West Cork Flying Column

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Men of the South, by Sean Keating

Men of the South, by Sean Keating This image is of typical men of an IRA Flying Column during the Irish War of Independence (also known as the Anglo-Irish War).The men who sat for the portrait belonged to the 2nd Cork Brigade and they traveled to Dublin during the Truce to sit for Mr. Keating.(painting currently hangs in the Crawford Municipal Gallery, Cork City)

Welcome, to the bivouac site of the West Cork Flying Column. We portray one of the units that fought for the Irish Republic in the Anglo-Irish War of 1919-1921. The origins of this conflict date back to 300 years of English Occupation of Ireland. Throughout this time, there had been numerous attempts, both violent and political, to free Ireland of English occupation. Finally, in 1914 the English Parliament voted on and passed an Act of Home Rule for Ireland. The Home Rule Act was “delayed” by the entrance of Great Britain into World War One. The Irish people’s frustration was further tested by the threat of conscription in Ireland. This frustration finally manifested itself in the Easter Rising of 1916, which united the Irish Volunteers and the socialist Irish Citizen Army in armed insurrection against the forces of the Crown. Padraig Pearse read the “Proclamation of the Irish Republic” from the steps of Dublin’s General Post Office (G.P.O.) and declared the new Irish Republic. The Easter Rising was brutally put down within a weeks time and the British executed the main ring-leaders. The brutality of this act brought over many Irish fence sitters to the side of the Rebels.

These Columns were designed to attack police barracks and small garrisons of the British military and paramilitary forces that had participated in brutalizing Irish civilians. Convoy ambushes and assassinations were carried out as well by members of the Columns, which were able to strike hard and disappear rapidly should they be at risk or upon successful accomplishment of their mission. They were equipped with captured English weapons and equipment. The Volunteers rarely wore uniform, wearing mostly civilian attire appropriate for the early 1920’s. They were joined by the Cuman na mBan, a women’s auxiliary to the Volunteers and the Fianna, a youth organization that both supported the Irish Republic. Come by for a chat and a cup of tea, you may find yourself among friends…

In the 1918 General Election, the Sinn Fein Party (We Ourselves) won seventy-three seats in the British parliament. Refusing to take their seats, these Irishmen and women pledged to form their own government instead. On January 21st of 1919, with many of the elected members still in prisons following the Rising, Dail Eireann (Irish parliament) was formed, and what would later be known as Ireland’s War of Independence began. The Irish Volunteers, now the Irish Republican Army, began a mad dash for arms by raiding police barracks and houses for arms. The British responded by banning Dail Eireann and Sinn Fein. Due to the resignation of many Irishmen from the Royal Irish Constabulary, additional Police were recruited by the British Government in England. Many were ex-soldiers, who were nicknamed “Black and Tans”, due to their being issued a mish-mash of black Royal Irish Constabulary uniform and surplus British khaki uniforms. The IRA Brigades throughout the country responded to “The Tans” with guerrilla war ambushes. The need for the IRA to strike quickly and then escape to fight another day gave rise to the “flying columns”.

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