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Newcestown Ambush recalled with memorial – 99 years later

October 5th, 2019 12:00 PM

By Kieran O'Mahony

Neiley Collins working on the Newcestown Ambush Memorial

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A MEMORIAL is to be unveiled at the site of ambush in Newcestown – 99 years after the incident which claimed the lives of two British officers.

This ambush – which took place on October 9th 1920 close to the Parochial House north west of the village – was even referred to in the opening lyrics in the second verse of the song The Third West Cork Brigade: ‘At Newcestown we struck a blow for Ireland and Sinn Féin.’

Jeremiah Lordan of Newcestown Historical and Heritage Group said: ‘This was a very significant incident in the War of Independence and we decided that with the centenary fast approaching it would be great to commemorate it and to let people know what happened on that dark October evening 99 years ago.

‘The memorial will contain three panels containing a map of the location, a description of the ambush as it unfolded and a list of all the local participants.’

Research into the ambush began by gathering information from any locals while also delving into the Bureau of Military History witness statements. The group also consulted with local historians and a UCC history academic before embarking on initial layouts for the design of the information boards and work began on the structure at the site of the ambush. The group are hopeful that they will receive funding from the heritage department of Cork County Council.

‘We had a public viewing of the information boards in May and we also got the 6th class students from Bishop Galvin National School involved to bring the story to the wider community. Their projects will be on display in the local hall during the unveiling.’

The Newcestown Ambush was remarkable for the fact that it was an unplanned encounter and history records it as a significant success for the IRA, most of whom were to serve heroically in the Flying Column of the IRA Third West Cork Brigade. The IRA were led on this engagement by Seán Hales, Bandon Battalion Commandant, John Lordan, Bandon Battalion vice commandant and James O’Mahony, Bandon Battalion Adjutant. The ambush involved about 30 IRA volunteers and approximately 30 British military who arrived in Newcestown in two Crossley tenders.

The first one-week training camp, under Tom Barry, had only taken place in Kilbrittain the previous month and the IRA had gathered in Newcestown for a second training camp.

‘The significance of the Newcestown Ambush during the War of Independence was highlighted by Liam Deasy in his book Towards Ireland Free. He stated that this ambush gave many of the IRA their first experience of being exposed to live fire in a battle situation against an experienced and professional army after only a week’s training.’

The British forces in Newcestown that night were serving with the Essex Regiment stationed in Bandon and commanded by the notorious Major Arthur Percival – who himself escape unharmed – but two officers were killed and five were injured. The IRA suffered no casualties.

Reports of the Newcestown ambush were published worldwide including in The New York Times as well as in Irish and British newspapers and was even discussed in the House of Commons.

The unveiling of the Newcestown Ambush Memorial  takes place on Sunday October 6th at 3pm in the parish hall. Guest speakers include Séan Crowley, author of From Newce to Truce, Dr Gabriel Doherty from UCC and Mim O’Donovan.

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