The Avondhu - By The Fireside

The first to be captured in Ireland

- Neil Donovan

While a number of IRA companies/battalions around the country claim the distinctio­n of being the first to attack and capture an RIC barracks during the War of Independen­ce, the distinctio­n firmly lies with the volunteers of the Araglen Company in conjunctio­n with the Fermoy Battalion.

The day itself was Easter Sunday morning on the 20th April, 1919, just over 100 years ago. But that was the end result, the planning and motivation was planted long before that date.

When the Irish volunteers organised nationwide in 1914, the Araglen Company was one of the first to come together and likewise was at the inception when the Irish Republican Army and Cumann na mBan came into being locally. In the three counties of Cork, Waterford and Tipperary that comprise Araglen, remarkably over 110 men and women were active members of both organisati­ons.

At the time, the RIC barracks in Araglen was located in the centre of the village in the townland of Gortnaskeh­y. It was a formidable building, a two storey L shaped stone building with slate roof and comprised of 3 rooms upstairs, namely a bedroom and two dormitorie­s. The downstairs comprised 4 rooms, a diningroom, kitchen, day room and the cell or the ‘Black Hole,’ as it was known locally. For defensive purposes there was only one entrance, the front door and the windows were all barricaded. The RIC numbered 4 police in the barracks and due to its unique location, the members were drawn from the three counties of Cork, Tipperary and Waterford. The barracks itself was affiliated with the Mitchelsto­wn RIC, the sergeant was always from County Cork, two constables from County Tipperary and one from County Waterford.


The Araglen volunteers were very active from its inception with bi-weekly parades, drilling, making pikes, collecting the local shotguns and basically, organising themselves in military formation in full view of the public. The RIC kept the Araglen volunteers under constant surveillan­ce and this is well documented, as evident in the archive records of the RIC in Kew Archives, London. Unknown to the RIC they were equally, if not more so, under surveillan­ce by the Araglen volunteers. Their daily movements were observed whether by foot or bicycle and patterns noted.

Con Leddy, Gortnaskeh­y Officer Commanding (O/C) of the Araglen Company, first sought permission from the Fermoy Battalion to raid the barracks when he called to see Liam Lynch in Barry’s Hardware shop, Patrick Street, Fermoy in 1918. Due to the prevailing condition at the time, where Sinn Féin were making great advances on the political front, permission was refused on this basis. Sinn Féin swept the boards around the country and Dáil Eireann met for the first time at the Mansion House, Dublin on 21st January, 1919. As is well documented, Sean Treacy, Dan Breen, Seamus Robinson, Sean Hogan and others, took a different route at Soloheadbe­g, Co. Tipperary.

This clearly resonated in Araglen and Con Leddy again made the trip to Liam Lynch in Fermoy, who was by now the O/C Cork No. 2 Brigade, to seek permission for the attack. After running through the plans, permission was granted by Liam across the counter in Barry’s Hardware shop. Con could barely contain his excitement on the trip home and he recalls, “I remember the walk home vividly, I was the happiest man in Ireland, for I alone knew of the impending raid. And to be entrusted with this was an honour.”


The planning quickly took effect, Liam Lynch along with George Power, Adjutant, Cork No. 2 Brigade, visited Araglen on a Sunday in late March 1919 to review the plans along with surveying the locality and barracks first hand. Bar the loan offer of a few revolvers from Fermoy Battalion, the plans drawn up by the Araglen Company were approved. The date was set for Palm Sunday, 13th April, 1919 and Liam Lynch himself was set to join in on the raid.

Liam Lynch duly arrived on the Sunday as agreed, but the plan was aborted. The reason hasn’t been noted, but it’s highly probable that the arrival of 2 new RIC constables to strengthen the existing 4 may have led to the plans being rearranged. The date was revised to the following Sunday, Easter Sunday.

As Liam Lynch had a pre-arranged appointmen­t in Dublin with IRA Headquarte­rs, his place was taken by his good friend Michael Fitzgerald, O/C Fermoy Battalion. All the participan­ts that were involved in the raid were from the Araglen Company, bar Michael Fitzgerald. They being Con Leddy, Gortnaskeh­y (O/C); Sean O’Mahony, Lyre (1st Lieutenant); Tom Brunnock, Doon (Section Commander); Maurice Hyland, Barnahown (Adjutant); Owen McCarthy, Barnahown (volunteer) and John O’Donovan, Barnahown (volunteer).

The volunteers met in a field above the barracks that Sunday morning early, well before Mass at 9.30am. Some had been at first Mass at 8am already that morning at Araglen as usual. They donned women’s black shawls and face masks to disguise themselves, Michael Fitzgerald and Con Leddy were armed with revolvers and a few of the others had shotguns. They waited patiently in the corner of the field on that cold April morning, nervous but excited at what was about to happen.

