As I’m sure all of you reading this know Euro 2020 has been postponed to 2021 due to the ongoing pandemic that’s occurring. The tournament was supposed to start in about a week so I thought it’d be as good a time as any to share my thoughts about each team in the tournament and who I think realistically has a chance to win it. submitted by
I’ll divide the teams into 5 categories based on their chances of winning it and say a little bit about each one: Just happy to be here, Nothings impossible, Dark horse, Wouldn’t be surprised, and Serious contenders.
Note: these are my opinions based on current abilities of each team and I know a lot can change in a year. I will also be adding who I think will win each playoff bracket at the end and assign them a category then.
Just happy to be here:
Finland- Although Teemu Pukki has been pretty good for Norwich this season but I can’t see how they don’t finish bottom of their group.
Wales- Their run to the semi finals in 2016 was something special. But their talisman Gareth Bale will be 5 years older and some of the players that helped them do well in 2016 have also either aged poorly or retired might be able to snag a 3rd place spot in their group but I think it’s unlikely.
Czech Republic- Long gone are the high flying Czechs from Euro 2004 where they finished the top scoring team of the tournament. This competition they are in a pretty solid group where they would be lucky to finish 3rd.
Nothing is Impossible:
Turkey: This team is decent. They have a couple young players that are making a name for themselves at big European clubs. But barring a small miracle they probably peak at a First round exit.
Denmark: Led by their main man Cristian Eriksen they have a fairly strong team with good players in key areas. However if I’m honest I think they have a good shot at a second round or just maybe a Semi finals appearance if the draw is good to them but nothing more.
Austria: They have a few good players plying their trade in the Bundesliga and they are very solid defensively. However they are over reliant on David Alaba and I can’t see them getting past the second round.
Sweden: We saw them play their best football in a long time at World Cup 2018, seemingly they are better without the egocentric Zlatan. That said they have a few key players that could see them into the Semis at absolute best.
Switzerland: I was definitely debating whether to put them in this category or the next. I chose this one simply because there are too many teams that I think would be able to take care of them without serious issue. That said I do think they are a borderline dark horse and they might go farther than most think come 2021
Russia: World Cup 2018 saw them at their best in a long time, narrowing losing to eventual finalists Croatia on penalties. With players Like Cheryshev and Golovin a few years more experienced with the same core as 2018 they could do some damage
Ukraine: This team topped their qualifying group that contained Portugal and Serbia, they are a team with a good mix of some decent young and a few savvy veterans. Definitely a team to watch out for.
Poland: Whipping boys of their group in 2018 and a quarter finals exit against Portugal in 2016, their last two major tournaments haven’t been great. That said with Lewandowski up top seemingly in the form of his life I wouldn’t write them off.
Wouldn’t be surprised:
Italy: A team that would usually be considered serious contenders their quality has dropped off slightly and the core of their team is in their mid-late 30s. They do have great players in midfield and their front line so I wouldn’t be surprised if they manage to take home the trophy but I also wouldn’t bet on it.
Croatia: Fresh off a World Cup final, albeit against possibly the easiest bracket in World Cup history. I think they have the talent to do some damage in this competition. That said their main men from 2018 are all in their 30s so I also wouldn’t be too surprised if they crash and burn earlier than expected.
Netherlands: Their defence is arguably the best in world football and their midfield is absolutely class as well. However they are seriously lacking a goal scoring threat in attack. It definitely wouldn’t be beyond them to beat teams 1-0 all tournament. I just don’t think they will be capable of beating teams that can score consistently without an out and out striker.
England: World Cup 2018 4th place finishers, they do have young players with plenty of talent as well as arguably the best finisher in world football in Harry Kane. They are seriously lacking in defence which is why I don’t consider them serious contenders. However I wouldn’t be surprised if they somehow someway manage to get it done.
Spain: Speaking of somehow getting it done. This team is far from it’s glory days of 2008-2012 but it’s still a great team with great talent. They have probably the best midfield if world football with a solid defence and a couple decent goal scorers up top. It’s not beyond them to win the whole thing but it’s also not exactly expected.
Germany: This is a team that 6 years ago won the World Cup. This is also a team that failed to beat Mexico and South Korea in the most recent tournament. With young stars like Kai Havertz and Leroy Sane I think their future is in great hands. That said I do think they will compete with the big teams this tournament but not quite be favourites.
Belgium: One goal away from a World Cup final, and probably trophy. I personally think that this team is the best man for man squad on the planet. Lukaku has found his form again at Inter, Kevin De Bruyne is still the best midfielder in the world, and although his form at Real Madrid hasn’t been excellent Eden Hazard is definitely still a world class player. This should be thinking title or bust with a squad that good.
Portugal: 2016 European champs, as well as inaugural UEFA Nations League Champs. This team is at the best it’s been since 2006. A shaky match against Uruguay in the World Cup saw them knocked out earlier than expected but they have the talent in midfield and attack to rival anyone in the world. Their defence is a minor issue but they have the likes of Ruben Dias coming up the ranks with an overload of talented fullbacks they should manage fine. A repeat is definitely on the cards and with Ronaldo still banging them in for fun they’re going to be difficult to stop.
France: What a surprise, this team is ridiculously good. Centre halves galore, a plethora of goal scoring up top and a relentless midfield, the only weak part of their team are their fullbacks and even then it wasn’t a serious issue in 2018 I doubt it’ll be an issue this time around. Like Belgium I think it’s Title or bust.
Path A) Bulgaria, Hungary, Iceland, Romania.
Winner: Iceland Category: Happy to be here.
