seamus dubhghaill

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


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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)


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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)


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The Grange Ambush

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

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

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

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

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

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


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The Rineen Ambush

File source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Rineen_Monument.JPGThe Rineen ambush is carried out by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) on September 22, 1920, during the Irish War of Independence. It takes place at Drummin Hill in the townland of Drummin, near the hamlet of Rineen, County Clare.

The Volunteers in County Clare have been active since 1917 and by late 1920 have forced the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) to abandon most of its small rural barracks in the county. This gives the IRA greater freedom to move in the countryside. In August 1920, the RIC are reinforced by the British deployment of Black and Tans and Auxiliaries to the county. Five RIC men, eleven IRA volunteers and four civilians have been killed in County Clare during the two years before the ambush.

The Rineen Ambush is ordered by the leadership of the IRA’s Mid-Clare Brigade, who had noticed that a RIC lorry travels every week on the Ennistymon to Milltown Malbay road. John Joe Neylon, leader of the local IRA battalion, is put in charge, although the actual attack is led by Ignatius O’Neill, the Officer Commanding. He is a veteran of World War I who had formerly fought with the Irish Guards. The ambush party has only nine rifles and some grenades, the remainder being armed with shotguns or handguns. They prepare to attack the lorry from a railway bridge that overlooks the road at Rineen.

As the IRA party is lying in wait, Alan Lendrum, the local resident magistrate, drives unwittingly into a roadblock of the IRA’s West Clare Brigade, in an unrelated action. He is stopped at a railway crossing at Caherfeenick near Doonbeg. When the IRA demand he surrender his car, he draws an automatic pistol and the IRA men shoot him twice in the head, fatally wounding him. The IRA weights his body with stones and dumps it in a nearby lake. Even though the British Military inquest establishes that Lendrum had died of gunshot wounds, members of the RIC in Clare spread a false version of events and claim that Lendrum had died of drowning.

Although in strict military sense not related to the ambush, it has serious consequences for the ambush. It is quite quickly noticed that the magistrate is missing and the military in Ennistymon decide to send out a search party of ten lorries of soldiers.

The RIC lorry passes safely through the ambush position, travelling from Ennistymon to Milltown Malbay, due to some confusion among the IRA over the numbers they face. However when they learn that there is only one lorry, it is attacked on its return journey from Milltown Malbay. The lorry is hit by a grenade and blasted at close range by rifle and shotgun fire. The shooting is over in seconds, with five out of the six RIC men being killed outright. The sixth man manages to run about 300 yards before being shot dead. Five of the dead are Irish RIC officers and one is an English Black and Tan. The IRA take their weapons and burn the lorry.

Not long after the lorry has been set ablaze, the ten-lorry search party arrives on the scene. A running fight develops, as four IRA riflemen keep the troops at bay while the other volunteers make their escape. Two IRA volunteers and several British soldiers are wounded in the firing. Padraic O’Farrell lists the casualties as three British soldiers killed, but this is not confirmed by the other sources.

The British forces, enraged by the ambush and the escape of the IRA force, take out reprisals on civilians in the surrounding area. Immediately after the action ends, they burn the house and farm of the O’Gorman family and shoot a local farmer, Sean Keane, who later dies of his wounds.

That night, a mixed force of police and soldiers raid the Lahinch home of Dan Lehane, whose two sons had taken part in the ambush. They shoot him dead and burn his house. Patrick Lehane, who is hiding in the attic, perishes in the blaze. Several other houses are burned in Lahinch and a further eight are razed in Milltown Malbay. A separate RIC raid takes place in Ennistymon, in which several homes and businesses are burned.

In what may have been a belated reprisal for the ambush, four IRA men are arrested by the Auxiliaries at Killaloe on November 16, beaten, interrogated and then shot dead. Another two are summarily executed in the same manner on December 22 at Kilkee.

The reprisals are condemned in the British, Irish and international press. In the House of Commons, the British Labour Party tables a resolution condemning the reprisals and calling for an investigation. This is defeated by 346 votes to 79. Hamar Greenwood, the Chief Secretary for Ireland, defends the State Forces’ actions, saying that the houses destroyed were those of “notorious Sinn Féiners…I am convinced that the people of those two villages knew of this ambush.”

