In the second month of the Civil War in 1922, Cork city was occupied by anti-Treaty forces in a ‘Munster Republic’. Irish Independent reporter Frank Geary was the only national newspaper journalist who managed to enter the city as its citizens waited nervously for an offensive by the Free State forces. In this edited extract from his atmospheric and unique war diary, he describes the mood, as National Army Troops landed on ships along the coastline in early August, and their retreating opponents — described as ‘irregulars’ — set fire to police and military barracks in the city. The diary was not published until August 12, when Geary had escaped from the city. He went on to serve as editor of the Irish Independent from 1935 to 1961
Sunday, August 6
This is my third day in Cork. It has rained practically all the time since my arrival. The weather seems to be in keeping with the times. The people are still patiently waiting — waiting for the coming of the war. They are nervous…
And yet as I write, hundreds, nay thousands of people, men, women and children, all decked out in their best summer finery, are dashing away to the seaside.
There they go, happy, joyous, buoyant parties in brakes, cans, jaunting cars, row-boats, motor-boats. Occasionally you see a motor car, but it belongs to a doctor and carries the red cross. For the rest, the only other cars on the road have as passengers armed men. Such is Cork today. Almost within hearing of the sound of the guns, thousands are flocking to the seaside.
Suddenly there is a burst of music. The streets echo and re-echo with a medley of wary sounds. War-pipes, mouth-organs, melodeons, concertinas, to say nothing of the conglomeration of choruses and the loud and oft-repeated farewells. The war may be here tomorrow; but it is not yet, not yet.
Tuesday, August 8
There is a certain liveliness in the city this morning. Motors are whizzing past, leaving clouds of bluish smoke. Armed men are coming and going. There is something afoot. Just now I have seen half a dozen men with Red Cross armlets.… Groups of people in the streets, at street corners, are eagerly and excitedly discussing some happening… One hasn’t long to wait for the news and when it comes, it comes as with an avalanche. The National troops have landed at Passage!
The news has spread and is spreading through the streets like fevered blood through men’s veins. Everywhere you can hear them talk short, sharp, rapid sentences… “They’re in Passage, five or six miles from the city; they landed last night; they captured the place”. “They are marching on Cork”. There is great activity among the irregulars.
I have just seen a big lorry going by which was laden with landmines, and armed men sit all around the side of the car. In the places the irregulars occupied, all is hurry and excitement. Today, as hour succeeds hour, the excitement becomes more intense.
The National forces have landed at Youghal and taken the town without firing a shot. There were also landings at Glandore and Castletownbere. Passage Railway was blown up this morning.
I have just heard an interesting story of the landing of the National forces at Passage this morning. Here is how it was done. Yesterday evening at the turn of the tide, the SS Classic of Cork Steampacket came out from the dock to Penrose’s Quay with passengers for Fishguard.
After a few hours’ steaming, she sighted some strange-looking craft. One, two, three of them! Soon she drew near, and was hailed. There were three sloops (small warships). One of them drew alongside, and some men boarded the steamer. There was a parley with the captain, and then an order to the passengers to come on deck and bring their baggage with them.
Then, as if from nowhere, came men: hundreds of National soldiers being transferred from the sloops to the steamer. Up they came, clambering over the sides of the boat like a phantom army. Back towards Cork, the Classic steamed silent, mysterious. The Classic returning! It was past one o’clock now.
She docked at Passage. A brief period of death-like silence and then a signal. In a twinkling, the whole ship was a mass of humanity, with scarce a sound. They were up and over and on the land. Hundreds of them in the gloom. They lined along, like ghost-like figures, and then, at a word of command, they melted away into the darkness, as mysteriously as they had come.
When Cork woke up this morning, it learned that the National troops had landed at Passage, and had taken the little town.
The activity of the irregulars has become greater. Motors are careering all over the city from barracks to barracks. A large force of men have just gone to the office of the Cork Examiner, and, as I write, they are wrecking the machinery. The Nationals, I am told, hold all points of strategic value on the Cork side of Passage. There is feverish excitement in and around Union Quay barracks, which apparently is the headquarters (of the anti-Treaty troops).
