seamus dubhghaill

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


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The McMahon Murders

The McMahon murders occur on March 24, 1922 when six Catholic civilians are shot dead at the home of the McMahon family in Belfast. Police officers break into their house at night and shoot all eight males inside, in an apparent sectarian attack. The victims are businessman Owen McMahon, four of his sons, and one of his employees. Two others are shot but survive, and a female family member is assaulted. The survivors say that most of the gunmen wore police uniforms and it is suspected that they were members of the Ulster Special Constabulary (USC). It is believed to be a reprisal for the Irish Republican Army‘s (IRA) killing of two policemen the previous day.

Following the end of the Irish War of Independence in July 1921 and the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty in December 1921, the new unionist Government of Northern Ireland establishes the Ulster Special Constabulary (USC), a quasi-military reserve police force to the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC), to counter the IRA.

The McMahon killings are believed to be a reprisal for the IRA’s killing of two USC policemen in Belfast. On March 23, 1922, USC officers Thomas Cunningham and William Cairnside are patrolling Great Victoria Street in the city centre when they are approached by a group of IRA members and shot dead. Two Catholics, Peter Murphy (61) and Sarah McShane (15), are shot dead in a suspected reprisal attack several hours later in the Catholic Short Strand area by unidentified gunmen. The McMahon family has no connection to any paramilitary violence.

At about 1:00 a.m. on March 24, 1922, two men wearing police uniforms seize a sledgehammer from a Belfast Corporation workman, who is guarding a building site at Carlisle Circus. A curfew is in place at the time, due to the daily violence in the city. At nearby Clifton Avenue they meet three other men and the party of five proceed to the home of Owen McMahon. Eight males and three females are in the house that night. The males are Owen, his six sons, and Edward McKinney, a parish just north of Buncrana in Inishowen, County Donegal. He works for the McMahons as a barman. The women are Owen’s wife Eliza, her daughter and her niece. At about 1:20 a.m., the gang uses the sledgehammer to break down the door of the McMahon residence.

Owen’s wife, Eliza, says that four of the men wore police caps and carried revolvers while another wore civilian clothes. John McMahon, one of Owen’s sons, says, “Four of the five men were dressed in the uniform of the RIC but, from their appearance, I know they are Specials, not regular RIC.” All of the men hide their faces. The four men in police uniform rush up the stairs and herd the males into the dining room. The women are taken into another room. When Owen asks why his family is being singled-out, one of the gunmen says it is because he is “a respected papist.” The gunmen say “you boys say your prayers,” before opening fire. The shooting continues for five minutes. Five of the men are killed outright and two are wounded, one fatally.

Owen McMahon (50), Gerard McMahon (15), Frank McMahon (24), Patrick McMahon (22) and Edward McKinney (25) are killed outright while Bernard McMahon (26) dies later. The youngest McMahon son, 12-year-old Michael, survives the attack by hiding behind furniture and pretending to be hit. John McMahon (30) survives despite serious gunshot wounds. Eliza McMahon raises the alarm by opening the drawing room window and shouting “Murder! Murder!” A matron at an adjoining nursing home is alerted and phones the police and an ambulance.

It is alleged that a group of policemen operating out of Brown Square Barracks in the Shankill Road area are behind the killings. This has never been proved, but historian Eamon Phoenix, of Stranmillis University College in Belfast, has said there is “strong circumstantial evidence” that District Inspector John Nixon was responsible. Historian Tim Pat Coogan believes the police were responsible. An inquiry is carried out by the Department of Defence of the Irish Free State, but not by the Northern Irish authorities. A 1924 Free State report alleges that twelve policemen, whom the report identifies by name, had carried out the McMahon murders, as well as several other attacks on Catholics.

The killings cause outrage among Belfast’s Catholic population and over 10,000 people attend the funerals of those killed.

David Lloyd George and Winston Churchill, worried that the violence could collapse the new Northern Ireland administration, organise a meeting in London between Irish republican leader Michael Collins and Sir James Craig, Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, both to try to stop the IRA violence which Collins has been tacitly encouraging and supporting, and to pressure Craig to provide more protection for Catholics. Craig denies the nationalist assertion that the McMahon killings were part of an anti-Catholic pogrom on behalf of state forces.

