8b. The Burning of Cork City, 1920

In December 1920, six unknown I.R.A. men ambushed a troupe of auxiliaries within a hundred metres of the central military barracks near Dillion’s Cross in Cork City. At least one auxiliary was killed and twelve others wounded. In retaliation, indiscriminate shooting commenced by the auxiliaries and Black and Tans in the main city centre streets shortly after 8 o’clock. Curfew was at ten o’clock, but long before that the streets were deserted.

At ten o’clock two houses at Dillion’s Cross were set alight and the adjacent roads were patrolled to prevent any attempts to extinguish the flames. Soon, petrol was brought into the city centre and various premises were set alight at random. The fires spread rapidly and soon most of the eastern side of St. Patrick’s Street was blazing. City Hall and Carnegie Library were destroyed, with large tranches of Cork’s public and historic records destroyed forever.

Some figures:

The biggest conflagration in Cork in 300 years

Nearly 100 businesses and homes had been destroyed or badly damaged by fire and looting

Huge photographic record of the destruction in local newspapers such as the Cork Examiner plus in international news – many records survive in our Library, Museum and Archive, plus told in St Peter’s Church, heritage centre.

Familiar landmark buildings were gone forever- whole buildings had collapsed or a solitary wall had survived.

City Hall and Carnegie Library destroyed.

Five acres of property had been destroyed, over 2,000 people had lost their jobs, and an estimated 3 million pounds of damage – or e180m in today’s world

Streets ran with sooty water, strewn with broken glass, strong sense of burning

St Patrick's Street, Cork, post Burning of Cork 1920 (source: Cork City Library)
St Patrick’s Street, Cork, post Burning of Cork 1920 (source: Cork City Library)