seamus dubhghaill

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


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The North King Street Ambush

Three British soldiers are killed, the first in the city since the Easter Rising of 1916, and two more wounded in a short exchange of gunfire with an Irish Republican Army (IRA) unit on the morning of September 20, 1920, at the corner North King Street and Church Street in Dublin.

Just before 11 o’clock, fifteen soldiers of the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment arrive in a motor lorry at Monks’ Bakery, North King Street, to acquire a supply of bread for Collinstown aerodrome. What happens next is disputed. Soldiers involved in the incident testify later that the volunteers began the shooting, after shouting “Hands Up!” and demanding they hand over their rifles.

Two key testimonies tally. The driver of the truck, Private C. Barnes, testifies at IRA volunteer Kevin Barry‘s court martial that he had been looking under the bonnet of the vehicle when he saw a civilian carrying a pistol walk up, shout “Hands Up!,” and fire a single round into the air. Decades later, the officer commanding the IRA unit that day, Seamus Kavanagh, tells the Bureau of Military History that it was indeed one of his men, but not Barry, that had fired the first shot, perhaps due to “overanxiety.”

Kavanagh sees the soldiers in the truck immediately rise to their feet, rifles in hand. The plan has fallen apart at the first hurdle, the element of surprise is lost, and there are no guns captured that day. He says he then gives the order to open fire, and retreat from the bakery. The exchange lasts four or five minutes.

In the last seconds of the ambush, Barry is in trouble. His gun has jammed twice, and has only fired two shots. Trying to clear the second jam, he fails to realise the rest of the unit has retreated, leaving him alone. He rolls under the lorry to hide, but a woman in the crowd of onlookers points him out to the soldiers, actually out of concern that he might be run over. He is taken prisoner and brought to the nearest base, at the North Dublin Union.

One reporter who attends the scene counts 22 bullet marks on walls, doors and windows in nearby homes and shops and adds that the military lorry is also riddled with bullet holes.

The three dead soldiers are identified as 18 year-old Private Harold Washington, who is found dead at the scene, Private Marshall Whitehead and Private Thomas Humphries who both die subsequently in King George V Hospital in Stoneybatter. The two wounded are Private William Smith and Private Frank Noble, neither of whom is armed.

It is rumoured that one or two of the attackers are killed, but this is not confirmed. Several volunteers are slightly wounded, but get away. Bob Flanagan’s wound is the most serious, a bullet literally parting his scalp. One onlooker expresses disbelief that the episode did not result in further fatalities given how close the soldiers and their assailants were to each other.

One person is understood to have been arrested in connection with the incident, however, according to eyewitnesses, the civilian in question has nothing to do with the attack and is taking shelter under a dray when arrested.

(Pictured: The funeral of the soldiers killed in the North King Street ambush, Irish Life, October 1, 1920)


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Death of Robert Barton, Nationalist & Anglo-Irish Politician

Robert Childers Barton, Anglo-Irish politician, Irish nationalist and farmer who participates in the negotiations leading up to the signature of the Anglo-Irish Treaty, dies in Annamoe, County Wicklow, on August 10, 1975. His father is Charles William Barton and his mother is Agnes Alexandra Frances Childers. His wife is Rachel Warren of Boston, daughter of Fiske Warren. His double first cousin and close friend is the English-born Irish writer Erskine Childers.

Barton is born in Annamoe on March 14, 1881, into a wealthy Irish Protestant land-owning family, namely of Glendalough House. His two younger brothers, Erskine and Thomas, die while serving in the British Army during World War I. He is educated in England at Rugby School and the University of Oxford and becomes an officer in the Royal Dublin Fusiliers on the outbreak of World War I. He is stationed in Dublin during the 1916 Easter Rising and comes into contact with many of its imprisoned leaders in the aftermath while on duty at Richmond Barracks. He resigns his commission in protest at the heavy-handed British government suppression of the revolt. He then joins the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB).

At the 1918 Irish general election to the British House of Commons, Barton is elected as the Sinn Féin member for West Wicklow. In common with all Sinn Féin members, he boycotts the Westminster parliament and sits instead in Dáil Éireann (the First Dáil). Arrested in February 1919 for sedition, he escapes from Mountjoy Prison on Saint Patrick’s Day, leaving a note to the governor explaining that, owing to the discomfort of his cell, he felt compelled to leave, and requests the governor to keep his luggage until he sends for it. He is appointed as Director of Agriculture in the Dáil Ministry in April 1919. He is recaptured in January 1920 and sentenced to three years’ imprisonment, but is released under the general amnesty of July 1921.

In May of that year, prior to his release, Barton is elected as a Sinn Féin member for Kildare–Wicklow in the 1921 Irish election to the House of Commons of Southern Ireland. Once again all Sinn Féin members boycott this parliament, sitting as the Second Dáil. In August 1921, he is appointed to cabinet as Secretary for Economic Affairs.