In Clare itself, according to IRA man Anthony Malone, the ambush has two effects. One is that the RIC becomes careful to travel in convoys of no less than three lorries. The other is that, as a result of the reprisals, the civilian population becomes embittered against the British and adopt a more defiant attitude to the British military and Black and Tans.

The death of Resident Magistrate Alan Lendrum, however, according to pro-republican Catholic priest Sean Gaynor, “was not to our credit.” On October 1, the local IRA remove Lendrum’s body from the lake, put it in a roughly constructed coffin and leave it on the railway tracks at Craggaknock railway station for British forces to find.

(Pictured: Monument for the attack at Rineen during the Irish War of Independence, designed by Walter Kiernan)


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The Rathcoole Ambush

rathcoole-ambush-monumentThe Rathcoole Ambush, one of the largest ambushes of the Irish War of Independence, takes place at Rathcoole, County Cork on June 16, 1921.

The railway line between Banteer and Millstreet had been cut in several places so the British Auxiliary forces based at Millstreet have to travel to Banteer by road for their supplies twice a week. As a result, a combined force of 130 Irish Republican Army (IRA) volunteers from the Millstreet, Kanturk, Newmarket, Charleville and Mallow battalion columns are mobilised to attack the Auxiliaries as they return from Banteer. The volunteers are under the command of Paddy O’Brien from Liscarroll.

On the night before the ambush the IRA volunteers sleep at Rathcoole Wood, which overlooks the planned ambush position. Shortly after sunrise the following morning, Captain Dan Vaughan lays six land mines on the untarred road and covers them with dust. After a wait of several hours a convoy of four armour-plated lorries, each mounted with a machine gun and carrying ten men, is observed heading for Banteer.

The volunteers prepare themselves and at 6:20 in the evening, as the lorries pass through the ambush area on their return journey, three of the land mines explode with devastating results. One mine detonates as the last of the four lorries drives over it and another explodes under the leading lorry in the convoy. Both vehicles are out of action with the two other lorries trapped between them. A third mine explodes amid a party of Auxiliaries as they attempted to outflank the position. A bitter firefight develops. Each time Auxiliaries attempt to outflank the IRA they are driven back, suffering losses of more than twenty dead and over a dozen wounded.

When it becomes clear that the IRA cannot achieve a complete victory because of their limited ammunition supply, the order for withdrawal is given and the whole force retires without a single casualty. Although no arms are captured during the action, a reconnaissance party from the column returns the next day to search the ambush position and recovers 1,350 rounds of ammunition which the Auxiliaries had left behind them as they removed their dead and wounded.

The ambush at Rathcoole is one of the Irish Republican Army’s most successful actions during the War of Independence. A week after the ambush, British Forces from Kanturk, Buttevant, Ballyvonaire, Macroom, Ballincollig, Killarney and Tralee carry out a widespread search throughout the Rathcoole area. Michael Dineen, a Volunteer in Kilcorney Company is taken from his brother’s house at Ivale by a party of Auxiliaries and shot dead. On the evening of July 1, the Auxiliaries set fire to and destroy the wood at Rathcoole from where the ambush had been launched. That same day that they shoot and kill a local man, Bernard Moynihan, as he is out cutting hay.

(Pictured: Monument at the site of the Rathcoole Ambush)


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The Clonbanin Ambush

*The Irish Republican Army (IRA) ambush a British Army convoy near the townland of Clonbanin, County Cork on March 5, 1921, during the Irish War of Independence.

The IRA force is comprised of almost 100 volunteers from counties Cork and Kerry, armed with rifles, hand grenades and a machine gun. Their target is a British Army convoy of three lorries, an armoured car and a touring car carrying Brigadier General Hanway Robert Cumming. The convoy is travelling from Killarney to Buttevant and comprises almost 40 soldiers of the East Lancashire Regiment.

When the convoy enters the ambush position, IRA volunteers open fire from elevated positions on both sides of the road. The three lorries and touring car are disabled, and the armoured car becomes stuck in the roadside ditch, although those inside continue to fire its machine guns. As Cumming jumps from his car, he is shot in the head and dies instantly. He is one of the highest ranked British officers to die in the Irish War of Independence.

