Capt. James Peter Aherne
|Old IRA Graves Round Three|
Republican Plot Old Church Cemetery
Small stones before the cross
are for Ahearn and Glavin.
|Dear Editor, |
I would like to congratulate and offer the appreciation of my relatives and myself to Cllr. Kieran McCarthy for supporting our efforts to establish justice to the memory of those buried at Cobh's Republican Plot. I would, however, like the opportunity to deal with, on a personal level, the comments made by Mr. Hendrik Verwey on the July 6 edition of the GICN. My relatives and I never asked for or suggested that the Republican Plot should receive special attention from the Junior Chamber, Cobh. We merely highlighted the fact that the historical worth attached to the people buried within the Republican Plot was as great and as significant to our town and Great Island, if not greater than that of Jack Doyle the Lusitania graves and others. Mr. Verwey sarcastically suggested that Mr. Colman Ahern, my cousin, and myself use our energies more positively. I would suggest to him that we have done exactly that and by the very positive response that I have received from many people in our town since I first highlighted this matter, it would appear that the Junior Chamber, Cobh has lost the moral argument here.
Mr. Verwey also suggested that I should attend the local schools and speak to the town's children about Irish Republicanism but again it would appear to me that some people i.e. (the Junior Chamber) need a lesson or two first. I note that Mr. Verwey passes this sign at the Old Church Cemetery several times a day and he is thus aware that many visitors have cause to need it.
Would it not make more sense, then, to have the Republican Plot's location included on the sign map so that visitors and republican relatives alike would have cause to be happy. Then Mr. Verwey and the Junior Chamber could really be proud of themselves and have a genuine reason to be commended.
Emer Burke, Rushbrooke Villas
| The Great Island News 30 June 2000|
|Old IRA Graves Round Four|
|Dear Editor, |
I'm not sure what Mr. Verwey means by "a second sign outlining the history of Irish republicanism". This would be an odd thing to have at the entrance to any cemetery! My comments were in regard to the fact that no mention is made of a rather prominent monument that does have a lot of historical significance for Cobh. During the period between 1916-1923 in Cork, a lot of brave men risked and gave their lives for the freedom of Ireland. My point is that they should not be forgotten. I still say that the sign should be amended or changed to indicate the presence of the Republican Monument in Old Church, it definitely is part of "the history buried in this most cosmopolitan of graveyards". Surely it can't cost £500 to add this information, which is what I had in mind in the first place.
I'm very glad that Hendrik Verwey thinks that it would be "positive" for Ms. Burke to talk about republicanism to Irish school children. I have the feeling that probably not much is being taught about the period 1916-1923 and the Republican ideals in Ireland in those years.
Colman Ahern, 1613 Fifth Street, Berkeley, Calif. USA.
| The Great Island News 30 June 2000|
The Heroic Fight at Clonmult
In order to fit themselves thoroughly for the task in hand, the I.R.A. Active Service Units, in the seclusion of quiet retreats, went through courses in physical and military training with the full knowledge that they needed both if they were to match themselves successfully against the war experienced British soldiers. The I.R.A. had to fight and learn at the same time; had to perfect themselves to a degree of discipline and skill that takes years to acquire in regular armies. Their Volunteer spirit, their zeal and their objective helped them to become proficient at arms in a short time, and turned them into soldiers, who could act with high intelligence and cool self control in any emergency or enterprise, either collectively or individually.
Composite picture of the twelve East Cork Brigade men who fell in the fight at Clonmult. (Left to right)
(Back Row): Richard Hegarty (Garryroe); Jeremiah Aherne (Midleton); Christopher Sullivan (Midleton);
Joseph Morrissey (Athlone); Michael Hallahan (Midleton);
(Second Row): James Glavin (Cobh); John Joe Joyce (Midleton); James Aherne (Cobh); Michael Desmond (Midleton);
(Front Row): Donal Dennehy (Midleton); Liam Aherne (Midleton); David Desmond (Midleton)
So could be found the Active Service Unit of the Fourth Battalion of the First Cork Brigade, under the orders of Commandant Diarmuid Hurley, taking possession early in the month of January, 1921, of a disused farmhouse in a secluded position overlooking the Village of Clonmult, seven miles north-east of Midleton. The house was of the type with which we are all familiar, a long, low building with a roof of thatch. A large cow-shed stood at right angles to the front-of the upper, or northern, side of the house, while the south of it adjoined a small grove of about twenty trees. A low fence and a number of trees were at the immediate rear of the house. Directly opposite the house, and some fifteen yards from it, a tree fringed boreen ran parallel to the enclosed farm house. It was an ideal location for the purpose for which it was selected, the headquarters and training ground of an Active Service Unit, composed of twenty young men drawn from various I.R.A. Companies in East Cork. It included among its members Volunteers who had been in action at Carrigtwohill, Cloyne, Castlemartyr and Midleton. Strong, healthy, clean living boys, they revelled in the martial exercises and lectures destined to make them better fighters in Ireland's cause. The days passed quickly for this group of congenial spirits fired with a common purpose. Around the fire in the January nights they sang patriotic songs, played practical jokes on each other and generally indulgent in the care-free pranks of their years. They went through the routine life of the camp, doing their share of fatigues and chores with a smile. A month of this intensive training and these boys toughened to the trade of arms, were ready to take on twice their number of the enemy in fair fight.
