Authors: Meda Ryan
Tags: #General, #Europe, #Ireland, #History, #Biography & Autobiography, #Guerrillas, #Military, #Historical, #Nationalists
Tom Barry didn't know then, nor was he ever to know, that the first reÂaction of SeÃ¡n Buckley and other brigade officers was one of mistrust. Why was the son of an RIC man, who had spent four years in the British army and upheld their policy upon his return to IreÂland, seeking membership of the IRA? âNaturally we had to be cauÂtious. Questions were asked: Could he be a spy? Was he genuine? They set traps for him. He was well tested before being accepted,' Tom KelÂleher commented.
Once he joined, he got caught up in the movement. He himself says that he had never read the programme of Sinn FÃ©in. Nor was he concerned that three-fourths of the people of all Ireland had at the end of 1918 âdeclared in a British general election for a Sovereign InÂdeÂpendent Irish Republic, nor that DÃ¡il Ãireann had accepted reÂsponÂsibility for the IRA'.
âThese things seemed to be of little matter then. But what did matter was that one had to decide whether to aid the occupying forces and be a traitor, sit on the ditch and be a cynic or join your own people and do the right thing.' However, as the struggle developed and many young men died by the bullet, âone soon learned that programmes that included political, social and econoÂmic contexts were important,' he maintained. âBeing the army of a democratically elected government, defending its people and its embryonic instituÂtions changed the world-wide image of the IRA and enÂhanced the morale of its Volunteers.
Tom felt âthe outlawing â the banning of DÃ¡il Ãireann, the elected parliament of the people' should be chalÂlenged.
In August SeÃ¡n BuckÂley, CharÂÂÂlie Hurley, Liam Deasy and other offiÂcers knew that in the rapidly changing pattern of action by the âruthlessness' of enemy âextremists in BanÂdon and BanÂtry,' morale had reached a low ebb. To counteract this a trained brigade column was required; consequently a suitable officer to train and lead the new force was considered. The name of Tom Barry was once more brought to the fore. SeÃ¡n Buckley sent for him; he was no longer staying at home as he antiÂcipated another swoop by the British forces.
The meeting between Tom Barry and the officers took place in Barrett's, Killeady, where the urgency of training men to fight and to defend themselves was discussed. Barry says he was reluctant to get involved at first as he wanted âto complete' his education in âcollege in Cork and get a job'.
A week later Tom, invited to attend a staff meeting at brigade headquarters in O'Mahony's of Belrose, was quesÂtioned by Charlie Hurley and Ted O'Sullivan while other officers listened. Liam Deasy said, âI observed his reactions closely. His ansÂwers were direct and clear. He was smart and military in his apÂpearÂance and gave the impression of being sharp, quick and dynamic. He presented himself to me as a very likeable person and won my comÂplete confidence â¦ we felt that he would have much to offer as a proÂfessional soldier who had seen active military service in the Middle East. His subsequent distinguished service in the national cause beÂcame an inspiration, and as a guerrilla fighter his name beÂcame a household word throughout the country.'
Initially Tom Barry was reÂluctant to allow his name to go forward. However he consented, and having been proposed and seconded, his name was entered on the register and he was apÂpointed officer in charge of training. âI told them I knew damn all about it, but I'd do my best'.
âOnce he was told he was accepted he got going right away,' Danny Canty recalled. âHe stood up and spoke. He talked of past hisÂtory and our obligation towards Ireland and why we should fight for this country of ours. He filled us with fire, telling us we needed to train. Any of us who liked could go home, but he'd prefer we'd stay, as he wanted to begin right away. That was a Saturday evening. He took us up the hills and we worked together that evening and all day SunÂday. We didn't go to Mass or meeting. I will always remember this good-looking young felÂlow, full of life and ambiÂtion, his hair blowing in the summer breeze.'
That Sunday afternoon was forever etched in SeÃ¡n MacÂCÃ¡rÂthaigh's mind. Tom's vitality impressed him as he pushed young lads like himself to act with soldiery precision. âOn a few occasions subÂsequently on your way to Skerry's College, we travelled together ... on the mornÂing train'. SeÃ¡n approached Charlie Hurley on his inÂtenÂtion to abandon his studies and join the fighting column. HowÂever, Charlie âordered' him back to the city to continue his work as the intelligence gatherer and co-ordinator of dispatches between the Cork brigades. It was âmore important from their view point at this juncture as they could not arm all the men available locally.'
