seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Ballinalee Raid in Search of Seán Mac Eoin

The Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) raid a cottage near Ballinalee, County Longford, on January 7, 1921 looking for Seán Mac Eoin. Mac Eoin opens fire from the cottage, killing District Inspector Thomas McGrath, wounding a constable, and escaping.

Mac Eoin is a soldier and eventual politician of the Fine Gael party. He is commonly referred to as the “Blacksmith of Ballinalee.” He is born John Joseph McKeon on September 30, 1893 at Bunlahy, Granard, County Longford, the eldest son of Andrew McKeon and Catherine Treacy. He joins the United Irish League in 1908. His Irish nationalist activities begin in earnest in 1913, when he joins the Clonbroney Company of the Irish Volunteers. Late that year he is sworn into the Irish Republican Brotherhood and joins the Granard circle of the organization.

Mac Eoin comes to prominence in the Irish War of Independence as leader of an Irish Republican Army (IRA) flying column. On November 4, 1920, his column holds the village of Ballinalee situated on the Longford Road between Longford and Granard. They stand against superior British forces, forcing them to retreat and abandon their ammunition. In a separate attack on November 8, he leads his men against the RIC at Ballinalee. An eighteen-year-old Constable Taylor is killed. Constable E. Shateford and two others are wounded. The story is that the small garrison sings “God Save the King” as they take up positions to return fire.

On the afternoon of January 7, 1921, a joint RIC and British Army patrol consisting of ten policemen led by an Inspector, with a security detachment of nine soldiers, appears on Anne Martin’s street. Mac Eoin’s own testimony at his trial, which is not contested by any parties present, states, “I was at the table writing when I was informed of the advance of the party. My account books were left in this house for safety. I was in partial uniform, wearing Sam Browne belt and revolver with two Mills No. 4 bombs in my pocket. Owing to some females being in the house, I had to get out as I could not endanger them by putting up a defence in the house, and as this Officer and Police Force had already signified to my sister and mother their intention to shoot me on sight, I decided to give them a run for their money. I stepped out on the street, about three paces directly in front of the oncoming force, and opened fire with my revolver. The leading file fell, and then the second file in the gateway brought their rifles to the ready. I then threw a bomb, and jumped back behind the porch to let it burst. When it had burst and the smoke had lifted, I saw that the whole force had cleared away, save the officer who was dead or dying on the street.” The casualties from this incident are District Inspector Thomas McGrath killed and a police constable wounded.

Mac Eoin is captured at Mullingar railway station in March 1921, imprisoned and sentenced to death for the murder of RIC District Inspector McGrath in the shooting at Anne Martin’s street in January 1921. Michael Collins organises a rescue attempt in June 1921. Six IRA Volunteers, led by Paddy Daly and Emmet Dalton, capture a British armoured car and, wearing British Army uniforms, gain access to Mountjoy Prison. However, Mac Eoin is not in the part of the jail they believed and, after some shooting, the party retreats.

Within days, Mac Eoin is elected to Dáil Éireann at the 1921 Irish general election, as a TD for Longford–Westmeath. He is eventually released from prison, along with all other members of the Dáil, after Collins threatens to break off treaty negotiations with the British government unless he is freed. It is rumoured that Sean Mac Eoin serves as the best man at Collins’ wedding.


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The Tricolour Riots

On the evening of the September 28, 1964, a detachment of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), acting on the direct instruction of Brian McConnell, the Minister of Home Affairs, attacks the Divis Street headquarters of the Republican Party (Sinn Féin had been outlawed earlier in the year) in West Belfast. Their perilous mission is to remove an Irish Tricolour.

This takes place during a general election for Westminster. Republicans have nominated Liam McMillan to contest in West Belfast. McConnell, under pressure from Ian Paisley and other unionists, holds a conference of his senior RUC officers on the morning of September 28 and orders that the tricolour flown at Liam McMillan’s headquarters be removed. Under the Flags and Emblems Display Act of 1954, it is an offence to display the tricolour anywhere in the six counties of Northern Ireland.

That evening, when it becomes known that the RUC are coming to seize the flag, more than 2,000 republican supporters block the roadway. Scores of RUC are rushed to the scene in armoured cars. The RUC, though heavily armed with sten guns, rifles, revolvers and riot batons, are made to look ridiculous by groups of children, who run about with miniature tricolour stickers which they stick on walls and police cars.

The RUC, using pickaxes, smashes down the doors of the Republican headquarters and takes the flag. They carry it away through a hail of stones and to the prolonged jeers of the people.

The following day the RUC clears Divis Street to make way for an armoured car. Their new perilous mission is to seize a new replacement tricolour. The armoured car stops outside the Republican headquarters, eight policemen emerge and begin another attack with crowbars and pickaxes. They fail to break down the door but one of them smashes the window, reaches in and pulls out the second tricolour.