The battle lasts slightly over an hour. As the IRA forces withdraw from one side of the road, a British officer and six soldiers attempted to flank the IRA on the other side. After a brief exchange of fire they retreat.

The IRA are not believed to have sustained any casualties.

(Pictured: Two British officers surnamed Lawson and Adams with Brigadier General H. R. Cumming in Kenmare County Kerry shortly before their deaths at the hands of the IRA in 1921)


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The 1921 Drumcondra Ambush

tolka-bridge-drumcondraAn encounter between eight young Irish Republican Army (IRA) volunteers and a large body of the Black and Tans takes place at Tolka Bridge in Drumcondra on January 21, 1921 during the Irish War of Independence.

On Friday, January 21, 1921, eight men from the 1st Battalion IRA, set out to stage an ambush at Binn’s Bridge on Lower Drumcondra Road. The plan is to attack a Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) patrol which uses the road to travel from their base at Gormanston, County Meath, near Drogheda.

Led by Lieutenant Francis “Frank” Flood (19), Michael Francis ‘Mick’ Magee (24) Patrick Doyle (29), Thomas Bryan (24), Bernard ‘Bertie’ Ryan (21) and Dermott O’Sullivan (17) set off at 8:30 AM for Binn’s Bridge. They are to ambush RIC Auxiliaries (Black and Tans) travelling into Dublin from Gormanston. However, the Auxiliaries do not arrive. The witness statement of Harry Colley, former Adjutant, IRA Dublin Brigade 1920-21, says “they had actually been sent to carry out the ambush at Binn’s Bridge, but for some reason of their own, when they reached the position, moved up beyond Tolka Bridge, to Clonturk Park.” According to Dermott O’Sullivan, the only survivor, when it appears that the Black and Tans will not be coming their way, the party leaves the Binn’s Bridge site and heads to Tolka Bridge in Drumcondra.

However, the police receive a tip-off from Sergeant Singleton of the Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP). It is also said, that as the British army unit is approaching the bridge over the River Tolka in Drumcondra, they are warned by a man by the name Robert Pike from Tolka Cottages.

The ambushers commence an attack upon two lorries of RIC constables, who return fire until the vehicles are able to accelerate out of range. Then the Black and Tans arrive in motor lorries and an armored car at the rear of their position to cut off their escape. Some volunteers manage to dash across fields to safety but others are arrested as they attempted to seek refuge in houses in the vicinity. All of the prisoners are found in possession of revolvers and ammunition, and Frank Flood is also found to have a grenade in his pocket.

In an attempt to escape the Auxiliaries, Michael Magee and Séan Burke run across a field of garden allotments in Clonturk Park. The Auxiliaries shoot Magee, mortally wounding him in the legs and lower torso. Magee is captured but soon dies of his wounds.

So at the end of the day, of the eight men involved in the action at Drumcondra, two men, Burke and Dunne, escape the scene. The five remaining, Frank Flood, Thomas Bryan, Bernard Ryan, Patrick Doyle and Dermot O’Sullivan are captured and Magee dies of his wounds. The captives are tried by a court-martial that lasts two days. All of the accused are convicted of High Treason and sentenced to death.

On March 14, 1921, all of the men, save Dermot O’Sullivan, are hanged at Mountjoy Prison. Citing his age of only 17 years, the British commute O’Sullivan’s sentence to life in prison. He is released from Portland Gaol at the end of August 1921.


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The Kilmichael Ambush

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERAThe Kilmichael Ambush is carried out near the village of Kilmichael in County Cork on November 28, 1920 by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) during the Irish War of Independence. Thirty-six local IRA volunteers commanded by Tom Barry kill seventeen members of the Royal Irish Constabulary‘s Auxiliary Division. The Kilmichael ambush is politically as well as militarily significant. It occurs one week after Bloody Sunday, marking an escalation in the IRA’s campaign.

As dusk falls the ambush takes place on a road at Dus a’ Bharraigh in the townland of Shanacashel, Kilmichael Parish, near Macroom.