Personnel at this intense Belrose meeting outlined a system of training the brigade. Tom Kelleher observed that âBarry was bursting with constructive ideas that were debated fully. He was mature beÂyond his years â a genius.'
A few weeks later Tom gave another preliminary talk at CoakÂley's near Begley's forge. Tom Kelleher was present. âI can almost memoÂrise it to this day. It was all about Ireland, and how it was once a nation and will be again, that we were entitled to our freedom, but we'll have to fight for it he said, and we'll have to get it. It was powÂerful stuff. We were filled with enthusiasm. Then he said, “Training is important. We'll have to get going right away”.'
Brigid O'Mahony recognised him arriving at her aunt's house one day, sporting a beard and wearing a hat. âBe careful of him, he's a British spy,' she said to her uncle. âI know him; he was in the British army; his sisters are in our school.' Her uncle passed on the word, which was met with the rebuke, âTell her [Brigid] to keep her mouth shut; we know he's Tom Barry, he's with us now,' was the reply.
The Third West Cork Brigade was one of the three Cork briÂgades formed on 5 January 1919. Its eastern boundary exÂtended west of the Old Head of KinÂsale, north to a point two miles south of WaterÂfall, west to one mile south of Cookstown skirting Kilmichael, to the southern end of the Pass of Keimineigh on the Kerry border, then west of GlenÂgarriff to the sea enÂclosÂing all of the CastletownÂbere peninsula. The drawbacks of the brigade were many: shortage of arms, machine-guns, bombs, explosives and engineering mateÂrial; lack of transport, no barracks to retire to; and the hardship of obÂtainÂing food and clothÂÂing as they went from one area to another. Also, unlike the enemy, the BriÂtish troops, who had battle experience gained during the 1914â1918 War and were accustomed to fighting and bloodÂshed, the West Cork IRA had no exÂperience of war. Most of the members were unÂtrained in the use of arms, tacÂtical manoeuvÂring and foot-drill, but under Tom Barry's leadership, armed with the willingness to learn, the brigade became highly efficient.
According to Barry, âThis was the force which was to attempt to break by armed action the British domination of seven centuries' duration. Behind it was a tradition of failure â¦ And sadly it must be recorded that when West Cork women and children died in 1846 and 1847 of hunger, and the British ascendancy seized their food, not a West Cork man drove a pike through any of the murderers of his family.'
In the brigade there were seven battalions, organised around the chief towns. Each battalion was divided into companies and these in turn were divided into sections. Unlike a regular army, numbers were flexible, deÂpendÂing on population and activity in a locality.
Battalion staff and company officers were to be trained first. These in turn were to act as training officers to their home units. Barry sugÂgested the setting up of five separate training camps so that the briÂgade would be able to call upon the services of a large body of men as the need arose. The locations chosen were in Kilbrittain, BallyÂmurphy, Dunmanway, Schull and Bantry. The camp houses were chosen for their isolation and for having a good range of outside buildings for the Volunteers to sleep in while scouts and sentries kept watch.
The first training camp commenced at the end of September in O'Brien's, Clounbuig, Kilbrittain â a house where the males and the females were all inÂvolved in the movement. All the men slept in the one barn. Training continued for about ten hours a day, generally extended to a week to inculcate military discipline and to teach eleÂmentary tactics. âThe men were told to act as if they were expecÂting an attack at any hour of the day or night â¦ They practised occupyÂing their defence positions, aiming and trigger pressing and moving in extended order as directed. It was an unorthodox approach to trainÂing, but the circumstances necessitated this departure,' he reÂcalled. All that mattered he felt was that the men would obey orders, shoot straight and move in proper forÂmation. âTheir ability to salute or to form fours smartly wasn't in the circumstances, considered.'
The full military practice together with the lectures, written work and map-reading meant, according to Barry, âthat the men's minds held nothing but thoughts of war.'
âI stressed to the men that they would be called upon to underÂtake long marches, they would often go hungry and sleep rough â in a field or in a barn. “You may leave home one day and never return,” I told them.'
