Admired by Michael Collins, feared by the British Army, loved by the people he led.
Tom Barry, legendary Commander of the famous West Cork Flying Column
survived the War of Independence to tell his incredible story.
Barry led a volunteer army in a hide-and-seek campaign of Guerilla warfare matching wits against an enemy of overwhelming strength and power.
Tom Barry (1 July 1897 – 2 July 1980) was one of the most prominent guerrilla leaders in the Irish Republican Army during the Irish War of Independence.
In 1915, during World War I, he enlisted in the Royal Field Artillery at Cork and became a soldier in the British Army. As well as fighting in Egypt, Russia, Italy and France; Barry also fought in the infamous battle of Kut-el-Amara – in present day Iraq. There, in a war communique posted to the front, Barry first heard of the Easter Rising. This was to become the pivotal moment of his life.
In 1920, soon after his return home, Barry joined the 3rd West Cork Brigade of the Irish Republican Army which was then engaged in the Irish War of Independence (1919– 1921). He was involved in brigade council meetings, was brigade-training officer, flying column commander, was consulted by IRA General Headquarters Staff (GHQ), and also participated in the formation of the IRA First Southern Division. The West Cork Brigade became famous for its discipline, efficiency and bravery, and Barry garnered a reputation as the most brilliant field commander of the war.
On 28 November 1920, Barry's unit ambushed and killed almost a whole platoon of British Auxiliaries at Kilmichael, County Cork. The Kilmichael Ambush was a turning point of the war as the Auxiliaries, previously thought "invincible", were defeated by an IRA column - a fact which had a very negative impact on British morale. On the 19 th March 1921 at Crossbarry, Barry and 104 men, divided into seven sections, broke out of an encirclement of 1,200 strong British force from the Essex Regiment. In total, the British Army stationed over 12,500 troops in County Cork during the conflict, while Barry's men numbered no more than 310. Eventually, Barry's tactics made West Cork ungovernable for the British authorities.
"They said I was ruthless, daring, savage, blood thirsty, even heartless. The clergy called me and my comrades murderers; but the British were met with their own weapons. They had gone in the mire to destroy us and our nation and down after them we had to go."