floor.  They under-went an intensive training course under Sean Murray, (ex sergeant major, Irish Guards).  It included camouflage, advancing and retreating, etc.  After five weeks training we moved to a new camp at Harringtons, Clountycarthey, Renaniree  where we were joined by 24 men from the 7th Batt, (Macroom area) who had undergone a similar course in Clondrohid.  We now numbered 62 men, armed with rifles, a few shotguns and revolvers and two Lewis machine guns.

Before dawn next morning, Feb. 11th (St Abbeys Day) we took up ambush positions on the Gortnabinna side of the Mouth of the Glen three miles nothh of Ballingeary on the road to Renaniree.   We waited until nightfall and returned to camp.  On that day the Tans raided Clondrohid and shot 16 year old Daniel O'Mahony.  Before dawn next morning the Column moved out again, crossed the Sullane and took up positions at Coolnacahera near Coolavokig  on the road betweem Macroom and Ballyvourney.    Next day we were back at the  Mouth of the Glen again.  Four lorries came as far as Renaniree but turned back.  We rotated between both sites for ten days but were in the wrong place on three occasions.  It was now decided to concentrate on Coolavokig.


On the morning of the 25th February the men had again taken their positions along a quarter mile stretch of the road.  The two machine guns had been placed high on the rocks on the northern side, one at each end.  Since Kilmichael, the Tans were very wary and usually travelled in large parties, four or five lorries with 10 to 14 men per lorry.  They also carried civilian hostages.  As dawn broke, eight lorries and two cars carrying well over a hundred soldiers approached slowly from the east.  They had armour mesh on some of the lorries and machine guns mounted on others.  When they were only about half-way into the ambush position they slowed even more and soldiers began to jump from the lorries pulling the hostages with them.  The four hostages were forced at gunpoint to walk slowly in front of the leading lorry, while some soldiers began to climb the rocks.  The volunteers had no option but to open fire.  The soldiers guarding the hostages were quickly shot and the hostages ran west the road and jumped the fence to the south and disappeared.

A fierce fight now raged as the Tans tried to break through to the west.  They had recovered a machine gun from a lorry and opened fire with it.  The men operating it were both wounded and the gun was abandoned on the roadside.  Our western machine gunner worked well and prevented them recovering any more of the guns off the lorries.  The volunteers at the western end now began to move forward and the Tans began to fall back.  Their commander, Major Seafield Grant stood by the fence trying to rally his men but he too was fatally wounded.  The Tans now retreated further and took cover in the acre plots of two cottages south of the road.  The occupants, Twomeys and Cronins had left two weeks earlier. 

However at the eastern end, where the Cork city men were positioned, things were not going so well.  The machine gunner here was an ex-British Army  officer known as Crux O'Conner who was regarded with suspicion by some of his companions.  He fired a few rounds and then abandoned the gun, falsely stating that it was jammed.  Nobody thought of checking it and it lay idle for the rest of the fight.  This allowed the British to reach the shelter of some small fields east of the cottages but they were prevented from escaping further by the Macroom men who were positioned south of the road.  Some of the lorries had stopped outside of the ambush position and the last lorry driver succeeded in reversing to safety and escaped back to Macroom to raise the alarm. 

The Ballingeary and Kilnamartyra men successfully crossed the road and with the Macroom men closed in on the soldiers in the acres who now retreated into the cottages.  They broke loopholes in the wall but this was a disadvantage to them as we directed our fire into them.  Wounded men lay on the roadside and in the acres.  Some crawled to the doors and begged to be let in but were refused.  We did not fire on these men.  After a while the fire from the cottages was reduced to random shots and we felt that victory was near.  If we could capture the western cottage the soldiers to the east could be out-flanked and would have to surrender.  Plans were prepared to bomb the cottage.  However the men had been so engrossed in the fight that a large convoy of reinforcements had arrived unnoticed.  Hundreds of soldiers were dismounting and attempting to encircle the area.  Some of the men were rushed east to stall them.  Word now reached us that more troops were approaching from the west but were delayed by roadblocks.  After fighting a stiff rearguard action for  half an hour the column escaped from the area without any casualties and quickly retreated north westwards.  British casualties were 14 dead and 24 injured.  We were bitterly disappointed to leave such a prize of guns and ammunition behind.  The fight had lasted over four hours and had been heard for miles around.  Local volunteer Denis O'Leary on hearing the prolonged gunfire had attempted to join the Column but was prevented by the arrival of the reinforcements.   

Thirty four lorries of reinforcements from Cork, Ballincollig, Bandon, Clonakilty, Millstreet and Macroom passed through Macroom.  Fourteen arrived from Kerry. Eight from Skibbereen and Bantry passed through Ballingeary and four more came from Dunmanway, bringing over six hundred troops altogether.  A plane circled overhead but failed to spot us as we moved quickly from the scene.  British soldiers burned houses in the area, including the two cottages which had sheltered them.  They shot cattle and fowl and used a donkey for bayonet practice.  That evening they shot and badly wounded Jerh Lucey in Ballyvourney.  The Macroom men now headed for Ballinagree.  The Column divided into two groups, one headed west towards Cooolea and the other towards Mullaghanish with orders to regroup in Kilgarvan.  While this group were having tea in houses in Coomnaclochy , Ballyvourney,  four lorries of soldiers approached.  They dismounted and advanced in a line across the fields.  After a brief fight in which they suffered three more casualties they ran back to the lorries and quickly left the area.  All volunteers reached safe houses in Kilgarvan that night.  The Kilgarvan company had information that reinforcements and supplies for Kenmare were to pass through by train.  The Column joined forces with them and lay in ambush at Morley's Bridge for six days before it was learned that they had arrived by sea from Castletownbere.  The Column returned to Coolea.  Two large cars had been commanded from loyalists and were driven from Cork by Jim Grey (1st Batt.) and James D. Cronin (local company).

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