Barton is one of the Irish plenipotentiaries to travel to London for the Anglo-Irish Treaty negotiations. His cousin is a secretary to the delegation. He reluctantly signs the Treaty on December 6, 1921, defending it “as the lesser of two outrages forced upon me and between which I had to choose.”

Although he had signed the Treaty and voted for it in the Dáil, Barton stands in the 1922 Irish general election for Anti-Treaty Sinn Féin, the only TD who had voted for the Treaty to do so, and wins a seat in the Third Dáil. In common with other Anti-Treaty TDs, he does not take his seat. In October 1922 he is appointed Minister for Economic Affairs in Éamon de Valera‘s “Emergency Government,” a shadow government in opposition to the Provisional Government and the later Executive Council of the Irish Free State. His memoir of this period is completed in 1954, and can be seen on the Bureau of Military History website. He is arrested and interned for most of the war at the Curragh Camp.

Barton is defeated at the 1923 Irish general election and retires from politics for the law, practicing as a barrister. He later becomes a judge. He is chairman of the Agricultural Credit Corporation from 1934 to 1954. He dies at home in County Wicklow on August 10, 1975, at the age of 94, the last surviving signatory of the Anglo-Irish Treaty. Éamon de Valera dies only nineteen days later, on August 29, 1975.

Glendalough House, run by Barton for over 70 years right up until his death, is still considered one of Ireland’s most notable properties, alongside nearby Powerscourt Estate. The house is the center of numerous political meetings and gatherings from 1910 to 1922. It has also been featured as a location in many large Hollywood films including Excalibur, Saving Private Ryan and Braveheart.


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Assassination of RIC Inspector Phillip O’Sullivan

The Irish Republican Army (IRA) kills twenty-three-year-old Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) District Inspector Phillip O’Sullivan in Dublin on December 17, 1920 while he is walking with his fiancee. O’Sullivan is from County Cork.

O’Sullivan is the son of Florence O’Sullivan and Margaret Aloysius O’Sullivan (née Barry) of Denis Quay, Kinsale, County Cork, who were married in Wicklow, County Wicklow in 1895. His father is a solicitor, practising in Kinsale.

O’Sullivan joins the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve and is commissioned as a Temporary Lieutenant on June 8, 1918. He is sent for training to HMS Hermione, an Astraea-class cruiser, from where he is sent on August 22, 1918 to “Our Allies,” the mother ship for motor launches. He later serves on Motor Launches 386 and 530. While serving on a motor launch in the Mediterranean Sea, he is awarded the Military Cross for bravery during the Second Battle of Durazzo on October 2-3, 1918. He is demobilised on July 8, 1919, with the rank of Lieutenant, but this is later reversed as he had not yet reached the minimum age of 22.

O’Sullivan then qualifies as a solicitor, and subsequently joins the Royal Irish Constabulary on July 24, 1920. He is appointed a District Inspector on October 1, 1920.

O’Sullivan is engaged to a Miss Moore and he meets her near the General Post Office (GPO) on O’Connell Street in Dublin on December 17, 1920. They are walking down Henry Street when he is assassinated by a group of four men. One man shoots him in the head, but Miss Moore manages to grab the revolver from him. A second man shoots him as he lay on the ground. He dies one hour later in nearby Jervis Street Hospital. The cause of death is listed as shock and haemorrhage resulting from bullet wounds. His body is identified by his father. He is buried in the grave of his grandfather.

O’Sullivan had been identified by Ned Kelliher, possibly also from Kinsale, who had trailed him for a week. He points out O’Sullivan to members of Michael Collins‘s Squad, one of whom is Joe Byrne. Miss Moore states that she had been warned some time previously that O’Sullivan was “one of the Black and Tans” and she should have nothing to do with him. She had dismissed the threat.

O’Sullivan’s death is registered on January 7, 1921, on foot of a certificate received from a Military Court of Inquiry, following an inquest held on December 18, 1920.

The assassination is recorded by Joe Byrne in Witness Statement No. 461 to the Bureau of Military History, dated December 16, 1950. “I remember an evening in December 1920, when I was instructed, with others to proceed to Henry Street to assist in the shooting of D.I. O’Sullivan. About four of us comprised the party. A couple of us were detailed not to take part in the actual shooting but to cover off the men who were to do the job. I saw the D.I. being shot by a member of the Squad and when the shooting was over we returned to Morelands.” Morelands is a shop on Abbey Street, Dublin, used as a base by The Squad.

O’Sullivan’s name is included on the supplementary list of the Glasnevin Cemetery War Memorial.

(From: The Royal Irish Constabulary Forum, irishconstabulary.com | Pictured: Photograph of District Inspector Philip John O’Sullivan, Cork Examiner, December 21, 1920)