The Battle of Kilmallock: Tracing the battle on the ground.

The Big Fella and The Fighting 2nd Rolls Royce Armoured Cars 1922

National Army officers posing with Rolls Royce ‘Whippet’ Armoured Cars in 1922 (possibly before the fighting in Kilmallock)

Introduction

Growing up in Scotland in the 1970’s and 1980’s I knew very little about Irish history. I knew bits and pieces mainly from Irish folk music I heard through my dad’s vinyl collection but no actual taught history. Later when taking night classes I was introduced to the plays of Sean O’Casey and in particular his Dublin trilogy where he covered the 1916 rising in the ‘Plough and the Stars’, the war of independence in the ‘Shadow of the Gunman’. Both of these events I had a heard a little of but his third play ‘Juno and the Paycock’ dealt with the civil war and this to me at the time was new.

I moved to Ireland in 2000, living mainly in the southwest, and was fascinated by how the effects of the civil war in particular were still to be seen in evidence in 21st century Ireland. The two main political parties Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael were born of the opposing factions at the end of the war and many of the present politicians were the descendants of the leaders of these parties. As I moved around the country digging up parts of Irelands more ancient past I came across sites and stories related to the war of independence and civil war. It was while working in County Limerick that I first heard of the battle of Kilmallock and the enforced leisure offered by the recent recession gave me the opportunity to explore the area where battle took place in 2012.

This article is the result of those explorations around County Limerick and attempts to trace the Battle of Kilmallock through surviving buildings and landscape evidence associated with it. Many of the key flashpoints of the battle were identified through documentary and photographic evidence and looking at recent research on the battle. With this information it is possible to find many of the places associated with the battle on foot (or car).

Battle of Kilmallock - Map1

Map of the battle showing a number of the key locations.

Background

The civil war was the result of a split in the Irish Republican movement following the signing of the Anglo Irish Treaty in 1921. The Treaty granted Ireland self governance as a dominion within the British Empire and also allowed for the partition of the six counties of Ulster. To many within the Republican movement this was seen as unacceptable and a betrayal which led to a split in the Irish Republican Army (IRA). After unsuccessful attempts to find peaceful solutions both the Pro-Treaty Free State National Army and the Anti-Treaty IRA began a rush to occupy strategic locations such as army barracks which were in the process of being abandoned by the British Army as it started its withdrawal from the towns and cities of southern Ireland. This rush led to the first hostilities though it was not until the National Army started to bombard the Four Courts in Dublin, which was had been occupied by the Anti-Treaty IRA, on the 27th of June 1922 that the civil war began in earnest. After pitched battles throughout Dublin the National Army secured the city and began to move out into the rest of the country.

The Anti-Treaty Republicans managed to hold the counties southwest of a line formed from Limerick to Waterford which became known as the Munster Republic. After the fall of Limerick City the Anti-Treaty IRA set up defences around the three County Limerick towns of Bruff, Bruree and Kilmallock (known as the Bruff-Bruree-Kilmallock Triangle) with Kilmallock being central to that defence as it was a major transport hub with road and rail links into County Cork. The fighting, which started on the 20th of July, and was to last until the capture of Kilmallock by Free State forces on the 5th of August, was one of the few engagements during the war where defined fronts existed between the two opposing sides with fortified buildings, barricades and even trenches being utilised.

Bruff

The prelude to the battle was the attack by the Anti-Treaty IRA on Bruff on the 20th and 21st of July. The Anti-Treaty forces surrounded the Old Barracks building on the Main Street which housed a National Army garrison, using the Munster & Leinster and National bank buildings with their adjoining cottages (also on Main Street) for cover. With the fall of Limerick City the Anti-Treaty forces called off the attack temporarily but by the next day had manged to take the town. However this victory was to be short lived as the now reinforced National Army was to finally retake Bruff on the 23rd of July.

Free State Soldiers in Bruff July 27, 1922

National Army Soldiers in Bruff. July 27th 1922.