Path B) Bosnia, Northern Ireland, Slovakia, Republic of Ireland
Winner: Republic of Ireland Category: Happy to be here
Path C) Norway, Serbia, Scotland, Israel
Winner: Serbia Category: Nothing is Impossible
Path D) Georgia, Belarus, Macedonia, Kosovo
Winner: Kosovo Category: Happy to be here
Final prediction: Winner: Portugal
Biggest Surprise: Switzerland
Biggest Flop: Croatia
Top scorer: Lewandowski
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“They discussed the Irish Question; but they never seriously contemplated the Irish Answer.”
-G. K. Chesterton, Irish Impressions
99 years ago, on November 28, 1920, 36 IRA men under the command of Tom Barry laid an ambush just south of Kilmichael in West Cork for an 18 man British patrol and slaughtered them. 16 of the paramilitary policemen were killed outright. One was wounded, stumbled away from the carnage to seek shelter, and was summarily executed with his own weapon by two IRA men (not involved with the ambush) who were hiding nearby. The last one so severely injured that the IRA shooters thought he was dead; 24 hours later, he was scooped up by his comrades from the ambush site and nursed back to health to give the only British recollection of the fight.
It was the largest and bloodiest IRA action of the Anglo-Irish war. It was thought that the British superiority of numbers, logistics, and equipment made any stand up fight hopeless and so dictated that the IRA must skulk about sniping at tower guards and hitting isolated individuals and teams. 18 veteran soldiers being gunned down in the blink of an eye by some backwoods bushwhacker gang seemed to change everything.
————————————————————— The Military and Political Situation in Ireland
I am going to attempt to give the background to the Anglo-Irish War of 1919-1921 in as broad of strokes as possible. My intent is to maintain focus on the ambush itself, which precludes delving too deeply into politics. However, military actions are welded firmly to political goals, and any discussion of fighting that does not give political context to them is inherently incomplete. Let them this extremely brief description suffice to satisfy both purposes.
As it stood at the end of the nineteenth century, Ireland was part of the UK the same as Wales, Scotland, and England, and was therefore represented within the British Parliament. For various reasons that convinced a decent sized majority of Irishmen (and a fair number of other ethnicities within the UK), people became convinced that Ireland needed its own Parliament to pass its own laws in order to prosper, which would give it a measure of self-sovereignty within the British Empire on par with Canada or Australia. Accordingly, Ireland had been demanding more and more insistently for Home Rule. For a variety of reasons which would needlessly elongate this section, Britain alternatively refused point blank to grant it and made false promises that Home Rule was just around the corner.
On Easter 1916, a coalition of Nationalists and Socialists joined forces in a rebellion centered in Dublin city to shove the envelope as far as it could go, asserting that mere Home Rule was insufficient. They declared the birth of a new Irish Republic, as distinct from Britain as France or Germany was.
The Easter Uprising in 1916 was utterly crushed by the superior British infantry and artillery within a few short weeks, but when the Nationalist leadership who had dared to declare independence right in the middle of the Great War were executed, their martyrdom sparked mass sympathy among the populace of Ireland. In 1918, the separatist party Sinn Fein ("Ourselves Alone") campaigned for Parliament seats on the promise they would secede from the UK if elected. They won the vote and, true to their word, they seceded to form their own Irish Parliament. The British naturally disagreed that such an action was legal or indeed possible and so declared Sinn Fein an outlaw political party. They sent troops over again to dismantle the nascent government and to keep order in the face of the simmering, belligerent rebellion, which in turn led the provisional government of the Irish Republic to organize resistance in 1919. Local militia units across the country, who swore allegiance to the Irish Republic as proclaimed on Easter Sunday 1916, formed a loose and decentralized guerrilla movement; the armed wing of the Republican movement was named, fittingly, the Irish Republican Army. The decentralization was necessary, for the leaders of IRA had no reliable and secure lines of communication and supply to their soldiers spread throughout the country. Every population center self-generated its own cadre of leaders and fighters and conducted the fighting as it saw fit- the West Cork IRA was for all intents and purposes on its own. The violence bubbled up sporadically in fits and starts as the various police, paramilitary, and military units loyal to the Crown feuded with the various “flying columns” of the IRA. The same population that had voted for Sinn Fein mostly supported the Republican cause, and this conviction only deepened when naked violence was employed against them to root out the insurgent forces.
On November 21st 1920, the de facto
Commander-in-Chief of the IRA Michael Collins upped the ante of violence. Acting at last on two years' worth of carefully collected and organized information of enemy identities and movements, he sent assassins to murder every British intelligence agent and informant he could find, which turned out to be about 21 men all killed on the same morning, mostly at their own doorstep without warning. This stroke of violence not only shocked the British, it would also leave them blinded and almost incapable of detecting IRA members and helpers for the rest of the war. The British backlash was clumsy, emotional, and undisciplined. That same afternoon after Collins’ gunmen did their bloody work, the Dublin Auxiliary branch of the Royal Irish Constabulary surrounded a Gaelic football match with the apparent intent to mass search all 5,000 of them for weapons. Someone starting shooting, so all his mates started shooting, machine guns opened up on the crowd, and it was all in all about a minute and a half of pure craziness. 14 civilians died and about 65 were injured. ”Bloody Sunday” marked a significant uptick in the level of violence in Ireland.
Tom Barry of the West Cork IRA Brigade would match it just one week later at Kilmichael.
————————————————————— So Who Are These People, Anyway?
The Auxiliary Division of the Royal Irish Constabulary were recruited and formed in 1920 to add firepower and spine to the Royal Irish Constabulary, who were trying to suppress the insurgents. Demographically, the Auxiliaries had a type. They were all former Army officers, mostly jumped up from the enlisted ranks in the First World War for valor and to fill dead men's shoes- not many blue blooded noblemen among them. They averaged about three years in the trenches each. They sprang primarily from the lower and upper middle class, the sons of merchants and shopkeepers. Ethnically, they were almost a perfect cross section of the UK with Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and England being proportionately represented. Barring one or two individuals, none of them had criminal records. The average age was around 30 years old. They simply couldn't find work after the war ended and so jumped at chance to serve in Ireland.
