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The Dunmanway Massacre

Museum of Orange Heritage curator, Dr Jonathan Mattison, looks back at the 'Dunmanway Massacre' which took place between 26-28 April 1922.

Over the course of 72 hours at least 10 Protestants were murdered in the vicinity of Dunmanway, County Cork. This shocking atrocity took place during what was supposed to be a period of peace, the Anglo-Irish War having ended and before the outbreak of the Irish Civil War. The youngest victim was 16 and the oldest 82.

On 26 April 1922, a party of IRA volunteers arrived at Ballygroman House, the home of the Hornibrook family, outside the small village of Ovens, County Cork.

The events of the next few nights would enter infamy in the annuls of Protestant experience during the early years of the Irish Free State.

Prelude to Slaughter

For months, Thomas Hornibrook’s family had been subjected to petty acts of theft and intimidation. As an ex-soldier he was viewed as a Loyalist and thus an opponent of the ‘Irish Republic’. The intimidation had got so bad that even the local IRA commander, Lt. Michael O’Regan, had even supplied the family with a gun to ward off from those intent on theft. That night a party of IRA men from the Bandon area knocked on his door and demanded entry. When the family refused, they entered by a window and proceeded up the stairs. A shot rang out, presumably fired by Captain Herbert Woods, an ex-army officer relative of Hornibrooks, who had come to stay with the family because of their previous experiences. The shot killed IRA Commander Michael O’Neill. Later that morning a larger party of IRA men returned and demanded the men of the house appear. They agreed on condition that they would not be harmed. Wood, Thomas Hornibrook, and his son Samuel were subsequently kidnapped and murdered.

These three murders were not the end. Over the next 72 hours 10 Protestants from the area around Dunmanway, Cork, were murdered by IRA raiders. Included in their number was a 16-year-old schoolboy, a man with learning difficulties and an 82-year-old pensioner. Others would have also been murdered had they not escaped into the countryside. The local ‘official’ IRA based in Dunmanway did nothing to stop the events.

Two of those who escaped the killing spree were William Morrison, headmaster of the local Model School and William Jago who helped with the local Boy Scout troop. It was later established that both had been targets.

News of the Dunmanway killings caused panic within the Protestant Population in Cork. The Free State Government appeared to be able to do little to control the Cork IRA and the British Government were reluctant to intervene. Newspaper reports circulated that many Protestants were now choosing to leave Cork, and other parts of the Irish Free State for fear of similar attacks.

Some historians have stated that excesses such as the Dunmanway tragedy often happen during ‘wartime’. However, this massacre took place after the Anglo-Irish War had ended and before the outbreak of the Irish Civil War. None of the victims were informers, none of the victims were involved in the military. They were simply Protestants, and in the eyes of some Republicans this was justification enough. In their eyes Protestant equalled Loyalist and Loyalist equalled enemy of the Republic.

Fast fact Cork had been the bearpit of fighting between the IRA and the British military

during the A/I War. K-Company was the Auxiliary Unit based in the makeshift barracks in the old Dunmanway Workhouse. It was reported that this unit contained a large number of Belfast Orangemen!

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