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


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Execution of D.I. Gilbert Potter, R.I.C.

gilbert-norman-potterGilbert Norman Potter, a District Inspector of the Royal Irish Constabulary, is executed by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) on April 27, 1921 in reprisal for the British execution of Irish republican Thomas Traynor.

Born in Dromahair, County Leitrim on July 10, 1887, Potter receives his commission as District Inspector on April 27, 1901 having completed his cadetship at the Depot, Phoenix Park, Dublin. His first assignment is to Castlepollard, County Westmeath. During the 1909 ITGWU strike in Cork, he is temporarily posted there from Dublin and is also involved in policing the August 14 marches in Portadown. Having had charge of No. 4 Company at the Depot, he is assigned to Cahir in 1912.

On April 23, 1921 District Inspector Potter is captured by the 3rd Tipperary Brigade, IRA, following the Hyland’s Cross Ambush. This occurs near Curraghcloney, close to the village of Ballylooby. The ambush party is initially made up of a combination of the 1st and 2nd Flying Columns 3rd Tipperary Brigade. This is the largest force assembled to date by the Tipperary IRA in anticipation of a major battle. However, the convoy of military lorries that is expected never materialises. Dan Breen and Con Moloney return to Battalion Headquarters, while Seán Hogan‘s Column withdraws northward in the direction of the Galtee Mountains.

As Dinny Lacey‘s No.1 Column prepares to leave towards the south, a small party of British soldiers accompanying two horse-drawn carts unexpectedly approaches from Clogheen and are immediately fired upon. Amid some confusion Lacey’s scattered men withdraw southwards towards the Knockmealdown Mountains. One British soldier, Frank Edward Conday, is fatally wounded and two others from the relieving party are wounded.

By chance, Potter, who is returning by car from police duties at Ballyporeen, drives into a section of the withdrawing No.1 Column. Although in civilian attire, he is recognised by one of the IRA Volunteers and taken prisoner. As part of a new strategy, he is held as a hostage for the safe release of Thomas Traynor, an IRA volunteer and father of ten young children, then under sentence of death at Mountjoy Gaol. The IRA offers to release Potter in exchange for Traynor’s release. Traynor is executed. Traynor has since been honoured by the Irish state as one of “The Forgotten Ten.”

The Column, under sporadic fire from soldiers, alerted at the nearby Clogheen barracks, follow the contours of the mountains to the village of Newcastle. Losing their pursuers, they stay for a period of time at the townland of Glasha. Here Potter is detained in an out-building of a farm which is regularly used by the IRA as a safe house. From there the party is guided into the Nire Valley by a contingent of local Waterford Volunteers and on to the Comeragh Mountains.

Accounts from Rathgormack, County Waterford suggest he is kept for at least one night at a nearby Ringfort before being taken down the hill to a field then owned by Power’s of Munsboro, where he meets his ultimate fate. At 7:00 PM, on April 27, following news of Traynor’s execution by hanging, he is shot to death, and hastily buried in a shallow grave on the banks of the River Clodiagh. A diary he kept during his period of captivity and some personal effects and farewell letters, are returned anonymously to his wife. It is the first confirmation she has that he has been killed. The artifacts are later lost when his son’s ship is torpedoed in 1942, during World War II.

(Pictured: Photo of District Inspector Gilbert Potter R.I.C. that appeared in the Press during his time in captivity)

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The Headford Ambush

headford-ambushThe Headford Ambush is carried out by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) on March 21, 1921, during the Irish War of Independence. The battle lasts almost an hour and fourteen people are killed – nine British soldiers, two IRA volunteers and three civilians.

The guerrilla war in County Kerry escalates rapidly in the spring of 1921. The county is occupied by the British Army, Auxiliary Division and Black and Tans paramilitary police, as well as the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC). For the previous several months they have been burning suspected Republicans’ property and shooting suspected IRA sympathisers. By early 1921, they have begun rounding up male inhabitants of nearby towns and villages and searching for IRA suspects.