The men of the IRA also had a type. They were mostly young men from a working class or laborer background. Most had avoided the First World War, unwilling to die for a country that denied them Home Rule, though Tom Barry himself was an exception that tested this rule; he had served in the British Army in Iraq before his exposure to Republican politics following the 1916 Easter Uprising, and had been initially distrusted in the IRA for flying the British flag over his home when he returned home. They were overwhelmingly Catholic, though interestingly there were a couple of Protestant members scattered here and there.
In the face of the experienced and well-equipped British war machine, the IRA’s primary task was to survive, for as long as they could produce “flying columns” of guerrilla fighters to harass the British forces, assassinate British civil servants, and intimidate loyalist informers, the cost of the war to the government would act as a powerful inducement to recognize Irish sovereignty. They therefore rarely took any immense risks that might lead their units to being cornered and wiped out; they could afford to have individual volunteers snatched up, arrested, and often killed, but the apparatus that recruited, organized, and directed them was fragile and almost irreplaceable.
————————————————————— The Ambush Itself
To set the stage for the Kilmichael Ambush, the West Cork Auxiliaries based in Macroom
were out raiding after Bloody Sunday. They hopped in their lorries every day and rode out to burn homes, terrorize women and children, assault men with rifle butts and pistol grips for speaking Irish, and murder suspected members of Sinn Fein in cold blood. That's the folk memory of how the Auxiliaries conducted counter-insurgency, and it is relatively accurate in spite of frequent exceptions. Much has been said about their brutality and lawlessness, framing them as a bunch of psychotic, sadistic hooligans. Like many stereotypes, this is based on reality, but there are many reasons to cast some doubt on the folk memory of the Auxiliaries. Many of their barn burnings and raids and killings were said to be official British policy, and this was a solid 25 years before army men found out that "just following orders" was a not a proper excuse. According to one IRA spy named who had embedded in their ranks as a sleeper agent, they were mostly good guys, but about 10% were "bad eggs"; obviously, the actions of a "bad egg" wearing a distinct uniform will be attributed to everyone wearing the uniform. Counter-insurgency too has the tendency to bring out the worst in people, as the frustration of dealing with a hostile population and not being able to separate the guerrillas from the civilians takes its toll. Finally, they are often conflated and confused with their sister unit of the Royal Irish Constabulary Special Reserve (known slangily as the Black and Tans, because their uniform was an irregular mix of army khaki and police black), who were also
paramilitaries recruited from the army to bolster the police presence, but who were a) recruited from the enlisted ranks, not the officers; b) far more deserving off their reputation for brutality and lawlessness; and c) far more numerous than the Auxiliaries. These distinctions and mitigating traits were, of course, blurred a bit for the population who suffered under state sanctioned violence.
Tom Barry paints this specific ambush as an absolute necessity for the war effort. As long as the Auxiliaries can roam at will and terrorize entire counties with impunity, the population that the IRA depends on for sustainment (food, clothing, shelter, intelligence, volunteers, etc) will start to waver in their support. After all, if the IRA can’t fight back, why allow our houses to burn and our children to be threatened by armed men? What’s the point of declaring independence if we lack the strength to defend ourselves? From there, it’s but a short skip and a jump to “Why am I giving up the last of the food in our larder to provide dinner to a group of raggedy insurgents?” and “It’ll go easier on all of us if we give the police the names and home addresses of the guys in the flying column,” at which point the war is basically lost. As such, a dramatic counter strike was desperately needed.
Through intelligence given by sympathetic locals, Tom Barry noticed that the Auxiliaries were committing the cardinal sin of counter-insurgency work; they fell into a predictable pattern, taking the same route home every night. There were two stretches of their route where they were vulnerable, but one was far too close to a British outpost filled with reinforcements for comfort. The other was a country road just south of Kilmichael.
I have made an effort to recreate the ambush that Tom Barry planned: an improvised L-shaped ambush. For those who never lovingly leafed through FM 7-85 “Ranger Unit Operations”, chapter 6 of it describes it succinctly: “The L-shaped ambush is formed with the base (bottom) of the L perpendicular to the expected enemy direction of advance. This is a good ambush for a road, jungle trail, or an area where the enemy is canalized and his approach route is known.”
Indeed, this matches the situation to a tee. I have no idea if Tom Barry instinctively sussed out how to set up a decent ambush from first principles or if he picked up the concept during his stint in the British Army. I suppose it hardly matters.
He divided up his force of 36 fighters into three distinct sections with some minor detachments. They were armed with captured rifles, shotguns, revolvers, bayonets, and a couple of grenades.
His three man “Command Post” (helpfully and expertly marked on my screenshot of Google Maps)
adopted concealment behind a stone wall to the east of the ambuscade, staring west down the headlights of the advancing lorries. This CP would form the little leg of the L of the L-shaped ambush. Their task was to instigate the firing, for to preserve the element of surprise nobody would occupy their fighting positions until after
the CP opened fire.
Section 1 with ten men was positioned mere yards away on the reverse slope of a big boulder, unable to see anything until they stood up and inched forward to peer over the top. They would function as the lower part of the long leg of the L of the L-shaped ambush, tasked with pouring flanking fire into the lorry once it was stopped. They would also be the assaulting element once the ambush was sprung.
Section 2 with ten men was strung out along the military crest
of the hillside, hidden and protected by the rocky terrain. They would be the upper part of the long leg of the L. Once the patrol was fixed in place, they were to engage the second lorry in the convoy. I have no clear idea where exactly they were ensconced in, hence the question marks.
