Piper of Crossbarry, The
DESCRIPTION: Piper Flor Begley volunteers to fight but his captain prefers that "Today you'll stride between our lines and martial music play." Tom Barry's fighters defeat 2000 British. "The Piper of Crossbarry, boys, had piped old Ireland free"
AUTHOR: Bryan Mac Mahon
EARLIEST DATE: 1965 (OLochlainn-More)
KEYWORDS: rebellion battle Ireland patriotic IRA music
Mar 19, 1921 - Nationalist victory at Crossbarry
FOUND IN: Ireland
REFERENCES (1 citation):
OLochlainn-More 58A, "The Piper of Crossbarry" (1 text, 1 tune)
cf. "The Boys of Kilmichael" (subject: The exploits of Tom Barry)
NOTES: [On March 19, 1921], 104 men of the Third West Cork Flying Column of the IRA, under Tom Barry, defeat more than 1000 British and 120 Auxiliaries about 12 miles south-west of Cork city (source: Tom Barry Leads West Cork Flying Column To Victory at Crossbarry at Cork's War of Independence site).
The "Black and Tans" were British reinforcements to regular British soldiers sent to Ireland in 1920. The "Auxiliary Cadets" were veteran British army officers sent to help the Black and Tans. (source: Michael Collins: A Man Against an Empire copyright by and available on the History Net site) For more information see RBW note for "The Bold Black and Tan" - BS
Crossbarry was really two actions: Kee, p. 128, notes that "at Crossbarry... not only did Tom Barry and his flying column successfully ambush a convoy of nine military lorries but fought their way out of a massive attempt to encircle them afterward."
This was not the only victory won by Barry in 1920-1921, nor even his most notorious. He was also, according to OxfordCompanion:, p. 40, responsible for killing 15 Auxiliaries at Kilmichael on November 28, 1920 -- an event which also inspired a song.
Kee, pp. 120-121, reports of this action, "After a savage fight at close quarters in which three IRA were killed and, according to Barry, the Auxiliaries made use of the notorious 'false surrender' tactics, the entire convoy was wiped out, and seventeen of the eighteen auxiliaries were killed.... [T]he first British officer on the scene... said that although he had seen thousands of men lying dead in the course of the war, he had never before seen such an appalling sight... The doctor at the inquest, an Irishman, said that there was no doubt that some of the injuries had been inflicted after death."
Dangerfield's history of Irish rebellion does not list Kilmichael or Crossbarry but on p. 319 does mention an action of 1920: "On 9 December a flying column under Tom Barry, Commandant of Cork's No. 3 Brigade, and one of the most ruthless and successful of all guerilla leaders, ambushed two lorry loads of Auxiliaries, and wiped them out in circumstances of unusual savagery."
Although Barry's behavior was unconscionable, the reaction was also ugly, showing how bad conditions were in Ireland at that time: In December, pro-British forces (Auxiliaries and Black and Tans) destroyed a large part of the city of Cork (Kee, pp. 116-117).
Barry would later attack a police barracks in Cork (Kee, p. 128).
Younger, pp. 108-109, notes a case of Barry justifying the murder of a Catholic member of the R. I. C. as he went in to mass, though it doesn't tell whether Barry was actually the assassin.
It's probably no surprise that, when Irish leaders had to decide on the Treaty granting Ireland functional independence, Barry was against it (Murphy, p. 48).
Coogan, p. 169, sums up Barry and Crossbarry as follows: "Barry in fact was one of the bravest men in the war and probably the most successful field commander.... [H]e achieved a spectacular success at Crossbarry, County Cork, on 19 March 1921. In a day-long engagement, encouraged by the traditional pipes of Flor Begley, Barry and a force of about a hundred men broke through a more heavily armed British encirclement of ten times that number and got away safely...."
Ironically, Barry (1897-1980) had been in the British Army in Mesopotamia (Kee, p. 70), and had shown no evidence of nationalist sympathies at that time. But he would later become a high officer of the IRA, becoming its Chief of Staff for a time in 1937.
He eventually wrote a memoir, Guerilla Days in Ireland.- RBW
Last updated in version 2.5
- Coogan: Tim Pat Coogan Michael Collins, 1992 (I used the 1996 Roberts Rinehart edition)
- Dangerfield: George Dangerfield, The Damnable Question: One Hundred and Twenty Years of Anglo-Irish Conflict, Atlantic Little Brown, 1976
- Kee: Robert Kee, Ourselves Alone, being volume III of The Green Flag (covering the brief but intense period from 1916 to the establishment of constitutional government in the 1920s), Penguin, 1972
- Murphy: John A. Murphy, Ireland in the Twentieth Century (originally published in 1975 as a portion of the Gill Hiistory of Ireland), Gill and Macmillan, 1989
- OxfordCompanion: S. J. Connolly, editor, The Oxford Companion to Irish History, Oxford, 1998
- Younger: Calton Younger, Ireland's Civil War (1968, 1979; I used the 1988 Fontana edition)
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