By September 30, news of the events in Divis Street have spread throughout the media. Belfast begins attracting television reporters and newspaper men from all around the world. That night, thousands of republicans, armed with petrol bombs, sticks, stones and rotten vegetables, gather outside their headquarters to defend their identity and their flag. A battle begins at 11:00 PM when the RUC tries to disperse them. The television cameras are there to record all that happens. For the first time ever, people in many parts of the world are able to watch a sectarian police force in action.

When the republicans indicate that they will stand their ground, fifty RUC men, who had been held in reserve in the small streets between Falls Road and Shankill Road, are deployed but the republicans, in accordance with a pre-arranged strategy, drive them back. By midnight, the police have succeeded in sealing off Divis Street and dispersing the crowd but thirty people, including at least eighteen members of the RUC, have been injured.

One week later, on October 5, republicans carry the tricolour at the head of a parade of 5,000 people who march from Beechmount on Falls Road, through Divis Street, to an election rally near Smithfield. RUC men line the entire route but make no attempt to seize the flag.

(From: “The Tricolour Riots,” An Phoblacht (www.anphoblacht.com), September 23, 2004 edition)


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The Storming of Ballina

michael-kilroyDuring the Irish Civil War, the Irish Republican Army (IRA) under Michael Kilroy take Ballina, County Mayo, in a surprise attack on September 12, 1922 while the National Army troops there are at a Mass service for a comrade killed in the fighting.

In Mayo, Republicans organise themselves into Flying Columns of thirty-five men. The Columns are usually named after their Commanders such as Dr. John Madden in the West, Frank Carty in the Ox Mountains or Tom Carney in East Mayo. Each Column contains an explosives specialist, machine gunners, signalers, first aiders and riflemen. The field of operations is considerably wide. This causes considerable confusion among National Army Garrisons in the main towns of County Mayo. When they eventually reach the sites of ambushes, railways blown up or outposts attacked, the Republican Columns are long gone.

The Republicans also undertake large-scale operations such as “The Storming of Ballina” which occurs on Tuesday, September 12, 1922. The Republicans attack while the majority of the National Army Garrison is at a funeral Mass. Using a captured armoured car the Republicans fight their way through the town clearing key buildings as they go. A large mine is detonated at the town post office with the resulting shockwave throwing people through the air and shattering windows in the nearby streets. The Republicans celebrate their victory by relieving many of the shops of their goods. The Republicans then divide their forces in two. One Unit under Michael Kilroy heads west out towards Belmullet. The other Unit heads to a Republican HQ and supply dump at Lough Talt.

Brigadier-General Lawlor gathers all available National Army Forces in County Mayo for a counter strike against the Republicans. Two separate National Army Columns set out from Ballina. The first, under Brigadier-General Lawlor pursues the Republicans heading for Lough Talt. The Republicans fight a strong rearguard action through the Ox Mountains as they withdraw from Lough Talt. The fighting, which continues throughout the day, sees Lawlor wounded twice and one of Mayo’s own heroes of the War of Independence, Commandant-General Joe Ring, killed in action.

Meanwhile, Brigadier-General Neary leads a second National Army Column after General Kilroy’s retreating Column across north Mayo. Neary’s men run straight into a classic IRA ambush at Glenamoy. Six National Army troops are killed and many captured along with forty-five to fifty rifles. The National Army troops are in such a disheveled state Kilroy orders them fed and released. It is a valuable insight into the morale of the army facing the Republicans. Uniforms including underwear, boots and food are in short supply. Many have not been paid for weeks.

The Republican operations at Ballina, Lough Talt and Glenamoy boost their morale but leaves the National Army Commanders bitter and out for revenge. This bitterness is soon reflected in combat. National Army troops begin mixing ground glass with the gunpowder in their rifle rounds. In response, the Republicans began using “dum-dum” or expanding bullets.

(From: Stair na hÉireann | History of Ireland, http://www.stairnaheireann.net, September 12, 2017 | Pictured: Michael Kilroy)


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The Grange Ambush

grange-ambush-memorialAn Irish Republican Army (IRA) column mounts an ambush at Grange, County Limerick on November 8, 1920.

Approximately fifty men of 3rd Battalion East Limerick IRA parade at 5:00 AM on the cold bleak morning of November 8. They are armed with 21 rifles and 21 shotguns, plus a small quantity of explosives. It has been decided to ambush a convoy at Grange Bridge, a point about eight miles from Limerick and about four miles from Bruff. They set out and occupy positions around John O’Neill’s house. The ambush site is about four miles from the big British garrison at Bruff to the south. The IRA expects two British lorries around 9:00 AM, however, in the end eight lorries and two armoured cars arrive at noon.