Charlie HurÂley, brigade OC arrived one day; he obserÂved for a short while, had a few words with Barry, fell in with a secÂtion, joined the sharp, swift manoeuvring of side arms. John FitzÂgerald said âit was a moment I will not forget when Charlie anÂnounÂced that from now on Tom Barry was brigade column commander. WithÂÂout doubt he was as sharp and as fit a man as ever wore shoe leather!'
Barry embarked on organising a guerrilla force that would be one of the strongest in Ireland. His keen observation, strict disciÂpline, good organisation and fearless, dynamic personality gave conÂfiÂdence and inspiration to those that fought and planned with him. âThere is such a thing as a born solÂdier, and Tom Barry was one,' said Danny Canty. âOnce he was in the moveÂment he threw his heart into it. He was in it in spirit and in body. The soldier in him wanted to push the men forward.'
This lightly built twenty-three year old was winning the respect of the men he was to lead: he had to prove his worth more than any of his men. âYou have to make sure that your troops are more afraid of you than they are of the enemy. I did that.'
âThe men had the courage, they had idealism in their souls, all they needed was the spark to ignite, and Barry provided that spark.'
Dr Thomas Dillon Memoir, 3738, TCAD. At the Volunteer and Sinn FÃ©in conÂventions held in October 1917, structures were changed with the deÂcided aim towards self-government.
See Brian Murphy,
Patrick Pearse and
the Lost Republican Ideal
, pp. 88â110; John A. Murphy,
Ireland in the Twentieth Century
, pp. 11, 12.
1; Tom Barry, personal records, TB (Tom Barry) private papers
Charlie O'Keeffe author interview 14/9/1974: Tom Barry interview; Sir Peter Strickland Papers, WO35/206, IWM.
Charlie O'Keeffe author interview 14/9/1974.
The Reality of the Anglo-Irish War 1920â21 In West Cork
, p. 8; Charlie O'Keeffe, author interÂview 6/11/1978; Kathy Hayes, author interview 16/4/1976.
Bill Hales, author interview 14/9/1974 ; Tom Barry, author interviews; also Tom Barry to Kate O'Callaghan, RTÃ Sound Archives, n.d.; Tom Barry â in wide-ranging interview with Nollaig Ã Gadhra, RTÃ Sound Archives, 1969.
So called because of the colour of their uniform.
, 20 July 1920.
Kathleen Keyes McDonnell,
There is a Bridge at Bandon
, p. 147. Percival was on âa man hunt' for William Keyes McDonnell. He and his men raided and wrecked their home and their Corn Mills at Castlelack on numerous ocÂcasions.
Charlie O'Keeffe, author interview 7/12/1975; Tom Barry to Kate O'CalÂlaghan, RTÃ Sound Archives, n.d.
, The Reality,
p. 8;SeÃ¡n Buckley, Third Brigade I/O 25/1/1940, Tom Hales, Third Brigade O/C, n.d. Con Crowley, Brigade Staff Captain, 20/1/1940 and Mick Herlihy, Company CapÂtain, 23/1/1940 in Sworn Statements to the MiliÂtary Service Registration, Board, dept. of DeÂfence, Sheila Barry Irlam Papers.
Butler, p. 39.
Charlie O'Keeffe, author interview 6/11/1978.
Tom Kelleher, author interview 13/6/1974.
Tom Barry to Raymond Smith,
, 8 December 1970.
Tom Barry to Kate O'Callaghan, n.d.
RTÃ Sound Archives
Florence O'Donoghue Papers, , MS 31,320, NLI; Tom Barry's manuscript, TB private papers; Tom Barry to Griffith and O'Grady,
, p. 143; See also Barry,
, p. 8. Officers: SeÃ¡n Buckley, Charlie Hurley, Liam Deasy.
Liam Deasy, note to author 9/1/1972; also Liam Deasy,
Towards Ireland Free
, p. 141.
Tom Barry, Kenneth Griffith interview, RTÃ Sound Archives, n.d.
Danny Canty, author interview 6/8/1979; also notebook, Florence O'DonogÂhue Papers, MS 31,320, NLI; Kate O'Callaghan RTÃ Radio interview, n.d. RTÃ Sound Archives.
SeÃ¡n MacCÃ¡rthaigh in âPersonal Recollections' to Tom Barry 16/8/1948, TB priÂvate papers.