No one is ever prosecuted for the killings but District Inspector John Nixon of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) is strongly suspected of being responsible. Nixon is later forced to step down from the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the force that succeeds the RIC in June 1922, albeit on full pension, in 1924 after being heard giving (in breach of police regulations) a political speech to an Orange Order meeting saying that, “not an inch of Ulster should be yielded” to the Free State.


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The Upton Train Ambush

The Upton train ambush takes place on February 15, 1921, during the Irish War of Independence. The Irish Republican Army (IRA) mounts an attack on a train carrying British soldiers at Upton, County Cork. The action is a disaster for the IRA with three of its volunteers killed and two wounded. Six British soldiers are wounded, three seriously. Six civilian passengers are killed and ten wounded in the crossfire.

According to a study of the region, Cork is “by far the most violent county in Ireland” during the War of Independence and has several active guerrilla brigades. Of these, the 3rd Cork Brigade is one of the most effective and it is a unit from this Brigade that carries out the Upton ambush.

Up until the end of 1920, the British had been unable to move troops by train, due to a nationwide boycott by railway workers of trains carrying the British military. However, the strike is lifted in December 1920. While this helps the British military’s mobility, it also gives the IRA a new target: trains carrying soldiers. A week before the Upton ambush, the local IRA had made a successful attack on a train travelling from Killarney to Millstreet near Drishanbeg, killing one sergeant and wounding five more soldiers.

Five days after the Drishanbeg ambush, plans are made for an attack at Upton and Innishannon railway station on a train traveling between Cork city and Bandon. The ambushers, led by Charlie Hurley, are thirteen strong. Seven are armed with rifles and the remainder with revolvers or semi-automatic pistols. They take up position at the station ten minutes before the train pulls in, imprisoning the station master, clearing the station and taking cover behind sacks of grain and flour taken from a store.

The train is carrying approximately 50 British soldiers of the Essex Regiment, who are mingled with civilian passengers throughout the train’s carriages. The IRA party is therefore quite heavily outnumbered and out-gunned, but are unaware of this, as two IRA scouts, who were supposed to have been on the train and signaled to them the British numbers, never turn up. They also wrongly believe that the British troops are all in the central carriage. As a result, when the IRA opens fire on the train, there are heavy civilian casualties, including two commercial travelers killed by the first volley. The New York Times reports that “a shower of bullets was rained on the train, practically every compartment being swept.”

The firefight lasts only ten minutes, but in that time six civilian passengers are killed and ten wounded. Six British soldiers are injured, three of them seriously. Two IRA volunteers are killed outright and another is fatally wounded. Two more are badly wounded but survive. Charlie Hurley, who had led the ambush, is struck in the face by a bullet. IRA leader Tom Barry later writes, “Through some miracle, the nine unwounded and two wounded got away across country, in small parties, with the British following close behind.” Three civilian passengers, one unwounded and two wounded, are detained by the British on suspicion of belonging to the ambush party.

The Upton ambush is part of what Tom Barry describes as “twelve dark days” for the 3rd Cork Brigade of the IRA. Between February 4 and February 16, eleven members of the Brigade are killed. One is shot dead by British troops when they raid a safehouse on February 4, another dies in an accidental shooting on February 7, two more (brothers James and Timothy Coffey) are assassinated in their beds on February 14 by Black and Tans or Auxiliaries, three die at Upton on February 15 and four are killed on February 16 when they are arrested by the Essex Regiment in Kilbrittain while digging a trench and shot dead. Of the eleven dead, only those at Upton are killed in combat.

The Upton attack also highlights the dangers, and particularly the risk to civilians, of attacking trains carrying troops. Only a month later at the Headford Ambush in neighbouring County Kerry, an IRA column successfully attacks a train-load of troops, but again, there are civilian casualties alongside the IRA and British Army losses. One of the three men captured by the British at Upton is reported to give information leading to the 3rd Cork Brigade’s main column of over 100 fighters almost being encircled at the Crossbarry Ambush. Hurley is killed in this action.

