Brother against Brother
In the early hours of one hundred years ago, the 4th of November 1922, a now largely forgotten battle in the Irish Civil War was fought in the villages of Ballineen and Enniskeane. It was one of the last major military battles of the troubled times in West Cork. Up to two hundred Anti-treaty IRA under the command of General Tom Barry attacked the two National army (Free State) positions in the adjoining villages. The IRA gathered beforehand in the Castletown area and the men were supplied with white armbands because some of the National army troops in Enniskeane and Ballineen hadn’t proper uniforms and the IRA officers were afraid that they might shoot some of their own men. The Ballineen Free State garrison was made up of two officers with Captain Byrne in charge commanding thirty- eight men. They were staying mainly in Fitzgerald’s Hotel and also in a number of private houses. At about five o’clock on the Saturday morning the 4th of November, fire was directed simultaneously on the Free State army posts in both villages. In Ballineen, Anti -Treaty IRA forces under the command of James (Spud) Murphy broke into the ground floor of Fitzgerald’s Hotel over powering the Free State soldiers there. The IRA then opened fire with a machinegun up through the ceiling of the hotel at the Free State soldiers upstairs. Their officer Captain Finnigan jumped from the first floor window onto the footpath below and ran across the street with a Lewis machinegun, turned and opened fire at the IRA in the ground floor of the hotel. He continued to do so until he ran out of ammunition and was arrested by the IRA. Heavy fighting continued from house to house for a number of hours, during which National Army soldier Michael Wolfe was fatally wounded. National Army medic Thomas Gallagher was also fatally wounded while going to the aid of a wounded soldier called Fox. Gallagher was from the Hill-of -the -Grange in County Dublin and was eighteen years old. He is buried in Glasnevin cemetery in Dublin just a few meters from the grave of Michael Collins. During the battle in Ballineen, Anti-treaty IRA Volunteer Tadhg Sean O’Leary from Macroom was also shot dead, he is buried in the old graveyard in Inchigeela. The Enniskeane National Army garrison of 25 men who were staying in a number of dwelling houses in the village, was commanded by Captain L Finnigan. The anti-treaty IRA under the command of Tom Barry began the attack on the different houses at around five am. The IRA moved from house to house to get closer to the National Army positions by breaking through the gables and when the National army could no longer defend their positions they also moved to other houses. At one point in the fight Tom Barry stood on the street and asked Captain Finnigan to surrender his position, when he refused, Barry opened fire with a Lewis machinegun. At about 9:30 am and with the National army running out of ammunition, one small group of them, fought their way out heading east along the railway line. There they came under fire from the IRA and National army Lewis machine gunner Andrew Hogan, who was from Clonmel in County Tipperary, was shot in the thigh and he died in Bandon Hospital on the 7th of November. The remainder of that group were arrested by the IRA. Another group of ten National Army troops under the command of Captain Finnigan managed to fight their way out and finally reached the National Army garrison in Bandon. Dwelling houses belonging to the Burke, Shorten and O’Donovan families were badly damaged in the fighting in Enniskeane. John Howell one of the anti-treaty IRA was also fatally wounded in the heart, in the fight at Enniskeane, he had worked in Magner’s butchers shop in Clonaklity before the Civil War. Although the IRA captured the National Army billets in Enniskeane they only held them for a short time as they were afraid National army reinforcements would return from Bandon, which is what actually happened. There are varying accounts as to whether the Anti -Treaty IRA managed to capture the National Army post in Ballineen or not, if they did, they only held it for a short time. In the middle of that battle National army troops managed to drive a Lancia armoured car out of the base, which headed for Dunmanway to alert the National army post there to send on reinforcements. After the battle the Anti-Treaty IRA took their dead, wounded and the National Army prisoners back to the Castletown area and the prisoners were released. There may have been an exchange of fire between National Troops and Anti-Treaty IRA in Castletown also later that day.
At that time the local priest wouldn’t allow the bodies of the two IRA dead into the Church in Castletown, so the remains were waked in the National School before being taken away by relatives.
Sources “The Local Cost Of Freedom”, John Daly & John Flannery