#OnThisDay in 1921 – Tom Barry and the West Cork Flying Column routs a superior force from the Essex Regiment at Crossbarry.

A force of 100 IRA members under the leadership of Tom Barry are involved in a major skirmish with up to 1,000 British troops at Crossbarry, Co Cork. English intelligence had determined that Barry’s West Cork Brigade was based near Crossbarry and planned a major encirclement and assault. Poor planning and timing ensured the 1,000 plus British forces got separated before attacking Barry’s men. Barry was a brilliant guerrilla fighter and strategist who directed an attack against an initial force of approximately 140 men, before he ordered his men to break out.

Charlie Hurley, one of the Brigade commanders who was injured during the Upton ambush, was staying in a house with a pro-republican family, where he was recuperating from serious wounds he had received at Upton a month earlier. When he realised that he was surrounded by the British forces he fled the house, as Tom Barry comments in his book, to reduce the danger to those in the house. Barry remarks that Hurley, ‘went to meet his death like a true Irishman.’ A ballad exists that commemorates him. In addition, the GAA grounds in Bandon are named after him.

Reports as to casualties differ. The IRA claim that over thirty British were killed while official British figures were 10 killed and 6 IRA men killed. Whatever the numbers, it was probably the largest single military engagement in the Irish War of Independence. (The IRA knew major battles with British troops would be a disaster for them and rarely got involved in full frontal action.) While the casualties may not seem that large, Crossbarry was a major morale victory for the IRA who had ‘defeated’ a British force of over 1,000. Prime Minister Lloyd George stated that the Crossbarry and Kilmichael ambushes convinced him of the need for a truce and a treaty with the Irish rebels.

An excellent and detailed account of the Crossbarry battle can be found at The Irish War: http://theirishwar.com/history/ambushes/the-crossbarry-ambush/

Photo: Crossbarry Ambush Memorial, Crossbarry, Co Cork

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