The Upton ambush is later made famous in a popular 1960s Irish ballad titled “The Lonely Woods of Upton.”

(Pictured: A portion of the cover of an Italian magazine from 1921 that reported on the Upton ambush)


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The Soloheadbeg Ambush

The Soloheadbeg ambush takes place on January 21, 1919, when members of the Irish Volunteers, which becomes the Irish Republican Army (IRA) later that year, ambush Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) officers who are escorting a consignment of gelignite explosives at Soloheadbeg, County Tipperary. Two RIC officers are killed and their weapons and the explosives are seized. As it happens on the same day that the revolutionary Irish parliament first meets and declares Ireland’s independence, it is often seen as the first engagement of the Irish War of Independence.

In April 1916, during World War I, Irish republicans launch an uprising against British rule in Ireland, called the Easter Rising. They proclaim an Irish Republic. After a week of heavy fighting, mostly in Dublin, the rising is put down by British forces. About 3,500 people are taken prisoner by the British, many of whom had played no part in the Rising. Most of the Rising’s leaders are executed. The rising, the British response, and the British attempt to introduce conscription in Ireland, leads to an even greater public support for Irish republicanism.

In the 1918 Irish general election, the Irish republican party Sinn Féin wins a landslide victory in Ireland, gaining 73 out of 105 seats in the British Parliament. However, in its election manifesto, the party has vowed to set up a separate government in Ireland rather than sit in the British Parliament. At a meeting in Dublin on January 21, 1919, Sinn Féin establishes an independent parliament called Dáil Éireann and declares independence from the United Kingdom.

That same day, an ambush is carried out by Irish Volunteers from the 3rd Tipperary Brigade. It involves Seán Treacy, Dan Breen, Seán Hogan, Séumas Robinson, Tadhg Crowe, Patrick McCormack, Patrick O’Dwyer and Michael Ryan. Robinson is the commander of the group that carries out the attack and Treacy coordinates the planning of the attack. The unit involved acts on its own initiative as had they had to wait for a response, even if it is affirmative, it might come too late.

In December 1918, they receive information that there are plans to move a consignment of gelignite from Tipperary British Army barracks to the Soloheadbeg quarry. They begin plans to intercept the consignment and Dan Breen’s brother Lars, who works at the quarry, receives information that the consignment is to be moved around January 16, 1919. They anticipate that there would be between two and six armed escorts, and they discuss different plans. If the escort is small, they believe they can overpower the RIC officers without firing a shot. Gags and ropes are hidden in the quarry, so that should officers surrender they can be bound and gagged. The planning for the ambush takes place in the ‘Tin Hut,’ a deserted semi-derelict house at Greenane.

Each day from January 16 to 21, the men chosen for the ambush take up their positions from early in the morning to late afternoon and then spend the night at the deserted house. Seven of the Volunteers are armed with revolvers while Treacy is armed with a small automatic rifle. On a rainy January 21, around noon, Patrick O’Dwyer sees the transport leaving the barracks. The consignment of 160 lbs. of gelignite is on a horse-drawn cart, led by two council men and guarded by two RIC officers armed with carbine rifles. O’Dwyer cycles quickly to where the ambush party is waiting and informs them. Robinson and O’Dwyer hide about 20 yards in front of the main ambush party of six, in case they rush through the main ambush position.

When the transport reaches the position where the main ambush party is hiding, masked Volunteers step out in front of them with their guns drawn and call on the RIC to surrender. The officers can see at least three of the ambushers. One officer gets down behind the cart and the other apparently fumbles with his rifle. According to the Volunteers, the officers raise their rifles to fire at them but the rifles do not fire. The Volunteers immediately fire at the officers, and it is believed that Treacy fires the first shot. Both officers, James McDonnell and Patrick O’Connell, native Roman Catholics, are killed. MacDonnell (50) of Belmullet, County Mayo, is a widower with five children. O’Connell is unmarried and a native of Coachford, County Cork.

