Stories have been in circulation involving Rolls-Royce motor cars since
they were first introduced, some true, some apocryphal, but none with
more tragic overtones or air of mystery than the following, in which one
such vehicle featured prominently, becoming known in local folklore as
‘the Moon Car’.
Although hampered by incomplete records, long and extensive research has
established the fact that the car in question was a Silver Ghost tourer,
built some time between 1915 and 1920 and originally supplied to the
family that owned the Clark Tobacco Company in Southern Ireland, who
lived in the Macroom district of County Cork.
At that time Ireland was in turmoil, divided over the question of a
united country, with feelings running high on both sides. Bloody
guerrilla warfare raged in town and countryside between the forces of
the British Crown and those who wished for complete independence.
Oral reminiscences from old men still alive today who lived through
those times must necessarily be regarded with a touch of scepticism, but
although lacking documentary evidence, and ignoring the more blatant
embellishments brought forth by over-indulgence in the hard stuff,
enough convincing facts can be gleaned.
Somehow or other the Clark’s Silver Ghost came into the possession of
the Republican faction opposing British rule and was converted into a
military vehicle, transporting men and arms on various forays against
the occupying British forces.
A thick steel plate was fitted to the rear passenger compartment, to
which were bolted twin Lewis machine guns, and the bodywork was
strengthened with armour plating. Its firepower and speed made it a
serious force to be reckoned with. In sporadic raids against the
military over a long period of time it was used almost entirely during
the hours of darkness, thus earning its sobriquet ‘the Moon Car’, among
those who observed it.
The Irish Free State was formed in 1922, headed by Michael Collins, the
Sinn Fein leader who had previously organised resistance against the
British. Many opposed this act and continued the fight against what they
regarded as an occupying power. Collins himself was killed later that
year in a Republican ambush in wild country between Macroom and Bandon.
The Moon Car was reported to be still in use by the rebels but reliable
information is again scanty.
Written evidence of its existence comes in the following news report
from the Times of 21 st March, 1924:
‘OUTRAGE AT QUEENSTOWN: BRITISH SOLDIERS FIRED ON: MACHINE GUN ATTACK’
(from our correspondent Queenstown, March 21)
Just before dark tonight a motor car with four men dressed in the
uniform of Irish Army officers dashed into Queenstown from the
Westbourne end, stopping when they had got to the beach right opposite
the pierhead where British soldiers from Spike Island had just landed.
The occupants of the motor car were seen to train a machine gun on to
the pierhead and fire, wounding a number of British soldiers there.
Twelve is the number given as being wounded, and one is said to be dead.
They were all subsequently taken in the military launch to Spike Island.
The persons in the motor car then drove furiously out of Queenstown
along the High road past the Yacht Club and when opposite the destroyer
Scythe they turned, and, training the machine-gun on her, fired again,
but no casualty is reported among the Scythe’s crew.
The motor car with the four men in Irish National army uniforms then
disappeared along the high-road going towards Rushbrooke at a furious
pace. The utmost consternation prevails at Queenstown in consequence of
this unexpected occurrence.
A Press Association message from Queenstown last night stated:
The latest information gives the casualties as one dead, four seriously
wounded and not expected to recover, seventeen others wounded. Patrols
of Free State troops are scouring the district to capture the
perpetrators of the outrage. It is believed there were no casualties
aboard the destroyer Scythe.
Subsequent newspaper reports described the car used in the attack as a
‘yellow Rolls-Royce of the touring type equipped with two Lewis
Eyewitness accounts stated that ‘the big yellow touring car from which
the shots were fired had been noticed in the little town on more than
one occasion recently and that it arrived abreast of the jetty less than
five minutes before the leave launch bringing the soldiers ashore from
Spike Island drew alongside’.
Another statement from a witness who was walking towards Queenstown that
evening about seven o’clock read: ‘It was still light enough to see a
good distance ahead when I saw this car coming towards me at a reckless
pace. I reckoned that all was not well with its occupants.’
Yet again from the Times: ‘Two other motor-cars covered the retreat of
the flying car on the roads beyond Belvelly bridge, the only exit from
the great island on which Queenstown is built to the mainland. Having
got safely off the great island and then off Fota Island and the demesne
of Lord Barrymore, a choice of roads lay before it, and it is asserted
that before darkness fell it was seen disappearing, still at breakneck
speed, along that road which goes north-east towards Fermoy. As the car
was of notably powerful appearance it must have engaged the attention of
many people along the public highway.’