Section 3 was divided up into two groups, which I have arbitrarily labeled group A and B. Group A with six men was stationed behind some rocks to the south of the road in case the Auxiliaries dismounted and sprinted into cover on that side- trying to solve a problem before it developed, you see. Google maps shows no rocks that they could plausibly hide behind as Tom Barry said they did, so I’m not clear on where exactly they were either. I’m assuming that the field to the south has been cleared in the decades since the ambush, because this contemporaneous photo shows that the terrain south of the road was far rockier than it is today.
Group B, also six men, were held in reserve somewhere north of the ambush site- they were expecting two trucks, but if there was a third or a fourth then Section 3B was tasked with maneuvering against them to prevent them from interfering with the ambush.
The remaining men were spread as scouts in all directions to provide security and advance warning of enemy movement. Tom Barry himself would take center stage, standing openly in the road in between the CP and Section 1; he's the green dot on the linked map. We’ll get to his role shortly.
This ambush was notable in two ways. First, it would be conducted at excruciatingly close range. The disparity of training between the IRA and the Auxiliaries was considerable. Due to ammunition shortages, there had only been enough bullets to allow each IRA man four live bullets to practice their aim before sending him into action, in contrast to the hundreds and thousands of rounds shot to hone marksmanship in the British army. Since there really aren’t any sharpshooters at a distance of five to ten yards- you either line up your sights onto the target or you don’t- the chosen tactics and starting positions neutralized the British advantage in arms.
Second, and very much related to the first, Tom Barry deliberately violated the cardinal rule of guerrilla warfare by selecting an ambush site with no easy exit. Every other premeditated skirmish they had ever staged had had an escape route to take if things went wrong. This time, however, neither the Auxiliaries nor the IRA would have any plausible opportunity to break contact after the first shot was fired. It was going to be (as Tom Barry gravely informed his men as they set up the ambush) a fight to the death- either the Auxiliary patrol gets wiped out, or the flying column perishes. To raise the stakes even higher, the West Cork Brigade were neither numerous nor well-stocked with weapons. At no point in the war did Tom Barry and his men have access to more than 116 rifles, and those 36 men were the cream of the crop of the whole county. If killed, and their weapons seized, they could not easily be replaced. Every egg they had was to be placed in the same basket for this fight.
The 36 IRA men got their battle plan from their captain that morning, then trudged off to take up their positions and wait. They’d marched on foot all night to reach the killing field to set up first. The owners of the house just to the south were sympathetic to the cause, but had no food for themselves, let alone a gaggle of frozen and weary riflemen. They sent a bucket of tea around instead to give the guerrillas something hot to drink. That’s how Tom Barry’s men passed the daylight hours of November 28th: soaked through from the dew and frozen in the Winter winds, empty stomachs gnawing at them, and with plenty of hours to sit still and think about what might go wrong.
————————————————————— The Jaws Snap Shut
Francis Crake had been a clerk at an insurance firm, and he married his sweetheart in the same month the war broke out. On September 3rd, 1914, Private Crake enlisted with the 1st Hampshires and went to war in France.
Three years later, he was Lt. Crake.
A year later, in 1918, he was being mentioned in dispatches for conspicuous gallantry and leadership under fire.
February of 1920, he was discharged from the army.
October 3rd, 1920, seven years to the day since he joined the army as a private, Captain Crake joined the Auxiliary Division.
Two months after that, he was leading the 18 man Auxiliary patrol through West Cork. He sat in the lead vehicle, riding shotgun, heading home to Macroom after a day of raiding.
At approximately 4:05 pm, just after sunset, his convoy took the curve of the road around the darkened, rocky hillside at about 40 mph. Even without the headlights, the moon was almost full, so visibility was pretty good. He saw a man standing in the middle of the road wearing a military uniform, waving his hands as though to ask for help. Cpt. Crake ordered his driver to slow down to see what the problem was.
That man in the road was indeed wearing a military uniform, but not a British one. It was the official tunic of the IRA, though Tom Barry knew perfectly well that no British soldier would recognize it on sight. The man in the uniform with the military webbing and equipment over it was easily mistaken for a fellow Auxiliary.
Once Crake’s convoy had slowed down, the ambush was sprung. A grenade was flung into the cab, killing and mangling the driver and Crake alike. Rifle fire from the front and the left raked the men in the lead vehicle in a murderous crossfire. Behind them, the second lorry was being riddled with bullets by Section 2. Men shot rifles (designed to be accurate and deadly at a thousand yards) at men so close they could have spit on them just as easily.
The men of the lead vehicle (helpfully marked as a red square in the accompanying map) tried to dismount under fire. The survivors who did manage to get solid ground under their feet were hit by a charge as ferocious as any they’d seen in the trenches of France. They were alternately shot with pistols at close range, ran through with bayonets, clubbed down with rifle butts, and blasted with shotguns.
At some point, Temporary Cadet Cecil Guthrie escaped from the mayhem, crawling away from the rear vehicle with presumably non-fatal wounds. Guthrie was a Royal Air Force veteran, a pilot who spent the war all over the Middle East- in fact, it’s not impossible that he and Tom Barry were posted to the same base at some point, for although Tom Barry was an enlisted artilleryman and therefore unlikely to mix with the pilots, they were on the same front in roughly the same battle space and fighting the same Ottomans.
Guthrie was mentioned in dispatches in 1919 for his service in the Afghan war, where he met and fell in love with a nurse named Irene Peach. They had married earlier that year and the Mrs. Guthrie already had a child on the way; indeed, she was mere miles north of him at his base in Macroom, waiting patiently for his patrol to return. He scrambled into the dark, away from the Kilmichael ambush. He would make his way on foot four miles across the countryside towards safety, but two miles short of Macroom, Guthrie would try to get help at a civilian house. Unfortunately for Guthrie, two IRA men were hiding there, and they recognized the ragged, wounded man by face.
