On the night of 11-12 December 1920 members of two Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) units, the Special Reserve and Auxiliary Division, shot burned and looted their way through parts of Cork city centre killing and wounding a number of people and causing damage estimated at $194m/€175m (in today’s value). In the immediate aftermath much of the press, particularly the British press, either claimed no-one was able to identify those involved or else attributed to the violence to ‘Sinn Feiners’ (meaning the IRA).
In the days after Cork was burnt by the Black and Tans (as the RIC’s Special Reserve was known) and Auxies (as the Auxiliary Division was known), English newspapers like the The Graphic reported merely that ‘incendiaries’ had set fire to the city. The Illustrated London News claimed it was “impossible to say” which ‘faction’ was responsible but that citizens had requested that General Strickland deploy military patrols to guard the city centre. Within a couple of days, Sir Hamar Greenwood, the British government’s Chief Secretary for Ireland, went even further. He explicitly denied any involvement of the British forces and, instead, unequivocally blamed the burnings on the IRA.
Below, you can see a selection of photographs of the aftermath in Cork as published in contemporary newspapers.
The response was to get Professor Alfred O’Rahilly (of University College Cork) to produce a book containing eye-witness accounts of events over the night of 11-12 December 1920, which were published in January 1921 under the name of the Irish Labour Party and Trade Union Congress. The book was called Who Burnt Cork City? (you can get a copy here). It so successfully counteracted the propaganda put out in the English press that it was to be the model for the Facts and Figures of the Belfast Pogrom which was to appear in August 1922 (also now back in print).