The killing of three policemen near Timoleague in 1920 signalled the greatest loss of life suffered by the regular RIC in a single ambush in West Cork during the War of Independence
BY DIARMUID KINGSTON
On May 10th, 1920, a foot patrol of four policemen attached to Timoleague Barracks in Clonakilty RIC District was ambushed by a party of Irish Republican Army (IRA) near Ahawadda crossroads, about two miles from Timoleague.
The policemen had gone to investigate a report of agrarian disturbance in the vicinity of Ardgehane.
The ambush party had been in position since early morning and included 11 Volunteers drawn from two neighbouring IRA units: three Volunteers from Kilbrittain Company including their O/C Charlie Hurley, who was leader of the ambush party, and eight Volunteers from Barryroe Company including their O/C James Moloney. The three RIC men killed were: Sergeant John Flynn, a native of Kildysart, Co Clare, a married man with three young children. He was about 50 years of age and been in the force about 25 years. He had been a farmer before joining up; Constable Edward Dunne, who came from Maryborough in Queen’s County (now Portlaoise, Co Laois). He was 32, married and had two young children. He had been in the force for 13 years; Constable William Brick, a native of Tralee, Co Kerry, was 32 and single. Before joining the force he had been a postman and had completed almost 12 years of police service.
Following the killing of the three policemen, the then parish priest of Timoleague, Fr Timothy O’Hea, speaking from the pulpit during Mass, condemned the ambush as the work of ‘merciless, cruel, callous assassins’.
He said they were police officers doing their work, ‘protecting the lives and the properties of people and their shooting, far from being justified, was as cold blooded and atrocious an act as was ever committed in a civilised community’.
In the days after this sermon, the parish priest was visited by members of the local IRA company and warned to tone down his sermons and to stop the condemnation of the Volunteers. A journalist who lived in the locality and had forwarded the text of the priest’s sermon to the press was warned as to the content of his future dispatches.
In the Pro-Cathedral in Skibbereen, the Bishop of Ross, Most Reverend Dr Kelly, addressed the congregation: ‘This attack on these innocent policemen made my blood creep. It was callous, wicked murder, it was slaughter.’
The subsequent inquest into the deaths of the RIC men brought in a verdict of ‘wilful murder by the perpetrators’. A harrowing account of the proceedings was published in local newspapers.
‘At the close of the inquest a pathetic scene was witnessed. A sister of Constable Dunne was present and wept profusely, while a Constable broke down completely in sorrow for his dead comrades.’
Newspaper articles related how the remains of the policemen had been conveyed to Timoleague Courthouse where they ‘lay on bags on the floor and covered with a rough cloth. There were traces of blood on the stairs and near the corpses and the scene resembled that of a slaughterhouse’.
The attacking party of IRA had been armed with shotguns (save for three of the leaders who had rifles) and these weapons caused horrific injuries when discharged at close range.
The inquest on the three dead policemen was held on Tuesday, 11 May, 1920, in Timoleague Courthouse, the coroner being Mr Richard Neville, a solicitor from Bandon.
In the days following the inquest, a jury member and his wife were kidnapped and held hostage by the IRA.
The other jury members received typed copies of a notice informing them that they had been tried and found guilty of treason and warned them that if they failed to publish an apology in the press and express sorrow to the Irish Republic they would have to ‘bear the consequences’.
A notice was subsequently placed in local newspapers withdrawing the original ‘wilful murder’ finding of the jury, and replacing it with ‘killed by persons unknown’ as suggested by the IRA. The hostages were then released, unharmed, after a number of days.
In the immediate aftermath of the Ahawadda ambush, the barracks in Timoleague was evacuated by the RIC.
On the night of December 3rd 1920, it was demolished in a combined operation by Timoleague and Barryroe IRA companies.
• Diarmuid Kingston is author of Beleaguered, a history of the RIC in West Cork during the War of Independence. Skibbereen, 2013.