On January 23, in response to the IRA’s assassination of RIC District Inspector Sullivan, 1,000 soldiers and armed police surround Ballymacelligott, arrest 240 men and march them to Tralee for questioning. British forces, especially the Auxiliaries, also carry out a number of reprisal shootings of local civilians. The IRA sets up full-time guerrilla units, known as flying columns, to avoid arrest and to assemble units capable of taking on British patrols. IRA GHQ in Dublin also sends an organizer, Andy Cooney, to Kerry to oversee the setting up of flying columns. On March 2, under Cooney’s direction, the 2nd Kerry Brigade sets up its own flying column under Dan Allman and Tom McEllistrim. On March 5, McEllistrim leads 20 volunteers from the column to a successful ambush at Clonbanin, in which they co-operate with Cork IRA units, killing four British soldiers including Brigadier General Hanway Robert Cumming. Buoyed by their success in Cork, the 2nd Kerry Brigade tries on a number of occasions to ambush British forces in Kerry itself.

On March 21, an IRA party of the 2nd Kerry Brigade is billeted about four miles from the Headford railway junction when they hear that British troops are returning by train from Kenmare to Tralee. As the train does not go directly to Tralee, the British have to change trains at Headford, making them vulnerable to ambush. Allman, commanding 30 volunteers, reaches the junction only 12 minutes before the train, which is carrying 30 soldiers of the 1st Royal Fusiliers. The railway staff just has time to flee before the train pulls into the platform, where its passengers have to change trains for Tralee. Alongside the soldiers, the train is packed with cattle and pig farmers on their way back from the market in Kenmare. Most of the civilians have already got off when the British soldiers begin to disembark. Allman himself tries to disarm a Fusilier but shoots him when he resists. This is the signal for the IRA to open fire on the British troops.

One of the first British casualties is Lieutenant CE Adams DCM, who is shot dead when he appears at the carriage door, as are several other soldiers who are standing in front of the engine. The surviving British troops open fire from the train while those who have got off scramble underneath it for cover. In the ensuing close-quarter firefight, conducted at a range of just 20 yards, three civilians and two IRA volunteers, including Allman, are killed. Two-thirds of the British force is estimated to have been killed or wounded. Most of those killed are hit in the initial firing. Afterwards, the IRA gunmen have no direct field of fire into the troops who are hidden under the train.

MacEllistrim calls on the survivors to surrender and when they refuse, the IRA begins to move in to finish off those who keep shooting by throwing hand grenades under the train. Just as they are doing so, another train pulls into the junction carrying another party of British troops. The IRA column has used most of its ammunition and is forced to retreat, escaping toward the hills in the south.

(Pictured: British soldiers searching a train in County Kerry, 1921)


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The Selton Hill Ambush

selton-hill-ambush-memorialThe Selton Hill Ambush takes place on March 11, 1921, during the Irish War of Independence. An Irish Republican Army (IRA) flying column is ambushed by members of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) Auxiliary Division at Selton Hill, County Leitrim. Six IRA officers of the Leitrim Brigade are killed.

Seán Connolly is an IRA activist from County Longford, but he is also used by IRA GHQ to organise the surrounding areas of County Roscommon and County Leitrim. When Michael Collins orders Connolly into the county, he warns that it is “the most treacherous county in Ireland.” As Connolly is running a training camp at Selton Hill in early 1921, his position is given to the RIC. The RIC District Inspector, Thomas Gore-Hickman, has been alerted to Connolly’s position by a local doctor who had served in the British Army. The doctor had reportedly been told of the training camp by a local member of the Orange Order.

The events at Selton Hill take place one week after the Sheemore ambush, in which British troops from the Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment, based in Boyle suffer several casualties and at least one fatality. On March 11, at Selton Hill, a large force of RIC and Auxiliaires, based in Mohill and troops from the Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment surround and then attack the IRA camp. Six IRA volunteers are killed. The RIC suffers no losses. The IRA dead are Sean Connolly, Seamus Wrynne, Joseph O’Beirne, John Reilly, Joseph Reilly, and Capt. M.E. Baxter.

