seamus dubhghaill

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


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The Black and Tans Arrive In Ireland

The Black and Tans (Irish: Dúchrónaigh), special constables recruited into the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) as reinforcements during the Irish War of Independence, arrive in Ireland on March 25, 1920. Recruitment begins in Great Britain in January 1920 and about 10,000 men enlist during the conflict. The vast majority are unemployed former British soldiers from Britain who had fought in World War I. Some sources count a small number of Irishmen as Black and Tans.

The British administration in Ireland promotes the idea of bolstering the RIC with British recruits. They are to help the overstretched RIC maintain control and suppress the Irish Republican Army (IRA), although they are less well trained in ordinary policing. The nickname “Black and Tans” arises from the colours of the improvised uniforms they initially wear, a mixture of dark green RIC (which appears black) and khaki British Army. They serve in all parts of Ireland, but most are sent to southern and western regions where fighting is heaviest. By 1921, Black and Tans make up almost half of the RIC in County Tipperary, for example.

Few Black and Tans are sent to what becomes Northern Ireland, however. The authorities there raise their own reserve force, the Ulster Special Constabulary (USC). For the most part, the Black and Tans are “treated as ordinary constables, despite their strange uniforms, and they live and work in barracks alongside the Irish police.” They spend most of their time manning police posts or on patrol—”walking, cycling, or riding on Crossley Tenders.” They also undertake guard, escort and crowd control duties. While some Irish constables get along well with the Black and Tans, “it seems that many Irish police did not like their new British colleagues” and se them as “rough.”

Alexander Will, from Forfar in Scotland, is the first Black and Tan to die in the conflict. He is killed during an IRA attack on the RIC barracks in Rathmore, County Kerry, on July 11, 1920.

The Black and Tans gain a reputation for brutality and become notorious for reprisal attacks on civilians and civilian property, including extrajudicial killings, arson and looting. Their actions further sway Irish public opinion against British rule and draw condemnation in Britain.

The Black and Tans are sometimes confused with the Auxiliary Division, a counterinsurgency unit of the RIC, also recruited during the conflict and made up of former British officers. However, sometimes the term “Black and Tans” covers both groups. Some sources say the Black and Tans are officially named the “RIC Special Reserve,” but this is denied by other sources, which say they are not a separate force but “recruits to the regular RIC” and “enlisted as regular constabulary.”

More than a third leave the service before they are disbanded along with the rest of the RIC in 1922, an extremely high wastage rate, and well over half receive government pensions. Over 500 members of the RIC died in the conflict and more than 600 are wounded. Some sources state that 525 police are killed in the conflict, including 152 Black and Tans and 44 Auxiliaries. This figure of total police killed also includes 72 members of the Ulster Special Constabulary killed between 1920 and 1922 and 12 members of the Dublin Metropolitan Police.

Many Black and Tans are left unemployed after the RIC is disbanded and about 3,000 are in need of financial assistance after their employment in Ireland is terminated. About 250 Black and Tans and Auxiliaries, among over 1,300 former RIC personnel, join the Royal Ulster Constabulary. Another 700 joined the Palestine Police Force which is led by former British Chief of Police in Ireland, Henry Hugh Tudor. Others are resettled in Canada or elsewhere by the RIC Resettlement branch. Those who return to civilian life sometimes have problems re-integrating. At least two former Black and Tans are hanged for murder in Britain and another, Scott Cullen, wanted for murder, commits suicide before the police can arrest him.

(Pictured: Sir Hamar Greenwood inspects a group of Black and Tans in 1921)


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The Upton Train Ambush

The Upton train ambush takes place on February 15, 1921, during the Irish War of Independence. The Irish Republican Army (IRA) mounts an attack on a train carrying British soldiers at Upton, County Cork. The action is a disaster for the IRA with three of its volunteers killed and two wounded. Six British soldiers are wounded, three seriously. Six civilian passengers are killed and ten wounded in the crossfire.

According to a study of the region, Cork is “by far the most violent county in Ireland” during the War of Independence and has several active guerrilla brigades. Of these, the 3rd Cork Brigade is one of the most effective and it is a unit from this Brigade that carries out the Upton ambush.

Up until the end of 1920, the British had been unable to move troops by train, due to a nationwide boycott by railway workers of trains carrying the British military. However, the strike is lifted in December 1920. While this helps the British military’s mobility, it also gives the IRA a new target: trains carrying soldiers. A week before the Upton ambush, the local IRA had made a successful attack on a train travelling from Killarney to Millstreet near Drishanbeg, killing one sergeant and wounding five more soldiers.

