The Burning of Cork 11 December 1920

JohnD66

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In one of the more blatant acts of collective reprisals carried out by Crown forces during the War of Independence, a company of Auxiliaries, K Company, based at Victoria barracks in Cork city burned out the commercial centre of Cork in retaliation for an ambush in which one of their men was killed and 11 wounded. They destroyed 57 businesses, putting 2,000 people out of work, damaged another 200 buildings and for good measure burned the city's architectural gems, the City Hall and the Carnegie library.

The Burning of Cork: December 11-12, 1920 | The Irish Story

The incident is fairly well known at this stage, but there are a number of things still to ponder about it. Firstly, why did the British military, police and political authorities allow the Black ans Tans and Auxiliaries to engage in these indiscriminate reprisals against property? Cork was only the latest in a long line from Trim to Balbriggan to Mallow to Tralee etc.

The policy seems absurdly counter productive given that few business owners in Cork city centre at the time were likely to be Sinn Fein or IRA supporters. Take Grant's drapers and furnishers. for example, which was destroyed in the fire of Dec 11, 1920. The Grants were an old Protestant merchant family - along with the likes of Beamish and Crawford family part of the city's Protestant business elite. Hardly likely to be diehard rebels.

Surely letting the Auxiliary burn all around them was only likely to push more people towards the separatists? And this seems even more ill-considered given that the British government's 'war aim' (they didn't use this phrase of course) was actually to detach the population from the 'extremists' and to create a consensus around a limited Home Rule deal for Southern Ireland.

But instead of clamping down on the Tans and Auxiliaries what the British in fact did in early 1921 was to give official sanction to reprisals against property. Maybe they hoped to direct violence against actual 'Shinners' or their families and not against 'moderates' and unionists?
 
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Boy M5

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In one of the more blatant acts of collective reprisals carried out by Crown forces during the War of Independence, a company of Auxiliaries, K Company, based at Victoria barracks in Cork city burned out the commercial centre of Cork in retaliation for an ambush in which one of their men was killed and 11 wounded. They destroyed 57 businesses, putting 2,000 people out of work, damaged another 200 buildings and for good measure burned the city's architectural gems, the City Hall and the Carnegie library.

The Burning of Cork: December 11-12, 1920 | The Irish Story

The incident is fairly well known at this stage, but there are a number of things still to ponder about it. Firstly, why did the British military, police and political authorities allow the Black ans Tans and Auxiliaries to engage in these indiscriminate reprisals against property? Cork was only the latest in a long line from Trim to Balbriggan to Mallow to Tralee etc.

The policy seems absurdly counter productive given that few business owners in Cork city centre at the time were likely to be Sinn Fein or IRA supporters. Take Grant's drapers and furnishers. for example, which was destroyed in the fire of Dec 11, 1920. The Grants were an old Protestant merchant family - along with the likes of Beamish and Crawford family part of the city's Protestant business elite. Hardly likely to be diehard rebels.

Surely letting the Auxiliary burn all around them was only likely to push more people towards the separatists? And these seems even more ill-considered given that the British government's 'war aim' (they didn't use this phrase of course) was actually to detach the population from the 'extremists' and to create a consensus around a limited Home Rule deal for Southern Ireland.

But instead of clamping down on the Tans and Auxiliaries what the British in fact did in early 1921 was to give official sanction to reprisals against property. Maybe they hoped to direct violence against actual 'Shinners' or their families and not against 'moderates' and unionists?
That 3rd paragraph hits the nail on the head.

Also Kilmichael was rural West Cork (Dillons Cross was a small scale engagement). Not Cork city. From the British side they should have projected normality in the city areas. Compare with Vietnam where it was the VC and N Vietnamese who brought larger scale warfare to the main cities in the south.
 

JohnD66

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That 3rd paragraph hits the nail on the head.

Also Kilmichael was rural West Cork (Dillons Cross was a small scale engagement). Not Cork city. From the British side they should have projected normality in the city areas. Compare with Vietnam where it was the VC and N Vietnamese who brought larger scale warfare to the main cities in the south.
Take your point, but there were already a lot of shootings in Cork city too by that point, albeit smaller scale. Still though, you have to wonder basically, what were the British thinking of by letting the Auxiliaries and 'Tans run wild in the second half of 1920?

There had been another textbook example of how not to do counter insurgency in Tralee about a month earlier. And of course the Croke Park shootings in Dublin about two weeks previously.
 
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cricket

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I once heard a really good radio documentary on RTE about this. It was a repeat of a programme made, I think, to mark the 40th anniversary of the burning, with interviews of eyewitnesses to that night.
I remember also hearing of one group or battalion of tans who were sent back to England at the RIC's request. Apparently, they were so out of control that they were holding up policemen on the streets and stealing their money.
 

JohnD66

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I once heard a really good radio documentary on RTE about this. It was a repeat of a programme made, I think, to mark the 40th anniversary of the burning, with interviews of eyewitnesses to that night.
I remember also hearing of one group or battalion of tans who were sent back to England at the RIC's request. Apparently, they were so out of control that they were holding up policemen on the streets and stealing their money.
As far as I'm aware, K Company, who were responsible for the burning of Cork city were sent no further than Dunmanway, where one of them went to shoot a priest and a young man with learning difficulties a few days later. The Company was disbanded in March 1921 but mostly integrated into other Auxiliary units.
 

cricket

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As far as I'm aware, K Company, who were responsible for the burning of Cork city were sent no further than Dunmanway, where one of them went to shoot a priest and a young man with learning difficulties a few days later. The Company was disbanded in March 1921 but mostly integrated into other Auxiliary units.

AFAIR, the story about the tans holding up the RIC and being sent home came from a guy called Borgonova from UCC at a talk there.
 

brigg

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Balbriggan was sacked 3 months earlier, on September 20th 1920.
I'm planning to set it alight again for the centenary.
 

McTell

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No
//
But instead of clamping down on the Tans and Auxiliaries what the British in fact did in early 1921 was to give official sanction to reprisals against property. Maybe they hoped to direct violence against actual 'Shinners' or their families and not against 'moderates' and unionists?

The official line was that the "insurgents" were often wearing british uniforms. So of course they burnt prod businesses and blamed it on the tans.


MURDERS AND OUTRAGES (UNIFORMED MEN). (Hansard, 9 December 1920)
 


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