Bruree

The next phase of the battle centred on the town of Bruree to the west of Kilmallock. The National Army took the town on the 30th July after heavy fighting which involved the use of artillery and armoured cars and brought about the deaths of several combatants on both sides. The Anti-Treaty IRA commander Liam Deasy knowing the importance of the town as a launching point for an attack on Kilmallock itself launched an immediate counterattack using armoured cars and trench mortars. Several buildings were garrisoned during the IRA counterattack by the Free State army. These included the National School (now the De Valera Museum) on Water Street (close to the road bridge over the River Maigue), The Railway Hotel on Main Street (which lay next to the railway station and was the National Army Headquarters) and Bruree Lodge off Mill Road. After some initial success, where National Army prisoners were taken at the school building and others forced to retreat, the Anti-Treaty forces were eventually halted by National Army reinforcements from Limerick City, including armoured cars and artillery, led by Commandant General Seamus Hogan.

Free State Soldiers in Bruff July 26, 1922

National Army Soldiers in Bruff. July 26th 1922

Final Attack on Kilmallock

With both Bruff and Bruree finally secured by the National Army its field commanders Generals Eoin O’Duffy and W.R.E. Murphy planned the final assault on Kilmallock. This involved bringing up field artillery (obtained from Britain) which was most likely located close to a group of farm buildings with an associated yard at Ballyania/off the Bruff to Kilmallock road. This seems the most likely area for the artillery as there would have been a good line of sight onto Kilmallock Hill and suitable access from the road and secure footing for the artillery. On 3rd of August around 2000 soldiers of the National Army, backed up by armoured cars and the artillery, made a general advance upon Kilmallock from the west, north and east (from the villages and towns of Bruree, Dromin and Bulgaden). The westernmost position of the National Army was at Knocksouna Hill where their troops excavated defensive trenches. This was seen as a quite unusual step but the trenches did protect the troops from a counterattack at one point and their main function may have been to hinder any retreat along the Charleville Road by the Anti-Treaty IRA once Kilmallock had fallen.

 

A prisoner under escort at the South Western Front during the Irish Civil War. 22 July 1922

An IRA prisoner under escort. July 1922

 

As the battle drew to a close most of fighting at Kilmallock took place on the nearby hills surrounding the town; Quarry Hill (to the east), Kilmallock Hill (to the north) and Ash Hill (to the southwest) where hedgerows, walls and buildings were turned into defensive positions by the Anti-Treaty IRA. The Anti-Treaty troops were more experienced than the National Army troops (and at the start of the battle had similar numbers of troops and weapons) but as the battle progressed the use of artillery against their positions was telling and this eventually forced them off the hills surrounding Kilmallock.

There was a lull in the battle overnight with only occasional attempts by the Anti-Treaty forces to counterattack the National Armies positions on the surrounding hills. The following morning the National Army troops encountered little resistance as they moved into Kilmallock and captured only a small number of Anti-Treaty troops. The reason for this was that most of the Anti-Treaty IRA had pulled out during the night due to the seaborne landings of National Army in Counties Kerry and Cork which affectively outflanked the Anti-Treaty forces. As they retreated the Anti-treaty IRA left behind mines, road blocks and blew up a number of road bridges, such as at Garroose Bridge which crossed the River Loobagh close to Knocksouna Hill. These actions enabled the Anti-Treaty forces to safely retreat to Charleville in Cork.

Passage West in Cork Early August 1922

National Army soldiers posing for a photograph during the sea landings in Cork. Early August 1922

Aftermath

The use of the seaborne landings by the National Army and its superiority in equipment and men would lead to all of the major cities and towns of Ireland being controlled by the Free State and the Anti-Treaty IRA dispersing and reverting to a Guerrilla war, which would continue until April 1923. This latter stage of the war was to be a dark one with atrocities, assassinations and executions carried out by both sides which was to leave a bitter legacy in Ireland that would last for generations.

PEERLE~1

A National Army Peerless Armoured Car in Cork City after the seaborne landings. August 1922.

Sites Associated with the Battle

I’ve set down a list of all the sites, buildings and structures which I visited and think are associated with the battle in the tables below. This is by no means a definitive list.

