State to mark Cork’s pivotal role during War of Independence

Decade of centenaries ‘most challenging period’ - Josepha Madigan

Cork city is to host a major State event to mark its pivotal role in the events of 1920 during the War of Independence.

In that year two of the city’s Lord Mayors, Tomás Mac Curtain and Terence MacSwiney died and the city was burnt on December 12th 1920 by the Black and Tans.

The date for the State event has not yet been decided but is likely to occur in between the time of the MacSwiney centenary which occurs on October 25th and the burning of Cork commemorations.

The Government says it will spend €1 million on the Cork commemorations given the centrality that the county had in Ireland to the events of 1920


It also included the largest ambush of the War of Independence, the Kilmichael ambush which occurred on November 28th, 1920.

Commemorations in the county begin on Friday night when local people in Carrigtwohill remember the burning of the barracks by the IRA on the night of January 3rd, 1920.

The attack, the first sanctioned by IRA general headquarters during the War of Independence, marked an escalation in activities. The British responded with the arrival of the Black and Tans in March of that year.

Portraits of both Lord Mayors who died in 1920 have already been distributed to schools in the Cork city area.

An event will take place at Cork City Council on January 30th to mark the centenary of the meeting which swore allegiance to Dail Eireann and elected Mac Curtain as Lord Mayor.

The murder of Mac Curtain in March 1920 when he was shot dead in his home by RIC officers led to an inquest in which the British prime minister David Lloyd George and a local RIC officer who was later assassinated by the IRA, Oswald Swanzy, were implicated.

The inquest will be recreated in City Hall and filmed by TG4.

The burning of the city will be marked by exhibitions and community events will tell the story of the War of Independence from the perspective of local communities. Groups such as the Blackpool Historical Society have events planned for the year.

The war will also be commemorated outside Cork with a series of public lectures in Dublin to mark Bloody Sunday which occurred on November 21st 1920 when 15 British agents were shot dead and crown forces retaliated by massacring 14 spectators at Croke Park.

The GAA will take the lead in remembering Bloody Sunday. The centenary will coincide with the second International Rules test between Ireland and Australia.

The burning of Balbriggan (September 1920), the Connaught Rangers mutiny in India (June 1920) and the execution of Kevin Barry on November 1st 1920 will also be marked.

Speaking at the launch in the City Hall in Cork, Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Josepha Madigan said the Government’s aim is to provide a “supportive structure that ensure that the very difficult events that occurred during the struggle for independence are remembered within communities in a measured and non-partisan manner”.

She said the country was entering the “most challenging period as we remember the defining events in our nationhood”.

She encouraged the public to become involved in events 1920 and the years that followed see stories of hurt, pain, loss of life and cruelty that is a world away from life a century on.

She appealed to the public to become involved in remembering the events of 1920.

Speaking via video link the Tánaiste Simon Coveney, who was Stormont for all-party talks, said 2020 will be “Cork’s year” and will reflect the city and county’s centrality to events during the War of Independence.

He said the status of the county is reflected in that the one million is on top of money pledged by both Cork city and county councils.

Major commemorative events for 2020

Commemorations in Cork will include a State service, a community participation event and a series of civic events including exhibitions and support for communities and schools. There will be events at Cork Public Museum, Cork City and County Libraries and the Crawford Art Gallery.

The community-led model will be adopted in the observance of a number of the centenaries occurring next year, including Bloody Sunday, the execution of Kevin Barry, the Connaught Rangers Mutiny, the sacking of Balbriggan and the 1920 local elections.

The Markievicz Award programme of bursaries for artists and writers, in recognition of the legacy of Constance Markievicz, will continue to be funded by the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and administered by the Arts Council in 2020.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s Reconciliation Fund will remember events of this phase of the Decade of Centenaries as they continue to impact on communities on both sides of the Border.

Support for a series of public lectures in 2020, focusing on the emergence and development of nascent political and administrative structures in the new state. The Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government will have a lead role in partnership with the Department of Justice and Equality.

Re-establishment of the Decade of Centenaries Irish History Competition for primary and post-primary schools for 2019/2020, sponsored by the Department of Education and Skills and University College Cork School of History.

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times