You see, a month before, an unarmed man named James Lehane has been snatched up by Guthrie’s unit in a raid and murdered without trial on suspicion of being an IRA volunteer. Witnesses had fingered Guthrie as the man who had emptied his revolver into Lehane at point blank range and in cold blood. It’s like I told you, counter-insurgency brings out the worst in people. Guthrie was executed with his own gun and his body was tossed into a nearby bog. Years later, after the Treaty, the Irish government had his remains dragged out and given a proper burial in deference to his widow and daughter, though there is no real way to know if the body they buried was in fact his or not. As you can see from this updated map, the Auxiliaries of the lead truck were all killed. Those in the rear truck were at a lethal disadvantage.
Tom Barry organized his CP and Section 1 and led them west down the road to fire into the enemy rear. The survivors of the second truck now were under fire from the hill to the north, the rocks from the south, and the road to the east. They had no cover at all save for the broken down lorry, which was not even bullet proof to start with. The next day, when a sister company from the Auxiliaries mapped out the battlefield and marked where the dead had dropped. The lead truck’s dead were bunched up in a tight clump, and the rear truck’s detachment were scattered across the fields.
This indicates that the dismounted survivors of the rear truck scattered and were hunted down as individuals.
Here, presumably, Temporary Cadet Frederick Forde was dropped by a gunshot wound to the head. Forde was born to be a soldier; he grew up as a military brat in India and applied to the Royal Military Academy before the Great War even broke out. He commissioned in 1915 and served as an artilleryman in the Balkans, Egypt, and Palestine; at some point, just like Guthrie, Forde might well have bumped into the very man who had organized the ambush he’d been driven into.
By both Forde’s and Tom Barry’s account, the IRA finished off the wounded and stripped the bodies of ammunition, grabbed the dropped rifles, and searched the bodies for papers that might bear valuable intelligence.
Two of the Irishmen- Michael McCarthy, the leader of Section 2, and Jim O’Sullivan- were stretched out dead in the damp grass. They had died from Auxiliary shots from the rear truck. Sullivan in particular died under highly controversial circumstances that I will get to in a minute. Patrick Deasy, aged 16, was also hit, and hit bad. Pat Deasy was the little brother of 22 year old Liam Deasy. The two brothers had served in the West Cork IRA together, and when the Treaty came into effect the following year Liam would bitterly reject it. Both Liam Deasy and Tom Barry alike would end up on the Anti-Treaty side in the coming Irish Civil War, dodging policemen and soldiers of the Irish Free State instead of British policemen and soldiers, ambushing their former IRA comrades in arms instead of the Auxiliaries. Tom Barry would be cooling his heels in a Free State prison cell when his friend Liam Deasy set a long range ambush that would see Michael Collins shot to death in 1922.
However, all of that is in their future. That evening of the 28th of November, Liam’s little brother Pat was begging his commander for a drink of water. Tom Barry knew that giving water to a man with such a stomach wound would be lethal, so he promised him a cup of tea when they got to safety. Pat Deasy didn’t survive long enough to drink it.
Many of the IRA men were physically sick to their stomachs by what they had seen and done- by Tom Barry’s account, one IRA man had been standing so close to his victim that he had had blood splashed into his mouth when he shot the Auxiliary in the neck. The men of the West Cork brigade had learned the same lesson that the dead had learned in the Great War- violent death at close quarters was an intense and emotional experience. Noting that they had been shaken badly by the sheer violence of their own attack, Tom Barry found it necessary to spend valuable time parading them around the ambuscade site in close order drill- left, left, left right, about face, present arms, forward march, left face, right face, shoulder arms, left, left, left right- purely to settle their nerves and restore discipline. The drill was concluded by saluting their three slain comrades who were laid out before them.
The whole business took about a half hour from the initial shots until the flying column was marching off into the dark with their newly captured arms and ammunition, using their head-start to avoid the inevitable counterattack that would come once the results of the ambush were discovered.
The rains poured down heavy that night; black clouds blocked out the bright moonlight. When Forde’s comrades saw that Crake’s patrol had failed to return on time, they sent out a search party but in the dark and stormy night had found nothing. They tried again in the morning and found the site of the massacre easily this time. It is nothing short of miraculous that Forde survived until morning, and then survived the trip to the Battalion surgeon. He would end up with a medical discharge at the highest pension rate available at the time, which was only fair, for he would be paralyzed for life.
————————————————————— The Controversies and Mysteries That We Are Never Going to Solve
The real problem here is that there are two primary sources for the Kilmichael ambush- Tom Barry’s memoir Guerrilla Days in Ireland
and similar recollections from surviving volunteers given years or decades later, and the British account based on Forde’s recollection and on physical evidence collected the following day.
I am happy to assume the truth when they are in agreement with each other, and even reasonably on board with details given by one account but not the other. However, when they assert conflicting facts, we are forced to play the part of the courtroom lawyer and the armchair psychologist by questioning sources and applying logic and unraveling unlikely alibis.
For instance, just after the ambush, a local coroner conducted a “superficial examination” and concluded that some of the bodies had been mutilated post-mortem with “an axe or some kind of similar heavy, sharp tool.” Forde’s personal account seems to confirm it- a fellow Auxiliary speaking of Forde’s private recollection claimed that “[t]he leader appeared to be an enormous red headed Irishman who personally inspected each body for signs of life. He was armed with a pistil [sic] and a small axe. The last thing Forde remembers was lying on the road with the red headed giant bending over him taking a swing at his head with the axe.”
Whereas Tom Barry stoutly denies any axe swinging or mutilation whatsoever, labeling it a vicious piece of British propaganda.
So just what are we to make of this?
