Cork Burning 11-12 December 1920

Following the Dillon's Cross incident in which 1 auxiliary, S R Chapman was killed and about 12 were wounded in a grenade attack on 2 Auxiliary tenders in Cork there was massive retaliation by Crown forces. There is much debate expended as to who they were. Were they just Auxiliaries from K Coy, or were there others, soldiers and RIC involved. The problem is that any conclusion is obscured by the spin and propaganda of both sides The "definitive" British Report, was the Strickland Enquiry into the Burning of Cork, . It was held back at the time for fairly obvious reasons, but the enquiry is preserved at the National Archives of the UK as part of the same series as the courts of inquiry into the Croke Park shootings: the Strickland Enquiry is in WO 35 88A, and the Croke Park inquiries are in WO 35 88B. So although never "published" , the Strickland Enquiry evidence and conclusions have been freely available in recent years at the National Archives.

WO 35 88A consists of the proceedings of two inquiries--the first of which was held in the immediate aftermath of the fires, to make sure that the Army was not involved. The second, lengthier inquiry was held a few days later, and its conclusions are what became known as the 'Strickland Report'. General Tudor wrote a response to the Strickland Enquiry, attempting to show that the police could not have been involved in the Cork fires. For some reason, this report (Charles Townshend calls it 'this brave document') is filed in among the weekly outrage reports in CO 904. David Leeson was kind enough to send me further information on the Strickland Report.

On 11 December, IRA commander Seán O'Donoghue received intelligence that two lorries of Auxiliaries would be leaving the barracks that night and travelling with them would be a senior, and much hated, British intelligence officer Captain C J O'C Kelly.That evening, a unit of six IRA volunteers commanded by O'Donoghue took up position between the barracks and Dillon's Cross. Their goal was to destroy the patrol and capture or kill Captain Kelly. Five of the volunteers hid behind a stone wall while one, Michael Kenny, stood across the road dressed like an off-duty British officer. When the lorries neared he was to beckon the driver of the first lorry to slow down or stop. At 19.20 pm, two lorries carrying about 20 Auxiliaries emerged from the barracks. The first lorry slowed when the driver spotted Kenny and, as it did so, the IRA unit attacked with grenades and revolvers. As the IRA unit made its escape, some of the Auxiliaries managed to fire their rifles in the direction of the volunteers while others dragged the wounded to the nearest cover: O'Sullivan's pub.

Later that night Crown forces set fire to a number of houses and then burnt numerous buildings in the city centre. Over 40 business premises, 300 residential properties, City Hall and the Carnegie Library were destroyed by fire. Over £3 million worth of damage (1920 value) was done, 2,000 were left jobless and many were left homeless.

At 9:30PM, lorries of Auxiliaries and British soldiers left the barracks and alighted at Dillon's Cross, where they broke into a number of houses and herded the occupants on to the street. They then set the houses on fire. Seven buildings were set alight at the crossroads. A tram was set alight near Fr Mathew's statue. Witnesses reported seeing groups of armed men on St Patrick's Street, the city's main shopping street. Some were uniformed or partially uniformed members of the Auxiliaries , the British Army and RIC, while others wore no uniforms.They were seen firing into the air, smashing shop windows and setting buildings alight. Many reported hearing bombs exploding. The difficulty that the Strickland Enquiry had was determining which branch of the Crown Forces men belonged to.

The fire brigade was informed of the fire at Dillon's Cross shortly before 10PM and was sent to deal with it at once. However, on finding that Grant's department store on St Patrick's Street was ablaze, they decided to tackle it first. Superintendent Alfred Huston did not have enough resources to deal with all the fires at once, "he would have to make choices – some fires he would fight, others he could not". Huston went to oversee the operation on St Patrick's Street and there he met Cork Examiner reporter Alan Ellis. Hut son told Ellis "that all the fires were being deliberately started by incendiary bombs, and in several cases he had seen soldiers pouring cans of petrol into buildings and setting them alight".

At 10 pm. Huston ordered the ambulance from Grattan Street fire station to Dillon's Cross in case there were casualties from a fire which was raging. (A number of houses in the vicinity of Dillon's Cross had been set alight by irate British forces). As the ambulance was travelling through Patrick Street the firemen came upon a fire at Grant and Co., a department store at the southern end of Patrick Street. The driver of the ambulance described an encounter they then had - "On reaching the comer of Patrick Street, I, who was driving, saw forty or fifty men walking in a body in the centre of Patrick Street, coming towards us in very mixed dress - some with khaki coats, some with khaki trousers, and some wore glengarry caps".