Five days after the Drishanbeg ambush, plans are made for an attack at Upton and Innishannon railway station on a train traveling between Cork city and Bandon. The ambushers, led by Charlie Hurley, are thirteen strong. Seven are armed with rifles and the remainder with revolvers or semi-automatic pistols. They take up position at the station ten minutes before the train pulls in, imprisoning the station master, clearing the station and taking cover behind sacks of grain and flour taken from a store.

The train is carrying approximately 50 British soldiers of the Essex Regiment, who are mingled with civilian passengers throughout the train’s carriages. The IRA party is therefore quite heavily outnumbered and out-gunned, but are unaware of this, as two IRA scouts, who were supposed to have been on the train and signaled to them the British numbers, never turn up. They also wrongly believe that the British troops are all in the central carriage. As a result, when the IRA opens fire on the train, there are heavy civilian casualties, including two commercial travelers killed by the first volley. The New York Times reports that “a shower of bullets was rained on the train, practically every compartment being swept.”

The firefight lasts only ten minutes, but in that time six civilian passengers are killed and ten wounded. Six British soldiers are injured, three of them seriously. Two IRA volunteers are killed outright and another is fatally wounded. Two more are badly wounded but survive. Charlie Hurley, who had led the ambush, is struck in the face by a bullet. IRA leader Tom Barry later writes, “Through some miracle, the nine unwounded and two wounded got away across country, in small parties, with the British following close behind.” Three civilian passengers, one unwounded and two wounded, are detained by the British on suspicion of belonging to the ambush party.

The Upton ambush is part of what Tom Barry describes as “twelve dark days” for the 3rd Cork Brigade of the IRA. Between February 4 and February 16, eleven members of the Brigade are killed. One is shot dead by British troops when they raid a safehouse on February 4, another dies in an accidental shooting on February 7, two more (brothers James and Timothy Coffey) are assassinated in their beds on February 14 by Black and Tans or Auxiliaries, three die at Upton on February 15 and four are killed on February 16 when they are arrested by the Essex Regiment in Kilbrittain while digging a trench and shot dead. Of the eleven dead, only those at Upton are killed in combat.

The Upton attack also highlights the dangers, and particularly the risk to civilians, of attacking trains carrying troops. Only a month later at the Headford Ambush in neighbouring County Kerry, an IRA column successfully attacks a train-load of troops, but again, there are civilian casualties alongside the IRA and British Army losses. One of the three men captured by the British at Upton is reported to give information leading to the 3rd Cork Brigade’s main column of over 100 fighters almost being encircled at the Crossbarry Ambush. Hurley is killed in this action.

The Upton ambush is later made famous in a popular 1960s Irish ballad titled “The Lonely Woods of Upton.”

(Pictured: A portion of the cover of an Italian magazine from 1921 that reported on the Upton ambush)


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Death of Gobnait Ní Bhruadair, Irish Republican & Lifelong Radical

Gobnait Ní Bhruadair, Irish republican and lifelong radical, dies in Sneem, County Kerry, on January 16, 1955. She campaigns passionately for causes as diverse as the reform of nursing, protection and promotion of the Irish language and the freedom of Ireland from British rule.

Ní Bhruadair is born the Hon. Albinia Lucy Brodrick on December 17, 1861 at 23 Chester Square, Belgrave, London, the fifth daughter of William Brodrick, 8th Viscount Midleton (1830–1907), and his wife, Augusta Mary (née Freemantle), daughter of Thomas Fremantle, 1st Baron Cottesloe. She spends her early childhood in London until the family moves to their country estate in Peper Harow, Surrey in 1870. Educated privately, she travels extensively across the continent and speaks fluent German, Italian and French, and has a reading knowledge of Latin.

Ní Bhruadair’s family is an English Protestant aristocratic one which has been at the forefront of British rule in Ireland since the 17th century. In the early twentieth century it includes leaders of the Unionist campaign against Irish Home Rule. Her brother, St. John Brodrick, 1st Earl of Midleton, is a nominal leader of the Irish Unionist Alliance from 1910 until 1918 when he and other Unionists outside Ulster establish the Irish Unionist Anti-Partition League.

The polar opposite of Ní Bhruadair, her brother is consistent in his low opinion of the Irish and holds imperialist views that warmly embrace much of the jingoism associated with social Darwinism. The young Albinia Lucy Brodrick conforms to her familial political views on Ireland, if her authorship of the pro-Unionist song “Irishmen stand” is an indicator. However, by the start of the twentieth century she becomes a regular visitor to her father’s estate in County Cork. There she begins to educate herself about Ireland and begins to reject the views about Ireland that she had been raised on. In 1902 she writes about the need to develop Irish industry and around the same time she begins to develop an interest in the Gaelic revival. She begins to pay regular visits to the Gaeltacht where she becomes fluent in Irish and is horrified at the abject poverty of the people.

