Kilmichael Crossley Tender Wheel
When Independence Museum Kilmurry opened in 1965 one of the first accessions by the rural museum, was this distinctive rear (double) wheel from one of the two Auxiliary Division of the Royal Irish Constabulary (ADRIC) Crossley tenders attacked by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in the Kilmichael Ambush. In that ambush Tom Barry’s Flying Column inflicted a telling annihilation on some 18 members of the C’ Company of the Auxiliaries (or Auxies) who had, in their short few months stationed in Macroom, intimidated and terrorised the populace in an area that was regarded before their arrival as essentially ungovernable.
The wheel had just recently been retrieved from where it had been buried forty-five years previously by 15-year-old local IRA scout John Griffin. John lived about a mile from the ambush site at Kilmichael and had buried the wheel nearby after the ambush, having decided that one day the remains of the burned out tenders would be of historic interest. As donor, John was present along with some of the veteran IRA survivors of the ambush for the presentation by General Tom Barry, O/C of Cork No. 3 Brigade Flying Column who had planned the ambush and was the Volunteer Force Commander on the day. While we also have other important artefacts connected to the ambush in our collection, it is clear from visitors that the ‘wheel’ is one of the the most anticipated attractions in the Kilmichael Ambush exhibit and one of the museum’s most popular artefacts.
In the old museum building whose corrugated iron roof and damp atmosphere were not conducive to the preservation of important historical objects, the wheel was mounted on an uncovered stand – available for all to touch and connect with a storied past. Now encased in a pristine temperature-controlled perspex shell since our re-location, we hoped that leaving the rusted metal detritus from the old museum staging of the object at the foot of the ‘wheel’, it would maintain its visceral effect on visitors – highlighting the passage of time from that fateful day and the inevitable deterioration of objects over time. It will be the collective memory of the events surrounding those objects that endures.
Fortunately or unfortunately, the Kilmichael Ambush is not lacking in the telling of its story (most controversially in the last 20 or so years!) Whatever about its historiography, there is no doubt that it was a pivotal battle in the War of Independence and action on that day engendered confidence in the locals and emboldened the IRA, setting the course for the rest of the War of Independence.
This article was featured in the autumn 2020 edition of the Archaeology Ireland Quarterly Magazine (subscriptions available) in the Museum Piece Feature