At 10.30 pm Captain Huston received a report of the fire in Grant's. He found that 'the fire had gained considerable headway and the flames were coming through the roof'. The fire brigade was successful in containing this fire. If it had spread to the English Market, which was located to the rear of Grant's, a major conflagration could have occurred. While the fire in Grant's was being fought, Captain Huston received word from the town clerk that the Munster Arcade and Cash's department store were on fire. It was now about 11.30p.m. These two buildings were situated on the eastern side of Patrick Street. All available units of the fire brigade were immediately sent to fight these fires, which were spreading rapidly.

Despite the best efforts of the fire brigade, the fires spread to adjoining buildings and caused extensive damage. The blaze in the Munster Arcade spread to the following establishments - Egan's Jewellers, Sunner's, Forrest's, the Dartry Dye Co., Saxone Shoe Co., Burton's Tailors, Thompson's and Cudmore's. The fire from Cash's spread to the Lee Cinema, Roche's Stores, Lee Boot Co., Connell & Co., Scully's, Wolfe's and O'Sullivan's. All of these buildings were totally destroyed.

Shortly after 3AM, Alan Ellis came upon a unit of the fire brigade pinned down by gunfire near City Hall. The firemen said that they were being shot at by Black and Tans who had broken into the building. They also claimed to have seen uniformed men carrying cans of petrol into the building from nearby Union Quay barracks..

At about 4AM a large explosion was heard and City Hall and the neighbouring Carnegie Library went up in flames, resulting in the loss of many of the city's public records. When more firefighters arrived, British forces are said to have refused them access to water.

In his report to the Lord Mayor, Captain Huston wrote; "I have no hesitation in stating I believe all the above fires were incendiary fires and that a considerable amount of petrol or some such inflammable spirit was used in one and all of them. In some cases explosives were also used and persons were seen to go into and come out of the structures after breaking an entrance into same, and in some cases I have attended the people have been brought out of their houses and detained in by-lanes until the fire gained great headway".

Official Military report on the state of Cork City for the period from 10 p.m. on Saturday, December 11, 1920, to 5.30 a.m. on Sunday, December 12, 1920, during which period the city was in complete control of the military.
By F. R. Eastwood, Brigade Major, 17th Infantry Brigade. Cork.

(1) Three arrests were made.
(2) At 22.00 hours, Grant & Co., Patrick Street, was found to be on fire. Warning was sent to all fire brigades.
(3) At about 00.30 hours, Cash & Co. and the Munster Arcade were reported on fire.
(4) At 05.30 hours the majority of the troops were withdrawn, and the remainder at 08.00 hours.
(5) Explosions were heard at 00.15 hours, but were not located. No shots were fired by the troops.

The Cork examiner Reporter's report in full

The last act of arson took place at about 6am when a group of policemen looted and burnt the Murphy Brothers' clothes shop on Washington Street.

K Company Auxiliary Charles Schulze, a former British Army Captain who was later conjectured to be one of the main the main organizer of the burning, in research by Jim Herlihy. Herlihy unearthed a Schulze wrote to his girlfriend in England that it was "sweet revenge" while in a letter to his mother he wrote: "Many who had witnessed scenes in France and Flanders say that nothing they had experienced was comparable with the punishment meted out in Cork". “You will have read all about Cork. Suffice to say I was there and very actively involved to boot until dawn on Sunday. I just escaped the ambush... but later arrived as a reinforcement. We took sweet revenge,” he told Edith. In a letter to his mother, Schulze said: “Houses in the vicinity were set alight and from there various parties set out on their mission of destruction.”

After the fire, K Company was moved to Dunmanway and are said to have began wearing burnt corks in their caps in reference to the burning of the city - I have not been able to substantiate this with for example a photograph of a T/Cadet so attired. . For their part in the arson and looting, K Company was disbanded on 31 March 1921. And Latimer lost his command

An analysis of the 2 Platoons of K Coy based in Cork in early December 1920 shows 5 DIs, 8 S/Leaders (plus asst. CQM ) and 54 T/Cadets. This agrees with DI2 T Sparrow's statement to the Strickland enquiry that the strength of K Coy that day was 67 officers and men in total.. Of these