From this point on, Ní Bhruadair’s affinity with Ireland and Irish culture grows intensely. Upon her father’s death in 1907 she becomes financially independent and in 1908 purchases a home near West Cove, Caherdaniel, County Kerry. The same year she establishes an agricultural cooperative there to develop local industry. She organises classes educating people on diet, encourages vegetarianism and, during the smallpox epidemic of 1910, nurses the local people. Determined to establish a hospital for local poor people, she travels to the United States to raise funds.

There Ní Bhruadair takes the opportunity to study American nursing, meets leading Irish Americans and becomes more politicised to Ireland’s cause. Upon her return to Kerry she establishes a hospital in Caherdaniel later in 1910. She renames the area Ballincoona (Baile an Chúnaimh, ‘the home of help’), but it is unsuccessful and eventually closes for lack of money. She writes on health matters for The Englishwoman and Fortnightly, among other journals, is a member of the council of the National Council of Trained Nurses and gives evidence to the royal commission on venereal disease in 1914.

Ní Bhruadair is a staunch supporter of the 1916 Easter Rising. She joins both Cumann na mBan and Sinn Féin. She visits some of the 1,800 Irish republican internees held by the British in Frongoch internment camp in Wales, and writes to the newspapers with practical advice for intending visitors. She canvasses for various Sinn Féin candidates during the 1918 Irish general election and is a Sinn Féin member on Kerry county council (1919–21), becoming one of its reserve chairpersons. During the Irish War of Independence she shelters Irish Republican Army (IRA) volunteers and consequently her home becomes the target for Black and Tans attacks.

Along with Dr. Kathleen Lynn she works with the Irish White Cross to distribute food to the dependents of IRA volunteers. By the end of the Irish War of Independence she has become hardened by the suffering she has seen and is by now implacably opposed to British rule in Ireland. She becomes one of the most vociferous voices against the Anglo-Irish Treaty of December 6, 1921. She becomes a firebrand speaker at meetings in the staunchly republican West Kerry area. In April 1923 she is shot by Irish Free State troops and arrested. She is subsequently imprisoned in the North Dublin Union, where she follows the example of other republicans and goes on hunger strike. She is released two weeks later. Following the formation of Fianna Fáil by Éamon de Valera in 1926, she continues to support the more hardline Sinn Féin.

In October 1926 Ní Bhruadair represents Munster at the party’s Ardfheis. She owns the party’s semi-official organ, Irish Freedom, from 1926–37, where she frequently contributes articles and in its later years acts as editor. Her home becomes the target of the Free State government forces in 1929 following an upsurge in violence from anti-Treaty republicans against the government. She and her close friend Mary MacSwiney leave Cumann na mBan following the decision by its members at their 1933 convention to pursue social radicalism. The two then establish an all-women’s nationalist movement named Mná na Poblachta, which fails to attract many new members.

Ní Bhruadair continues to speak Irish and regularly attends Conradh na Gaeilge branch meetings in Tralee. Although sympathetic to Catholicism, she remains a member of the Anglican Church of Ireland, and regularly plays the harmonium at Sneem’s Church of Ireland services. Described by a biographer as “a woman of frugal habits and decided opinions, she was in many ways difficult and eccentric.” She dies on January 16, 1955, and is buried in the Church of Ireland graveyard in Sneem, County Kerry.

In her will Ní Bhruadair leaves most of her wealth (£17,000) to republicans “as they were in the years 1919 to 1921.” The vagueness of her bequest leads to legal wrangles for decades. Finally, in February 1979, Justice Seán Gannon rules that the bequest is void for remoteness, as it is impossible to determine which republican faction meets her criteria.


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The Pickardstown Ambush

The Pickardstown Ambush, an action by a combined Waterford force against a British Army patrol at Pickardstown, takes place near the town of Tramore, County Waterford on the night of January 7, 1921, during the Irish War of Independence. The ambush follows a feint attack on the Tramore Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) barracks.

The ambush is conceived by Irish Republican Army (IRA) East Waterford Officer Commanding (OC) Paddy Paul, who gathers volunteers from the local Dunhill and Waterford City units of his command, as well as West Waterford OC Pax Whelan and West Waterford flying column OC George Lennon. This makes for a total of fifty men although several are armed only with shotguns.