Satisfied with their progress and anxious to gratify their desire to measure themselves with the enemy their popular leader, Commandant Hurley, cast his eye around his area for suitable employment for his eager young soldiers. He decided to ambush a military train, a pretty ticklish operation, at Cobh Junction on Tuesday, the twenty-second of February, 1921. With this end in view, Commandant Hurley left the headquarters of the Active Service Unit at Clonmult taking with him Vice-Commandant Joseph Aherne, and Captain Patrick Whelan to make arrangements for the transfer of the column to Dooneen and also to consult on the spot about the disposal of their forces at the proposed train attack at Cobh junction. Before leaving Clonmult Commandant Hurley appointed Captain Jack O'Connell, of Cobh Company, as Acting O.C. of the Column and instructed him to march to Dooneen at dusk on Sunday, the twentieth of February.
The disused farmhouse at Clonmult was a scene of bustle and laughter that Sunday afternoon as the boys, having had their dinner, started to pack their personal belongings, clean up their equipment and prepared to evacuate, with all their gear, the building that had sheltered them and been their common home for over a month. Each man was busy at his task and all must have been nearly complete and ship shape when towards four-fifteen o'clock Michael Desmond and John Joe Joyce, taking their own and their companions water bottles with them, went to the spring well, about twenty yards from the house. They were engaged in filling the bottles when suddenly they noticed that a company of the Hampshire regiment was surrounding the house. Drawing their revolvers, Desmond and Joyce attempted to fight their way back to the house through the military cordon that was closing in on their comrades. Gallantly they opened fire and as gallantly took consequences. Though fatally wounded they managed to crawl to the rear of the house and with their dying breath gasped out: "The house is surrounded and no escape is possible."
Their message was factual and prophetic. With the clarity of mind that comes before death, they correctly appraised the situation. The house was surrounded no escape was possible. What was to be done? Fight it out and make the house their tomb? Attempt a sortie with the hope that some might get through and organise local aid to relieve the others? A hurried council of war decided on the latter alternative. The surplus ammunition and grenades were distributed. A heavy fire was opened on the attackers as the five men, including the Acting O.C., lined up the desperate venture. Out from the bullet riddled cottage they dashed, their comrades redoubling their fire and cheering them on to the defiant strains of "The Soldier's Song." The National Anthem and the flying lead were the requiem of three gallant men. Michael Hallahan was mortally wounded almost on the doorstep; Richard Hegarty fell as he sought cover at the fence in front of the house; James Ahern received his death wound when jumping a fence two hundred yards from the house. Jeremiah O'Leary having vainly attempted to fight his way through the enemy ranks, was fortunate to rejoin his comrades within the house. The Acting O.C., Captain Jack O'Connell, alone succeeded in running the hazard and getting outside the British wall of death. He had achieved what his dying comrades, Joyce and Desmond, had branded as impossible. A quarter of the Column was wiped out! It was a cruel, testing time for the survivors.
The British thinking that the fate of the sortie would dishearten the garrison, called on them to surrender. Intensified fire and "The Soldier's Song" was the answer of the Irishmen, who had "sworn to be free." Outside the British lines the Acting O.C., despite the unnerving experience he had lived through, got busy in an effort to organise the relief of his sorely tried comrades. A reconnoitre of the vicinity disclosed the dispositions of the British forces, and also brought him into contact with two local Volunteers, who were later joined by a third with a bicycle. Action was necessary, and it was quickly taken. Six miles away at Ballinoe the North East Cork Column was billeted. If they could be summoned in time the siege at Clonmult might yet be raised. Away sped the cyclist on the most urgent mission he was ever called on to undertake. Arms in the hands of even a few men prepared to take the British in the rear might create the diversion of their forces, that would break the circle of steel that enclosed the ill-fated cottage and its gallant occupants. Time was never so precious. Where were the arms? Shot guns were dumped in a cemetery some miles away. Off sped the local Volunteers to procure them. Help was being organised, but would it come in time to ease a situation that was getting more desperate every minute?
