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


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The Knocklong Ambush

Dan Breen and Seán Treacy rescue their comrade Seán Hogan from a Dublin-Cork train at Knocklong, County Limerick, on May 13, 1919, in what becomes known as the Knocklong Ambush. Two policemen guarding Hogan are killed.

One of the most famous photographs (left) of the Irish War of Independence (1919-21) is taken at Breen’s wedding in June 1921. Breen is already burnishing his reputation as the romantic guerilla campaigner three years before the publication of his bestselling autobiography My Fight for Irish Freedom. On his lap there is a Luger pistol, an incongruity in a wedding photograph, but in keeping with his penchant for self-mythologising. In the background on the left is his best man Hogan who is dressed in the uniform of the Irish Volunteers. Unlike Breen, he looks shy and awkward, his body tilted as if to convey how ill at ease with himself he is.

Had Hogan shown the same diffidence in May 1919, he might have saved himself and his comrades a great deal of trouble. He is the youngest of those involved in the Soloheadbeg ambush on January 21, 1919, the event that is viewed in retrospect as the event that starts the Irish War of Independence.

Hogan is only 18, according to most reports, but to date no birth certificate has been found for him. His youth may explain his lack of caution in early May 1919 when he slips his minder after a dance in Kilshenane, County Tipperary, and ends up, not in the arms of his sweetheart Bridie O’Keeffe, but in the embrace of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC). He escorts O’Keeffe back to her relative’s farmhouse where she is spending the night. He sleeps on the sofa. When he wakes up, the house is surrounded. He flees, but is picked up by the RIC in a laneway near the house. He, along with the others involved in the Soloheadbeg ambush, are the most wanted men in Ireland. He faces interrogation and possible execution.

The Knocklong ambush, which occurs on May 13, 1919, saves Hogan from such a fate, but it comes at a terrible price for all those involved. He is put on the 6:00 p.m. train from Thurles to Cork where he is due to be interrogated in the military prison. Knocklong Station, just over the border in County Limerick, is chosen as the place for the escape attempt because of its distance from the nearest RIC barracks.

Four volunteers of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) East Limerick Brigade get on the train at Emly in order to signal to the men waiting at Knocklong Station the carriage in which Hogan is being detained. He is being escorted to Cork by four RIC men. They face five volunteers, three of whom are armed. A ferocious gun battle ensues, lasting 14 minutes. Constable Michael Enright (30), from Ballyneety, County Limerick, is shot dead immediately.

Sgt. Peter Wallace and Treacy, another of those involved at Soloheadbeg, wrestle over Treacy’s gun. Wallace, who is a huge man, shoots Treacy in the throat before the gun is turned on Wallace, who later dies from his wounds. Hogan smashes his mangled chains in the head of another of his armed guards who is then thrown out of the window of the train. The last remaining guard picks up a rifle and opens fire on the IRA party through the carriage window wounding three volunteers waiting on the platform, including Breen. Hogan is taken immediately to a butcher’s shop where his chains are smashed with a cleaver, setting him free.

Knocklong becomes an exalted event in the iconography of Irish republicanism. At Soloheadbeg, eight armed and ready volunteers faced two unwary policemen. It was not a fair fight. Hogan’s rescue from the train at Knocklong demands organisation, courage and daring of the highest order.

Hogan continues to serve in the Irish War of Independence and on the anti-Treaty side in the Irish Civil War (1922-23). By the time hostilities cease in 1923, he is only 23, but has spent the previous five years in armed combat. The toll on his mind and body are huge. In 1924, he is admitted to St. Bricin’s Military Hospital suffering from “attacks of restlessness and depression – inability to concentrate his mind on anything.” His wife at the time, Christina, runs a nursing home in Tipperary, where her patients include many shellshocked Irish veterans of World War I. The couple later separates.

Hogan’s fortunes change with the change of government in 1932 bringing to power Fianna Fáil, a party which Hogan supports. He is given a job in the Board of Works, but his mental health continues to deteriorate. He complains of the “nerves and all the ailments that go with them.” His circumstances are such that he spends two years living in the family home of Séumas Robinson, the officer commanding at Soloheadbeg.

In early 2019, Robinson’s daughter, Dimphne Brennan, tells The Irish Times, “He had nowhere else to go. He never got over what happened. His nerves were shattered. We were all just kids and we didn’t disturb him in his room. He didn’t talk to us.”

Hogan dies on Christmas Eve 1968 from a cerebral hemorrhage and chronic bronchitis. At the funeral reception, his estranged widow supposedly tells a niece of Hogan, “Well, but wasn’t that some waste of a life.”

Hogan and Christina are buried 50 paces from each other in St. Michael’s Cemetery in Tipperary, divided in death as they were in life. Seán Hogan: His Life: A Troubled Journey, by John Connors, is published by Tipp Revolution.

