When history was made

Some historians argue that it was the turning point in An Cogadh na Saoirse.

On this day in 1920 on a lonely boreen in West Cork, an IRA flying column wiped out the elite of the Crown Forces.

The “Auxies” were the SAS of the day.

Technically they were policemen.

However, the Auxiliary Division of the Royal Irish Constabulary were all ex-British Army officers.

They had been specially selected with one aim in mind; to annihilate the IRA.

This particular unit of “Auxies” had been terrorising the local populace in West Cork.

The tactics of the British were brutally transparent.

It was to use terror to break the will of the civilian population who were supporting the IRA.

This was the same rationale that would lead to the incineration of children in Dresden 25 years later.

In targeting civilians in this way the Crown Forces hoped that this would entice the Republican guerrillas into an open fight that the British would surely win.

Many years ago I found myself down in that part of the world and I swung the car in the general direction of Kilmichael.

There is an impressive monument there to commemorate the ambush.

I got out of my vehicle and walked up behind the structure.

It was a soft day and light was fading.

In the space of a few hundred splashy steps up the field, I was able to travel back in time and inhabit the vantage point of the IRA commander.

It was to look into the mind of a military genius.

As I had stated earlier this month, the First World War anniversary is complicated here in Ireland.

That is because some Irishmen who were in the uniform of the British King during that conflict came back and fought for Irish freedom in the ranks of the IRA.

One of them was Thomas Bernardine Barry.

Although he was initially suspected by local Republicans of having pro-British sympathies he eventually became the legendary commander of the West Cork Flying Column.

Tom Barry was all of 22 years of age when this iconic photograph was taken at an IRA training camp.

On this day in 1920 at Kilmichael, his objective was to wipe out the unit that had been inflicting great cruelties on the people of West Cork.

Unlike First World War general Barry led from the front.

If all warfare is based on deception then the IRA commander deployed this to great effect.

Wearing a trench coat and a Sam Browne belt Barry stood in the middle of the road and the first lorry slowed down.

They thought he was one of their own stranded in enemy territory.

Their hesitation was fatal.

Barry lobbed in a mills bomb hand grenade and it exploded

Kilmichael had begun.

When the gunfire stopped all of the British war criminals were dead.

There is a dispute among historians about whether or not there was a false surrender incident.

Here is the man himself on the matter.

In his memoir “Guerrilla days in Ireland” Barry vividly described the close in hand to hand fighting at Kilmichael.

He had no resources to train his men in the skills of Musketry, therefore, they had to engage the enemy at point blank range.

At least one Auxiliary was bayoneted in the fight.

Barry lost three Volunteers from his column at Kilmichael.

Pat Deasy, Michael McCarthy and Jim O’Sullivan.

Fuair siad bás as saoirse na hÉireann.

As the light starts to fade on this Irish hillside today I think of what the Barry and his men did for the Irish people on that lonely road in West Cork.

Lest we forget.

Discover Phil’s dramatic play Rebellion