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Topical Budget 486-1: Ireland's Agony (1920)


Main image of Topical Budget 486-1: Ireland's Agony (1920)
35mm, black and white, 73 feet
Production CompanyTopical Film Company

The devastation in Cork following reprisal attacks on public buildings and business premises.

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This Topical Budget newsreel item depicts the aftermath of the so-called Burning of Cork, one of the most devastating incidents of the whole Irish Civil War. As the footage shows, whole swathes of buildings were razed to the ground in a series of reprisal attacks carried out by the notorious Auxiliary Division, a paramilitary organisation affiliated to the pro-British Royal Irish Constabulary.

They were particularly active in the city of Cork, one of a handful of Irish cities where martial law had been rigorously applied, along with a widespread curfew. The city was occupied by the British army under General Strickland, along with large units of the notorious 'Black and Tans' and Auxiliaries. Although there had been no shortage of military and paramilitary violence up to this point, what happened on 11 December 1920 pushed hostilities onto an entirely new level.

At 7.30pm, thirteen members of the Auxiliary Division had been wounded and one killed after one of their trucks was hit by an IRA grenade at Dillon's Cross. That night, the Auxiliaries looted and torched numerous public and commercial buildings in the centre of Cork, and actively prevented the fire brigade from taking any action. Topical's footage shows the immediate aftermath, with crowds of people looking on as a fire engine arrives, clearly far too late to have much effect. Towards the end of the newsreel, a burned-out tramcar can be seen in the middle of the road.

Although the British government had generally turned a blind eye to reprisal attacks by their representatives, such was the scale of the destruction that a military inquiry was launched, after which Prime Minister Lloyd George formally demanded that the Auxiliaries rein themselves in, lest public opinion be irretrievably alienated.

Michael Brooke

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Topical Budget: Ireland