Bruff

Name & Location Description Grid Coordinates National Inventory of Architectural Heritage
The Old Barracks, Main Street. Police barrack building which was built between 1860 and 1880. The building was in use as a Garda station until the 1990’s after which it was converted into flats. During the battle the National Army had a small garrison stationed there which held out from July the 20th against repeated attacks by Anti-Treaty forces who used rifle grenades and automatic weapons against the building. 162815, 136267 21803006
Munster and Leinster Bank, Main Street. The building, which is now the ‘Old Bank’ B&B and bar and until recently was an AIB bank, was at the time of the battle the Munster and Leinster Bank. During the Anti-Treaty IRA attack on Bruff the bank and adjoining houses were occupied in an attempt to control the town and surround the nearby barracks building and its Free State garrison. 162815, 136267 21803006
The National Bank, Main Street. The building, which is now the Bank of Ireland, was at the time of the battle the National Bank. During the IRA attack on Bruff the bank and adjoining houses were occupied in an attempt to control the town and surround the nearby barracks building and its Free State garrison. 162859, 136216 21803008
Old Barracks, Bruff from SE, NIAH

Old Barracks, Bruff from the southeast (National Inventory of Architectural Heritage).

Bruree

Name & Location Description Grid Coordinates National Inventory of Architectural Heritage
Bruree Lodge, Mill Street. 19th century house with substantial gardens/grounds and out buildings. At the time of the battle the house was garrisoned by the National Army and who held out against Anti-Treaty attacks which used trench mortars and rifle grenades. The building is currently a private residence. 155266, 130234 21804003
The Schoolhouse, St. Munchin’s Terrace. 19th century building with surrounding low stone wall which enclosed a yard. At the time of the battle the schoolhouse was successfully attacked by Anti-Treaty forces using an improvised armoured car equipped with a Lewis or Thomson gun and forced the National Army garrison, which numbered 15, to surrender. The schoolhouse is currently the De Valera Museum and Bruree Heritage Centre. 154952, 130496 21804014
Railway Hotel, Main street. Late 19th or early 20th century hotel building which as its name suggests served as a hotel for the nearby train station at Bruree. At the time of the battle the hotel served as the HQ for the National Army and its commander Tom Flood of the Dublin Guard. The building was attacked by an improvised armoured car and the garrison was forced to move to an adjacent building which was more secure until the town was relieved by National Army troops from Limerick. Until recently the hotel was in use as a pub but when visited it was boarded up. 555231, 630490 N/A
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View of the school house at Bruree (now the De Valera Museum & Heritage Centre) from the southwest.

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View of the Railway Hotel from the northeast.

 

 

Kilmallock

Name & Location Description Grid Coordinates National Inventory of Architectural Heritage
Kilmallock Hill Group of cottages, houses and out buildings located on top of the hill are shown on the 2nd edition Ordnance Survey. A series of paths or roads intersect the buildings and their property boundaries and join a main road which links to both the Bruff and Bruree roads running out of Kilmallock town itself. Some of these buildings were occupied by the Anti-Treaty forces during the battle and were used mainly as machine gun and sniping posts which guarded the northern and western approaches to the hill. The area was assaulted by the National Army in the latter stages of the battle using small arms, armoured car and artillery. The hill remains surprisingly unchanged since the battle though there are now more houses lining the road on the north facing slope which line the main roads to the north. 560410, 628823 (centred) N/A
Quarry Hill Quarry Hill was located approximately half a mile to the northeast of Kilmallock. The 2nd edition Ordnance Survey shows a series of disused quarries and a limekiln with associated buildings. Anti-Treaty defensive positions were set up within the quarries and some of the buildings. These positions guarded the Bulgaden to Kilmallock road and advances from the north and east. National Army assaults were made upon these positions in the latter stages of the battle which included artillery fire. None of the quarry buildings or workings now remain having been demolished and backfilled respectively. 561535, 628524 (centred) N/A
Ash Hill Towers, R515 (Charleville Road). Ash Hill Towers was constructed in the late 18th century and consisted of a main mansion house with a number of associated out buildings and extensive grounds. At the time of the battle the mansion house was used as the HQ by the Anti-Treaty IRA for the duration of the battle. It seems likely that both the grounds and the out buildings were also used as defensive positions, protecting the western and north-western approaches into Kilmallock. The mansion house and its associated buildings remain relatively unchanged and is currently Ash Hill Stud. 160676, 127180 21813051

 

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View of Kilmallock from Kilmallock Hill.