Ernie O’Malley later claims the volunteers’ bodies are “taken to Mohill by soldiers who shouted ‘fresh meat!’ as they were driving through the town.” He is also quoted as saying, “Men from the Bedfordshire Regiment were seen by a badly wounded IRA officer, Bernie Sweeney who survived, to use rifle butts on the skulls of two wounded men.” He also states that the location of the column was given to the local District Inspector of the RIC by a doctor who had been in the British Army, who received the information by a local Orangeman. The IRA officer who survives is Bernie Sweeney, from Ballinamore, who survives by hiding in a drain, where the cold water prevents him from bleeding to death. He is rescued and hidden from the Black and Tans and Auxiliaries by locals.

The IRA learn their position had been given away by the doctor and the Orangeman. The latter is later killed by the IRA. The doctor escapes to England and later dies in an accident.

The border country of the north midlands often proves to be a treacherous place for IRA training camps. On May 8, 1921 a camp of Belfast IRA volunteers based in the Lappanduff hills in neighbouring County Cavan, is also surprised. One volunteer is killed, thirteen captured, and arms and ammunition are seized by the British forces.

(Pictured: Selton Hill Ambush Memorial, south of the village of Fenagh, County Leitrim)


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Death of Denis “Dinny” Lacey

dinny-laceyDenis “Dinny” Lacey, Irish Republican Army (IRA) officer during the Irish War of Independence and anti-Treaty IRA officer during the Irish Civil War, dies at Glen of Aherlow, County Tipperary on February 18, 1923.

Lacey is born on May 31, 1889 in the village of Attybrick, near Annacarty, County Tipperary. He joins the Irish Volunteers in 1913 and is sworn into the secretive Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) in 1914. He is introduced to the IRB by Seán Treacy. During the War of Independence (1919–1921) he is selected to command an IRA flying column of the 3rd Tipperary Brigade, in September 1920. The flying column mounts two successful ambushes of British forces – killing six British soldiers at Thomastown near Golden, and four Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) men at Lisnagaul in the Glen of Aherlow.

In April 1921, following another ambush of British troops near Clogheen, he captures RIC inspector Gilbert Potter, whom he later executes in reprisal of the British hanging of republican prisoners.

In December 1921, Lacey’s unit splits over the Anglo-Irish Treaty. He opposes the Treaty and most of his men follow suit. He takes over command of the 3rd Tipperary Brigade as Séamus Robinson is appointed to commanded the anti-Treaty IRA’s Second Southern Division. In the ensuing civil war (June 1922-May 1923), he organises guerrilla activity in the Tipperary area against Pro-Treaty Irish Free State forces.

Denis Lacey is killed in an action against Free State troops at Ballydavid, near Bansha in the Glen of Aherlow on February 18, 1923. He is 33 years old at the time of his death. Over 1,000 Free State troops drawn from Cahir, Cashel, Clonmel, and Tipperary, under the command of General John T. Prout, with the intention of breaking up Lacey’s guerrilla unit, converge on the Glen where he and four other men from his column are billeted. Lacey and one of his men are killed and others are captured. Two National Army soldiers are killed in the action.

A memorial in Annacarty commemorates Lacey’s war service and subsequent death in action.


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Birth of Irish Republican Tom Maguire

Tom Maguire, Irish republican who serves as commandant-general in the Western Command of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and leads the South Mayo flying column, is born on March 28, 1892.

On September 18, 1920, the Mayo Brigade of the IRA is reorganized and spilt up into four separate brigades. Tom Maguire is appointed commander of the South Mayo brigade.

Maguire leads an ambush on a Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) patrol in Toormakeady, County Mayo, on May 3, 1921, killing four. Maguire’s flying column then heads for the Partry Mountains. According to one account, the column is surrounded by many soldiers and policemen guided by aeroplanes. Maguire is wounded and his adjutant is killed, but the column manages to escape with no further casualties. Maguire is involved in numerous other engagements including the Kilfall ambush.

At the 1921 election to Dáil Éireann, Maguire is returned unopposed as Teachta Dála (TD) for Mayo South–Roscommon South as a Sinn Féin candidate. He opposes the Anglo-Irish Treaty, and apart from voting against the treaty when the vote is called, does not participate in any substantial way in the Dáil treaty debates. He is returned unopposed at the 1922 general election. At the 1923 general election, Maguire faces a contest and succeeds in securing the second of five seats in the Mayo South constituency.

