The oldest resident in the Curragh is not a person….it is a 1920 Pattern Whippet Rolls Royce. It was the 3rd of 100 armoured vehicles ordered by the British army and the delivery date was November 21st, 1920. Thirteen of these vehicles were handed over to the new Free State Provisional Government in the early months of 1922 and each one quickly received an unofficial name such as Slievenamon, The Baby, The Big Fella etc.
The vehicle first saw action in O’Connell Street at the outbreak of the Civil War when, as one of three turreted cars and a lorry, it assisted in the clearance of various buildings taken over by the Irregular forces. Upon the subsequent fleet numbering of the armoured vehicles, Slievenamon was allocated A.R.R. 2. In mid August Slievenamon was allocated to General Michael Collins, just recently appointed by the Government to the post of Commander in-Chief of the rapidly expanding army, as escort vehicle during his tour of military positions in the south of the country. The convoy left Dublin on August 20, travelling to the Curragh, and then on to Limerick, Mallow and finally Cork City.
August 22, saw the vehicle in West cork, when the convoy was ambushed by Irregulars at Beal-na-Blath on the road between Bandon and Macroom. The machine-gun on the Rolls Royce controversially jammed and it consequently contributed little to the efforts of the escort detail in fighting off the ambushers. The sad, tragic outcome was the death from a head wound of General Collins. Slievenamon survived the danger filled return trip to Cork and was shipped back to Dublin on the following day in the SS Classic, The ship commandeered by the Army to carry general’s body back to the capital. However, it was soon back in West Cork and was subsequently stolen in December from Bandon military post by the Anti-Treaty forces with the help of John MePeak, the vehicle’s machine-gunner. His payment was an arranged secret return to his native Scotland. He was subsequently arrested there, returned to Ireland and imprisoned in Portlaoise.
The armoured car was used briefly by the irregulars in attacks on military posts in the Macroom area and then hidden under straw at farm near historic Gougane Barra. Some weeks later, following a tip-off, it was found by troops from Macroom who were assisted by group of officers attached to headquarters in Dublin. The tyres had been damaged and the Vickers machine-gun removed. Consequently it was necessary to tow the vehicle back to Macroom, initially by horse and then by truck. Incidentally, a certain Lt. James Fitzmaurice, subsequently to become famous as a transatlantic aviator, was also involved in the search, flying from Fermoy military airfield where he was Officer in charge. Whilst the recovery of Slievenamon was without fatality, one of the HQ officers, upon their return to Dublin, accidentally shot dead a mess steward during celebrations marking the successful outcome of their mission!
The first image above is of the Slievenamon as it is today. The second image shows the vehicle on the day of it’s arrival at the Curragh…the water tower can be seen in the background.
Images and information sourced from Sliabh na mBan “the jewel in the crown” by Bob Webster & Sister Veronica Treacy.