Just before the Auxiliaries in two lorries come into view, two armed IRA volunteers, responding late to Barry’s mobilisation order, drive unwittingly into the ambush position in a horse and side-car, almost shielding the British forces behind them. Barry manages to avert disaster by directing the car up a side road and out of the way. The Auxiliaries’ first lorry is persuaded to slow down by the sight of Barry placing himself on the road in front of a concealed Command Post, wearing an IRA officer’s tunic given to him by Paddy O’Brien. Concealed on the south side of the road are six riflemen, whose instructions are to prevent the enemy taking up positions on that side. Another six riflemen are positioned some way off as an insurance group, should a third Auxiliary lorry appear.

The first lorry, containing nine Auxiliaries, slows almost to a halt close to their intended ambush position, at which point Barry gives the order to fire. He throws a Mills bomb that explodes in the open cab of the first lorry. A savage close-quarter fight ensues. According to Barry’s account, some of the British are killed using rifle butts and bayonets in a brutal and bloody encounter. This part of the engagement is over relatively quickly with all nine Auxiliaries dead or dying.

While this part of the fight is going on, a second lorry also containing nine Auxiliaries has driven into the ambush position. This lorry’s occupants, at a more advantageous position than Auxiliaries in the first lorry because of their distance from the ambushing group, dismount to the road and exchange fire with the IRA, killing Michael McCarthy. Barry then brings the Command Post soldiers who had completed the attack on the first lorry to bear on this group. Barry claimed these Auxiliaries called out a surrender and that some dropped their rifles, but opened fire again with revolvers when three IRA men emerged from cover, killing volunteer Jim O’Sullivan instantly and mortally wounding Pat Deasy. Barry then orders his men to open fire and not stop until told to do so. Barry ignores a subsequent attempt by remaining Auxiliaries to surrender, and keeps his men firing until he believes all the Auxiliaries are dead.

At the conclusion of the fight it is observed that two IRA volunteers, Michael McCarthy and Jim O’Sullivan, are dead and that Pat Deasy, brother of Liam Deasy, is mortally wounded. Although the IRA fighters think they had killed all of the Auxiliaries, two actually survive, one very badly injured and another who escapes and is later captured and shot dead. Among the 16 British dead on the road at Kilmichael is Francis Crake, commander of the Auxiliaries in Macroom, probably killed at the start of the action by Barry’s Mills bomb.

Many IRA volunteers are deeply shaken by the severity of the action, referred to by Barry as “the bloodiest in Ireland,” and some are physically sick. Barry attempts to restore discipline by making them form-up and perform drill, before marching away. Barry himself collapses with severe chest pains on December 3 and is secretly hospitalized in Cork. It is possible that the ongoing stress of being on the run and commander of the flying column, along with a poor diet as well as the intense combat at Kilmichael contribute to his illness, diagnosed as heart displacement.

The political fallout from the Kilmichael ambush outweighs its military significance. While the British forces in Ireland can easily absorb 18 casualties, the fact that the IRA had been able to wipe out a whole patrol of elite Auxiliaries is for them deeply shocking. The British forces in the West Cork area take their revenge on the local population by burning several houses, shops and barns in Kilmichael, Johnstown and Inchigeelagh, including all of the houses around the ambush site. On December 3, three IRA volunteers are arrested by the British Essex Regiment in Bandon, beaten and killed, and their bodies dumped on the roadside.

For the British government, the action at Kilmichael is an indication that the violence in Ireland is escalating. Shortly after the ambush, barriers are placed on either end of Downing Street to protect the Prime Minister‘s office from IRA attacks. On December 10, as a result of Kilmichael, martial law is declared for the counties of Cork, Kerry, Limerick and Tipperary.

The British military now has the power to execute anyone found carrying arms and ammunition, to search houses, impose curfews, try suspects in military rather than civilian courts and to intern suspects without trial. On December 11, in reprisal for Kilmichael and other IRA actions, the centre of Cork city is burned by Auxiliaries, British soldiers and Black and Tans, and two IRA men are assassinated in their beds. In separate proclamations shortly afterwards, the authorities sanction “official reprisals” against suspected Sinn Féin sympathisers and the use of hostages in military convoys to deter ambushes.

(Pictured: The Kilmichael Ambush Monument at the ambush site)