Maguire is a member of the anti-Treaty IRA executive which commands rebel troops during the Irish Civil War. Maguire is captured by the National Army while in bed and is told that he would be executed, but his life is spared. While in prison his brother, Sean Maguire, aged 17, is executed by the government.

Maguire remains a TD until 1927. He initially indicates a willingness to contest the June 1927 general election as a Sinn Féin candidate but withdraws after the IRA threatens to court-martial any member under IRA General Army Order 28, which forbids its members from standing in elections.

Maguire subsequently drifts out of the IRA. In 1932, a Mayo IRA officer reports that Maguire, now firmly aligned with Sinn Féin, refuses to call on men to join the IRA when speaking at republican commemorations. When challenged on this, Maguire claims that, as the IRA “were no longer the same as they used to be,” he disagrees with the organisation.

In December 1938, Maguire is one of a group of seven people, who had been elected to the Second Dáil in 1921, who meet with the IRA Army Council under Seán Russell. At this meeting, the seven sign over what they contend is the authority of the Government of Dáil Éireann to the Army Council. Henceforth, the IRA Army Council perceives itself to be the legitimate government of the Irish Republic and, on this basis, the IRA and Sinn Féin justify their rejection of the states of the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland and political abstentionism from their parliamentary institutions.

When the majority of IRA and Sinn Féin decide to abandon abstentionism in the 1969–1970 split, Ruairí Ó Brádaigh and Dáithí Ó Conaill seek and secure Maguire’s recognition of the Provisional IRA as the legitimate successor to the 1938 Army Council. Of the seven 1938 signatories, Maguire is the only one still alive at the time.

Likewise, in the aftermath of the 1986 split in the Republican Movement, both the Provisional IRA and the Continuity IRA seek Maguire’s support. Maguire signs a statement which is issued posthumously in 1996. In it, he confers legitimacy on the Army Council of the Continuity IRA. In The Irish Troubles, J. Bowyer Bell describes Maguire’s opinion in 1986, “abstentionism was a basic tenet of republicanism, a moral issue of principle. Abstentionism gave the movement legitimacy, the right to wage war, to speak for a Republic all but established in the hearts of the people.”

Tom Maguire dies on July 5, 1993, and is buried in Cross, County Mayo. Republican Sinn Fein have held multiple commemorations by his graveside.


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The Carrowkennedy Ambush

carrowkennedy-ambushThe Carrowkennedy Ambush is carried out at Carrowkennedy, near Westport, County Mayo, by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) West Mayo Flying Column on June 2, 1921, during the Irish War of Independence.

The ambush is organized by Major General Michael Kilroy, later Commandant of the 4th Western Battalion of the IRA. He and his flying column of volunteers take up position between Widow Sammon’s House and that of Widow McGreal in Carrowkennedy and await a Royal Irish Constabulary patrol.

At 6:30 PM, a scout signals the approach of the patrol, which includes two Crossley tenders and a Ford motorcar. Jimmy O’Flaherty, a former Connaught Ranger, lines up his sights on District Inspector Edward J. Stevenson in the lead vehicle. Stevenson is killed by a bullet through the centre of his forehead. The lorry lurches forward and stops in the middle of the road and comes under heavy fire from the hillside above. Police tumble out quickly and get down behind a bank which gives them some cover. A Lewis gun is thrown out and trained on the third section of IRA men. After two short bursts of fire, the gunner lay dead beside his gun. A second gunner fires a burst of shots from the Lewis in the direction of the third section, then he swings the muzzle in the air to protect himself from the riflemen above. This is unsuccessful and he also falls dead beneath the gun. Four men in the lorry are now dead and the remaining men are led by Sergeant Creegan. They attach a grenade launcher to a Lee–Enfield rifle and keep the IRA at bay.

The second lorry is stopped by gunfire from both sides of the road as soon as shots are heard from the direction of the first lorry, killing the second driver. This lorry coasts to the ditch at the side of the road. After a while the men run towards McGrale’s thatched cottage facing the road. They poke rifles through the front windows and through a window high in the gable which looks down on the Westport road. They use up a lot of ammunition unnecessarily and then realize that they have left their spare ammunition in the lorry. They unsuccessfully try to persuade the Widow McGrale and her young son to fetch the ammunition.

