IRA Tactics

In the early stages of the Irish War of Independence, the most common type of military action used by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) was arms raids. The IRA commonly targeted houses of landowners and Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) barracks in search of explosives and weaponry. 

The evolution from arms raids to attacks on RIC barracks became evident in the winter of 1919. Despite being fortified by iron shutters and sandbags, the barracks were accessible targets for the IRA as they were often isolated and undermanned. 



Attacks on RIC barracks often took place at night because some of the IRA volunteers worked during the day.

Kilflynn IRA Flying Column, 1922.

Kilflynn IRA Flying Column, 1922.

Following a series of attacks on RIC barracks, British Forces began to close the more rural and isolated garrisons whilst tightening security around their more central barracks in the city. 

This led to a shift in IRA tactics that moved away from what An t’Oglach called ‘small jobs’ such as raids, and towards a campaign of larger attacks. This change of activities was made possible by the introduction of ‘flying columns’. 

Flying columns were a permanent force of highly mobile volunteers that enabled the IRA to carry out ambushes. Reliant on information from their specialist intelligence system based in Dublin, the IRA conducted a series of ambushes throughout the Irish War of Independence including the Kilmichael ambush. 

Plotted as a revenge attack against the Auxiliaries for their aggressive raids and arrests in West Cork, the Kilmichael ambush was carried out by the flying column of the West Cork Brigade in November 1920.

The ambush was the deadliest attack against British forces during the Irish War of Independence and resulted in the death of 17 Auxiliaries and three IRA men.

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Raids, ambushes and assassinations raised the profile of the war, frequently making headlines in newspapers across Europe.

A tactic employed by Michael Collins in the Irish War of Independence was the deployment of ‘squad’ members to carry out a series of attacks and assassinations against high profile British officials. 

The campaign culminated on a day known as Bloody Sunday. The events of Bloody Sunday took place on the 21st November 1920 when members of Collins’ squad shot dead 14 people in Dublin, including 12 men Collins thought to be the pillar of the British intelligence system in the city.

Later the same day, members of the Black and Tans, RIC and the Dublin Metropolitan Police turned up at Croke Park to search the thousands of fans leaving a Gaelic football match between Tipperary and Dublin. After a minute and a half of sustained fire, 13 people were dead, shot or crushed and 80 were injured. Another person was to die later.