The Clonmult Massacre - Witness Statement

                                                           The Clonmult Massacre

The following is an eyewitness account of the encirclement and slaughter of the East Cork battalion column of the IRA which occurred on February 20th 1921. During the siege itself five members of the column lost their lives. Seven more were murdered by Black and Tans after they had surrendered and two were subsequently executed. Three more were severely wounded and five – three of them teenagers – had their sentences commuted or postponed. Only one member, Jack O’Connell, managed to escape. The Crown forces had two casualties, a soldier and an RIC man who were only slightly wounded.  The interested reader is referred to Tom O’Neill’s book The Battle of Clonmult, The IRA’s Worst Defeat (2006) for more details of the battle. The account below, however, and the one on which I based the last chapter of The Kindness of Strangers, was written by one of the survivors, probably IRA officer Patrick Higgins who survived the fire fight and avoided execution because of his wounds. (The other possible author is Diarmuid ‘Sonny’ O’Leary but he appears to have been unconscious during much of the battle and its aftermath so could not have witnessed what the author of the account witnessed.)

Fight at Clonmult, Feb. 20th 1921

At about 3pm on Sunday Feb. 20th, British military and ‘Black and Tans’ arrived in the village of Clomnult Co. Cork and surrounded a house at Garrylawrence (half a mile from Clonmult) in which I and fourteen other men were. Two other men were out at a well about 40 yds away drawing water at the time.
When the military had come within 30 yards of the house fire was opened on both sides. After about three minutes firing four of the men inside the house made a rush out. Two fell dead a few yards from the door but the other two succeeded in getting a considerable distance away. They ran in opposite directions. One was seen by British forces and fired at; he was afterwards found dead.
Of the two men drawing water at the well, one was afterwards found dead. The other was wounded in the legs. While the affray lasted he was outside the house at the back sheltered from the fire and was speaking to several of the men inside.
This left us with 15 men inside the house of whom one was wounded. After a time reinforcements arrived to our attackers and soon afterwards the roof of the house, which was thatched was set on fire. The fumes inside the house were suffocating, so we attempted to break a hole in the end of the wall so as to try to escape. In doing so another man was slightly wounded in the head.
At length after about 2½ hours’ resistance our officer shouted out to the attackers asking them for terms of surrender. A British officer answered back, declaring that if we surrendered we would be treated as prisoners and not ill-used in any way.
We then all marched out of the house, unarmed, and with our hand up and as long as I live I will never forget the scene outside. The military seemed to be kept under control to a certain extent but the ‘Black and Tans’ rushed at us like wild beasts, some firing rifles and revolvers, all shouting and cursing us in filthy language and commenced a general massacre.
The whole scene was hellish and indescribable, some dead, others dying and moaning with pain, their blood flowing in all directions while those of us who survived were left lying on the bloodstained ground, some dazed, others injured by blows from rifles, kicks etc.
They were examining us with a view to finishing any that survived when the officer ordered them away.
The survivors were then lined up, and out of the 15 who came out with their hands up, only six remained. Five of these were wounded but not seriously.
A search was then made by military and ‘Black and Tans’, money, watches, Sacred Heart badges and pins, and any article of value was taken. Even the dead were robbed. When a Rosary Bead or Sacred Heart badge was captured, all sorts of insults and mockery were displayed. Finally all holy articles were torn or broken up. During all this time the military remained under control.
After being satisfied that we were searched from head to heels we were marched through the fields, on to the road where the lorries were stopped. Another party remained after us and finished off the bodies lying on the ground. This crowd also set fire to the hay ricks etc.
From Clonmult to Midleton we were questioned and threatened. Then in Midleton we were taken out at the RIC barracks and after severe questioning and threats and accusations we were put back into the cars again. Shots were fired freely up and down the town and the Crown Forces indulged in shouting, singing etc. We were also threatened to be shot there and only for an officer I am sure we would.
After leaving Midleton we proceeded on to Cork via Carrigtwohill, and somewhere outside Carrig, a ditch of stones was placed across the road. A stop was at once called and the occupants of the lorries told us that if this was an ambush we, the prisoners, were the first to be shot. Nothing happened however and all went well, from that to Victoria Barracks.

Source: Mulcahy Papers, UCD, P7A/13

For the record the casualties were:

Irish casualties:
Killed during the siege: Michael Desmond, John Joe Joyce, Michael Halloran, Richard Hegarty, Seamus Aherne (Cobh).
Killed after surrendering: Liam (Willie) Ahern, Jer Ahern, David Desmond, Christy O’Sullivan, Donal Dennehy, Joe Morressy, James Glavin.
Executed subsequently: Pat O’Sullivan, Maurice Moore.
Sentences commuted due to being underage: Edmund Terry, Robert Walsh, William Garde, John Harty.
Sentences delayed due to injuries: Patrick Higgins, Diarmuid ‘Sonny’ O’Leary.

British casualties:

George Potter RIC, wounded in shoulder, Company Sergeant Major Edward Corney, wounded in shoulder.