The IRA terrorised civilians in Cork.


Yesterday I read how the IRA carried out a campaign of terror against civilians in Co Cork 1920-21. From February 1920 to July 1921 over 70 civilians were slain by the IRA in this county (including Cork City). This is an extraordinary number of people to be killed in a year and a half. These people were all killed whilst unarmed.

The IRA was claimed that there were scores of spies assisting the Crown Forces. Did the IRA actually believe this? Perhaps some of them did. On the other hand it may have been an attempt to cow the wider civilian population.

Those who sold things to the Crown Forces were subject to intimidation.

The list in the link below shows that a high majority of those killed were Irishmen who had formerly served in the British Army. At least 10% were Protestant. That was perhaps a little higher than the % of Protestants in Cork.

The IRA was not entirely mistaken in believing that the Crown had agents in Cork. But how many of those whom the IRA accused of being spies for the British Army and the RIC really were spies? This is impossible to quantify. The IRA sometimes kidnapped a man and get him to confess. Occasionally they shot him without questioning him. Were the IRA right about these spies? If the IRA are to be believed they sometimes had hard evidence. IRA men in volunteer uniform closely resembled Auxiliaries. They sometimes tricked alleged spies into blowing their cover. These informers would sometimes speak to IRA men in the mistaken belief that the IRA men were Auxiliaries. In this manner the informers would prove themselves to be informers. The IRA also had its own spies in Victoria Barracks in Cork. Therefore the IRA had hard evidence in some cases.

Was the IRA totally wrong in thinking that Protestants and former soldiers were more likely than others to provide information to the Crown Forces? No, such a presupposition was not completely misplaced. It was no secret that many Protestants were Unionists and some had relations in the North.  A former soldier of the British Army or sailor of the Royal Navy had by definition taken an oath of allegiance to the Crown. Some of these ex servicemen joined for solely financial considerations. Some of them felt little loyalty to George V but others did. After leaving the British military some of them were politically neutral or even inclined towards republicanism. However, some of the remained steadfast to the United Kingdom. By not means all or most former soldiers supported the security forces but presumably a few did support the Crown Forces at least morally if not by action – more so than the general population.

What the security forces really needed was double agents. A man inside the IRA supplying information to the Crown would have been invaluable. If there were such men they were very seldom caught.

WHy would someone admit to being a spy when he knew that this equaled death? Presumably they were beaten into doing so. I do not have details of the state of the corpses beyond the fact that they were shot.

Some of those killed were alcoholics. Their need for money was supposed to make them susceptible to bribes for information about the IRA. Some of those killed on the suspicion of passing information to the Crown Forces were tramps or unemployed men – clearly in desperate need of cash. A few were simpletons. Anyone seen talking to the security forces drew suspicion on himself.

The men whom the IRA labelled spies had little or no information about the IRA since they were not in that outfit. They might have seen the IRA move or hear rumours. Little of this is valuable or actionable information. The Crown needed to know who was in the IRA, where they were hiding, where their arms dumps were, what their plans were, when they were going to attack which post and so forth. Only a man in that organisation could supply such information.

Only one woman was killed as a spy.  The youngest victim was just 17 and one man was killed after the Truce.

Barry in his book Guerrilla Days in Ireland claims that on one occasion they banished a spy from Ireland for life. They did not kill him because he had not caused the death of an IRA man. This is the only case I know of when an alleged spy was given exile rather than the supreme sanction.

The Anti Sinn Fein Society was active in Cork. Sometimes IRA men were killed by the Anti-Sinn Fein Society. Some have claimed that this was a cover name for the RIC. No, in fact this loyalist organisation really existed.

This aspect of the conflict in Cork is one that one seldom reads about. The IRA and its supporters focus on ambushes and barracks attack. They chose to de emphasise what was much more typical of the conflict. The sordid business of abducting men and savagely beating them before leaving the corpse on a roadside as a means of intimidating others. There are few things more inglorious than that.

Were there really so many spies in Cork? 78 is an awful lot. The IRA believed there were many more whom they did not catch. If there were so many Crown agents it would suggest that the IRA was not popular.  There were also people who simply disappeared. They may well have been put to death by the IRA and their cadavers have never been recovered.

Another source said that over 200 civilians were killed by the IRA in Cork (city and county) if one extends the period to 1923.


About Calers

Born Belfast 1971. I read history at Edinburgh. I did a Master's at UCL. I have semi-libertarian right wing opinions. I am married with a daughter and a son. I am allergic to cats. I am the falling hope of the not so stern and somewhat bending Tories. I am a legal beagle rather than and eagle. Big up the Commonwealth of Nations.

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