seamus dubhghaill

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


Leave a comment

The Maze Prison Escape

The Maze Prison escape, known to Irish republicans as the Great Escape, takes place on September 25, 1983 in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. HM Prison Maze, also known as Long Kesh, is a maximum security prison considered to be one of the most escape-proof prisons in Europe, and holds prisoners suspected of taking part in armed paramilitary campaigns during the Troubles. In the biggest prison escape in UK history, 38 Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) prisoners escaped from H-Block 7 (H7) of the prison. One prison officer dies of a heart attack during the escape and twenty others are injured, including two who are shot with guns that had been smuggled into the prison. The escape is a propaganda coup for the IRA, and a British government minister faces calls to resign. The official inquiry into the escape places most of the blame onto prison staff, who in turn blame the escape on political interference in the running of the prison.

IRA volunteers regard themselves as prisoners of war with a duty to escape. During the Troubles, Irish republican prisoners escape from custody en masse on several occasions between 1971 and 1981.

Prisoners had been planning the 1983 escape for several months. Bobby Storey and Gerry Kelly start working as orderlies in H7, which allows them to identify weaknesses in the security systems. Six handguns are also smuggled into the prison. Shortly after 2:30 PM on September 25, prisoners seize control of H7 by simultaneously taking the prison officers hostage at gunpoint in order to prevent them from triggering an alarm. One officer is stabbed with a craft knife, and another is knocked down by a blow to the back of the head. One officer who attempts to prevent the escape is shot in the head by Gerry Kelly, but survives. By 2:50 PM the prisoners are in control of H7 without an alarm being raised. A dozen prisoners also take uniforms from the officers, and the officers are forced to hand over their car keys and details of where their cars are, for possible later use during the escape. A rearguard is left behind to watch over hostages and keep the alarm from being raised until they believe the escapees are clear of the prison, at which time they return to their cells. At 3:25 PM, a lorry delivering food supplies arrives at the entrance to H7, whereupon Brendan McFarlane and other prisoners take the occupants hostage at gunpoint and move them inside H7. The lorry driver is told the lorry is being used in the escape, and he is instructed what route to take and how to react if challenged.

At 3:50 PM the prisoners leave H7, and the driver and a prison orderly are taken back to the lorry. Thirty-seven prisoners climb into the back of the lorry, while Gerry Kelly lay on the floor of the cab with a gun pointed at the driver, who is also told the cab has been booby trapped with a hand grenade. At nearly 4:00 PM the lorry drives toward the main gate of the prison, where the prisoners intend to take over the gatehouse. Ten prisoners dressed in guards’ uniforms and armed with guns and chisels dismount from the lorry and enter the gatehouse, where they take the officers hostage.

At 4:05 PM the officers begin to resist, and an officer presses an alarm button. When other staff respond via an intercom, a senior officer says while being held at gunpoint that the alarm had been triggered accidentally. By this time the prisoners are struggling to maintain control in the gatehouse due to the number of hostages. Officers arriving for work are entering the gatehouse from outside the prison, and each is ordered at gunpoint to join the other hostages. Officer James Ferris runs from the gatehouse toward the pedestrian gate attempting to raise the alarm, pursued by Dermot Finucane. Ferris had already been stabbed three times in the chest, and before he can raise the alarm he collapses.

Finucane continues to the pedestrian gate where he stabs the officer controlling the gate, and two officers who had just entered the prison. This incident is seen by a soldier on duty in a watchtower, who reports to the British Army operations room that he has seen prison officers fighting. The operations room telephones the prison’s Emergency Control Room (ECR), which replies that everything is all right and that an alarm had been accidentally triggered earlier.

At 4:12 PM the alarm is raised when an officer in the gatehouse pushes the prisoner holding him hostage out of the room and telephones the ECR. However, this is not done soon enough to prevent the escape. After several attempts the prisoners open the main gate, and are waiting for the prisoners still in the gatehouse to rejoin them in the lorry. At this time two prison officers block the exit with their cars, forcing the prisoners to abandon the lorry and make their way to the outer fence which is 25 yards away.

Four prisoners attack one of the officers and hijack his car, which they drive toward the external gate. They crash into another car near the gate and abandon the car. Two escape through the gate, one is captured exiting the car, and another is captured after being chased by a soldier. At the main gate, a prison officer is shot in the leg while chasing the only two prisoners who have not yet reached the outer fence. The prisoner who fires the shot is captured after being shot and wounded by a soldier in a watch tower, and the other prisoner is captured after falling. The other prisoners escape over the fence, and by 4:18 PM the main gate is closed and the prison secured, after 35 prisoners had breached the prison perimeter. The escape is the biggest in British history, and the biggest in Europe since World War II.

