Few military engagements of the Irish War of Independence have caused more comment than that of Kilmichael, West Cork, on 28 November 1920 when a 18-strong patrol of the Auxiliary Division of the Royal Irish Constabulary (ADRIC) was ambushed by the West Cork Flying Column of the IRA, under the command of Tom Barry. The battle-hardened and experienced elite ADRIC force was wiped out, with only one surviving. The conventional account of the ambush states that no prisoners were taken as some of the ADRIC had pretended to surrender but then began to fire again, shooting dead two IRA volunteers and mortally wounding another. Was that how it really happened, or is there much more than meets the eye to this traditional narrative?
How was it possible for such a supposedly elite force to be defeated by poorly trained, badly equipped and inexperienced combatants? Were some of the rifles used by the IRA defective and in fact "planted" in the IRA's arsenal by British intelligence? Was Volunteer Jim O'Sullivan killed by his own rifle and not, as traditionally accepted, shot during the "false surrender"? Were the bodies of the ADRIC members mutilated, as British propaganda claimed, in the aftermath of the battle?
These are among the questions posed in this penetrating and objective study by Seán A. Murphy who brings his considerable skills and experience as a former Ordnance (weapons and ammunition) officer to bear on the action at Kilmichael. His study examines the existing evidence in a way that has not been done by previous historians and thus provides a new approach to our understanding of this debated encounter.
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Date of Publication: 31/10/2014