A Pike-head from Rusheen, Co Cork
A simple-enough piece of metal symbolises the local innovation used when it came to assembling weapons a century ago in mid-Cork.
This pike-head was donated to our collection at Independence Museum Kilmurry by a former Irish Volunteers/IRA member from Rusheen, another of the company areas in the same Macroom Battalion as Kilmurry.
The company there, a few miles the other side of the River Lee from Kilmurry, was established in early 1917 as the re-organisation of the Irish Volunteers gathered pace in the aftermath of the Easter Rising.
Just as they had been before Easter 1916, the weapons holdings of rural companies like Rusheen and Kilmurry were fairly poor during 1917.
When they took part in the Easter Sunday mobilisation, the Kilmurry Volunteers carried a single rifle and eight shotguns, but had 12 pikes. These had been forged locally in Crookstown, based on a design provided by Terence MacSwiney, who had organised the local company in its early days at the end of 1915.
By the start of 1917, however, a Brigade report showed that the Kilmurry company had just a single pike in its armoury, and it held just four shotguns – although it had by then acquired a second rifle. But by late 1917, shotguns were in greater supply. A combination of raids for arms on local farms or big houses in the area, and other farmers volunteering them, saw their number of shotguns grow to somewhere between 20 and 40 around the end of 1917 and early 1918.
Around the same time, a large supply of pikes was again manufactured, the pike-heads being made in a forge in Crookstown. These were possibly made by Daniel Twomey, who was certainly a member of the Volunteers’ Crookstown company in 1921 (formed when the Kilmurry company was split as numbers continued to grow). Twomey was working in the only forge in Crookstown village in 1911, which was still being operated by Daniel Mahony in 1918 (he advertised in the Cork Examiner in January of that year for a blacksmith, who ‘must be a good horse-shoer’).
These pikes were distributed around the company area – but they were not on display on the company’s regular drilling marches on the roads around and outside the parish in the months either side of New Year 1918. After quiet night-time drilling in the early part of 1917, the revitalised Irish Volunteers were more defiant as the year drew to an end; and none more so than the companies in the Macroom district, where police and military records show there were more instances of illegal drilling than in all the rest of the West Cork Riding area.
Although the pikes were never used in action during the later War of Independence, they were a common feature on Irish Volunteers Cork Brigade inventories of weapons held by different companies. Their growth in Kilmurry and elsewhere in early 1918 coincided with fears of conscription into the British Army as the Great War entered its fourth year. Although huge public opposition to the idea of conscription was mounting ahead of its attempted introduction in Ireland in April 1918, young men in the Irish Volunteers could have been equipped with these makeshift weapons if a campaign of physical resistance had been required.
This pike-head from Rusheen is a reminder of that time, when re-organisation of the Irish Volunteers and fear of conscription helped to widen public support for the separatist movement in mid-Cork that would go on to play a major role in the War of Independence.