Outside the prison the IRA has planned a logistical support operation involving 100 armed members, but due to a miscalculation of five minutes, the prisoners find no transport waiting for them and are forced to flee across fields or hijack vehicles. The British Army and Royal Ulster Constabulary immediately activate a contingency plan and by 4:25 PM a cordon of vehicle checkpoints are in place around the prison, and others are later in place in strategic positions across Northern Ireland, resulting in the recapture of one prisoner at 11:00 PM. Twenty prison officers are injured during the escape, thirteen are kicked and beaten, four stabbed, and two shot. One prison officer, James Ferris, who had been stabbed, dies after suffering a heart attack during the escape.

The escape is a propaganda coup and morale boost for the IRA, with Irish republicans dubbing it the “Great Escape.” Leading unionist politician Ian Paisley calls on Nicholas Scott, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, to resign. The British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher makes a statement in Ottawa during a visit to Canada, saying “It is the gravest [breakout] in our present history, and there must be a very deep inquiry.” The day after the escape, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland James Prior announces an inquiry to be headed by Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons, James Hennessy. The Hennessy Report is published on January 26, 1984 placing most of the blame for the escape on prison staff, and making a series of recommendations to improve security at the prison. The report also places blame with the designers of the prison, the Northern Ireland Office and successive prison governors who had failed to improve security. Prior announces that the prison’s governor has resigned, and that there will be no ministerial resignations as a result of the report’s findings. Four days after the Hennessy Report is published, the Minister for Prisons Nicholas Scott dismisses allegations from the Prison Governors Association and the Prison Officers Association that the escape is due to political interference in the running of the prison.

Fifteen escapees are captured on the day, including four who are discovered hiding underwater in a river near the prison using reeds to breathe. Four more escapees are captured over the next two days, including Hugh Corey and Patrick McIntyre who are captured following a two-hour siege at an isolated farmhouse. Out of the remaining 19 escapees, 18 end up in the republican stronghold of South Armagh where two members of the IRA’s South Armagh Brigade are in charge of transporting them to safehouses, and given the option of either returning to active service in the IRA’s armed campaign or a job and new identity in the United States.

On October 25, 1984, nineteen prisoners appear in court on charges relating to the death of prison officer James Ferris, sixteen charged with his murder. A pathologist determines that the stab wounds Ferris suffered would not have killed a healthy man. The judge acquits all sixteen as he cannot correlate the stabbing to the heart attack.


Leave a comment

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.


Leave a comment

The Ballyseedy Massacre

The Ballyseedy Massacre takes place near Ballyseedy, County Kerry, on March 7, 1923. Kerry had seen more violence in the guerrilla phase of the Irish Civil War than almost anywhere else in Ireland. By March 1923, 68 Free State soldiers had already been killed in Kerry and 157 wounded – 85 would die there by the end of the war.

The day after five Free State soldiers are killed by a booby trap bomb while searching a republican dugout at the village of Knocknagoshel, Paddy Daly, in command of the Free State’s Kerry forces, announces that prisoners will be used in the future to clear mined roads.

In Ballyseedy, nine Republican prisoners – Pat Buckley, John Daly, Pat Hartnett, Michael O’Connell, John O’Connor, George O’Shea, Tim Tuomey, James Walsh and Steven Fuller – are driven to the remote Ballyseedy Wood near Ballyseedy Cross to be executed. The troops make sure that they are ‘all fairly anonymous, no priests or nuns in the family, those that’ll make the least noise.’ As they are being loaded into the lorry, the Free State Army guards ask them if they would care to smoke, telling them it will be their last cigarette.

They are taken to a remote location near the banks of the River Lee, where a large log stretches across the Castleisland Road. The Republicans are all tied to the log alongside a mine which is then detonated. Several of the Republicans, however, survive the initial explosion. The Free State soldiers then proceed to throw a number of grenades and shoot at them ensuring they are dead.

