With Bruree finally taken by Free State soldiers General O’Duffy was confident to state that he was “well pleased with the progress made by troop” in his command statement and how he believed that it was now “inevitable” that Kilmallock would fall. He does not conceal the fact though that the irregulars “have the advantage in quantity” on the Kilmallock frontier where they had concentrated their forces containing some of their best fighters.
With the centre of the Southern “front” of activity now shifted to Kilmallock and held by irregular the Free State’s position widened to stretch across an area clearly now focusing on Kilmallock. The Republicans would not be willing to leave Kilmallock approachable from both Bruff and Bruree directions.
On August 2 with limited manpower, they made their move with counter attacks on both Patrickswell and a number of positions held in Bruree. The positions of both towns chosen tactically in relation to their position with Kilmallock. With Bruff no longer an option and the engagement in Patrickswell only lasting 24 hours Deasy aware of the importance of Bruree in supporting their defence of Kilmallock initiated plans to recapture Bruree. As such he came up with a plan worthy of today’s action films whereby they would use three improvised armoured cars carrying assault troops armed with rifle grenades, a trench mortar and a total of ten machine guns. Each vehicle would target a post held by the Free State in Bruree.
The use of armoured cars in this conflict showed the change from guerrilla tactics and the distinct advantage in armoured cars becoming clear in the action seen in Bruree with both sides now holding armoured cars. On the Republican side, it was a Cork man Jim Gray who ran a successful garage in Cork being not only a gifted driver and mechanic; he was responsible for the building of improvised cars for the anti-treaty side. It was shortly after the withdrawal from Limerick City that the Republicans holding Ash Hill Towers, a gothic style mansion providing them with all vantage points of the town in Kilmallock that they received the newly built “River Lee”. A Lancia armoured car, built by Gray, covered with inch-thick iron plate. As mentioned in Irish Story, “These were quick and dirty, ugly war machines, remarkable to all who saw them, but it was the sheer intimidating bulk of the River Lee which left the greatest impression on the republican fighters” with Jamie Moynihan from Ballyvourney famously described it as cruising around Kilmallock looking like a labourer’s cottage. Others such as Frank O’Connor describing it as a ridiculous fighting vehicle but that it did intimidate the enemy.
From Ash Hill, the republicans now set about their daring attack to recapture Bruree setting out in the early morning. Comdt. Tom Flood who led the Dublin Guards on the attack of the town was now leading command of the Free State troops in Bruree positioned in the Railway Hotel on the main street. Taken by complete surprise on entering the village the sentry at the checkpoint even believed them to be Free State Troops and waived them on. He was quickly captured to prevent any alarm being made.
The lead republican car launched an attack on the HQ in the Railway Hotel. All of Flood and his men except for one who was remained temporarily on the roof with a machine gun succeeded in escaping out the back of the building with just a bullet in the wrist.
The second car hit the next position of the School house (now the de Valera museum) ramming the front door of the building by placing the car right up against the building and threatening to blow the place up – with no option but to surrender all inside were taken prisoner.
Following its attack on the Railway Hotel the armoured cart then made for its third position speeding down mill Road towards Bruree Lodge. The garrison likewise stunned with this armoured car approaching them with support of a column of troops. At one point, it is reported that the car even came within six feet of the front door exchanging furious fire before being driven back.
At one point it is reported that a young man reported to be a young 17 year old from Lis towel named Charlie O’Hanlon jumped out to restart the car that were notorious for stalling and despite orders to shoot by the officer the men whether it was due to shock or recognising his bravery or his youth refused. The car restarted and O’Hanlon joining troops on the ground but was eventually hit. With one of the attackers attempting to drag him now to the armoured car, “An act of mercy was called out” and the garrison did not fire until they were back in the car. Expecting them to retire from action you can imagine their surprise when it returned to make two more assaults before retiring. Young O’Hanlon the brave young volunteer although brought to first aid would later die of his wounds.
Word by now had gotten to the reinforcements and Comdt. Gen Seamus Hogan who personally led the support in his own Whippet armoured car named “The Customs House”. With the reinforcements close by and no surrender in sight, republicans began to withdraw. Their two makeshift armoured cars sped back through the town now closely followed by the “Customs House” that had reached the town in support. To add to the attack the now third republican car that had been delayed the famous “River Lee” had arrived on the scene with Hogan now coming upon not one but three republican armoured cars. Mossie Donegan reported riding in the “River Lee” for the attack that “it was stiflingly warm inside, and its crew stood firing furiously on the enemy through tiny ports on its flanks” and remembering one of the bullets from The Customs House entering through a firing port and ricocheting around inside the iron cabin of the River Lee.
All three now fled the town having failed to capture it with Hogan in hot pursuit. Luckily, perhaps for Hogan the machine gun in the “Customs House” jammed forcing them to break of the engagement and return to Bruree.
On this same day in the first of its kind of movement, the Free State landed troops by sea in Tralee and Cork now forcing the hand of many of the Kerry and Cork men active in the area to return home and defend their own area. The numbers in Kilmallock were now significantly weakened and facing a growing number of Free State Troops building in support as well as armoured cars and artillery support. The Free State forces would now prepare once again this time to capture Kilmallock – Adjutant Con Monloney commenting on August 2nd that
“Up to yesterday we had the best of the operations there [the Kilmallock area].
There will, I fear, be a big change there now as the enemy have been reinforced very considerably.”
Green Against Green: The Irish Civil War. by Michael Hopkinson
The Civil War 1922-23. by Eoin Neeson
Pinkman, In the Legion of the Vanguard
Younger, Carlton. Ireland’s Civil War
The Irish Story.com