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The Burning of Cork is the name commonly given to a devastating series of fires that swept through the centre of Cork City on the night of 11 December 1920. The burning and the subsequent controversy is one of the most significant events of the Irish War of Independence.

The Fire

During the War of Independence, Cork was one of the main centres of IRA activity. On 11 December 1920 a soldier was killed in an attack on British forces at Dillon's Cross. Later that day Black and Tans opened fire on a group of civilians near the corner of Summerhill North and what is now MacCurtain Street.

At 10 pm that night fire engines responding to reports of a fire at Dillon's Cross encountered a fire in a department store on Patrick Street. Several other fires had been lit in the vicinity, and the fire service was unable to control the conflagrations. By the next morning numerous buildings on Saint Patrick’s Street were completely destroyed by fires that had been set in buildings along its east and south sides. The City Hall and the Carnegie Library were also completely destroyed by fire, resulting in the loss of many of the city's public records. [1] Over five acres of the city were destroyed and an estimated £20 million worth of damage was done.[2]

Also that night two IRA men were assassinated in their beds by the Auxiliaries [3]

Controversy

Sir Hamar Greenwood, the Chief Secretary for Ireland, denied that Crown forces had any involvement in the fire and refused all demands for an enquiry.[1] Instead it was suggested that the acts of arson had been carried out by civilians.

The Irish Labour Party and Trades Union Congress published a pamphlet in January 1921 entitled Who burned Cork City?. The work drew on eye-witness evidence assembled by Seamus Fitzgerald which suggested that the fires had been set by British forces. Members of the fire service testified that their attempts to contain the blaze were hampered by soldiers who fired on them and cut their hoses with bayonets.[4] The material was collated by the President of U.C.C., Alfred O'Rahilly.[1]

A subsequent British Army enquiry (which resulted in the "Strickland Report")[5] pointed the finger of blame at members of a company of Auxiliaries. The soldiers, it was claimed, set the fires in reprisal for the IRA attack at Dillon's Cross. [1]

References

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