It is a joint action involving the flying columns of both the 3rd Battalion East Limerick Brigade and the 4th Battalion Mid Limerick Brigade, supported by men from the local companies of Bruff, Grange and Holy Cross in the East Limerick Brigade and from the Fedamore and Ballybricken Companies of the Mid Limerick Brigade. Donnchadha O’Hannigan has overall command of the combined columns and most of the ambushers are placed in houses and behind walls on both sides of the road. Among the IRA men who take part in the action is their chaplain, the Curate at Fedamore, Fr. William Joseph Carroll, who had been awarded the Military Cross for bravery in 1918 by the British Army. Also among the attackers is Maurice Meade, who had been a member of Roger Casement‘s Irish Brigade in Germany.

Something makes the British suspicious and they send one lorry ahead as a decoy. It is bombed by the IRA and raked with small arms fire. At this point, a British armoured car appears, with an officer mounted on the running board firing a revolver and its machine gun firing at the IRA at close range. The IRA account names the officer on the running board as Lt. Watling and they believe that they wounded him and he died in the hospital at Bruff that night.

More British reinforcements appear and the IRA realises that they are up against a vastly larger force than they had anticipated, so they retreat. Apart from one minor wounded man, they have no casualties.

The Royal Fusiliers‘ account says while escorting a Royal Air Force convoy from Fermoy to Oranmore, Lieutenant Allan and thirty other ranks are ambushed at Grange, near Bruff. The rebels, however, are speedily dealt with, and a quantity of arms, ammunition and two prisoners are taken. Unfortunately, Flying Officer Watling and Bandsman Bailey are wounded, the latter seriously. The only other casualty is Private French, who is shot at when a sentry at Galbally, and has the back luck of losing his arm.


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The Arnon Street Massacre

arnon-street-massacreThe Arnon Street Massacre takes place on April 1, 1922 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Six Catholic civilians, three in Arnon Street, are shot dead. It is believed that members of either the Ulster Special Constabulary (USC) or the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) are responsible, acting in retaliation for the killing of an RIC officer by the Irish Republican Army (IRA).

Although the Irish War of Independence officially ends in July 1921, the Irish Republican Army’s conflict with British and unionist forces continues in Northern Ireland and escalates in the first half of 1922. The Ulster IRA, with the tacit but covert assistance of Michael Collins, head of the new Irish Free State, continues to wage a guerrilla war in Northern Ireland. According to historian Alan Parkinson, despite “the IRA having some short term successes … the main effect of this intensive campaign was to unleash a terrible backlash on the Catholic population in Belfast.” Only a week before the Arnon Street incident, policemen – either Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) or Ulster Special Constabulary (USC) – kill six Catholic civilians in the McMahon murders.

On the evening of April 1, RIC constable George Turner is patrolling the Old Lodge Road when he is killed by a sniper.

About ten police officers in Brown Square Barracks, upon hearing of Turner’s murder, take a Lancia armoured car and begin touring nationalist areas. When they dismount their vehicle, witnesses hear them shouting “Cut the guts out of them for the murder of Turner.” Their first victim is John McRory who lives on Stanhope Street, just across the road from where Constable Turner had been shot. The police break into his house and shoot him dead in his kitchen. In Park Street, Bernard McKenna, father of seven, is killed while lying in bed. Finally, the police arrived at Arnon Street.

William Spallen, who lives at 16 Arnon Street, has just returned from the funeral of his wife who had also been killed in the conflict. His 12-year-old grandson, Gerald Tumelty, witnesses his death. “Two men came into the room, one was in the uniform of a policeman. They asked my grandfather his name and he said William Spallen. The man in plain clothes fired three shots at him. When I cried out he said ‘lie down or I will put a bullet into you.'” Tumelty says the killers then take £20 that his grandfather had to pay for his wife’s funeral.

The attackers then use a sledgehammer to break into the house next door, where they find Joseph Walsh in bed with his seven-year-old son Michael and his two-year-old daughter Bridget. Joseph Walsh is bludgeoned to death with the sledgehammer while Michael Walsh is shot and dies from his wounds the next day. Another son, Frank, is shot in the thigh but survives. Later that evening another Catholic, John Mallon, is shot dead in Skegoneill Avenue.

The unionist press, the Belfast Newsletter and Belfast Telegraph, condemn the killings but do not identify the killers as police. The Dublin-based Irish Independent writes that “never even in the worst state of terror in the west and south has the state of affairs which now prevails in the Northern capital been experienced.” Michael Collins sends an angry telegram to Northern Ireland Prime Minister James Craig, demanding a joint inquiry into the killings. No such inquiry is set up.

As with the McMahon killings one week earlier, it is strongly suspected that an RIC Detective Inspector, Nixon, operating out of the Brown Street Police barracks, had organised the attack. Nixon and several other policemen fail to turn up at roll call at the barracks immediately after the killings.