A weekend of conflict in Skibbereen

The first casualty of the Irish Civil War in Cork was Patrick Francis McCarthy, who died in Skibbereen in July, 1922. On the centenary of the war, Pauline Murphy explains who Patrick was and the circumstances of his death.

A plaque at The Rock in Skibbereen (unfortunately with the wrong date) marks the spot where Patrick Francis McCarthy was shot.

Twenty-two—year-old Patrick Francis McCarthy Jr, from Morahin near Ballydehob, was killed on July 3, 1922, during what became known locally as ‘The Siege of Skibbereen’. 

McCarthy was a fisherman and, as a dedicated member of the Republican movement, a Section Commander with the IRA Skeaghanore Company, 1st Battalion Cork IRA No.5 Brigade. McCarthy first joined the IRA in 1919 and, during the War of Independence, he saw action at Kilmichael and took an active part in the attack on Schull RIC Barracks. 

In the early summer of 1922, Free State forces held only two posts in the whole of Munster – Listowel in Co. Kerry and Skibbereen in West Cork.

Just before midnight on Saturday, July 1, 1922, a large party of Anti-Treaty IRA, under the command of Gibbs Ross and Tom Hales, marched into Skibbereen, where the Free State army had taken over the  town’s RIC barracks. Jer McCarthy was in charge of this Free State post and naturally refused the request of the IRA to vacate it. 

On the following day, Sunday, July 2, fierce fighting broke out between the opposing factions and, as full scale hostilities commenced, the IRA took up positions in a number of buildings in the town. Market Street witnessed the most intense fighting with the Bank of Ireland building, occupied by the core of the IRA, bearing the brunt of the Free State’s fury.

Although outgunned by the IRA, Free State forces put up stiff resistance in the Barracks. 

In the early hours of Monday, July 3, Patrick McCarthy was positioned at the Windmill Rock, which rises behind North Street. An unfortunate lit cigarette led to him being spotted by a Free State sniper and brought down by a bullet. McCarthy’s comrades managed to get him to hospital but he died the following day, July 4, 1922.

By 8pm on July 4, a truce had been declared between the Anti- and Pro-Treaty forces in Skibbereen. The terms of the truce saw the Barracks vacated by Free State forces and handed over to the IRA. The fighting had left a number of men with injuries on the Free State side but there was only one casualty of the four day event – Patrick Francis McCarthy.

By July 5, a sense of normality had returned to Skibbereen – shops reopened and civilians ventured back out on the streets, which the IRA now patrolled.

The IRA’s control of Skibbereen was shortlived however, as Free State forces flooded into Cork, in large numbers, the following month.

The 24-year-old IRA leader from the Schull Battalion, Gibbs Ross, died in action against Free State forces in Bantry on August 30, 1922. 

Tom Hales was captured by Free State forces in November 1922. After a stint of internment he was released when the Civil War ended. Hales later became a Fianna Fail TD but resigned in the 1930s when he became critical of the party’s drift away from its Republican ideals. Tom Hales died at the age of 74 in 1966.

West Cork suffered much during the War of Independence but the Civil War proved a more bitter conflict, which saw brother fight against brother. Tom Hale’s brother Sean, who took the opposing side in the Civil War, was gunned down in Dublin in December 1922.

Patrick Francis McCarthy is buried at Aughadown, overlooking the Ilen River. Today a plaque at The Rock in Skibbereen (unfortunately with the wrong date) marks the spot where he was shot and his name also appears on the IRA memorial in Bantry.

WCP Staff

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