The excitement has grown within the past few hours. Thousands of people have flocked into the streets. A dense throng has gathered outside Union Quay, where numberless motors continue to arrive. Just now, three immense lorries laden with hundreds of bicycles drove up to the barracks. They have evidently come from Ballincollig, which is also occupied by irregulars. After disposing of their load, they leave, but return again, this time laden with large barrels of petrol and oil. Are these preparations for evacuation?
Wednesday, August 9
Today, there is the same ceaseless activity in and around Union Quay barracks. There is the same interminable coming and going of motor cars, motor lorries, motorcycles, etc. There are, too, not a few motor ambulances on the move.
The landing of the National troops at Passage is still being talked about. Yesterday, when the news got around, housewives made a rush to the grocery and provision shops and bought up practically all the stocks available. They were preparing for a siege. This morning, a force of irregulars visited the city markets and seized large quantities of fresh meat, etc. There were no newspapers of any kind in the city today. We are now completely isolated.
Still the same activity. Still the same coming and going. Still the same crowd of curious onlookers. This evening, I have seen dozens of lady nurses in and around the irregular headquarters, coming out with haversacks bulging with dressings, etc and driving away in motor cars.
The big viaduct bridge on the Cork, Bandon and South Coast Railway was blown up this evening. Further reinforcements of National troops arrived today at Passage. The big guns were in action down the river this evening. National guns shelled Fota, the beautiful mansion and demesne of Lord Barrymore, situated opposite Passage on the far side of the river. The irregulars were in possession, occupying the mansion, and having large forces in the woods adjoining.
The whole place has been subjected to a heavy fire, and the irregulars have had many casualties. I was told that two boat-loads of wounded have been brought up the river. It is said that fighting is also taking place at Maryboro Hill, Douglas and Rochestown. Belvedere bridge and Dunkettle bridge, between Cork and Cobh, have also been blown up.
The casualties on both sides have been admitted to the South Infirmary.
Thursday, August 10
Morning: Raids have been made on shops again and quantities of goods seized. A number of men this morning entered the Imperial Hotel and took over possession.
I have just heard details of the fight which took place yesterday evening at Rochestown. It seems to have been a bloody affair, and, at one time, the opposing forces came into hand-to-hand conflict. The place was strongly held by the irregulars, but it was subjected to heavy machine and rifle fire by the National forces.
Perhaps the best description of the ferocity of the fight was given by one of the National forces who was wounded. He received terrible abdominal injuries and when asked how he got them, replied: “Well, I saw a fellow behind a machine-gun. I went for it. I rushed at it, and was just going to grab for it when he turned it on me; and I got seven or eight bullets.”
It is feared that his wounds may terminate fatally.
Another National soldier who was wounded said: “I am the transport driver. I just stood up, and a bullet hit me in the arm, breaking it.” The wounded from both sides were brought to the city by boats.
Noon: There is renewed activity of irregulars all over the city. Bands of men with rifles flung over their shoulders are marching around. News is being spread that the Nationals are advancing on the city.
2pm: Everybody has now come out of the (Union Quay) barracks. It is an immense and imposing red brick structure. Suddenly a volley of rifle and revolver shots ring out. How the crowd scatters! Another volley. People run helter skelter, seeking refuge in every open door. Women shriek with fear. Everybody thinks the National forces have arrived and that they have engaged the irregulars in the streets. They are wrong.
The volleys have apparently been fired as a warning. Just now there is a loud resounding boom, a dense volume of black smoke bursts up from the barracks, followed by the crash of falling masonry.
There is another terrific crash. Another cloud of bluish smoke rushes up. In the midst of it, tongues of flame can be seen. Then the crackle of countless explosions, ammunition bursting.
