Inistioge Barracks Attack

Failed Attack On The Auxiliary HQ At Inistioge, December 1920

Ken Kinsella

When the Government of Ireland Bill passed through Parliament in December 1920, effectively creating two states, the IRA campaign intensified. The plan was to create a situation that would compel the government to employ more of its forces in Kilkenny, reducing the concentration in Cork and Tipperary. To achieve this goal, General Mulcahy sent one of his top officers to Kilkenny to organize attacks against the Crown Forces.
Ernie O’Malley, born in Castlebar in 1897, commander of the Second Southern Division, was appointed and arrived in Kilkenny on 29th November 1920. He set about meeting with IRA Units from the city and county. High on his list of priorities was a plan to capture the Auxiliary HQ at Woodstock House in Inistioge, which commanded the entire south-east area and also directed military operations into Co. Cork.
On 2nd December 1920 a meeting with the Coon Brigade took place in May’s old house located near Barry’s Cross. O’Malley’s address to the gathering took the form of a ‘blood and thunder’ pep talk, warning them to be prepared for action. He also cautioned those present not to carry the names of IRA men or any other IRA papers in their pockets. Throughout December, other meetings were arranged with local units and on Sunday 5th December, O’Malley attended a meeting with officers of the Kilkenny Brigade, which took place in the Gaelic League Rooms at Rothe House in Parliament Street. The meeting was attended by brigade commanders from each district and, when it finished, Commandant James Hanrahan brought O’Malley back to his house at Cappagh, outside Inistioge. They were accompanied by Ned Holland, a former shop assistant at the Monster House, who was on the run. O’Malley and Holland stayed in Hanrahan’s house for four days, despite local warnings that this was not wise.
The IRA men got down to planning the attack on Woodstock House, which was a strong fortification with 46 Auxiliaries quartered there at the time. Maps were studied and O’Malley was to visit the Woodstock estate the next day as someone interested in purchasing timber.
However, early next morning, the 9th December, Hanrahan was out working in the fields and O’Malley and Holland were in the kitchen having breakfast. O’Malley had chosen to ignore earlier warnings that a dozen Auxiliaries were in the area. At about 10.30, Hanrahan’s sister informed them that Crown forces were in the turnip field, but O’Malley decided to stay put. Soon afterwards, members of the Crown forces stormed into the house, arrested the two men and found O’Malley’s book containing details on local brigades, together with names and addresses of IRA men. Inconceivably, O’Malley had failed to practice what he had preached to the Coon Brigade.
That evening and the next day IRA men from the city and county were arrested and jailed. Hanrahan was also arrested and his home and out-houses burned down as a reprisal. O’Malley’s attitude, arrogance and criticism of Kilkenny Brigades, did not endear him to local IRA men during his stay in the county.
The war of independence went on for another seven months until July 1921, when both sides agreed to the truce that eventually led to Irish independence.