An attack is made on the RIC barracks in the town, and the British military garrison in Waterford quickly dispatches forty troops in four Crossley tenders. However the ambush has been badly planned with the result that the British troops are able to make a determined counterattack. Two IRA volunteers, Thomas O’Brien and Michael McGrath, are reportedly taken away and shot by members of the Devon Regiment. Two other volunteers are wounded. One British soldier and one Black and Tan are wounded.

A memorial is later erected on the ambush site. In later years, local Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) fields are named after the two dead IRA men.

(Pictured: Members of the Irish Republican Army East Waterford Brigade)


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The Kilcommon Ambush

On the morning of the December 16, 1920 during the Irish War of Independence, an eight man Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) foot patrol under the command of Sergeant Thomas Bray, leaves the barracks at Kilcommon Cross, County Tipperary, to retrieve mail from the Post Office in Kilcommon village, a mile away.

As they approach the crest of a hill on the narrow road between the Cross and the village, approximately twenty men of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) 1st Tipperary Brigade open fire on them. The object of the attack is apparently quite simple – to kill members of the police, and in particular Sergeant Bray.

The ambush, although triggered early, is successful, with the deaths of four of the constables and the serious wounding of one other. The remaining three policemen are able to take cover and return to the barracks, including the Sergeant. Two RIC rifles are lost and there are no casualties on the IRA side.

The dead constables are Patrick Joseph Halford (27) of Meath, Ernest Frederick Harden (21) of Essex, Albert Holman Palmer (24) of Surrey, and Arthur Smith (22) of London. Constable Alfred Edwin Bundy of Gloucestershire is seriously wounded and requires hospital care. He is pensioned out early, in June 1921, as a result of his injuries.

There is some suggestion that the local IRA units are not at all keen on an ambush in their area, for fear of retribution. The brigade commanders push ahead with it however, and the inevitable ‘unofficial reprisals’ are carried out, with the killing of some livestock and the burning of some dwellings, including the home of one of the IRA volunteers.

The total strength in Kilcommon RIC Barracks at this time was around 16 police. Most of them are British recruits – Black and Tans – and under the control of only one Sergeant. Immediately after the ambush a further six men are drafted in as replacements.

Two of the eight police involved in the incident that day remain to be identified. But present in Kilcommon barracks during the period are two constables who are later to have careers in the Palestine Gendarmerie, Arthur Charles Howard and Arthur Fisher. Fisher becomes an officer in the Arab Section of the Palestine Gendarmerie and later the Transjordan Frontier Force (TJFF).

(From: “The Kilcommon Ambush, 16 December 1920” by Peter Mc, The Royal Irish Constabulary Forum, irishconstabulary.com | Pictured: The vicinity of the ambush site)


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Birth of León Ó Broin, Civil Servant, Historian & Author

León Ó Broin, senior civil servant, historian, and author, is born Leo Byrne on November 10, 1902 at 21 Aungier Street, Dublin, the second of four sons of James P. Byrne, a potato factor’s bookkeeper, and Mary Byrne (née Killeen), daughter of a seaman who abandoned his family.

After early education in convent school, Ó Broin attends Synge Street CBS, where he is especially adept at languages. After working in several minor clerical employments, he becomes a clerk in the Kingsbridge headquarters of the Great Southern Railway. Joining a local Sinn Féin club, he canvasses for the party in the College Green ward during the 1918 Irish general election. Sent from an early age to Irish language classes by his father, he attends the Irish summer college in Spiddal, County Galway, and joins the Gaelic League, becoming by early 1921 secretary of central branch. He writes articles for the league’s successive weekly organs, each in its turn suppressed by the authorities. Despite regarding such writing as practice work within a language he is yet learning, he is selected best writer of Irish at the 1920 Dublin feis.

Arrested with his father and two brothers just before Christmas 1920 when Black and Tans discover a letter in Irish on his person during a house raid, Ó Broin is imprisoned for several weeks in Wellington Barracks. Leaving his railway job, he works as a clerk in the clandestine office of the Dáil Éireann Department of Agriculture (1921–22). During the Irish Civil War, with departmental work at a standstill, he joins the National Army as a commissioned officer assigned to general headquarters staff at Portobello Barracks. Having recently commenced legal studies at the King’s Inns and University College Dublin (UCD), he handles army legal matters, such as compensation claims for damage to property.