(From: “Knocklong ambush, on May 13th, 1919 involved a 14-minute gun battle” by Ronan McGreevy, The Irish Times, http://www.irishtimes.com, May 20, 2019)


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The Hanging of IRA Soldier Kevin Barry

Kevin Gerard Barry, an 18-year-old Irish Republican Army (IRA) soldier, is executed by the British Government on November 1, 1920, during the Irish War of Independence. He is sentenced to death for his part in an attack upon a British Army supply lorry which results in the deaths of three British soldiers.

Barry’s execution inflames nationalist public opinion in Ireland, largely because of his age. The timing of the execution, only seven days after the death by hunger strike of Terence MacSwiney, the republican Lord Mayor of Cork, brings public opinion to a fever-pitch. His pending death sentence attracts international attention, and attempts are made by United States and Vatican officials to secure a reprieve. His execution and MacSwiney’s death precipitate an escalation in violence as the Irish War of Independence enters its bloodiest phase, and Barry becomes an Irish republican martyr.

Barry is born on January 20, 1902, at 8 Fleet Street, Dublin, to Thomas and Mary (née Dowling) Barry. The fourth of seven children, two boys and five sisters, he is baptised in St. Andrew’s Church, Westland Row. As a child he attends the National School in Rathvilly, County Carlow, and the O’Connell Schools in Dublin, before enrolling in the Preparatory Grade at St. Mary’s College, Dublin, in September 1915. He remains at that school until May 31, 1916 when it is closed by its clerical sponsors. With the closure of St. Mary’s College, he transfers to Belvedere College, a Jesuit school in Dublin.

In October 1917, during his second year at Belvedere, Barry joins Company C, 1st Battalion of the Dublin Brigade of the Irish Volunteers. When Company C is later reorganized he is reassigned to the newly formed Company H, under the command of Captain Seamus Kavanagh. The following year he is introduced by Seán O’Neill and Bob O’Flanagan to the Clarke Luby Club of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), and at some point in time he is sworn as a member of this secret society which is led by Michael Collins.

Two Dublin Volunteers notice that a British army lorry guarded by an armed party of soldiers makes twice weekly trips to Monk’s Bakery on Church Street to obtain bread. Based on these observations, John Joe Carroll of Company H conducts a reconnaissance of the bakery. In addition to its main entrance on Church Street, he observes that the bakery yard is also accessible by a corridor leading from a shop on North King Street. He concludes that this makes the bakery an attractive site for an ambush.

On the morning of September 20, 1920, Barry goes to Mass, then joins a party of IRA volunteers on Bolton Street in Dublin. Their orders are to ambush a British army lorry as it picks up a delivery of bread from the bakery, and capture their weapons. The ambush is scheduled for 11:00 AM, which gives him enough time to take part in the operation and return to class in time for an examination he has at 2:00 PM. The truck arrives late, and is under the command of Sergeant Banks.

Armed with a .38 Mauser Parabellum, Barry and members of C Company are to surround the lorry, disarm the soldiers, take the weapons and escape. He covers the back of the vehicle and, when challenged, the five soldiers comply with the order to lay down their weapons. A shot is then fired, possibly a warning shot from an uncovered soldier in the front. Barry and the rest of the ambush party then open fire. His gun jams twice and he dives for cover under the vehicle. His comrades flee and he is left behind. He is then spotted and arrested by the soldiers. One soldier is killed and two other later die of their wounds.

The War Office orders that Barry be tried by court-martial under the Restoration of Order in Ireland Act 1920, which received royal assent on August 9, 1920. Barry is charged on three counts of the murder of Private Marshall Whitehead. In accordance with military procedure the verdict is not announced in court. He is returned to Mountjoy Prison. Later that night the district court-martial officer enters his cell and reads out the sentence: death by hanging. The public learns on October 28 that the date of execution has been fixed for November 1.

Barry is hanged on November 1, 1920, after hearing two Masses in his cell. Canon Waters, who walks with him to the scaffold, writes to Barry’s mother later, “You are the mother, my dear Mrs. Barry, of one of the bravest and best boys I have ever known. His death was one of the most holy, and your dear boy is waiting for you now, beyond the reach of sorrow or trial.”

Barry’s body is buried at 1:30 PM, in a plot near the women’s prison. His comrade and fellow-student Frank Flood is buried alongside him four months later. A plain cross marks their graves and those of Patrick Moran, Thomas Whelan, Thomas Traynor, Patrick Doyle, Thomas Bryan, Bernard Ryan, Edmond Foley and Patrick Maher who are hanged in the same prison before the Anglo-Irish Treaty of July 1921 which ends hostilities between Irish republicans and the British. The men are buried in unconsecrated ground on the jail property and their graves are unidentified until 1934. They become known as the Forgotten Ten by republicans campaigning for the bodies to be reburied with honour and proper rites. On October 14, 2001, the remains of these ten men are given a state funeral and moved from Mountjoy Prison to be re-interred at Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin.