RIC Divisional Commissioner Philip Armstrong-Holmes

RIC Divisional Commissioner Philip Armstrong-Holmes (aged 45) from Cork city (Tureengarriffe, Co. Kerry, and Central Military Hospital, Cork city)

Date of incident: 28 Jan. 1921

Sources: CE, 29 Jan. 1921; II, 29, 31 Jan., 1 Feb. 1921; Military Inquests, WO 35/152/12 (TNA); MSP34/REF29397 (Military Archives); George Power’s WS 451, 16 (BMH); John Jones’s WS 759, 8 (BMH); Seán Moylan’s WS 838, 167-69, 174-75 (BMH); Timothy J. Cronin’s WS 1134, 5-8 (BMH); Daniel Flynn’s WS 1240, 8-10 (BMH); James Cashman’s WS 1270, 7-10 (BMH); Seán Healy’s WS 1339, 10-12 (BMH); Daniel Guiney’s WS 1347, 8-11 (BMH); O’Donoghue (1954, 1986), 130-31; Rebel Cork’s FS, 127-31; Abbott (2000), 52-55, 189-91; Kautt (2010), 122-25; irishmedals.org (accessed 28 July 2014).


Note: Armstrong-Holmes and RIC Constable Thomas Moyles were killed or mortally wounded in the IRA ambush at Tureengarriffe. Holmes died of his wounds in Cork Military Hospital on the morning of 29 January. Moyles was killed at the scene, and his body was removed to Tralee. The ambush site was two miles west of Kingwilliamstown (now Ballydesmond), on the road to Castleisland. Besides fatally wounding or killing Armstrong-Holmes and Moyles, about sixty Volunteers of the Cork No. 2 Brigade and some Volunteers from the local Kerry company wounded all of the other five RIC men in the travelling party. The RIC men had refused to surrender until all their ammunition was exhausted. See MSP34/REF29397 (Military Archives); O’Donoghue (1954, 1986), 130-31; Rebel Cork’s FS, 127-31; Abbott (2000), 52-55, 189-91; Kautt (2010), 122-25.

Former Volunteer John Jones, a native of Kingwilliamstown (now Ballydesmond), later recalled the ambush: ‘On the 28/1/1921 the [Newmarket] Battalion column under Seán Moylan and some men from the Kingwilliamstown and Kiskeam companies were lying in ambush at Kingwilliamstown. The ambush position was alongside a rather steep glen, and the road was blocked roughly at the bend in the middle of the position, and we occupied positions on one side of the road only, as the other side of the road did not offer good fire effect. I was there and about 15 or 16 members of the column. The Crossley tourers containing R.I.C. and Tans ran into the ambush position, and a concentrated volley of fire was centred on the cars, which stopped immediately. There was practically no reply from the enemy as all the occupants were either killed or wounded in the first volleys. Divisional Commissioner Holmes and two other R.I.C. were killed, and the remainder of the party—four or five—were wounded. I do not remember the amount of arms captured, but it must be about six or eight weapons. One of the cars was taken away and the other one burned. Divisional Commissioner Holmes had replaced Divisional Commissioner Smyth, who had been shot in the County Club in Cork some time before. Holmes had been carrying out a tour of inspection in Kerry, and this, I understand, was his first outing and also proved to be his last. . . . There was intense excitement for a few days, and the death of Holmes shook the enemy morale and gave a great fillip to our own people, more especially as he had taken over from Smyth, another would-be tyrant.’ See John Jones’s WS 759, 8 (BMH).

The funeral ceremonies for Armstrong-Holmes were complex and impressive: ‘The body of Major Holmes was removed from Cork Military Hospital yesterday [31 January 1921] and conveyed to Dublin by the morning train. Full military honours were accorded, and a large number of military and police accompanied the remains to Glanmire Station, where a military band played the “Dead March.” The funeral takes place to-day with full military honours from George V Hospital at 11 a.m. to Mount Jerome Cemetery.’ See II, 1 Feb. 1921. 

In her IRA pension application Siobhan Langford (Creedon) claimed that she had passed on to the Volunteers much useful information gathered within the Mallow post office (where she worked) to the Cork No. 2 Brigade adjutant, including cypher telegraph messages, on the movements of British officers and policemen; one of these cypher messages concerned the planned movement of RIC Divisional Commissioner Holmes just before this ambush. But it should be noted here that Creedon was fired from the post office in April 1920, so if this account is correct, then the information was coming through another post-office worker. See MSP34/REF29397 (Military Archives).    

In the days following this ambush the RIC sought vengeance: ‘Children playing ball in a field near Knocknagree were brutally machine-gunned. A boy named Kelliher, aged fourteen years, was killed, and two others, aged nine and eleven, were wounded. . . . In Ballydesmond, police bombed and burned the houses of Timothy Vaughan [draper] and William McAuliffe [grocer], and the homes and business premises of T. O’Sullivan and M. J. Cronin.’ See Rebel Cork’s FS, 131.  

Armstrong-Holmes (with almost twenty-three years of police service) was a replacement for Divisional Commissioner Smyth (killed by the IRA); he had a distinguished prewar, wartime, and postwar record. Son of the late RIC County Inspector George Holmes, he had previously served as district inspector in Clare and later in Roscommon as well as at Strabane in Tyrone in Northern Ireland. During the Great War he had served with the Royal Irish Fusiliers and the Royal Irish Rifles; he was ‘twice wounded and twice gassed in France’. Subsequently, he served with Army Intelligence in the Midland District at the Curragh. After the war he resumed police duties as district inspector in the Mountpottering district and as assistant commissioner of the Dublin Metropolitian Police after his predecessor Second Assistant Commissioner William Charles Redmond was killed by the Dublin IRA on Harcourt Street in January 1920. See (Abbott (2000), 52-55; irishmedals.org (accessed on 28 July 2014).

Holmes had reportedly been in Listowel collecting evidence about the killing of RIC District Inspector O’Sullivan. That evidence now fell into the hands of the attacking Volunteers, who were led by Seán Moylan. Also captured were the weapons of these RIC men. One of the Volunteers reportedly declared that ‘it was great to feel the blood of the English on their hands’. See Abbott (2000), 191. But Moylan and the Volunteers generally treated the RIC wounded well. Moylan distinctly recalled the significance of capturing the documents carried by Armstrong-Holmes: ‘The papers I got were illuminating. As a result of the shooting of Inspector Sullivan, a number of Kerry men were prisoners in Cork Barracks. General Holmes’ chief mission to Kerry was to collect the evidence that would condemn these men. He got it, but it never reached the official files, and the lives of those around whose necks might have [been] tied a noose were saved. Those who gave the information were unfortunately unable to repeat their story. They met the fate intended for the prisoners.’ See Seán Moylan’s WS 838, 174 (BMH) 

Moylan was captured by British forces in May 1921 and charged with the murder of Divisional Commissioner Armstrong-Holmes. When he was tried by court martial, ‘two of the officers who survived this engagement gave evidence to the effect that were it not for the action of Moylan, they would have been shot by his (Moylan’s) followers. The president of the court martial then remarked that in his experience this was “the first time that chivalry was shown by an Irish rebel leader”.’ See Timothy J. Cronin’s WS 1134, 7 (BMH).

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