The motorcar is some distance behind the second lorry and stops beyond the cottage. Three men jump off the exposed side and two remain on the sheltered side of the road which has a thicket beside it next to the cottage. One of the policemen advances towards the rebel position but is badly wounded.

Two hours later, Michael Kilroy is worried that if the first lorry does not surrender soon, the column might not have time to concentrate on the police in the McGrale cottage as enemy reinforcements could arrive at any time. A fresh assault on the lorry is made by Johnny Duffy and Tommy Heavey who have bayonets. A rifle grenade, which is hurled by the police, falls back into the lorry and explodes, killing the man who threw it and fatally wounding other police beside him. A handkerchief of surrender is hoisted on a rifle by Sergeant Creegan, who is fatally wounded in the legs and abdomen.

The captured Lewis gun is fired on the McGreal house from a covered position by O’Flaherty. The men inside come out with their hands above their heads.

The IRA column captures 22 rifles, eight drums for the Lewis gun, several boxes of grenades, 21 revolvers, and approximately 6,000 rounds of rifle ammunition. Petrol is poured over the two lorries and the motorcar and they are set ablaze.

Eight of the British are killed outright or die of their wounds and sixteen surrender. The Black and Tans who surrender are not killed, even though this policy has been endorsed by IRA General Headquarters due to the terror and mayhem they inflict on civilians. Many of the local people go into hiding to avoid the retribution of the Tans. The IRA volunteers escape arrest by sheltering in safe houses.


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The Battle of Ashbourne

fingal-brigade-iraAs the end of the 1916 Easter Rising becomes increasingly apparent and the rebels in Dublin are being squeezed harder and harder by the British forces, the rebels outside the city achieve a small victory on Friday, April 28, 1916, in what comes to be known as the Battle of Ashbourne.

The Battle of Ashbourne is a direct confrontation and gun battle between up to 70 members of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) and about 37 Irish Volunteers, led by Thomas Ashe and Richard Mulcahy. It is one of the few engagements outside of Dublin city centre and is, in contrast to the main Rising in Dublin, a successful one.  It is also an example of the guerilla warfare that becomes a normal method of operation during the Irish War of Independence.

After the Volunteers battalion is mobilized on Easter Sunday, they are split into smaller groups, known as flying columns, and are sent north of Dublin city towards Ashbourne. Their mission is to destroy the railway line near Batterstown and disrupt the movement of British troops into the city. They set out by bicycles, mostly armed with shotguns. After raiding a number of barracks in the area, cutting communications, and collecting rifles, they reach the Cross of the Rath at Ashbourne.

There they are met with a barricade that has been hastily erected by the RIC members stationed in the barracks nearby. The RIC constables quickly surrender and are sent to the barracks to order a full surrender but they do not return. The Volunteers take up positions across the road while James O’Connor and Ashe try to break in the door. The constables begin firing from the upper windows of the building and a gun battle breaks out.

The fighting intensifies as RIC reinforcements arrive from Navan, Dunboyne, and Slane. Two Volunteers, John Crennigan and Thomas Rafferty, are fatally wounded. When District Inspector Gray is killed, the constables surrender and are taken prisoner. The Volunteers gather their arms and ammunition while Ashe warns the constables that they will be shot if they take up arms against the Irish people again.

In total, fourteen people are killed in the battle – two Volunteers, eight RIC members, two civilians driving the RIC cars, and two innocent civilians caught in the crossfire. Many more are injured.

The Volunteers’ victory is short lived, however, as in the early afternoon of the next day Ashe receives word of the surrender in Dublin. He demobilises the battalion and sends the men home. Many, including O’Connor, are arrested within days and interned in Wakefield Prison and Frongoch Internment Camp.

Ashe eventually spends time in jail for his role in the uprising and is jailed again in 1917. He begins a hunger strike on September 20, demanding POW status. Ashe dies after just five days on hunger strike from injuries received while being force-fed. The manner of his death outrages the Irish population.

As a side note, Thomas Ashe is a cousin of actor Gregory Peck.