IRA volunteers were occupying a farmhouse in Clonmult, County Cork were surrounded by a large mixed force of British Army, Royal Irish Constabulary and Auxiliaries. In the action that followed, twelve IRA volunteers were killed, four wounded and four captured. 2 of the captured IRA men were later executed ( Maurice Moore and Paddy O'Sullivan) in the military barracks in Cork on 28 April. Patrick Higgins was sentenced to death but was reprieved because of the Truce that ended the war on July. 2 RIC and 6 civilians also died.It is alleged that many of the IRA casualties were killed after they had surrendered. The IRA suspected that an informer was to blame and a spate of shootings of suspected informers followed. A total of 22 people died in the ambush and subsequent executions – 14 IRA members, 2 Black and Tans and 6 civilians.
In January 1921, the 4th battalion of the IRA First Cork Brigade, under Diarmuid O'Hurley took over of a disused farmhouse overlooking the village of Clonmult. O'Hurley planned to ambush a military train at Cobh Junction on Tuesday 22 February 1921 and at the time of the Clonmult action was scouting a suitable ambush site. However, according to historian Peter Hart, they "had become over-confident and fallen into a traceable routine".An intelligence officer of the British Army Hampshire Regiment traced them to their billet at the farmhouse in Clonmult.
British troops from the 2nd Battalion, Hampshire Regiment under the command of Lt. A. R. Koe surrounded the farmhouse. There were 4 officers and 21 other ranks. Of these 1 NCO and 6 Other Ranks were left behind to guard the vehicles. The actual attack on the farmhouse was then made by the army force splitting into 2 groups - one of Lt Koe, Lt Hammond and 7 soldiers, the other of Lt Hook, Lt Dove and 6 soldiers. When the firefight started 3 soldiers were sent back to Midleton for reinforcements, so the actual attacking British force was 14 men in total. They were not numerically in a position to exploit a attack until reinforcements arrived
Two IRA volunteers noticed the advancing troops and opened fire. Both were killed, but the shooting had warned those sheltering inside the house, and a siege began.
The acting IRA commander, Captain Jack O'Connell, managed to get away but three other Volunteers were killed in the attempt. O'Connell was unable to bring any help in time. British reinforcements arrived instead - 24 police under command of the County Inspector. The police had also brought petrol, which the Brigade Intelligence Officer, Lt Hammond "at great personal risk" climbed up on the roof to set the thatched roof of the farmhouse alight. He wa awarded an OBE for this act of bravery.
With the farmhouse burning around them, an attempt was then made by the IRA to surrender. What happened next is disputed. The IRA claimed that their men were shot after surrender (as at Kilmichael, surrenders during a firefight are never straight forward). In his report on the action, Lt Koe wrote:
(14) At 18.20 hours the rebels signified that they wished to surrender and they were ordered to put up their hands and come out one by one. At 18.30 hours, six or seven rebels came out with their hands up and the crown forces went to meet them. On this fire was again opened by the remaining rebels in the house.
(15) Fire was at once re-opened on the house by the Crown Forces, and, in the cross fire which resulted, it was inevitable that casualties should be inflicted on the rebels outside the house by both sides. The Crown Forces, having re-opened fire, rushed to the house. When the house was captured, there were eight men in it, four wounded and four unwounded. These were taken prisoner.
In the heat of battle and the resultant spin by both sides afterwards, one cannot be sure what happened over surrenders, but in the end a total of twelve IRA Volunteers were killed in the action.
The IRA suspected that an informer had led the British to the billet of the column wiped out at Clonmult, and over the following week, six alleged spies were executed by the IRA in the surrounding area. Mick Leahy, a local IRA officer, commented that "things went to hell in the battalion" after Clonmult.
The IRA were stung by the action, and this document has emerged from NLI which appears to be a "wanted" list of those who took part in or were responsible for, Clonmult
Brady - Lt RE, attached armoured car section (Rolls Royce), raiding officer
Battey - Constable RIC, Irish Catholic, attached to Fort Elizabeth
Bates - Constable RIC, English, Black and Tan, Ballinhassig
"Bill" - surname unknown, armoured car section drive
Brown - Sergeant RIC, Union Quay, armoured car section RIC
Buck? -Capt, Staffords, raiding under curfew, small size, pigeon toed
Dove - Lt Hants ex-intelligence, served with Koe (Dove was later murdered 26 Apr 1922 by IRA)
Farmer - RIC Union Quay, driver, usually DI's car
Gill - Capt, Hants, MC, Regimental duties
Griffiths - DI Union Quay, ex Cadet, tall, side whiskers, looks and speaks like an American
Hook(e) - Lt, Hants formerly acting in conjunction with Koe at Clonmult (Lt Hook was commended in Hampshire CO's report on the action at Clonmult)
Hill - Col HSC, Regimental duties
Hamilton - Lt Hants, one hand, raiding
Hammond - Lt, not on IRA list is was commended in Hampshire CO's report on the action at Clonmult, and was he who fired the roof, and was Brigade IO. Recommended for MC, got OBE)
Harrison - Capt Tank Corps O/C Armoured Cars, badly wounded Right side of face
Koe - Lt Hants OBE formerly attached to Intelligence Cork Barracks, presently serving as Intelligence officer Clonmoult, Concannon and Whitechurch. His OBE was gazetted 1 Apr 1921, so this list is after that (Lt Koe was commended in Hampshire CO's report on the action at Clonmult - Koe planned and commanded the Clonmult operation)