After Sinn Féin’s almost complete victory in the November 1918 general election and the setting up of the First Dáil in 1919, the political conflict between the British government and Republicans was to become a state of war. The War of Independence began with the Soloheadbeg ambush in January 1919.
Tomás MacCurtain took an active role in the War of Independence. Originally from Ballyknockane in County Cork, he became involved with the Gaelic League, the Irish Republican Brotherhood and the Irish Volunteers. He was in command of the Irish Volunteers in Cork during the 1916 Rising in Dublin. Although no violence took place in Cork during the Rising, MacCurtain was subsequently arrested and imprisoned.
Following Sinn Fein’s victory in the local elections of January 1920, Tomás MacCurtain was elected the first republican Lord Mayor of Cork on 31 January 1920. His term as Lord Mayor was brutally cut short. In the early hours of the morning of 20 March 1920, members of the R.I.C. burst into his house and shot him dead. After the killing they ransacked the house. The shocking murder outraged public opinion and brought near universal condemnation. Cork went into mourning for its murdered first citizen. A massive crowd attended his funeral. At the coroner’s inquest into the killing the jury passed a verdict of willful murder against Lloyd George and certain inspectors of the R.I.C. One of the named inspectors, Oswald Swanzy, was shot dead in Lisburn on 22 August 1920.
Poem in Irish in the hand of Tomás MacCurtain entitled 'Eachtra Carraig Clíodhna', July 1918 (Cork City Archives)