Well, one, Forde was confused about a lot of things. He thought that there was about 100 IRA dressed as British soldiers, when there was only about 30 shooting in total and only one had a a uniform on. He thought that they had a machine gun and a mess of Tommy guns, when they absolutely didn’t. The guy walked into a maelstrom of chaotic violence and then got shot in the head, so how good could his memory possibly be? Not to mention that he described Tom Barry as an enormous, red-headed giant, while in real life he looked like he might go into a food coma if you fed him half of a ham and cheese sandwich.
And it’s not like the British Empire held itself to a high moral standard when it comes to propaganda and spreading lies; the story that the West Cork IRA had mutilated the bodies hit the newspaper the day after the ambush, long before Forde was able to be properly debriefed. Come to that, Forde’s medical discharge stated that his head wound came from a gunshot with no mention of any other cause.
Then again, Tom Barry’s account may also be unreliable. He denied the allegation, sure, but he was also completely unaware at the time of his memoir in 1949 that Forde had survived at all. He was under the impression that 17 men had died by their trucks, and the 18th has escaped only to be hunted down and tossed into the bog the day after. So his account was made under the impression that no British eye-witness could possibly gain-say him. One might ask, what’s the point of desecrating the dead to make a point only to deny it later? The obvious answer is that the axe chopping was a spur of the moment, adrenaline-pumping-through-his-veins kind of thing. That
is the exact kind of thing that an insurgent commander would need to stringently deny and cover up if he wanted to win the propaganda war.
If I had to make a call, which I really don’t want to do because I’d be standing on very shaky ground, I’d say that any post-mortem mutilation was a natural result of close quarters violence and not a deliberate attempt to subject the fallen to dishonorable degradation. I can kind of construct a timeline of it- the coroner takes a peek at a series of badly damaged corpses, ravaged as they were by grenades and bayonets and shotguns, and comments, “Jeez, it almost looks like someone took an axe to this guy.” Some savvy British spook then spreads the story far and wide that the savage Irish chopped up the dead like wild Injuns, Forde’s memory is influenced by the official story, and Tom Barry has to try to ignore all damage he ordered done to the enemy after they hit the dirt to counter the accusation. A nice, neat, clean interpretation of events, which is as plausible as any other fictional story because we simply don’t know.
We’ve already covered the controversial use of a uniform in an act of deceit. The British were convinced that the IRA used stolen uniforms to deceive Crake’s patrol, which infuriated them to no end. Tom Barry’s stance was that it was not only a practical strategy, but also perfectly above board because the IRA was a proper army under the leadership of a legitimate government, and the fact that the British couldn’t recognize the tunic on sight the way they could recognize a German or Italian uniform was their problem, not his. Deciding how foul and dishonorable a trick it was probably depends on your politics.
But the pinnacle of the controversy revolves around the narrative of “the false surrender”. Just as the British accused the IRA of mutilation, so to did the IRA accuse the British of faking a surrender to kill their attackers.
Tom Barry’s account is a clean cut narrative- once the ambush was sprung and Section 1 pushed west down the road to engage the rear truck, the British called out to surrender and threw down their rifles. The firing stopped, the Irishmen exposed themselves by walking forward to collect the prisoners, and the Auxiliaries opened fire with their pistols, killing Sullivan and mortally wounding Deasy (McCarthy had been shot and killed in the initial outbreak of gunfire). Tom Barry, in a fury, ordered them “annihilated” for their dishonorable fake out and had his men keep firing into the dead bodies for a minute or two to make sure of them.
There are reasons to doubt such a story.
One, Forde contradicts it. He claims the IRA did
capture individuals after the fighting stopped and then executed them all one by one. Two, other volunteers who had taken part in the ambush being interviewed years after the fact offer a slightly different story- that they enemy tried to surrender and then drew pistols, sure, but not all of them. One volunteer, Jack O'Sullivan, testified that he disarmed a wounded Auxiliary but “[h]e was walking him up the road as a prisoner when a shot dropped him at his feet". Another volunteer recalled that Jim Sullivan had been shot before
the surrender, not during. And three, frankly, Tom Barry’s story of the false surrender simply makes no sense.
How on earth could an ambushed squad, squirming about desperately under fire, possibly
have concocted a plot to fake a surrender solely to get a confirmed kill or two? Why the hell would they? The West Cork Brigade had an established pattern of taking prisoners and letting them go again- it was broadly understood that if the IRA caught you flat-footed they’d take your rifle and ammo and send you off- so why commit suicide by opening fire after the shooting stopped? What kind of fast paced discussion among the dismounted and scattered men of the rear truck led them to think that faking a surrender would work out?
The ugliest explanation I’ve heard is that Tom Barry intended from the start to give no quarter- after all, if you’ll recall, the whole point to the ambush was to make a dramatic counter attack and prove that you’d couldn’t raid West Cork without paying for it. What makes the point clearer, jumping a couple of guys and disarming them, or slaughtering them all to a man? By this theory, after the initial volleys, the surviving Auxiliaries had tossed their rifles and given up only to be massacred as prisoners.
Tom Barry wrote his account in 1949, almost thirty years after the fact. His story is neat and clear cut and flows logically from point to point: the exact kind of clarity of vision that is deeply implausible during the rapid clash of arms that was the Kilmichael Ambush. I just don’t believe it. Based on the volunteers’ testimony, I can believe that in the confusion, some Auxiliaries tried to surrender at the same moment when others tried to keep fighting, and that the IRA vengefully slew them all in the heat of the moment, and that Tom Barry had decades to mull it over and decide that since those Auxies had sneakily murdered Jim Sullivan and young Pat Deasy with their false surrender, they had deserved what they got.
But I really don’t know. All the witnesses are dead and nobody involved had any great interest in the Truth for Truth’s sake.
