Shortly before the formal outbreak of war, Volunteers in Cork were reorganised and split into three distinct brigade areas with a fourth added at a later date (See Fig.1). Cork No. 3 Brigade, covering the West Cork region, was formed in January 1919 at a Brigade Council meeting in Dunmanway attended by Michael Collins.
The Cork No. 3 (West Cork) Brigade earned a reputation as being one of the most active and successful brigades during the War of Independence, a fact reinforced nationally by the success of revolutionary memoirs such as Tom Barry’s Guerrilla Days in Ireland or Liam Deasy’s Towards Ireland Free. The brigade possessed a number of dynamic personalities who played important leadership roles includingthe aforementioned Barry and Deasy, and Brigade commanding officers Tom Hales and Charlie Hurley. A unique feature of the West Cork Brigade’s activities evolved from the fact that the brigade area possessed a large coastline. This meant that there was also a naval and coastguard presence in the area, both of whom possessed firearms. This resulted in raids on coastguard stations like the ones at Ring and Howe’s Strand, along with the more commonplace raids on RIC barracks. With this increased level of activity in the region another feature of the IRA’s approach was the large number of executions of suspected spies and informers. Cork No. 3 Brigade, and particularly the brigades ‘Flying Column’ lead by Tom Barry also participated in some of the most famous engagements of the war, including the ambushes at Toureen, Upton, Kilmichael and Crossbarry.
As well as being a very active region in the war, West Cork had a significant influence on the conflict nationally with West Cork men such as Michael Collins (Clonakilty), Gearoid O’Sullivan (Skibbereen), Joseph O’Reilly (Bantry), Diarmuid O’Hegarty (Schull) and Seán O’Muirthile (Leap) taking up leading roles in IRA General Headquarters.