Called to the bar in 1924, Ó Broin enters the civil service. Assigned to the Department of Education (1925–27), he was involved in launching the Irish language publishing imprint An Gúm, intended to redress the paucity of reading material, apart from school texts, in the language. Transferred to the Department of Finance (1927), he serves as estimates officer and parliamentary clerk, and is assistant secretary of the economy committee established by the Cumann na nGaedheal government to make recommendations on reductions in current expenditure. Appointed private secretary to the Minister for Finance (1931–32), he serves both Ernest Blythe and the first Fianna Fáil minister, Seán MacEntee. Promoted to assistant principal (1932), and to principal officer (1939), he represents the department on the Irish Folklore Commission, and serves on the interdepartmental committee that, after the disastrous Kirkintilloch bothy fire in 1937, investigates seasonal migration to Scotland. During the emergency he is regional commissioner for Galway and Mayo (1940–45), one of eight such officers charged with organising contingency preparations for dealing with the likely collapse of central administration in the event of invasion by any of the wartime belligerents.

Transferred out of Finance, Ó Broin becomes assistant secretary (1945–48) and secretary (1948–67) of the Department of Posts and Telegraphs, administering both the postal service and telecommunications. He works closely with Fianna Fáil minister Patrick Little to improve the range and quality of music offered by the broadcasting service, playing a large part in the decision to form and adequately staff a full Radio Éireann symphony orchestra. He represents Ireland in several post-war conferences in Europe and America that reorganise the international regulation of broadcasting activities. He is elected to the European Broadcasting Union‘s administrative council (1953). He establishes and serves on a departmental committee in 1953 that studies all facets of launching a television service.

A devout but liberal Catholic, Ó Broin is prominent for many years in the Legion of Mary, founded by his close friend and civil-service colleague Frank Duff. President of a legion presidium of writers, actors, and artists, he is first editor (1937–47) of the quarterly organ Maria Legionis. Sharing Duff’s ecumenism, he belongs to the Mercier Society, the Pillar of Fire Society, and Common Ground, groups organised by Duff in the early 1940s to facilitate discussion between Catholics and, respectively, protestants, Jews, and secular intellectuals. The first two are suspended amid disapproval by the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, John Charles McQuaid.

On retirement from the civil service in 1967, Ó Broin concentrates on the parallel career of research and writing that he had cultivated over many years. Having begun writing articles and short stories in Irish from his earliest years in the Gaelic League, he publishes his first collection of short stories, Árus na ngábhad, in 1923. With the establishment of An Gúm, he publishes three more collections of original short stories and translations of such masters of the genre as Alexander Pushkin, Prosper Mérimée, Guy de Maupassant, and Jerome K. Jerome. He translates several popular modern novels, including Robert Louis Stevenson‘s Kidnapped and H. G. Wells‘s The War of the Worlds. Active as secretary, actor, and writer with the state-subsidised Gaelic Drama League (An Comhar Drámaíochta), which produces Irish language plays, he publishes many plays in Irish, both original and translated. His best-selling book in Irish is Miss Crookshank agus coirp eile (1951), about the mummified corpses in the vaults of St. Michan’s Church, Dublin.

Ó Broin writes prolifically on modern Irish history and biography. His Irish language biography of Charles Stewart Parnell (1937), the first full-scale study of its kind in Irish since the commencement of the language revival, is a landmark publication, praised for the quality of its prose by such critics as Frank O’Connor and Seán Ó Faoláin. His biography of Robert Emmet, published in Irish in 1954, and awarded the Douglas Hyde prize, pioneers the scholarly subversion of the romantic myth surrounding its subject, and includes consideration of the political and social context. The subjects of subsequent biographies include Richard Robert Madden, Charles Gavan Duffy, Joseph Brenan, Michael Collins, and Frank Duff.

Ó Broin takes a largely biographical approach to historical writing, researching neglected aspects of pivotal historical events, and basing his studies on previously unexploited primary sources, often the papers of a single individual, whose career serves as the linchpin of his narrative, filtering events through the perspective of that person. Another vein of his scholarship is his primary research into the history of Irish separatism, especially with sources in the Irish State Paper Office.

Ó Broin receives an honorary LL.D from the National University of Ireland (NUI) in 1967. Elected a member of the Royal Irish Academy (RIA) in 1971, he is a council member (1974–76) and senior vice-president (1976–77), and chairs the group whose recommendations results in the academy’s establishment of the National Committee on International Affairs. He is president of the Irish Historical Society (1973–74), and a member of the Irish Manuscripts Commission.

In 1925 Ó Broin marries Cait Ní Raghallaigh, an office assistant reared in Baltinglass, County Wicklow, whom he met in the Gaelic League. They have two sons and three daughters. After residing in the south city suburbs, they move to Booterstown, County Dublin in the 1930s, and from there to the Stillorgan Road in the 1950s.