Around the cottage the battle raged relentlessly. The gallant defenders kept the British at bay, undaunted and undismayed. A volley in the distance raised their hopes. With the optimism of their race, the Irish men interpreted the rattle of rifle fire as a message of good cheer from comrades hastening to their rescue. They did not know that it was the rattle of British rifles trained on their Column O.C., who was still reconnoitring and keeping close to the scene of operations. It was the British that were reinforced and not the Irish. Within an hour of the start of the fight the Black-and-Tans arrived. Fearsome was the position of the garrison. now. Clean death would find them unafraid, but death at the hands of human vultures was something too awful to contemplate. The fight must go on. How long could the defenders hold out? - as long as they had the life and strength to pull a trigger in a loaded rifle. They reckoned not with an element that could thrust them alive into British hands despite their resolve. The thatched roof of the cottage was ablaze. Were heroic men ever in more desperate straits? Over their heads a blazing roof was making the cottage a fiery furnace. At any moment it might fall in and become their funeral pyre. Outside was a ring of rifles, manned by the scum of England, hungry as wolves for Irish blood.
On Top of roof and window,
Those boys stood up to fight,
'Till the burning of the cottage
And no escape in sight.
Through the doors and windows British lead poured in a relentless, stream. No hope of breaking through in face of that hail of death. Why not try to breach the gable? A narrow opening was made. Volunteer Glavin and O'Leary tried to force themselves through. They fell back with serious bullet wounds in the head. The wily Britishers had left no means of escape uncovered. The game was up. The fire from the roof had now spread so that the entire house was involved. There was nothing men could do now but surrender. Before doing so the heroic garrison broke their rifles and threw them into the flames. They then marched forth from the blazing cottage. Volunteers Liam Aherne, Jeremiah Aherne, David Desmond, Christopher Sullivan, Donal Dennehy, J. Morrissey, and J. Glavin, the first seven to emerge, were brutally massacred by the Black and Tans. It was typical British chivalry towards defeated but gallant foes. The wounded Volunteer, J. O'Leary, having lapsed into unconsciousness, prior to the surrender, was removed from the house by three comrades, an action which saved their lives, as it gave time to a British military officer to stop the Black-and-Tans in their ghoulish work before the other prisoners, wounded and unwounded, reached the place of surrender. The North East Cork Column on hearing of the plight of their East Cork comrades, marched immediately to their aid, but unfortunately,did not arrive in Clonmult in time owing to the distance they had to traverse on foot.
And so the British were the victors at Clonmult, from which they withdrew with two wounded prisoners, Captain P. Higgins and Volunteer J. O'Leary, and six unwounded prisoners, Volunteers P. O'Sullivan, M. Moore, O'Leary, Walsh, Harty and Garde. Commandant Hurley and his two senior officers were actually surveying the ground at Cobh junction and making plans for the proposed train ambush when the lorries passed by on the return journey to Cork. Little did they think that that large convoy of military lorries contained all but one of the Column they had left so recently in such fine fettle at Clonmult. The prisoners were tried by Field General Courtmartial and sentenced to death. The sentences on Volunteers O'Leary, Walsh, Garde and Harty were later commuted. Volunteers P. Sullivan and Maurice Moore were executed at Cork Military Barracks on the fifth of May, 1921. Captain P. Higgins who was shot through the mouth after the surrender, had not recovered from his wound, otherwise he would have shared the fate of his executed comrades. The advent of the Truce, in July, saved his life. Against the background of the deathless courage displayed by the East Cork Column I.R.A. at Clonmult, there stands out in ugly light the savagery of the British Black-and-Tans and the treachery of an Irishman. He, a British ex-Serviceman, had been trapping rabbits at Clonmult and noting the presence of the Column, turned informer. When captured by the North Cork Column he confessed to his treachery, and before execution, admitted that for his betrayal of his countrymen in arms he received the Judas-like sum of thirty pounds from the British.
Rebel Cork's Fighting Story 1916 - 1921 Pub. by The Kerryman, Ltd., Tralee 1947
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