The question naturally arises about why I bothered to do this write up. After all, not only did the Kilmichael Ambush happen before my grandparents were even born, but it’s not even my
heritage. I’m neither Irish nor British; I lack a dog in this fight. The honest but surface answer is that I’m a nerd and I like reading up about wars. Even so, as an American, I have plenty of material to geek out over- Saratoga, Gettysburg, Iwo Jima, the retreat from the Chosin Reservoir. Why this time and place?
An answer that cuts a little deeper into the issue is that I was once involved at the ground level with a counter-insurgency myself, though my role in the proceedings was not terribly dramatic. The ethnic and cultural differences between us and the insurgents were considerable, and it takes an immense amount of effort for me to even try and step into the other guys’ shoes and see the world from their point of view. It is fascinating for me to study another insurgency from not too long ago with an entirely different cast of characters, both of whose cultural backgrounds are present in my own society. The patterns of the Anglo-Irish war are similar enough to Afghanistan that I find them achingly familiar, and yet altered enough to startle me at the same time.
As well, I was deeply impressed by how small of a scale this ambush was on. Twenty men killed and one wounded was considered a major event. Compare that to the Somme, or to Austerlitz, or God save us all
to the charnel house of frozen hell that was Stalingrad. Twenty deaths wouldn’t even show up as a blip on the radar in a big war. It is easy to reduce humans to mere numbers when the scale is big enough. 20,000 marching there, 5,000 dead and twice that wounded, a small detachment of 200 sent to hold that bridge, a big push of 60,000 attacking the left.... the human mind can’t handle the amount of empathy it takes to process that many people suffering and dying. But with so few people involved, you can put names and histories onto corpses and get a proper perspective on how God-awful and cruel the whole business of war really is.
A few weeks back, I got into an argument with someone who suggested half-seriously- purely as a hypothetical- that we ought to send troops to Mexico to stamp down on the cartels to help reassert the Mexican government’s control. I pointed out that such an action would be pretty pointless, since the starting conditions that created the cartels would remain after we came, killed, and left. He responded that the number of the cartels’ potential recruits would run out sooner or later. In effect, he argued that if we killed off enough military age males, potentially tens of millions of people, the cartel crackdown would be permanent.
And I thought to myself, “I would bet money that this guy has never so much as been in a fistfight before. If he had ever hurt somebody bad, or seen them hurt bad before his very eyes, or gotten hurt bad himself, he’d know just how criminally insane his suggestion was.”
It worries me that people whose only exposure to war is video games, movies, and gushing reports of steely-eyed elite commandos taking the fight to the jihadis are so instinctively enthusiastic about it. It bothers me that people without skin in the game will happily vote their way towards armed conflict without bothering to think through whether people truly need to suffer and die en masse
over the issue at hand. I’m no pacifist myself, you must understand. It just seems to me that people who are disassociated from the reality of war have a tendency to ruin things for everyone else.
However, all such moralizing is ultimately secondary to my purpose. The impulse to tell the tale of the Kilmichael Ambush is an old one, for the telling of war stories is an ancient tradition. As far back as Homer's Iliad, people have been huddling around campfires to gush about this hero's courage, to scorn that villain's cruelty, to mourn the death and agony inflicted upon the innocent, and to retread in the footsteps of the dead and buried soldiers of yesteryear. Undoubtedly there is some clever sociological explanation for why humans of all cultural backgrounds do this, but I need no justification for it. The campfire is replaced by a computer screen and the audience is full of strangers instead of kin and allies, but the form is the same, and in my opinion that is what matters.
Let's face it, we're all getting older by the day, and every year seems to pass by quicker than the last. As my dad once said, "life is like a toilet roll: the closer you get to the end, the faster it spins"
. Words to live by. Most footballers see their thirties as a chance to simultaneously unwind and maximise those last few paychecks plying their trade in distant lands. Legends like Iniesta, Mascherano, and Xavi went east, while Gerrard, Schweinsteiger, and Zlatan went west, baby, yeah!
But others still say 'fuck it, I might be older than mainstream concern over climate change, but I'm staying put in Europe until it spits me out'
. Good thing Europe isn't a cow, then. I know I don't want a partially-digested Bruno Alves staring me down; the man's scary enough as he is. But we do need to celebrate these men while we still have a chance
. Some of us spent part of the last fifteen to twenty years idolising these players, and their ability to persist – with dignity – in football's highest echelons for an extended period of time is certainly a remarkable feat.
I'm going to throw out six names, in alphabetical order, from Europe's top five leagues
who are still doing a bang-up job at the highest level despite being 35 or over
– and I'm going to leave goalkeepers out. Why, you ask? Because even William Shatner can shit around the goal-line for 90 minutes, that's boring. Feel free to add and comment on more artefacts of the modern game in the comments, and if you have stories about any of those listed below, please share them!
José Lloyd Cholevas, 35, Watford
Never has a man confused me so much. In Holebas and Cholevas he's got two last names. He's called José and looks like a fucking gangster who grew up in the heart of Culiacán. But he's a Greek, born in Germany?! And his middle name is Lloyd. The absolute fuckery is this man trying to do with us.
He joined Watford from Roma in 2015 and has been pretty much a mainstay in the Premier League since then – if you're half-decent at FPL, you definitely had him in your squad at multiple points in the last few seasons.
He's also a mad cunt – 40 yellow cards in just over a 100 appearances
for the Hornets (five in eight this season), and the one time he got a red it was rescinded. His experience has surely taught him how to play on the edge without crossing the line, but looking at him you wouldn't be surprised if he's got extensive experience dealing with lines.