They succeed in killing all but Steven Fuller. The force of the explosion hurls him clear across the road. Falling, dazed, but conscious that he is alive and unhurt he quickly realises that the blast had even burst apart the cords used to tie him. As the soldiers come out from their cover after the detonation he crawls along the shelter of the ditch into the river at the roadside, escaping to a nearby Irish Republican Army (IRA) hideout. For days afterwards the birds are eating human flesh off the trees at Ballyseedy Cross.

Eight anti-treaty volunteers and prisoners are killed in the explosion. The exact details are murky. Official government sources state that the men were killed while clearing mines left by anti-treaty forces. Conversely anti-treaty sources claim the men were attached to a mine which was then detonated in retaliation for an explosion the previous day which killed six government forces in Knocknagashel, 30 miles away. If anyone believes that the explosion at Ballyseedy had been an accident, they would have trouble explaining the deaths of nine more Republican prisoners in the next four days.

There is no way of knowing how many men had been killed. Eight prisoners of war are murdered that night at Ballyseedy Cross. Nine coffins are sent back to Tralee the next day. What are the people of Tralee to do with that ninth coffin? A mother wails, “But my son was six feet tall. How can he come home to me in such a small coffin?” They will not let the mother open that coffin.

For three generations following the Irish Civil War, the country is riven by the pain and anguish of the violent conflict. Ballyseedy is just one example of the horrors inflicted.

(From: Stair na hÉireann | History of Ireland, https://stairnaheireann.net/, Photo: Ballyseedy Massacre Monument, Curraghmacdonagh, County Kerry)


Leave a comment

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)


Leave a comment

IRA Commander Seán Mac Eoin Captured at Mullingar

Seán Mac Eoin, Irish Republican Army (IRA) North Longford commander, is captured at Mullingar on March 1, 1921 and charged with the murder of a Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) detective, dealing a severe blow to the IRA in that area.

Mac Eoin is born John Joseph McKeon on September 30, 1893 at Bunlahy, Granard, County Longford, the eldest son of Andrew McKeon and Catherine Treacy. After a national school education, he trains as a blacksmith at his father’s forge and, on his father’s death in February 1913, he takes over the running of the forge and the maintenance of the McKeon family. He moves to Kilinshley in the Ballinalee district of County Longford to set up a new forge.

Having joined the United Irish League in 1908, Mac Eoin’s 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 (IRB) 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. In November 1920, he leads the Longford brigade in attacking Crown forces in Granard during one of the periodic government reprisals, forcing them to retreat to their barracks. On October 31, Inspector Philip St. John Howlett Kelleher of the RIC is shot dead in the Greville Arms Hotel in Granard. Members of the British Auxiliary Division set fire to parts of the town. The following day, Mac Eoin 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. One constable is killed and two others are wounded.

On the afternoon of January 7, 1921, a joint RIC and British Army patrol consisting of ten policemen appears on Anne Martin’s street. According to Mac Eoin’s own testimony at his trial he is in the house in partial uniform, wearing Sam Browne belt and revolver with two Mills No. 4 bombs in his pocket. Owing to some females being in the house, he has to get out as to not endanger them. He steps out on the street and opens fire with his revolver. The leading file falls and the second file brings their rifles to the ready. He then throws a bomb, after which he sees that the entire force has cleared away, save the officer who was dead or dying on the street.

On February 2, 1921, the Longford IRA ambushes a force of the Auxiliaries on the road at Clonfin, using a mine it had planted. Two lorries are involved, the first blown up, and the second strafed by rapid rifle fire. Four auxiliaries and a driver are killed and eight wounded. The IRA volunteers capture 18 rifles, 20 revolvers and a Lewis gun. At the Clonfin Ambush, Mac Eoin orders his men to care for the wounded British, at the expense of captured weaponry, earning him both praise and criticism. He is admired by many within the IRA for leading practically the only effective column in the midlands.

Mac Eoin is captured at Mullingar railway station on March 1, 1921, imprisoned and sentenced to death for the murder of an RIC district inspector in the shooting at Anne Martin’s street in January 1921.

In June 1921, Henry Wilson, the British Chief of the General Staff (CIGS), is petitioned for clemency by Mac Eoin’s mother, his brother Jemmy, and the local Church of Ireland vicar, but passes on the appeals out of respect for the latter two individuals. Three auxiliaries had already given character references on his behalf after he had treated them chivalrously at the Clonfin Ambush in February 1921. However, Nevil Macready, British Commander-in-Chief, Ireland, confirms the death sentence describing Mac Eoin as “nothing more than a murderer.”