Other Key Locations

Name & Location Description Grid Coordinates National Inventory of Architectural Heritage
Knocksouna Hill Knocksouna Hill is located approximately 2 miles to the west of Kilmallock. The hill (on which an early possibly prehistoric enclosure is located) overlooks many of the roads leading out of the western end of Kilmallock towards Charleville and also the main roads south and southeast from Bruree. A detachment of ninety six men of the Dublin Guard under Commandant Tom Flood were to set up entrenched positions at the hill to attempt a halt of retreating Anti-Treaty forces when Kilmallock fell to the National Army. These positions were to come under sporadic machine gun fire during the battle. 556564, 627992 (centred) N/A
Garroose Bridge The bridge at Garroose crosses the River Loobagh near Knocksouna Hill and forms a crossing for the Bruree to Charleville road. The middle section of the bridge appears to have been repaired and this may be the result of it having been partially demolished by the retreating Anti-Treaty forces during their retreat from Kilmallock at the end of the battle. 155025, 127455 21904703
National Army Artillery Position The approximate location of the National Army’s Artillery Position was depicted in a map in Eoin Neeson’s 1966 book. Looking at the 2nd edition Ordnance Survey it seems the most likely location was within the yard or adjoining southern field of a farm at Ballyania. Another possible location was at another farm building (long since demolished) at Ballycullane but this may have been too close to the Anti-Treaty positions at Quarry and Kilmallock Hills. Ballyania

560901, 630509

Ballycullane

561089, 630198

N/A
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View of Knocksouna Hill from the east.

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View of the western side of Garroose Bridge. This side showed clear signs of repair presumably after it was blown up by the retreating IRA after the battle.

Archaeological Potential

Due to the bitter legacy of the civil war period there was no real appetite for historical or archaeological research into the war unlike the War of Independence. This changed in the latter part of the 20th century as eye witnesses to the civil war started to pass away and memories began to fade. While taking the photos for this article I asked locals if they had any information on sites or buildings associated with the battle and I was often surprised to find many didn’t know that there had been a battle there at all.

Hopefully as the centenary of the Civil War draws close more historic research (particularly oral history) will be carried out and there is also the potential that an archaeological survey would greatly add to our understanding of civil war sites such as the Battle of Kilmallock. In particular metal detecting surveys of key locations of the battle (with advice from the Defence Force or Garda in case live munitions are found) such as at the school building, the Railway Hotel and Bruree Lodge in Bruree and at Kilmallock Hill and Quarry Hill to the north of Kilmallock. A geophysical survey and/or test pitting in conjunction with a metal detecting survey may help locate the trenches excavated by the National Army troops at Knocksouna Hill. The only other example of trenches used by Irish forces around this time that I can think of is at St Stephens Green in Dublin where the Irish Citizens Army excavated trench defences during the Easter Rising. This makes the trenches at Knocksouna, if they survive, important. Finally a record of the surviving buildings and structures associated with the battle could be carried out. Of particular interest are the buildings in Bruree, farm buildings on Kilmallock Hill and the repaired bridge at Garroose. Many of these could also be the subject of photogrammetry and laser scanning which may show more clearly any damage caused by the fighting. It would be great to see this work carried out by local community groups and volunteers from County Limerick though hopefully they’d have a space set aside for any interested Scottish archaeologists who happened along.

For anyone interested in the Irish Civil War and Battle of Kilmallock I’ve put in a bibliography with a number of books and articles which will give a lot more details of the period. In Particular check out John O’Callaghan’s excellent book on the battle and any of the books on the civil war period published by Mercier www.mercierpress.ie

Bibliography

Coogan, Tim Pat, and Morrison, George, 1998. The Irish Civil War: A Photographic Record, Roberts Rinehart Pub.

Harrington, Michael, 2009. The Munster Republic: The Civil War in North Cork. Mercier Press.