Despite his age, however, he only really got his break in top-tier professional football in 2010 when he joined Olympiakos at the age of 26 and where he won six trophies in four years. Hats off to this legend, who has also been a father since the age of 18. Meanwhile, when I was 18, I cried in my dorm room because I missed my mum. He'll be around for a while yet I'm willing to bet, kicking balls and kicking balls. Whether it'll be at Watford remains to be seen though, he and Quique Sanchez Flores don't get along
Makoto Hasebe, 35, Eintracht Frankfurt
If any of you have owned a Toyota or a Nissan, you'll know that these mid-priced cars give you bang for your buck. Maintenance and parts are cheap, and if your idiot kid takes it out for a spin while you're asleep and crashes it into a wall, well, it's made of cheap enough material that it won't cost a fortune to fix and he might get a knock that shoves his brain back in place.
Hasebe, like Toyotas and Nissans, is Japanese, durable, and versatile. He's played every single minute of Frankfurt's season so far
, missing only one Europa League match. He's been playing in Germany for so long now (over a decade) that it wouldn't be surprising to find out that he is, in fact, also part Volkswagen at this point, thanks to his five-or-so seasons at Wolfsburg. He became the first Japanese player to play for them, and only the second to ever win the Bundesliga. You get a point if you can guess who the first one was
Outside of football, Makoto is Japan's UNICEF goodwill ambassador
. Fuck me if I know what that entails, but here he is visiting a Rohingya refugee camp
in Bangladesh. Good man.
Hilton, 42, Montpellier
No I don't mean Paris Hilton, but her less perishable namesake Vitorino. While Paris was busy getting fucked for the world to see in 2003, Vitorino was midway through his first stint in European football with Servette in Switzerland. A year later he moved to France, and he's been there ever since. He's been a legend for Lens, Marseille, and Montpellier, winning trophies will all three clubs, even signing a contract extension with Montpellier earlier this year at the sprightly age of 41
. Just kidding, he's old as fuck.
But what is perhaps most remarkable about this absolute fossil is the fact that he's bounced back from so much hardship
. Torn knee ligaments, hip injuries, knocks to his groin and ankles, even being robbed and assaulted by six men in his home with his young family present, none of that shit slowed this man down. Kids from this snowflake generation would have given up on life long ago. The fact that he's still featuring prominently for a mid-table Montpellier side which finished sixth in Ligue 1 just last year is a monumental achievement.
To think that in all these years, he didn't earn a single cap for Brazil is a massive shame. Tite, don't be a tit. Give his man what he deserves
Joaquín, 38, Real Betis
Joaquín is like a Phoenix. He's been around for almost 20 years, having made his professional debut for Betis at 19, and at multiple points people thought this man was done, past it – but what did he do? Rise from the fucking ashes. He's played for Betis, Valencia, Málaga, and Fiorentina, and has over 50 caps for Spain – all before their era of global dominance, though.
How that transpired is stuff of dramatic tragedies. He publicly shat on the national team after a 2–3 reverse against Northern Ireland (Northern Ireland!), calling it a 'mess', labelling it 'chaos', saying Aragones couldn't handle things
. What did Spain do after that? Go 35 games unbeaten, win two Euros and the World Cup. Oof, talk about a bad time to run your mouth.
Still, though, 12 years have gone by since then and Joaquín is still flying around, a legend in Betis with 15 goals and 20 assists in his last five La Liga campaigns. What a player, skilful and quick with a great delivery. Maybe it's all got something to do with being breastfed until the age of 7
Fabio Quagliarella, 36, Sampdoria
Quagliarella is a legend, no two ways about it. 154 Serie A goals in 448 appearances across 17 seasons for six clubs, this man is prolific. So prolific, in fact, that he's been in the news recently because his stalker got a lengthy prison sentence
, he has a stalker, who posed as a police officer accusing him of having ties with the mafia. Fuck me, that's nuts.
He is the defending Capocannonieri
, having smashed in 26 league goals last season – at the age of 35. Ronaldo who? Mauro what? Fuck off, kids, daddy's in town. You could even make a compelling argument that this man has gotten better the older he's got; 58 league goals (and counting, along with 18 assists) in the last four seasons
when he had 22 in the four before that.
He was a Puskás nominee
this year, and has in his repertoire some truly stunning goals
. He holds, with Gabriel Batistuta, the record for scoring in consecutive Serie A matches
plays international football – in fact, he's Italy's all-time oldest goalscorer
. This man has it all; he's skilful, versatile, an adept finisher, a gentleman
, and an acrobat. And he got a man sent to jail. You can't say this much about many players.
Franck Ribéry, 36, Fiorentina
Where else can we end but with the man who looks like the end of the world? There's not much I can add to the glittering story that is Franck Ribéry's career, one half of the longest-lasting heist in German history. A legend for France and Bayern, winner of as many trophies and personal accolades as stitches he has on his face
. He now plays for Fiorentina, and if the start to his campaign is anything to go by, he'll be a legend in Florence soon too – if he isn't already.
He's already managed a red card, picking up a fine in the process for shoving a linesman, just a month after winning Serie A's player of the month award
. In fact, manager Montella praised
Ribéry for his advice in the last match against Sassuolo, which Fiorentina won 1–0 and one where he was serving the first match of his suspension in the stands, suggesting the Frenchman prevented him from making mistakes that might have cost them the match. Perhaps a career in management beckons for this man upon retirement, although I, for one, am looking forward to a Gary Neville-Franck Ribéry punditry duo
at some stage in the coming years. But let's hope he sticks around on the field for a while yet. Honourable mentions:
Aritz Aduriz (38), Bruno Alves (37), Claudio Pizarro (41), Dante (36), Giorgio Chiellini (35), José Fonte (35), Stephan Lichtsteiner (35), Thiago Silva (35), and Vedad Ibisevic (35).
That's it for 'Granddaddies of Europe's Major Leagues'. Kids, I hope you learned a bit about these dinosaurs. Old folks, I hope this was an enjoyable voyage through the past and present of European football's past and present. Feel free to continue the discussion below.
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