DoC Series:Diaries of Guerrilla Tactics

Our second instalment in the Decade of Centenaries series looks at the papers of Richard Mulcahy; 1916 veteran, I.R.A. Chief of Staff during the War of Independence, Leader of Fine Gael and Minister of a number of government departments.

Richard James Mulcahy was born in Waterford and educated by the Christian Brothers both there, and later in Thurles where his father was postmaster. A member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood and the Irish Volunteers, he fought with Thomas Ashe in Ashbourne during Easter 1916, was imprisoned at Frongoch, and released in the general amnesty in 1917. Chief of Staff of the IRA, he was elected MP for the Clontarf Division in 1918 and served as Minister for Defence in the First Dáil until April 1919. He supported the Treaty and served as Minister for National Defence in the Second Dáil and Provisional Government and succeeded Michael Collins as Commander in Chief of the Army after his death.

Within Mulcahy’s papers there is material relating to Michael Collins’ and his time as Minister of Finance in the First Dáil. By taking a closer look at some of the ministerial reports made by Michael Collins’ staff during the War of Independence we find details of atrocities carried out by British forces in Ireland. One report lists the ‘acts of aggression committed in Ireland by the armed Military and Constabulary of the usurping English Government’. The pages below are from this report and record acts which took part between the 17 and 22 of January 1921. It starts by giving ‘Daily Totals’ for deeds committed under such titles as ‘Arrests’; Floggings, torture etc.’; ‘Assassinations’; ‘Prisoners murdered’ and ‘Looting and robbery’ to name a few.

The report then goes into more detail about what criminal acts were carried out on what date in what part of the country. By providing this information for areas all around the country we can get a more accurate picture of what the atmosphere must have been like for the population living in these tumultuous times. For example on Monday 17 January Gerald Pring, an English Customs Official living in Middleton, Co. Cork, was shot and killed by Constabulary passing by in a lorry as he walked home (p111).

On Thursday 20 January in Galway, Dr Ada English an Assistant Resident Medical Superintendent at Ballinasloe District Asylum was arrested by ‘Crown Forces’ and brought to Galway Gaol (p116). That same day in Waterford, Crown Forces removed a large portrait of Eamon De Valera from the town hall which they tore ‘asunder and trampled upon on the public square’ (p117).

Included is an eyewitness report was written about the events that took place on Sunday 20 February 1921 at Garrylawrence just outside Clonmult, Co. Cork (pp48-49). The British Army accompanied by the Black and Tans surrounded a house where 21 Irish republicans were gathered. A gun battle ensued and after a number of hours the surviving republicans, 15 in total, surrendered. The eyewitness recalls…

Fight at Clonmult 1921

Eyewitness account of fight at Clonmult, Co. Cork on 20 February 1921, p48 (UCDA P7/A/13)

Mulcahy’s papers doesn’t just keep records of the acts carried out by the English forces, they also include important information about those carried out by Republican forces. Amongst Mulcahy’s correspondence when he was Chief of Staff of the I.R.A. we can read ‘Running Diary’ entries of the guerrilla tactics being carried out, again, all over the country.

The entries above are dated 16 and 31 March 1921 respectively. They note where attempts were made to derail trains, attack military barracks, where fires were shot and even where bicycles were stolen – 40 from Castlefin, Co. Donegal to be exact!

In April there is a notable increase in attacks taking place all over the country. On 4 April there are two quite unusual entries as they took place in England. In Manchester on the 2nd attempts were made to ‘fire hotels’ while in London an alleged spy was shot (p44).

On 29 April two notices issued by the British Forces’ have been recorded. The first from Listowel in Kerry stated that reprisals would be taken against anyone who carried out ‘any outrages’ against the ‘lives or property of loyalist officials’ (p37).

The second is also related to bicycles but this time in Tipperary and they are being prohibited because…

Prohibition notice for bicycles 1921

Prohibition notice for bicycles in Tipperary, 29 April 1921, p37 (UCDA P7/A/16)

These documents are only a tiny percentage of what can be found within the operational memoranda, brigade and intelligence reports, orders and directives in Richard Mulcahy’s collection. The insight this material can give to the guerrilla tactics used during the War of Independence is of immense historic importance and in some cases unknown.

  • This post was researched and written by Meadhbh Murphy, Archivist, UCD Archives.

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