Nano Nagle’s (bit) part in the Irish War of Independence

At Nano Nagle Place we are celebrating the tercentenary of Nano Nagle’s Birth this year. The year, 2018, marks another important centenary that will be remembered across Europe, the end of The Great War. While peace came to reign in much of Europe after the armistice, Ireland entered a period of violent conflict now known as The War of Independence or Anglo-Irish War.

The first shots of this war might be said to have been fired in Easter 1916 when a combined force of Irish Volunteers and The Irish Citizen Army mobilized an armed revolt which lasted just one week. This revolt was immediately labelled ‘The Sinn Féin Rebellion’ (although, ironically, Sinn Féin had had very little to do with it). In the wake of the Easter Rising and the subsequent execution of the leaders, along with the internment of many combatants, Sinn Féin became a rallying point for nationalist politics. Sinn Féin began contesting elections in 1917 and in December 1918 they contested in the general election where they secured a landslide victory. Had there been a ‘swing-o-meter’ then, they might have broken it, winning 46.7% of the vote. The newly elected Sinn Fein MPs refused to take up their seats in parliament in Westminster, instead they formed their own Dáil Éireann.

A Dáil sitting in the Round Room of the Mansion House in 1921
A Dáil sitting in the Round Room of the Mansion House in 1921

The new Dáil met on 21 January 1919 in the Mansion House, Dublin where they declared independence and ratified the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic. On the very same day, two members of the Royal Irish Constabulary were killed in the Soloheadbeg Ambush by members of the Irish Volunteers acting on their own initiative. Although the ambush had not been ordered by the Dáil, the assembly soon came to recognise the Irish Volunteers as the army of the Irish Republic and the Soloheadbeg Ambush as an act of war against Great Britain. The Irish Volunteers changed their name to the Irish Republican Army. With this escalation of events the Irish War of Independence or Anglo-Irish War began. It was a guerrilla war, which in the beginning took the form of the IRA capturing weapons and freeing republican prisoners. When the British Government outlawed both the Dáil and the IRA in September 1919 the conflict intensified.

Cork City and County were one of the epicentres of the conflict. The RIC and British Troops were bolstered by new armed forces, the Black and Tans (so called for the colour of their uniforms) and the Auxiliaries. The IRA waged a violent guerrilla campaign that focussed on ambushing of the various British forces and attacking RIC barracks, causing many isolated barracks to be abandoned. For many of these IRA attacks there was a reprisal by the Black and Tans or Auxiliaries, who were not bound by strict army discipline. Attacks and reprisals became so chronic in late 1920 that Martial Law was declared, designed to subdue and control the civilian population with strict curfews and military checks.

A photograph of the Barry family from the turn of the centry
The Barry family who lived at 33 Nicholas Hill. From left to right Daniel (Christopher), Ursula, Edward, Thomas, Agnes, John and Baby Edward. Thomas (centre) was in the IRA during the War of Independence and he and his brother John (right) found themselves on the wrong side of the Black and Tans.

This was the state Cork City found itself in when Finbarr Barry’s grandfather John and great uncle Tommy lived on one of lanes bounding Nano Nagle Place, Nicholas Street. Here Finbarr takes up the story:

“Tommy was in the “Old” IRA and back then a curfew was put in place and no one was to be on the streets after a certain time at night. But one night Tommy and my grandfather John were out on the South Mall in Cork when the Black and Tans spotted them and gave chase. Tommy and John ran up the South Mall, turned into Parliament Street went over Parliament Bridge, along Georges Quay, and turned up Dunbar Street, all the time being pursued by the Black and Tans. The lads ran and ran, turned down Douglas Street, up Nicholas Street and ran in home at 33 Nicholas Street.

Tommy had a revolver and some ammunition with him, in order to hide it from the Black and Tans he put the gun and the bullets up the chimney in the front room and they ran out into the back garden, climbed up over the high wall at the end of the garden and dropped down into the gardens of the Presentation Sisters which was at the back of the house. Here they hid behind the sisters’ grave stones from the Black and Tans. ‘The Tans’ kicked in the front door of the house looking for the lads but never got them.

Later that night their mother Agnes lit the fire in the front room not knowing about the gun and bullets and there were a number of small explosions but thankfully no one was injured except the two boys … when their mother got her hands on them!”

John and Tommy were very lucky indeed to get away, perhaps Nano had something to do with it!

The front of 33 Nicholas Street
The Barry family home at 33 Nicholas Street today.

 

The Back of 33 Nicholas Street
The back of 33 Nicholas Street today. This is the wall the boys jumped over to hide by Nano’s tomb. It now backs onto our Contemplative Garden.

 

Thanks to Finbarr Barry for sharing a great story that brings history alive.

Read here about the first sitting of the Dáil and the Soloheadbeg Ambush

John Borgonovo here describes how Cork earned an international reputation for armed resistance against the British Empire

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