Podcast: Tom Barry and the Kilmichael ambush

The aftermath of the Kilmichael ambush, November 1920, in which 17 Auxiliaries and three IRA men were killed.

Cathal Brennan and John Dorney discuss Tom Barry and the Kilmichael Ambush of November 1920. First Broadcast on the Irish History Show.

Tom Barry became a legendary IRA commander in 1920 to 1921, but before that he was a British soldier in Mesopotamia in the First World War and, for some time after, apparently a loyal ex serviceman. We discuss his path, more tortuous than he wished to portray it, into the IRA.

The Kilmichael ambush itself saw Barry’s flying column wipe out a patrol of 18 Auxiliaries on the road between Dunmanway and Macroom.

Controversy has always dogged the action. British reports at the time stated that it was straightforward massacre where the IRA tricked the ‘Cadets’ by wearing captured British uniforms and after taking them prisoner, butchered them with axes. Barry’s version,

Tom Barry leads a parade of IRA Kilmichael veterans in 1966.

elucidated in his memoir, was the polar opposite, that it was the Auxiliaries who had broken the laws of war by a ‘false surrender trick’ at the height of the fighting, after which they forfeited their right to be taken prisoner.

We discuss what we can glean of the reality of the ambush and why neither of the above accounts probably do justice to what happened there. We also discuss the war of words that erupted decades later over the representation of the action by the Canadian historian Peter Hart.

Finally we go into Barry’s later career, in the Civil War, in which he fell out badly with the anti-Treaty IRA leadership and in the IRA again in the 1930s and finally as memoirist and source for the War of Independence.

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