Coolavohig Ambush - 25 Feb 1921

 

J.Company,was based at, Dennys Hotel Macroom,before moving to purpose built accommodation in 1921. At 9am every Friday morning, Major James Seafield Grant set off from Macroom at the head of a convoy of eight lorries, each carrying ten armed Auxiliaries, with machine guns mounted at the front and back of the column. Under the Major’s direction, the policemen would spend the day raiding houses believed to be sympathetic to the Republican cause.

The Flying Column of the 1st (Mid) Cork Brigade under the command of Sean O'Hegarty planned to ambush the Auxiliaries at Coolavokig, near Ballyvourney.  There were about 60 Volunteers on the IRA side. In the ensuing battle, the Auxiliaries' Commandant (James Seafield-Grant) was killed and a number of other policemen wounded.  Two of these (Constable Arthur Kane and Cadet Clevel Soady) later died of their wounds. 

It was a perfect site for an ambush, between Coolavokig and Coolnacaheragh, seven miles west of Macroom and two miles east of Ballyvourney. The road, which today forms part of the main Cork-Killarney road, was hemmed in by small hills and steep slabs of limestone rock. An account was written in 1933 by two of the IRA men involved

The IRA had two Lewis guns which were placed overlooking the road from a height and two hundred yards apart. The plan was to force the convoy to stop between the Lewis guns, then to take it apart with the Lewis guns.The men themselves were dug in close to the road. They waited each day and the convoy never came for the next six days. The weather was bitterly cold and wet with both hail and driving rain rain.

Eventually on the morning of Friday 25th Feb, at about 8.20 am the following morning, news came through that the convoy had left and was in fact one hour ahead of schedule. They just managed to take up their ambush positions as the convoy arrived. The convoy from the testimony of DI McConnell, contained 39 Auxiliary cadets and 7 RIC men in 5 tenders and 3 touring cars. Major Grant, in a touring car, was leading it. . And another touring car brought up the rear

An IRA Volunteer ran from a nearby cottage and across the road. The auxiliaries spotted him and opened fire. The convoy inched slowly forwards and the Auxiliaries began to dismount. At this point the 2 IRA Lewis guns opened up. However the British had taken to using hostages as "human shields". The IRA men could make out four hostages being dragged from the lorries, shielding the British as they withdrew up the road. One Lewis gun jammed, and the other was out of range as the convoyed had stopped before the optimum point for the ambush. But the Volunteers with rifles were able to carry on firing.

The jammed Lewis gun was operated by a man called Patrick "Cruxy" O'Connor, an ex-British soldier who had won the Croix de Guerre. The IRA believed that he was an informer, and that it was he who had warned the Auxiliaries of the attack. O'Connor fled to New York, but was shot dead in Manhattan, New York by men of the Cork city IRA in April 1922  (it is possible that he was survived the attack.)

Letter signed E M Nicol DSM, who was ADRIC no 282

Major James Seafield Grant on all accounts, eschewed taking shelter and stood up directing his men, inevitably he was shot, and died on the road.The Auxiliaries in the leading lorries were forced to retreat into two cottages on the southern side of the road, which is where Soady was mortally wounded. Cadet Cleve Soady and RIC Constable Arthur Cane were the other two men killed in the ambush.

An inquest was held

The effect of the ambush was that the Crown forces ceased patrolling in the mountains around Coolnacaheragh. The memorial at the site today commemorates the IRA volunteers who took part in the ambush and is said to be at the spot where Seafield Grant was killed.

The British inquest is available

Compensation cases reported and/or discharged wounded