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Frederic William Burton - The Meeting on the Turret Stairs, 1864
The Meeting on the Turret Stairs, 1864
Frederic William Burton
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The Road to Freedom, part 2:

ambush site Crossbarry

Crossbarry, Co. Cork - photo by author

by Suzanne Barrett

After the Easter Rising, favor shifted from Home Rule advocacy to Sinn Fein and support for Irish independence. Sinn Fein won 75 seats out of 103 in the July 1918 general election. Opposed to taking seats at Westminster, Sinn Fein set up a Dublin Government, the Dáil Eireann, in the Mansion House. At the first session in January 1919, the Proclamation of Independence, signed by the leaders of the 1916 Rising, was reaffirmed. The first public session of the new Republican law courts was held in Ballinrobe, County Mayo a few months later.

Ballinrobe is located on the east side of Lough Mask. The town is famous for its annual July horse racing meet. Not far away is Cong, where the film THE QUIET MAN was made.

Beal na mBlathThe Sinn Fein delegate from West Cork, returned in that 1918 election was Michael Collins. He had established a reputation among the fellow prisoners at Frongoch in North Wales, and would enhance that reputation in the coming years. The Volunteers began to reorganize following 1916, and by 1918, they became known as the IRA Volunteers, or more commonly, the IRA. While Sinn Fein assumed control of the IRA, the real influence was in the hands of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB). Michael Collins was their chief organizer.

On the day that the Dáil first took its seat, a truck carrying explosives was ambushed at Soloheadbeg, County Tipperary. The work was carried out by the Third Tipperary Brigade, led by Dan Breen. That signaled the increase in conflict between the IRA Volunteers and British forces and became known as the War of Independence. Britain declared the Dáil illegal and arrested Arthur Griffith, Eamon de Valera and other Sinn Fein leaders. Michael Collins remained free and active, organizing a relief fund to provide support for families of imprisoned Republican prisoners and victims of the Rising; he also organized local IRA cells and coordinated IRA intelligence activities in Ireland and Britain.

Soloheadbeg, Co. Tipperary--the scene of this ambush is located about 2 1/2 mi. from Tipperary Town. The address is Soloheadbeg, Donohill, Tipperary due to a rural post office once being situated there. It is also the site of the first battle between Brian Boru and Viking invaders.

From the time Collins met his fiancée Kitty Kiernan while staying at the Greville Arms Hotel in Granard, Co. Longford, until he was killed a few short years later, he spent much of what leisure time he had in Longford with the Kiernans. The Greville Arms was destroyed in November 1920 when British Auxiliary forces sacked the town; it did not reopen until 1922.

Granard saw considerable action during the War of Independence, also was the site of many executions during the Rebellion of 1798. The Harp Festival, begun in 1781, has recently been revived and draws thousands of musicians to the area in August. The Greville Arms is still standing, though no longer run by the Kiernan family.

Two Dublin sites associated with Collins and the War of Independence are Dublin Castle, mentioned in part one of this article, and Mountjoy Gaol. Dublin Castle was the seat of British administration in Ireland at the time, and Collins had two agents working for him in the castle--Ned Broy and David Nelligan. Collins engineered a prisoners' escape from Mountjoy Jail only days after he managed to get de Valera out of Lincoln Gaol in England and back to Ireland. Mountjoy, which is situated between North Circular Road and the Royal Canal in Phibsboro, is also where eighteen-year-old medical student Kevin Barry was hanged on 1 November 1920 for his part in an ambush on North King Street.

Kevin Barry is buried in the yard of Mountjoy Jail, along with nine others who were hanged between March and June 1921. It is also the setting for Brendan Behan's play THE QUARE FELLOW.

Collins maintained several offices in Dublin at this time, moving frequently to avoid being captured. No. 32 Bachelor's Walk--not far from the Winding Stair Bookshop was one of them. Nos. 6 and 76 Harcourt Street were two more. No. 6 was the home of Cardinal Newman and also Sinn Fein headquarters. No. 5 Mespil Road--the building is now gone, and apartments stand in its place--was one of Collins' intelligence centers.