Ó Broin dies February 26, 1990 in Dublin, and is buried in Deans Grange Cemetery. His papers are in the National Library of Ireland (NLI). His eldest son, Eimear Ó Broin, is an accomplished musicologist and assistant conductor of the several Radio Éireann orchestras (1953–89).

(From: “Ó Broin, León” by Lawrence William White, Dictionary of Irish Biography, http://www.dib.ie)


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Capture of Mallow Barracks

The Cork No. 2 Brigade, Irish Republican Army (IRA), attacks and captures a military barracks in Mallow, County Cork, on September 28, 1920, the only military barracks to be captured during the Irish War of Independence. British forces later burn and sack the town.

Mallow had been a garrison town for several hundred years. Eight miles to the north lay Buttevant where one of the largest military barracks in the country is located. Not far from Buttevant are the great military training camps of Ballyvonaire, while nineteen miles to the northeast is Fermoy with its large permanent military garrisons and huge barracks adjacent to the big training centres of Kilworth and Moorepark. Twenty miles to the southeast is the city of Cork with its many thousands of troops both in the posts within the city and at Ballincollig, about six miles west of it, on the Macroom road. Thirteen miles westward a detachment from a British machine gun corps holds Kanturk. Every town and village has its post of Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) men armed to the teeth.

The idea of capturing the barracks comes from two members of the Mallow IRA Battalion, Dick Willis, a painter, and Jack Bolster, a carpenter, who are employed on the civilian maintenance staff of the barracks which is occupied by the 17th Lancers. Willis and Bolster are able to observe the daily routine of the garrison and form the opinion that the capture of the place would not be difficult. They are instructed by their local battalion officers to make a sketch map of the barracks. After that is prepared, Liam Lynch and Ernie O’Malley go with Willis and Tadhg Byrnes to Mallow to study the layout of the surrounding district. Among the details of the garrison’s routine that Willis and Bolster report to the Column leaders, is the information that each morning the officer in charge, accompanied by two-thirds of the men, take the horses for exercise outside the town. It is obvious to the two Mallow volunteers that this is the ideal time for the attack.

Situated at the end of a short, narrow street and on the western verge of the Town Park, Mallow barracks stand on an unusually low-lying location and is relatively small in size. Surrounded by a high stone wall, the barracks can be approached from the town park as well as from the main street. The various details are carefully studied by Lynch and O’Malley. While Willis and Bolster are allotted tasks within the walls of the barracks, Byrnes and Jack Cunningham are chosen to attack with the main body of the column which includes Commandant Denny Murphy of Kanturk.

On the morning of September 27, at their Burnfort headquarters, the men are ordered to prepare for action. Under cover of darkness they move into the town and enter the Town Hall by way of the park at the rear. The eighteen men of the column are strengthened by members of the Mallow battalion, a number of men posted in the upper storey of the Town Hall, from which they can command the approaches to the nearby RIC barracks. Initially it is planned that Willis and Bolster will enter the military barracks that morning in the normal manner, accompanied by an officer of the column who will pose as a contractor’s overseer. The officer is Paddy McCarthy of Newmarket, who would die a few months later in a gun battle with the Black and Tans at Millstreet.

McCarthy, Willis and Bolster enter the barracks without mishap. Members of the garrison follow their normal routine, with the main body of troops under the officer in charge leaving the barracks with the horses. In the barracks remain about fifteen men under the command of a senior N.C.O., Sergeant Gibbs.

Once the military has passed, the attackers, numbering about twenty men and led by Liam Lynch, advance toward the bottom of Barrack Street. All are armed with revolvers which are considered the most convenient and suitable weapons for the operation. Lynch has issued strict instructions that there is to be no shooting by the attackers, unless as a last resort. Inside the walls are McCarthy, Willis and Bolster, their revolvers concealed. Then Ernie O’Malley presents himself at the wicket gate with a bogus letter in his hand. Behind him and out of sight of the sentry are the other members of the main attacking party, led by Lynch, O’Brien and George Power. When the gate is opened sufficiently, O’Malley wedges his foot between it and the frame and the soldier is overpowered and the attackers rush in. McCarthy, Bolster and Willis immediately go to the guardroom where they hold up the guard. Realising what is happening, Sergeant Gibbs, rushes toward the guardroom in which rifles are kept. Although called upon to halt, he continues even though a warning shot is fired over his head. As he reaches the guardroom door, the IRA officer and one of the volunteers in the guardroom fire simultaneously. Mortally wounded, the sergeant falls at the guardroom door.

