The story of James Burke, an ex-artillery man in the British Army during WWI. James was a Cork native who lived on Blarney Street in the City. He was shot in cold-blood by his ex-comrades in arms and bled out on North Gate Bridge in the City.
A Fateful Encounter…
On the night of the 18th Oct, 1920 James and his pals are in a bar on Shandon Street in the City. They leave the bar and head into the City. While crossing the River Lee on the North Gate Bridge they encounter a group of British soldiers heading in the opposite direction.
Witness accounts from the time suggest one of the British soldiers shouted ‘Irish pigs’ at James and his pals. The two groups get into a brawl.
An armed patrol of soldiers from the Staffordshire Regiment arrive on the scene. James is shot in the stomach in cold blood by a soldier from this patrol and bleeds out on the bridge.
Later, a local scrawls the immortal words “RIP. Killed by military of the Staffordshire Regiment” on the wall of a nearby building in James’ blood.
In the following days there are public disturbances as Cork ex-servicemen attack British soldiers. This disturbance is only calmed after British troops open fire on an assembled crowd of civilians in the City.
Over 5,000 ex-servicemen from Cork City march at James’ funeral. The tit-for-tat violence continues in the city. This crime in particular polarizes the city. Many ex-servicemen who had fought beside their British comrades in the war switch sides and now support the Republican cause wholeheartedly.
Ex-servicemen like Tom Barry (author of Guerilla Days in Ireland) lead the charge in attacking British patrols of RIC, Auxies and Army during the struggle. RIC (Crown Policemen) are pulled from the street as the city becomes too dangerous to patrol.
The War Escalates in Cork City
In August, all coroner courts in the city were suspended. Replaced by Military Courts instead. A short four months later, British troops run riot in Cork City. Burning 5 acres of Cork City to the ground in a rampage which later became known as the Burning of Cork.
The British Administration releases a statement claiming this incident was caused by the Republican IRA burning down their own city. Enter the foreign press. Soon afterwards the British Administration change their tune and admit it was British soldiers that burned the city.
The Military Inquiry into the incident is labelled a white-wash by the Republican side as no-one is held responsible for the burning of Cork.