Gogan's Shop at the corner of Marlborough and North Earl Streets was where dispatches were picked up. Liam Devlin's place was at No. 68 Parnell Street, a few doors down from Vaughans Hotel. Kirwan's Bar, another meeting place, was also on Parnell Street.

Vaughans Hotel was formerly located between Nos. 29 and 32 Parnell Street.

Sean Treacy, leader of the Third Tipperary Brigade, was gunned down in front of the 'Republican Outfitters' at No. 94 Talbot Street. A small bronze shield above the door commemorates the spot.

Further south, the IRA's flying columns were battering the Crown Forces. Perhaps the best known leader of this action was Commandant General Tom Barry of the Third (West) Cork Brigade Flying Column. Two actions, Kilmichael on 28 November 1920 and Crossbarry, 19 March 1921 proved the might of the flying column. At the latter, Barry and about 100 men, in a day-long engagement, overcame a British transport ten times as large, inflicting heavy casualties. The Kilmichael ambush, in which 16 Auxiliary soldiers died, escalated Crown retaliation in burning part of Cork City (11 December 1920). Today, monuments mark the sites where these actions took place. The photo at the top of this feature is of the Crossbarry memorial erected in 1966.

Grave of Tom BarryThe Kilmichael memorial is located approximately one mile south of Macroom on the road to Dunmanway. Crossbarry is located on the Crookstown to Ballinhassig road.

British garrisons covered the country. In County Cork, there were units at Bandon, Clonakilty, Dunmanway, Skibbereen, Bantry, and Castletownbere. In Bandon, there were three posts, while a detachment of the Black and Tans were billeted at the Devonshire Arms Hotel. The IRA was set up by 1919 with flying columns in Kilbrittain, Dunmanway, Bantry, Ballymurphy, and Schull. Skirmishes at Kilbrittain and Bantry in mid and late 1919 provided the West Cork Brigade with their first armory.

Bandon was established by the Earl of Cork, Richard Boyle. The Munster Arms Hotel, formerly Lees Hotel, was the last stop by Michael Collins as his convoy made its way to Beal na mBlath. In front of the Post Office is a statue of Sean Hales, and in the town is a fine heritage center. Well worth a visit. Clonakilty is a busy market town. Nearby is Woodfield, the birthplace of Michael Collins. In the town is the West Cork Museum which has much information about the War of Independence period of Irish history. Skibbereen is the largest town in West Cork, a busy tourist center. It was the home of nineteenth century patriot Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa. Don't miss the Maid of Erin, a statue dedicated to freedom fighters and movements of the country's past. Gearóid O'Sullivan, cousin of Michael Collins, was born in Skibbereen. He raised the flag over the GPO at Easter Week, was the Adjutant General of the Free State Army, and married one of Kitty Kiernan's sisters.

By January 1921, eight southern counties were under martial law. During early summer 1921, several "big houses", symbol of English domination in the south of Ireland, were gutted by IRA Volunteers. Among these were Castle Bernard, owned by the Earl of Bandon and Puxley Manor near Castle Dunboy.

Other Sites
 Lord Mayor of CorkSt. Finbarre's Cemetery just outside Cork City is the burial place of Lord Mayors Tomas MacCurtain and Terence MacSwiney, and Commandant General Tom and Leslie Price Barry.

Beal na mBlath, between Newcestown and Crookstown on the Bandon to Crookstown road, is the ambush site where Michael Collins was killed. See A Tribute to Michael Collins for further details and photos.

Ballyseedy Cross, (near Tralee) Co. Kerry was the site of atrocities committed by Free State soldiers against Republicans. A memorial by Breton sculptor Yan Renard-Goulet commemorates the IRA prisoners who were murdered.


Sam's Cross is where Michael Collins' mother was born. Next to the family home is a memorial to General Collins, unveiled by Tom Barry in 1966. Across the road stands the Four Alls Pub where Michael last saw his family on the day that he died. A picture sign hangs in front of the pub with this saying: "the king--I rule all, the soldier--I fight for all, the priest--I pray for all, the farmer--I pay for all."

Further reading:

The Road to Freedom, Part 1
Easter 1916
Michael Collins: the Lost Leader

Until next time.

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