Meanwhile, the good people of Araglen and surrounds headed to Araglen church for Easter Sunday Mass at 9.30am by foot, bicycle and others by horse and trap. The RIC left at 9.10, as it only took 15 minutes to cycle to the church, five left for Mass and one stayed behind to mind the barracks as always. The RIC parked up their bikes to the left of the church as usual and headed into Mass. Bill Brunnock, Doon (volunteer) along with another volunteer, slashed the bicycles’ tyres during Mass to slow the return of the RIC to the barracks. As Bill later recalled, “Bicycles that time are like aeroplanes these days”.

Once Mass was under way, the raiding party took effect; although Michael Fitzgerald held higher rank, it fell to the local Commander Con Leddy to lead the raid. They all approached the barracks from the rear and were able to peek in the window to see the sole constable heading to the door with a bucket. From the surveillan­ce, they knew this was the routine, head to the river down the road for a bucket of water for the morning shave. While the constable was fetching the water, the raiders entered, Maurice Hyland being the first in. Mick Fitzgerald went up to the upstairs window to keep watch for the constable returning. The others searched every room for anything of use, but in particular arms.

As the constable returned with the bucket of water, Mick Fitzgerald gave the signal to rush outside and grab him. On seeing the oncoming volunteers, he flung the bucket of water and attempted to escape, but the volunteers had a hold of him at this stage. The constable continued to grapple but was soon quietened when Con Leddy thrust the revolver into his ribs and as he recalled, “this had the desired effect”.

The drenched volunteers took the constable into the barracks and they recall Mick Fitzgerald laughing heartily from the upstairs window at their plight. They placed the constable in the cell and by now he was totally compliant with their requests, telling them where everything was. He bemoaned the fact that he was not long in the RIC and wouldn’t be staying much longer. The volunteers gathered all they came for and were leaving, when the constable beckoned them back; he asked if they would fire a shot into the stairs to portray the mighty struggle that he put up and also gag him and in return, he wouldn’t identify any when asked.


The raiders retreated as they had entered by the rear of the barracks and the next part of their plan was put into action. The capture consisted of 6 carbine rifles, 400 rounds of .303 ammunition, 1 Webley revolver, 20 rounds of ammunition, 1 bayonet, 10 rockets (36m hand grenades), RIC handcuffs, RIC whistle and barrack door key. The loot was taken up the glen into County Tipperary and onto the farm of John O’Donovan, Barnahown, where a prearrange­d arms dump was prepared on his land in a field that was freshly ploughed. Their though was that the raiding RIC and military from Kilworth, Fermoy and Moorepark would stop at the county bounds and they duly did.

As planned, the raiders were well dispersed before the alarm was raised by the returning RIC from Mass on their punctured bikes. The raid made the headings in The Cork Examiner the following morning and all the national newspapers describing the raiding party as consisting of at least twelve, when in fact it was seven. Liam Lynch met Michael Collins in Dublin the morning after and he heartily congratula­ted Liam for a job well done with no bloodshed and was overjoyed by the fact that the first RIC barracks to be captured was in his home county of Cork. He asked Liam to pass on his congratula­tions to the volunteers involved in the job.

The raiding by the military was continuous for the next few days and weeks and true to his word, the sole constable described the attackers as being all tall and of fair complexion, when the opposite was true. No arrests were made as a result, and the arms were put to good use initially in the Wesleyan raid in Fermoy that September and the handcuffs were used in the famous Lucas capture.

The following January, one of the carbines was found by raiding military in Mahony’s, Lyre and this resulted in the jailing of Matt Mahony in Cork Jail.

The barracks itself was abandoned by the RIC within a year and was burned by the Araglen Company volunteers on the night of 4th April, 1920 under a general order from the IRA. On the same night, 30 barracks were destroyed in County Cork and 150 nationally.

While the captured arms was more than they expected, the real effect which was noted by Con Leddy was the great moral boost it gave locally and specifical­ly, to the men and women of the Araglen IRA and Cumann na mBan that took part in the raid and other members that assisted in the surveillan­ce, scouting, dispatch running, etc. Indeed, the barracks front door key, RIC whistle and RIC handcuffs key are still in the Araglen vicinity and I’m sure other artefacts associated with the raid are held locally and are brought out periodical­ly, which no doubt leads to the retelling of the Araglen barracks raid, the first to be captured in all of Ireland.

 ?? ?? Araglen RIC Barracks post burning. It was burnt by Araglen Company volunteers on the 4th April, 1920 after the RIC abandoned the barracks. It was a general order by the IRA and about 30 were burned throughout County Cork.
Araglen RIC Barracks post burning. It was burnt by Araglen Company volunteers on the 4th April, 1920 after the RIC abandoned the barracks. It was a general order by the IRA and about 30 were burned throughout County Cork.
 ?? ?? Maurice Hyland.
Maurice Hyland.
 ?? ?? Tom Brunnock.
Tom Brunnock.
 ?? ?? Mick Fitzgerald.
Mick Fitzgerald.
 ?? ?? Con Leddy.
Con Leddy.
 ?? ?? Jack Con Donovan.
Jack Con Donovan.

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