1920 Dec 13. A military court of enquiry ordered by Brigadier General Higginson, Commander Cork Garrison, started to take evidence. It was chaired by Major L.C. Morley of 2nd Hants Regt one of the regiments on duty that night in Cork. The details of the statements of the witnesses to this are enquiry are given here. In their conclusions the Court of Inquiry could not point the finger at any individual, but came to the opinion " that the outrages in Cork City were organised and carried out by the Auxiliary Police ....and that certain members of the RIC assisted them...and that no evidence has been produced to connect a soldier with any of these outrages but on the contrary the evidence indicates that the soldiers did their utmost to stop them"

As a result of this first inquiry which showed some Crown Forces to be responsible for the outrages in Cork, the decision was made by the government to hold a second Court of Inquiry. The C in C requested that a senior police officer should sit on the second Inquiry. The panel was composed of 3 military officers, one District Inspector of RIC and a legal advisor. It examined 38 witnesses - 5 RIC, 6 ADRIC, 9 civilians and 18 soldiers. Although summoned, the Lord Mayor of Cork did not attend the court. The idea seemed to be to make the second enquiry more "independent" than the first, and more wide ranging.

1920 Dec 16. The Second Court of Enquiry sits and takes statements over 5 days from 38 witnesses (including re-examining some of the earlier witnesses from the first enquiry. 6 were from ADRIC, and these were

DI1. OWRG Latimer , DI2 T Sparrow , T/Platoon Commander PF De Havilland , S/Leader R Maloney , T/Cadet HJ Beresford , T/Cadet R Wilson

In addition , between them, they mention by name Radford, Wakefield, Weller, Tibby (I think this is Kibbey) and Jones plus DI3 Wigan

I have attempted to ascertain what were the movements of the ADRIC that night, and not the movements of other forces. The evidence of the movements of ADRIC was

1921 Feb 15. General Tudor told a Cabinet Meeting in London that there were about 50 men of K Company in Cork that night, and that he believed that "there were seven or more men unfit to be in the service, and about 20 others ought to be got away from bad influences.The seven had not been dismissed, but they had been 'run in' for other charges at D unmanway. Four of them were accused of robbing a Bank. The K Company, to which all these men belonged, was being re-organised by getting rid of these men. .. it had not been possible to identify any one particular person as guilty of the Cork burnings. He had himself interrogated the Company..... the burnings took place at 9.30 and the Colonel [Latimer] had taken charge of his men at 10 o'clock. Latimer denied that his men were implicated in the burning. They were, on the contrary, doing their utmost to put out the fires. He was with his men all night....The accommodation was of a very temporary character in Cork. Servants were living with the Cadets. Latimer could not get quarters for himself for an Office so the Deputy Constable allowed him to work at the Police Barracks and he lived in an hotel close by. He was there when the lorries came to him to report for orders. The bombing started at 300 yards off and he went and paraded his men. "

In a House of Commons reply (Hansard) the Prime Minister said "There were only very few, but we have taken very severe measures with regard to the particular company which was involved. The vast majority of them are not in the least implicated. Seven of them whom all we can say is we suspect of being responsible for acts of indiscipline, although we cannot identify them, have been dismissed. ... The officer in command has been suspended. We were not satisfied that he had acted in a way that commends itself to the judgment of the Executive. ...With regard to the rest of the company, the company has been dissolved. The other members have been put into other companies.

1921 Feb 22. The Strickland Enquiry (the second court of enquiry) published its conclusions (full conclusions)

There was a minority report from the RIC officer on the Enquiry panel

Macready produced his thoughts on the Strickland Enquiry on 3 Jan 1921 and his main points are

So it came down to the enquiry putting the blame at the door of K Coy, or more precisely to men within K Coy, And to Latimer's lack of command. My own belief from the evidence is that they were responsible, but it is not possible to tell how many were involved actively in looting and/or arson. The Enquiry itself was so badly run that the right questions were never asked of the right people. The two Platoon Commanders involved, De Havilland and Wigan came out well in the long run - De Havilland eventually becoming a Company Commander, and Wigan a Permanent Cadet in RIC

Looking at those in K Coy that left the ADRIC at this time. The Registers record the following men leaving before K Coy was wound up. All except EC Robinson came from the group that had served longer and were in the platoon that had been mover to K Coy from E Coy. The 4 men court martialed for a bank robbery in Dunmanway at end Dec 1920, were in fact from Depot Coy, and I suspect had been sent to K Coy after the Burning of Cork to make up numbers after the Dillon Cross woundings

1921 Mar 26. The official line on dismissals,

The Irish Labour Party Report is difficult to follow and also none of the witnesses are named, although it does have over 70 witnesses.