While imprisoned 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 Michael Collins threatens to break off treaty negotiations with the British government unless they are freed.

Mac Eoin joins the National Army and is appointed GOC Western Command in June 1922. His military career soars after the Irish Civil War. He is appointed GOC Curragh Training Camp in August 1925, Quartermaster General in March 1927, and Chief of Staff in February 1929.

Mac Eoin resigns from the Army in 1929, and is elected at a by-election to Dáil Éireann for the Leitrim–Sligo constituency, representing Cumann na nGaedheal. At the 1932 Irish general election, he returns to the constituency of Longford–Westmeath, and continues to serve the Longford area as TD until he is defeated at the 1965 Irish general election.

During a long political career Mac Eoin serves as Minister for Justice (February 1948 – March 1951) and Minister for Defence (March–June 1951) in the First Inter-Party Government, and again as Minister for Defence (June 1954 – March 1957) in the Second Inter-Party Government. He unsuccessfully stands twice as candidate for the office of President of Ireland, against Seán T. O’Kelly in 1945 and Éamon de Valera in 1959.

Mac Eoin retires from public life after the 1965 general election and dies in Dublin on July 7, 1973.


Leave a comment

Birth of Dennis Taylor, Northern Irish Snooker Player

Dennis Taylor, former professional snooker player and commentator, is born on January 19, 1949 in Coalisland, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland. He is most well known for winning the 1985 World Snooker Championship, where he defeats Steve Davis with the final ball of the 35th frame in the final to seal an 18-17 win. During his playing career he wears distinctive specially designed glasses manufactured for snooker, often described as looking upside-down, giving him a unique look on the circuit.

Taylor is the son of a lorry driver and has six siblings. As an amateur, he wins the 1968 British Junior Billiards Championship. He turns professional in 1972. That season he makes his debut in the World Snooker Championship debut in the 1973 event, losing 8–9 to Cliff Thorburn in the first round. Over the next few years, he reaches the semi-finals at the event in 1975 and 1977. Two years later he reaches the 1979 final, but loses 16–24 to qualifier Terry Griffiths. He reaches his highest world ranking for the following season, second behind Steve Davis.

Taylor reaches the semi-final for a third time in 1984, losing to Davis. His mother dies as he is beginning the new season at the 1984 Jameson International Open. He retires from the event before his quarter-final match against Silvino Francisco. However, he wins the first ranking event of his career at the 1984 Rothmans Grand Prix later that year defeating Thorburn 10–2 in the final.

Following his first ranking tournament victory, Taylor, seeded 11th, plays in the 1985 World Championship and reaches the final. In the final, he plays three-time winner and world number one Steve Davis. Never being ahead, he takes the match to a deciding frame with the scores tied at 17–17. Trailing 62–44 in the deciding frame with five coloured balls remaining, he pots a long brown ball, which he says is one of his best ever shots under pressure. He also pots the blue and pink to bring the score to 62–59 with one ball, worth seven points, remaining. Both players miss a shot on the black, but it is finally potted by Taylor to win the championship.

The final is considered by many to be the greatest snooker match in history and is broadcast to a peak audience of 18 million viewers in the United Kingdom. As of 2020 this is the highest viewership of any broadcast after midnight in the country, and a record for any programme shown on BBC Two. On his return to Northern Ireland, he is awarded the key to the city of Coalisland and receives a victory parade that 10,000 attend.

After the World Championship success, Taylor wins the invitational 1987 Benson & Hedges Masters defeating Alex Higgins 9–8 in the final. He makes the highest break of his career, a 141, at the 1987 Carling Challenge, which he wins defeating Joe Johnson in the final.

At the 1990 Snooker World Cup, Taylor teams with Alex Higgins and Tommy Murphy to form a Northern Irish team. After failing to win the tournament, Higgins threatens Taylor saying, “if you ever come back to Northern Ireland I’ll have you shot.” Shortly afterwards they meet in the quarter-finals of the 1990 Irish Masters, and a determined Taylor wins 5–2. In the next decade, his form drops and he falls out of the top 16 in the world rankings in 1995. He retires as a professional in 2000.

Following the end of his professional career, Taylor plays on the WPBSA World Seniors Tour and is featured as a commentator on BBC snooker broadcasts. He appears on the third series of Strictly Come Dancing, finishing eighth alongside dance partner Izabela Hannah. He currently lives in Llay near Wrexham, Wales.


