Horror of the Tans
Burning of Cork City - December 11th 1920
A slew of events led up to the fires in Cork's city centre in December of 1920. In the late summer and autumn of that year, the IRA's Cork brigades carried out numerous successful ambushes in the countryside of Ireland. These included the 23rd August ambushes at Kilrush, Co. Clare and Macroom, Co. Cork. This aided in the poorly armed Cork brigades' decision that, for the time being, ambushes were the best means of attack.
These ambushes came to a head on November 28th when seventeen Auxiliaries and three IRA volunteers were killed at Kilmichael. Following this event, on the 11th of December, (the first day of Martial Law in the southern counties of Ireland: Cork, Tipp, Kerry, and Limerick), another ambush took place at Dillion's Cross
in which another Auxiliary was killed. The Black and Tans with their Auxiliary comrades had enough of these IRA successes and proceeded to rampage throughout Cork City.
Some time after the ambush a large group of Black and Tans opened fire without warning or provocation near the intersection of King Street (now MacCurtain
Street) and Summerhill North. The shooting was completely indiscriminate and frantic. Many believe that these troops were soused beyond the point of acutally aiming. Women and children huddled in doorways or ran for shelter elsewhere. The streets soon became deserted. Some panicked people took up refuge at the railway station, and listened to the rifle and revolver fire that continued for more than twenty minutes.
By this time, a number of homes and businesses had been set on fire by extremely angry and drunken Tan companies. While these raged and spread to adjoining buildings, the Tans continued their terror elsewhere in the city. Fires were lit in Patrick St., in the principal business district of the city. A light but steady wind aided the flames to spread from shop to shop down the row. Shortly after this, City Hall caught fire and this eventually spread to the Cork City Free Library which stood next to the municipal government building.
Members of the Cork Fire Brigade
fought the flames bravely, amidst gunfire. As a matter of fact, at least two firemen received bullet wounds while fighting the terrible conflagration of the city centre.
Thousands of people lost their jobs and means of earning as a result of these fires and many lost housing. The estimated damage was in the range of three million pounds. The British-appointed Chief Secretary of Ireland, Sir Hamar Greenwood, proclaimed to the House of Commons that Cork City had been burnt by its own citizens. The Crown never paid a single penny for the damage caused by their occupying forces.
This was just one of the better known incidents of the British-sanctioned terror during the War of Independence. These things need to be remembered and repeated. History is important to the future.