By 1920 Cork had become the epicentre of the War of Independence. That year the city had lost two mayors to murder and hunger strike in a short succession of time. Cork was still reeling for their deaths, as well as other atrocities in the form of reprisals by the Crown forces since the war began in January 1919.
On the night of December 11 1920 The IRA carried out an ambush on a party of British Auxiliaries at Dillon’s Cross. At least one member of the forces was killed and many more wounded. Reprisal was immediate, two IRA members were killed and the British military and police forces went on a government sanctioned rampage which resulted in the on the night of 11-12 December.
Members of the Black and Tans who were noted for their brutality, joined by the RIC went torched the city’s commercial district. Many were drunk, swigging from whiskey bottles while more tore down awnings, which were put up each night by shop owners to protect their property due to the escalating violence that the city had become subject to. Pouring cans of petrol in the buildings they set the shops well stocked with Christmas merchandise alight causing millions worth of damage.
The fire brigade were called out but their job hampered, their hoses cut and were even shot at by crazed auxiliaries, who were given leave to do as they wished. The firemen were even denied water to quench the flames. Looters were free if they dared to help themselves to what they were able to grab from the burning buildings or salvage from the char.
"It will be represented no doubt, that this was part of the campaign of unauthorized reprisals by servants of the Crown. What seems to us more more probable is that this was the reply of the rebel element to the proclamation re Martial Law."
Five acres of the commercial centre of Cork was razed to the ground, causing millions of pounds worth of damage and thousand’s lost their livelihood as a result. The City Hall and Carnegie Library were completely destroyed, and the epicentre of the fire was likened to O’Connell Street in Dublin after the Easter Rising.
In the initial inquiry the British government denied that the Crown forced were responsible for the fire, instead blaming the IRA, but later conceded that it was in fact the Auxiliaries.
It did not take long for ditties to be composed such as Greenwood’s Logic below, which appeared in the Freeman’s Journal on December 14th 1920:
Irish Times 13 December 1920
Dublin Evening Mail 13 December 1920
Western Mail 14 December 1920
Freeman’s Journal 14 December 1920