By this time the majority of the attacking party is inside the gate. Military personnel in different parts of the barracks are rounded up and arms are collected. Three waiting motor cars pull up to the gate and all the rifles, other arms and equipment found in the barracks are loaded into them. The prisoners are locked into one of the stables, with the exception of a man left to care for Sergeant Gibbs. The whole operation goes according to plan, except for the shooting of the sergeant. Twenty minutes after the sentry had been overpowered the pre-arranged signal of a whistle blast is sounded and the attackers withdraw safely to their headquarters at Burnfort, along the mountain road out of Mallow.

Expecting reprisals, the column moves to Lombardstown that night, and positions are taken up around the local co-operative creamery as it is the custom of the British to wreak their vengeance on isolated country creameries after incidents such as what had just occurred. The Mallow raid, however, has greater repercussions than the destruction of a creamery and co-operative stores. The following night, large detachments of troops from Buttevant and Fermoy enter Mallow. They rampage through the town, burning and looting at will. High over the town, the night sky is red with the flames of numerous burning buildings.

Townspeople run through the blazing streets, in search of refuge. A number of women and children are accorded asylum in the nearby convent schools. Another group of terrified women, some with children in arms, take refuge in the cemetery at the rear of St. Mary’s Church, where they kneel or lay above the graves. It is a night of terror such as which had never before been endured by the people of Mallow.

The extent of the wanton destruction outrages fair-minded people all over the world. Details of the havoc that had been wrought and pictures of the scenes of destruction are published worldwide.

(Pictured: Townspeople gather in front of one of the many buildings in Mallow which were reduced to ruins during British Army reprisals)


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The Kilmeena Ambush

The Kilmeena ambush takes place at Kilmeena, County Mayo, on May 19, 1921 during the Irish War of Independence. The ambush ends in defeat for the local West Mayo Irish Republican Army (IRA), with six IRA volunteers killed and seven wounded. Two members of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) and one Black and Tan are also killed in the action.

The IRA in west Mayo is relatively quiet until January 1921, when Michael Kilroy, described as “a puritanical and ascetic blacksmith” takes over command of the Brigade after Thomas Derrig is arrested by the Royal Irish Constabulary. Kilroy forms a relatively large “flying column” of 40 to 50 men to carry out attacks on Crown forces in the area. On May 6 they suffer a reverse at Islandeady, when a police patrol comes upon the IRA men cutting a road. Three volunteers are killed and two captured.

On May 18, 1921, the IRA decides to attack an RIC/Black and Tan convoy at Kilmeena. Two small-unit attacks are made on the RIC barracks in Newport and Westport to try to draw the police out of their well-defended barracks. One RIC man dies in these attacks.

At 3:00 AM the next day, May 19, the column of 41 IRA men take up position close to Knocknabola Bridge. The British convoy, traveling from Newport to Westport, consists of two Crossley lorries and one Ford touring car and a total of about thirty men. The convoy does not arrive until 3:00 PM and its arrival sparks a two-hour fire-fight. In the battle, one RIC man is wounded and later dies. The British regroup around the house of the parish priest, Father Conroy, and launch a counterattack.

Four IRA volunteers are killed. They are Seamus Mc Evilly, Thomas O’Donnell, Patrick Staunton and Sean Collins. Paddy Jordan of the Castlebar battalion is injured and dies later at Bricens Hospital in Dublin. Seven more IRA men are wounded.

The remainder of the column, carrying their wounded, flee over the mountains to Skerdagh, where they have safe houses. However, the police track them there and, in another exchange of fire, another IRA man is killed, Jim Brown from Newport, along with one RIC Constable and a Black and Tan.

The Black and Tans throw the dead and wounded IRA men onto the street outside the RIC barracks in nearby Westport, causing widespread revulsion among the local people and local police. The Marquis of Sligo, no friend of the republican guerrillas, visits the barracks to complain of their treatment of enemy dead. At the funerals of those killed, in Castlebar, the authorities allow only close family to attend and forbid the draping of the Irish tricolour over the coffins.

The local IRA blames their defeat in the ambush on the failure of an IRA unit from Westport to show up in time.

Kilroy’s column manages to get some revenge for the setback at Kilmeena the following month in an action at Carrowkennedy on June 3, where they kill eight policemen and capture sixteen.


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Abbey Theatre Premiere of “The Shadow of a Gunman”

The Shadow Of A Gunman, a 1923 tragicomedy play by Seán O’Casey, premieres at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin on April 12, 1923.