Apparently not, for no information was forthcoming about the vehicle
after these few brief reports, either from fear of reprisals or sympathy
with the Republican cause.
The attack on the soldiers and the destroyer Scythe had evidently been
carefully planned and there was conjecture as to whether or not it had
been carried out as a gesture of defiance by members of the Free State
Army who had mutinied earlier that month. It seems more likely though
that the Republican army was responsible.
Be that as it may, the Moon Car had struck its latest, and as it turned
out, last blow in the struggle for Irish independence.
A £10,000 reward was offered by the Free State Government for
information leading to the arrest of the attackers and ‘strong hopes are
entertained that their capture will not long be delayed. Up to the
present no news of their whereabouts is forthcoming, but they will
probably find some difficulty in disposing of their big motor-car and
the two Lewis guns unless they travelled through the night of Friday and
reached either the fastnesses of the Kerry mountains or the wild and
desolate regions of South Tipperary’.
And there the matter ended. No more was heard or seen of the ‘Moon Car’
that had for so long remained a thorn in the flesh of the authorities.
Later that year, in the House of Commons, Mr Thomas, replying to Mr Rhys
(Romford, U.), who asked if he had any further information as to the
likelihood of the arrest of the perpetrators of the murderous attack on
British soldiers at Queenstown three months ago, said: ‘I regret that no
further information is available but I am aware that the Government of
the Irish Free State have by no means abandoned hope of bringing them to
Sir W Davison (Kensington, S.U.) said: ‘Can the Right Honourable
gentleman say what happened to the Rolls-Royce car used by these men who
fired on our troops? Has it been found and do the authorities know who
The answer in both cases was ‘no’.
This aura of mystery surrounding the Rolls-Royce touring motor car was
to last for another fifty-seven years.
It was then in 1981, that a local historian, Mr Liam O’Callaghan,
intrigued by the whole story, started his long and arduous task of
unravelling the mystery of the car. After many visits to reference
libraries, reading anything that might hold some tiny shred of
enlightenment, and talking to anyone, young or old, who may have heard
some relevant detail, his patience was at length rewarded. The varied
snippets that he at last pieced together solved once and for all the
enigma of the vanished ‘Moon Car’.
It appeared that after the attack at Queenstown, and realising that the
furore caused would make further use of the car inadvisable, it was
driven to a small, uninhabited farm in Dunamore, County Cork. There, it
was burnt out and buried in a bog. In order to allay local suspicion
about the lights used on the farm by the men digging the grave, rumours
were spread that the place was haunted. Such was the fear of the country
folk in the area, both of the spirits and the long arm of the Republican
army, that no word was ever spoken of it to anyone in authority.
Liam, convinced that he had finally uncovered the truth of the matter
and reasonably sure of the location of the buried car, spent many long
hours with a metal detector searching the bog on Walker’s Farm,
Dunamore. Suffice it to say that his efforts were fruitful, and so after
much hard work with pickaxe and shovel in damp, cold conditions, the
remains of the once splendid Silver Ghost saw the light of day once
All those years in the ground had taken their toll however. Most of the
aluminium components that had not been first destroyed by the burning
had been eaten away by the high acid content of the bog water. Sump,
bulkhead and gearbox, all destroyed, while the front block of three
cylinders had decayed, exposing the pistons.
A JCB mechanical digger was then employed to lift the chassis from the
excavation, but unfortunately the serious metal corrosion caused
buckling of the entire frame during the winching operation. After
repositioning the lifting tackle, the work went ahead without further
incident and eventually all that was left of the ‘Moon Car’ was safe on
After all his hard work it was another blow to Mr O’Callaghan when he
discovered that, while he was absent from the site arranging transport
for his discovery, ‘some thieving little divill’, as he succinctly put
it, had stolen the radiator and attempted to split the differential case
with a sledge hammer. Evidently the lure of financial gain for scrap
metal had overcome any feelings of historical interest in the breast of
However the surviving remains of the chassis, with the supporting plate
for the weapons, are now secure, and research is still continuing to
fill the gaps in the existence of the ‘Moon Car’ which played its part
in Irish history.
The car was later acquired by ourselves and was in a rather sad and
sorry state ,furthermore the removal of the car from it’s resting place
resulted in the chassis being twisted , adding further to the