3pm: The building is doomed. Smoke is issuing from every window, from every chimney, even from between the very slates. In other parts of the city there are explosions followed by smoke and fire. Elizabeth Fort, off Barrack Street, is in flames. The Bridewell in Cornmarket Street is blazing. Empress Place police barracks way up on Tuckey Hill is belching forth mountains of smoke and, further up, what seems like the very hell itself seems on fire. The latter is Victoria barracks, which is completely in the grip of the flames. One does not get accustomed to this kind of thing. It is the end. Cork has fallen.
3.15pm: The irregulars are evacuating. As it was in Limerick, they are going, going, going!
3.40pm: Explosion follows explosion with terrifying rapidity. Like the waters of many rivers converging into a big lake, the smoke of many fires has converged into one dense mass which hangs like a deadly pall over the whole city. Showers of charred papers and other debris are falling everywhere and litter the streets. Ever and anon, gusts of wind carry clouds of smoke through the streets. Union Quay barracks is now a mass of flame and the roof has fallen in.
3.45pm: Looting has begun and processions of men, women and children flock to the burning buildings and take everything they can lay their hands on. One had a motor bicycle, another a wardrobe, and beds, chairs, tables, everything. Braving the danger of exploding bullets and bombs, they actually go into the burning buildings and carry away various articles of furniture. “If we don’t take them, they will be burned,” they say.
4.10pm: The party which has acted as a rearguard leaves. All the buildings are now doomed.
5pm: Large crowds of sightseers still throng the streets. There is not a shop open in the city. At the first explosion, all the shops were quickly shuttered and closed down. All the factories and workshops in and around the city were also closed.
The tramway service, too, was suspended, and was not resumed this evening. Just before the irregulars left, they also visited the post office and wrecked the telegraphic department. They also smashed up other things. The telephone exchange was also visited and here the apparatus was also wrecked.
7.30pm: Cork is again excited, but this time it is the excitement of relief. A thrill of sensation has run through the city with the spread of the announcement that National troops had arrived and were actually in the city — they were crossing Parnell Bridge. There was a rush, a veritable stampede. Practically every resident in every street flocked out, and all made their way to the South Quays, along which the troops were coming.
8pm: Amazing scenes are being witnessed. The troops have arrived, the first of them preceded by an armoured car. The advance guard comes slowly. They come almost struggling. They are tired but the warmth of their reception lights the light of gladness in their eyes. The people are almost frantic with delight; they cheer and shout and wave handkerchiefs. They give the soldiers biscuits, sweets, cigarettes, fruit. They shower them on them. How glad they look.
Another batch has come and they too are cheered to the echo. Unshaven, mud-stained, they plod along. They were all wearing badges of the Sacred Heart in their caps and on their coats. The view along the Mall as they passed baffles description. Tens of thousands of citizens thronged the thoroughfares to view the unusual scene and all the time the smoke from six fires in the city ascended to the heavens and above the cheering could be heard the boom of another explosion and the crackle and bursts of ammunition.
10pm: The streets were quietening down somewhat now, yet crowds of people still walk about viewing the damage. Beyond the destruction of the buildings, there is not much injury to the city. All the windows of the houses at Morrison’s Quay were smashed as well as those of the Provincial Bank and the Savings Bank.
They were broken from the force of the explosions in their localities. A party of young people have passed by my window and they gave vent to their relieved feelings in no uncertain manner. They have a melodeon, and it too, apparently, has caught the spirit of the city.
Isolated explosions here and there serve as grim reminders. All is quiet. Cork has retired after one of its most eventful days.
My work to get away begins tomorrow. No trains, no motors, no clear roads. The sea is the only way open but there are no boats tonight.
The diary is included in the anthology, ‘Great Irish Reportage’, edited by John Horgan, published by Penguin in 2013
https://www.independent.ie/life/it-is-the-end-cork-has-fallen-irish-independent-reporters-unique-civil-war-diary-charts-how-free-state-forces-seized-city-41875526.html ‘It is the end. Cork has fallen’: Irish Independent reporter’s unique Civil War diary charts how Free State forces seized city