With both the pro and treaty forces, recognising the significance of Bruff town as a gateway to Kilmallock our small town saw a constant tug for control over a number of days in July 1922.
With tension building in the area from multiple short skirmishes on both sides it would appear to have started when the anti-forces launched an attack on the barracks position that was being held by the pro side. Hard to imagine this small town was soon to be taken over with shots and grenades being thrown but that is exactly what was happening on the main street of Bruff 100 years ago this week.
First-hand accounts from men such as veteran Tom Kelleher from Cork were, in following their orders to attack Bruff setting a plan of action; “The first thing I did was to find out something about it”. With most of these men coming from Cork or Kerry they were in unknown territory so the local republicans were their guides providing the necessary intelligence. One important observation was that they realised the garrison would send out a large number of their men on a surveillance of the local areas every night only returning at daybreak. Essentially leaving a limited number of men inside. Tom still reckoned 50 years later in his account that they would take it without firing a shot. He even had a number of men that had deserted to them and were still in their Free State Uniforms. Despite his confidence, the barracks, which apart from the steps leading in has to this day remained unaltered and was still the same imposing building we see today. Its entrance was also reinforced with sandbags/barbed wire and had steel plates fitted on most windows with thick loopholes covering from fire.
Free State troops were reported in an inspection of surrounding outposts came into contact unexpectedly in the dark with a group of IRA men located down al boreen. Following a sudden short-range engagement and being outnumbered by a large number of irregulars being alerted they retreated back to the barracks. The irregulars followed and surrounded the barracks seizing houses and both the Munster & Leinster Bank and the National Bank within the town surrounding the building and commenced firing. With “torrents of machine gun and rifle fire” as well as “explosions of hand grenades” the stillness of Bruff at 4 in the morning erupting into violence must have struck terror into its close inhabitants. Reports include irregular’s scaling the wall of O’Donovan’s to the rear of the barracks however on observation a “well-directed” bullet from the barracks shattered his gun breaking it in two. Another local report was of one Free State man who running onto the street to throw an unexploded grade back in the direction from where it had come! The attackers were literally passing underneath the windows of the building.
Other accounts describe the republicans firing from along the wall that once stood where O’Connor’s chemist is located up as far as Glynn’s bar. Another group of attackers was known to come west from the Camass Road to support the attacking fire. It was one of these shots that caused the death of a young free stater Maurice McCarthy from Midleton who was shot through the eye at an upstairs window at the rear of the barracks.
Forces also engaged in exchanges at the Pike with a civilian Mr Wiliam Dunworth from Bruree aged 56 and a buyer with Todd’s in Limerick travelling in direction of Bruff with 2 friends being caught in cross fire when moving a blockade. Whether the identity of the victim was known to him at the time or not his cousin Robert Dunworth, a young priest in his early 30s who was the local curate at this tumultuous time in Bruff was called to the scene. Where according to William’s death certificate registered by Robert later that year, it would appear he did attend to him at the scene.
With the Republicans reporting later that they had been ordered elsewhere and to stop their attack they began a withdrawal however the imminent arrival of over 100 Free Staters from Limerick surely began the withdrawal from the town and they strategically made their next move to seize Rockbarton house however, they were intercepted and driven westerly.
The fighting in Bruff lasted about 48 hours and at about 10am that morning a calm came back over the town. It was only then that a priest was able to attend young McCarthy and bring news of the retreat of the irregulars.
Bruff would now be used as the launch pad for the Free State’s attacks on Bruree and Kilmallock
Lough Gur Historical Society Journal 1989
The Battle for Kilmallock
The Story of Kilmallock