seamus dubhghaill

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


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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 Battle of Mount Street Bridge

mount-street-bridgeSome of the bloodiest fighting of the 1916 Easter Rising occurs one hundred years ago today during the Battle of Mount Street Bridge on Wednesday, April 26, 1916.

Some of the rebel positions in Dublin are isolated and are bombarded from a distance. They barely see a British soldier during the six days of the Rising. The fighting is much more bloody when the British assault Volunteer positions dominating the routes into the city. In such instances, street fighting, snipers, and sudden close range cross-fires are prevalent. This happens mainly at three locations, Mount Street Bridge, South Dublin Union/Marrowbone Lane, and North King Street.

At Mount Street, on the approach to the city centre from the port at Kingstown, now known as Dun Laoghaire, a Volunteer outpost manned by only 17 men under the command of Lieutenant Michael Malone and armed with rifles and hand guns, faces the frontal assault of a reinforcement column of British troops.

The reinforcement column meets its first resistance when it pauses at Carisbrook House. They respond to sniper fire by riddling the house, though it does not contain any Volunteers. The column, however, is thus alerted that Volunteers are in the area. They go no more than 500 yards further when they come under sustained fire from two Volunteers in 25 Northumberland Road. It takes five hours of sustained firing to dislodge the defenders. Ten British soldiers fall at the first volley. Volunteers in the other outposts nearby also begin picking off the attackers who are exposed to their fire.

Finally, the house is rushed and Volunteer Lieutenant Malone is shot dead. The other Volunteer in the house, Section Commander James Grace, succeeds in hiding himself behind a cooker and escapes the area several hours later. He is arrested a few days later.

While the British soldiers attack 25 Northumberland Road, they also move against the Schoolhouse and the Parochial Hall, which is located between 25 Northumberland Road and Clanwilliam House. The Parochial Hall is held by four men, P.J. Doyle in command, Joe Clarke, William Christian, and J. McGrath. The Volunteers continue a fierce firefight until flames drive them from their stations.

The fight at Clanwillaim House continues as British soldiers try in vain to cross Mount Street Bridge. When the house is eventually engulfed in flames and their ammunition spent, the surviving four Volunteers escape over the back wall. When the final charge comes, one officer throws a grenade at one of the remaining intact windows but it bounces back and explodes, killing him.

Up to 250 British soldiers are killed or wounded and their morale shattered by the gallant band of Volunteers around Mount Street and the British advance is delayed by a day. The fighting at Mount Street results in almost two thirds of British casualties in Easter week. Four Volunteers, Michael Malone, Dick Murphy, George Reynolds, and Patrick Doyle, lose their lives in the battle. Five others escape arrest, while four are captured, including Joe Clarke.

Clarke and his comrades from the other outposts are first brought to Ladd Lane Barracks, before joining the other captured Volunteers and those who surrender at the end of the week. Eventually, they are transported to British jails to serve their sentence or to be interned.