Leave a comment

The Murders of Patrick & Harry Loughnane

Brothers Patrick and Harry Loughnane, both members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), are abducted and killed by Black and Tans at Kinvara, County Galway on November 26, 1920.

County Galway sees its share of controversial incidents during the Irish War of Independence. Most of these incidents are carried out by Crown Forces, specifically the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) and a new force, the Auxiliaries, created in order to help the RIC in dealing with militant republicanism.

Patrick Loughnane, aged 29, is a local IRA leader and Sinn Féin secretary. He was also active in the local Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA). His younger brother Harry, aged 22, is president of the local Sinn Féin club and a goalkeeper with Beagh Hurling Club.

While working on the family farm in Shanaglish, County Galway, the two brothers are arrested by the Auxiliaries. Not a word is heard from the boys until a week after their arrest when a group of Auxiliaries call Mrs. Loughnane to inform her that her sons had escaped capture. This raises fear and suspicion among the brothers’ family and friends and a search is organised. Ten days after they had been arrested, their bodies are found in a muddy pond near Ardrahan.

Exactly what happened to the two brothers will never be known, however, witnesses, including others arrested at the same time tell a tale of merciless brutality. After being arrested the brothers are beaten for hours in Gort Bridewell and then tied to the tailgate of a lorry, bound to each other, and dragged along the roads to Drumharsna Castle, the headquarters of the Black and Tans, where they are beaten again. At 11:00 PM that night they are taken from Drumharsna Castle to Moy O’Hynes wood where they are shot. Witnesses recount on Saturday morning, Harry is still alive and is heard moaning. On Sunday morning, the Auxiliaries take the bodies to Umbriste near Ardrahan where they are set on fire. After failing to bury the bodies because of the rocky ground they throw them into a muddy pond and, to make their discovery more difficult, throw dirty oil into the water.

After the bodies are discovered they are examined by a local doctor. The letters “IV” are carved into the charred flesh in several places, two of Harry’s fingers are missing, his right arm is broken and hung over his shoulder. Both of Patrick’s legs and wrists are broken. The doctor believes it possible that hand grenades had been put into their mouths and exploded.

A memorial to the two brothers is later built on the spot where they died.

(From: Stair na hÉireann | History of Ireland, http://www.stairnaheireann.net)


Leave a comment

The Piltown Cross Ambush

Irish Republican Army (IRA) fighters from West Waterford, under Column O/C George Lennon, ambush a British army patrol at Piltown (Kinsalebeg), County Waterford, on November 1, 1920 during the Irish War of Independence. Two soldiers are killed, six wounded, and thirty captured although those captured are later released. Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) Constable Maurice Prendiville promises to leave the RIC but is fatally shot the following month at the Youghal Bridge.

Involved is the IRA West Waterford Brigade, specifically the newly formed Deise Flying Column under O/C Lennon of Dungarvan, as well as Volunteers from the local Ardmore battalion. Returned Great War veteran John Riordan plans the successful engagement involving a feint attack on the RIC barracks in Ardmore.

The British garrison in Youghal subsequently dispatches nearly twenty troops in a single lorry. They are ambushed at Kinsalebeg and suffer two dead and six wounded. The ambush results in the capture of several rifles and a large quantity of ammunition which are used to equip the flying column. Captured are RIC constables O’Neill and Prendiville who give their word that they will resign. Prendiville is subsequently killed from a shot from the Waterford side of the Youghal Bridge.

(Pictured: Piltown Cross Ambush Memorial unveiled in 2008)


Leave a comment

The Sack of Balbriggan

The tragic events of the sack of Balbriggan, County Dublin by Black And Tans on September 20, 1920 have left an unforgettable memory on the town.

Peter Burke, the Head Constable of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC), is accompanied by his brother William, a Sergeant, as they enter Smyth’s pub (now the Millrace Pub) for a drink. There are confusing accounts of what transpires there but shortly afterwards Burke is shot dead and his brother is seriously wounded.

Word quickly reaches Gormanston Camp where the Black and Tans are stationed. A large body of them arrive a short time later in two or three lorries, firing indiscriminately in the streets. They station their vehicles outside the barracks on Bridge Street. They also burn twenty houses and many families spend several nights sleeping outdoors in fear for their lives.

The Black and Tans loot the business of John Derham, a local Town Commissioner, on corner of Bridge Street and Clonard Street and they burn several local businesses and several houses including eight cottages on Clonard Street, known locally as Sinn Féin Alley.

Several licensed premises are also destroyed including Landy’s and the Gladstone Inn, now Harvest Pub and Milestone Inn. The Black and Tans are set on destroying the premises of Smyth and Co. on Railway Street however they burn down another factory, Balbriggan Sea Mills, built by the English company, Deeds Templar. Only the factory chimney remains.

Several locals are dragged into the barracks for questioning and two are murdered, Seamus Lawless, a local barber, and Sean Gibbons, a dairy farmer. A plaque on Bridge Street commemorates them. Both are buried in Balscadden cemetery. Peter Burke is buried in Glenamaddy, County Galway.

Fulham Terrace has been named in honour of the bravery of Dr. Fulham on the night along with the names given to Lawless and Gibbons Terrace in the town.

(From: “The Sack of Balbriggan, 20th September 1920,” http://www.balbriggan.info, February 20, 2020)


Leave a comment

The Dromcollogher Burning

drumcollogher-cinema-fireForty-eight people die when a fire breaks out in a make-shift cinema on the upper floor of the village hall in Dromcollagher, County Limerick, on September 5, 1926.

The conversion of village halls into makeshift cinemas is a common practice in many rural villages in Ireland, right up to the 1940s. Prints are often borrowed from cinemas in larger towns or in Cork city, and then bicycled over to smaller venues (sometimes surreptitiously).

During the Irish Free State period (1922-1937), the exhibition of films is still governed by legislation put in place by the British government in 1909. The Cinematograph Act 1909 stipulates that cinema owners must apply for a license to screen films, and that venues must observe strict safety standards. Such standards include encasing projectors in fireproof booths, ensuring that the highly-unstable nitrate film, then the industry standard, be properly stored and handled, and fitting out venues with several fire exits. The regulations are generally observed by established cinemas but they are often ignored by operators of ad hoc venues/makeshift conversions.

The consequences of such indifference to patron safety are tragically realized in the small town of Dromcollogher in West Limerick in 1926. Situated a few miles from the County Cork border, its population is around 500 at the time, hardly enough to sustain a full-time cinema. However, local hackney driver, William Forde, identifies a business opportunity that seems too good to pass up. Through a contact, Patrick Downey, who works as a projectionist in Cork city’s Assembly Rooms cinema, he arranges for a print of Cecil B. DeMille’s Biblical epic The Ten Commandments to be bicycled over for an unofficial one-off screening.

Forde rents the upstairs room of a venue on Church Street, later described by the Leinster Express as a wooden two-story structure, and advertises his evening’s entertainment. He finds a readymade audience among the churchgoers that come out of the service in the adjacent Catholic Church and straight into the hall, many with their rosary beads still entwined in their hands. It is estimated that 150 people crowd into the room and ascend the ladder to the upstairs room. Though Forde has been informed by one local Garda that he cannot run a screening unless the venue is equipped with fire blankets and exits, he and Downey disregard the advice and, in a bid to reduce the weight for the cyclist bringing the reels from Cork, instruct that the fireproof metal cases be left behind in the city.

A generator hooked up to a lorry is used to power the borrowed projector, and candles to illuminate the makeshift box-office. It is one of those candles, placed in close proximity to an exposed film reel, which sparks off a series of small fires that quickly developed into an inferno. Some of those seated closest to the main exit manage to escape, but those nearer the screen find themselves trapped and iron bars that had been placed on the few windows in the hall windows seal their fate. Whole families are wiped out and the final death toll comes to 48. As newspapers of the time report, 1/10th of the town’s population is lost.

Newspapers around the world carry reports of the tragedy and a relief fund is set up for the survivors with Hollywood star Will Rogers being one of the contributors. President of the Executive Council of the Irish Free State William T. Cosgrave later travels to the town to attend the mass funeral service held for the victims.

As for Forde and Downey, they are later charged with manslaughter but the State chooses not to pursue the prosecutions. Forde apparently later immigrates to Australia and possibly accidentally poisons himself, and two others, while working as a cook in the Outback.

The “Dromcollogher Burning”, as it becomes known, holds the dubious honour of Ireland’s worst cinema fire. Sadly, it is not the last time safety regulations are disregarded in an entertainment venue: 75 years later the devastating Stardust Nightclub fire in Dublin also claims the lives of 48 patrons.

(From: “The Dromcollogher Cinema Fire,” http://www.corkmoviememories.com | Image Source: National Library of Ireland)