The play is the first in O’Casey’s “Dublin Trilogy” – the other two being Juno and the Paycock (1924) and The Plough and the Stars (1926). It is set in Dublin in May 1920 during the Irish War of Independence and centres on the mistaken identity of a building tenant who is thought to be an Irish Republican Army (IRA) assassin. Each act takes place in Seumus Shield’s room in a tenement in Hilljoy Square.

Donal Davoren is a poet who has come to room with Seumus Shields in a poor, Dublin tenement slum. Many of the residents of the tenement mistake Donal for an IRA gunman on the run. Donal does not refute this notoriety, especially when it wins him the affection of Minnie Powell, an attractive young woman in the tenement. Meanwhile, Seumus’ business partner, Mr. Maguire, drops a bag off at Seumus’ apartment before participating in an ambush in which he is killed. Seumus believes the bag to contain household items for re-sale. The city is put under curfew as a result of the ambush. The Black and Tans raid the tenement and, at that point, Donal and Seumus discover the bag is full of Mills bombs. Minnie Powell takes the bag and hides it in her own room. The Black and Tans find nothing of note in Seumus’ room, but arrest Minnie Powell, who is later shot and killed trying to escape.

The first performance of The Shadow of a Gunman in England is given in 1958 at the Progress Theatre in Reading, Berkshire.

A 1972 televised version of The Shadow of a Gunman stars Frank Converse and Academy Award winner Richard Dreyfuss. In 1973, Alvin Rakoff directs a televised version for BBC Two starring Stephen Rea, Sinéad Cusack and Donal McCann. In 1992 Kenneth Branagh, Stephen Rea and Bronagh Gallagher star in an adaption as part of the 1992 BBC Two Performance series.

In the music video for Northern Irish rock/pop band The Adventures song “Send My Heart” (1984), the lead character is seen trying out for a version of the play.


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The Sheemore Ambush

The Sheemore ambush is an ambush carried out by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) on March 4, 1921, during the Irish War of Independence. It takes place at Sheemore near Carrick-on-Shannon, County Leitrim.

The ambush is carried out by the IRA’s South Leitrim Brigade on a British Army and Auxiliary Division convoy. The British force suffers casualties and admits one fatality, a captain in the Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment, although some local sources claim several more are killed.

On Friday morning, March 4, 1921, as the congregation makes their way out of the ‘First Friday Mass’ in the Roman Catholic parish church in Gowel, they are met by three lorries carrying 30–40 Auxiliaries, Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC), and British Army members. The men are lined up for searching on one side while a ‘female searcher’ attends to the women. There is no panic and as nothing is found and there are no arrests. The church had been identified as a likely place for volunteers of the IRA’s South Leitrim Brigade to attend. Father Edward O’Reilly, the church’s curate, is openly friendly towards the volunteers. After they search the church interior, the police and soldiers remount their lorries and continue back to Carrick-on-Shannon.

About 2 kilometres down the road, on the slopes of Sheemore, volunteers of the South Leitrim Brigade await them. The day before, the Brigade had received word from Joe Nangle from Drumshanbo of the British operation. They take up position behind a low wall which runs on the brink of an eighty-foot-high rock face on the side of Sheemore. It is four hundred yards from the road. There are seven volunteers – Brigadier Seán Mitchel (who was in command), Charles E. McGoohan (from Ballinamore), Michael Geoghegan (from Aughacashel), Mattie Boylan (from Carrick-on-Shannon), Michael Martin (from Ballinamore), Joe Nangle and Harry McKeon.

At the command from Mitchell, the IRA opens fire on the convoy. The members of the convoy jump from their lorries, and take cover behind a wall which runs along the road. The police run despite the shouts from the soldiers to stand their ground. The officer in command tries to use field glasses to spot the positions of the IRA. After a forty-five-minute gunfight the IRA withdraws, and the British make no attempt to follow them. Instead they gather up their casualties and return to Carrick-on-Shannon, where Black and Tans later undertake reprisals, burning and looting, and burn both the premises of the Leitrim Observer newspaper and the local rowing club to the ground. They also burn the Temperance Hall in Gowel.

Nurse Alice Grey (or Gray), the ‘female searcher,’ who is a member of the ambushed convoy, is recognised by the British authorities for her role in the incident.

Contemporary newspaper reports indicate that one officer and four men of the Bedfordshire Regiment were wounded, as were two members of the RIC. The British officer died the following day, and some people reportedly left the area for fear of reprisals.

(Pictured: Monument in memory of the Volunteers who took part in the Sheemore Ambush)