Hopkinson, Michael, 1988. Green against Green, Gill and Macmillan

Neeson, Eoin, 1966. The Civil War in Ireland, Cork

O’Callaghan, John 2011. The Battle for Kilmallock, Mercier Press

Ó Ruairc, Pádraig Óg 2011. Revolution. A Photographic History of Revolutionary Ireland 1913-1923, Mercier Press.

Seoighe, Mainchín 1987. The Story of Kilmallock, Kilmallock Historical Society.

Shiels, Damian, 2007. The Potential for Conflict Archaeology in the Republic of Ireland in War and Sacrifice: Studies in the Archaeology of Conflict.

Maps

I consulted the 2nd edition Ordnance Survey map (1897-1913) covering the battle field site through the National Monument Services map viewer

https://www.archaeology.ie/node/421

I used © OpenStreetMap, QGIS and Inkscape to create my general map of the battlefield.

https://www.openstreetmap.org

https://qgis.org/en/site/

https://inkscape.org/en/

Historic and Architectural Photographs

All of the historic photographs were obtained from the National Library of Irelands Flickr Page.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/yournlireland/

Some of the architectural photos were obtained from the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage.

http://www.buildingsofireland.ie/

12 thoughts on “The Battle of Kilmallock: Tracing the battle on the ground.

  1. Very interesting. I stayed in Ash Hill B+B a couple years ago. Supposedly there is some graffiti etched in the upper attic spaces from soldiers who were there during the fighting. Such a lovely place today, quite different from what was going on there back almost 100 years ago.

    Liked by 1 person

    • When I make it back over to Ireland I’ll need to see if the B&B will let me take a few pictures of the graffiti. It really is a beautiful part of the country and it is hard to picture a battle happeneing there.

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  2. Great piece Liam! I think this may have the highest potential of any Civil War battlefield. I often heard it said you could see traces of the trenches. When you do make it over if you fancy company let me know! (If I’m not in England…)

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  3. Huge potential source for Civil War history and archaeology in post-Truce compensation claims in National Archives. I’ve seen claims from occupants of premises damaged in two lesser-known exchanges in mid-Cork. Basic descriptions of claims are listed on the website, I think all counties are now catalogued.

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    • Might try to get over to Ireland this year so I can check out records like that Niall. I wanted to put in a section about the civilian experience during the battle but its such a big subject that I thought it’d warrant an article all on its own.

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  4. Have a read of John Pinkman’s memoir “Legion of the Vanguard” for a 1st had account by a Free State Soldier of the Battle of Kilmalock. Also Dr. JOHN O Callaghan’s excellent book “The Battle of Kilmallock” The commander of the Free State Army there was General WRE Murphy his grandson did an M.A. THESIS on him that also has derails of the battle.

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    • I had John O Callaghans book on me when I was driving around Kilmallock looking for the battlefield. It was really informative especially the maps. I’m hoping to get over this year if work allows and I’ll see if Limerick Eason’s or the library has the books you suggested. I’d love to revisit the subject armed with more information but also spend a day or two looking for more of the battlefield. Hopefully there can be some archaeological work done on the battlefield with lots of community involvement.

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  5. What a great article, I grew up in Kilmallock and had no idea of The Battle, I know my house was a former soldiers house, it’s a shame we were not taught this in school. Thank you for such an informative, well written piece, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

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    • Thanks Helen. when I was doing the fieldwork for the article I was really suprised that a lot of the locals I talked to weren’t aware that there had been a battle there. Hopefully more work will be done on the battle which will involve the local communities.

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  6. Great work, liam.
    I grew up on a farm outside Bruff, off the Hospital road.
    As kids we found old spent bullet cases and many a brass button with the Harp on it..
    I know the farm was associated with some fighting it the war of indepiendence, but I often wondered who those brass buttons actually belonged to, and if the men wearing them died there….

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    • Thanks Brendan. When I did the research for the article I did notice much of the heaviest fighting was in Bruree, Bruff and the outskirts of Kilmallock. It would be great to do some field more fieldwork for the battle to see pinpoint more places associated with it. I heard that Damian Shiels from Rubicon Archaeology may try to conduct some more work there, though I suspect it will be when the centenary is closer in 2022,

      Like

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