As planned, Hogan, Breen and Treacy take the horse and cart with the explosives and speed off. Tadhg Crowe and Patrick O’Dwyer take the guns and ammunition from the dead officers, while Robinson, McCormack and Ryan guard the two council workers, Ned Godfrey and Patrick Flynn, before releasing them once the gelignite is far enough away. Initially the explosives are hidden in a field in Greenane. They are moved several times and are later divided up between the battalions of the brigade.

The ambush is later seen as the beginning of the Irish War of Independence. The British government declares South Tipperary a Special Military Area under the Defence of the Realm Act two days later. There is strong condemnation from the Catholic Church in Ireland. The parish priest of Tipperary calls the dead officers “martyrs to duty.”

A meeting of the Executive of the Irish Volunteers takes place shortly thereafter. On January 31, An t-Óglach, the official publication of the Irish Volunteers, states that the formation of Dáil Éireann “justifies Irish Volunteers in treating the armed forces of the enemy – whether soldiers or policemen – exactly as a National Army would treat the members of an invading army.”

In February 1919 at a Brigade meeting in Nodstown, Tipperary, Brigade officers draft a proclamation, signed by Séumas Robinson as OC, ordering all British military and police forces out of South Tipperary and, should they stay they will be held to have “forfeited their lives.” GHQ refuses to sanction the proclamation and demands it not be publicly displayed. Despite this it is still posted in several places in Tipperary.

In order to avoid capture, Breen, Treacy, Hogan and the other participants are forced to stay on the move for the following months, often hiding in the barns and attics of sympathisers.

A monument (pictured) has been erected at the site of the ambush, and each year a ceremony of remembrance is held there.


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The Teebane Bombing

The Teebane bombing takes place on January 17, 1992 at a rural crossroads between Omagh and Cookstown in County Tyrone, Northern Ireland. A roadside bomb destroys a van carrying 14 construction workers who had been repairing a British Army base in Omagh. Eight of the men are killed and the rest are wounded. The Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) claims responsibility, saying that the workers were killed because they were “collaborating” with the “forces of occupation.”

Since the beginning of its campaign in 1969, the Provisional IRA has launched frequent attacks on British Army and Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) bases in Northern Ireland. In August 1985 it begins targeting civilians who offer services to the security forces, particularly those employed by the security forces to maintain and repair its bases. Between August 1985 and January 1992, the IRA kills 23 people who had been working for (or offering services to) the security forces. The IRA also alleges that some of those targeted had links with Ulster loyalist paramilitaries.

On the evening of January 17, 1992, the 14 construction workers leave work at Lisanelly British Army base in Omagh. They are employees of Karl Construction, based in Antrim. They travel eastward in a Ford Transit van towards Cookstown. When the van reaches the rural Teebane Crossroads, just after 5:00 PM, IRA volunteers detonate a roadside bomb containing an estimated 600 pounds (270 kg) of homemade explosives in two plastic barrels. Later estimates report a 1,500 pound (680 kg) device. The blast is heard from at least ten miles away. It rips through one side of the van, instantly killing the row of passengers seated there. The vehicle’s upper part is torn asunder, and its momentum keeps it tumbling along the road for 30 yards. Some of the bodies of the dead and injured are blown into the adjacent field and ditch. IRA volunteers had detonated the bomb from about 100 yards away using a command wire. A car travelling behind the van is damaged in the explosion but the driver is not seriously injured. Witnesses report hearing automatic fire immediately prior to the explosion.

Seven of the men are killed outright. They are William Gary Bleeks (25), Cecil James Caldwell (37), Robert Dunseath (25), David Harkness (23), John Richard McConnell (38), Nigel McKee (22) and Robert Irons (61). The van’s driver, Oswald Gilchrist (44), dies of his wounds in hospital four days later. Robert Dunseath is a British soldier serving with the Royal Irish Rangers. The other six workers are badly injured; two of them are members of the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR). It is the highest death toll from one incident in Northern Ireland since 1988.

The IRA’s East Tyrone Brigade claims responsibility for the bombing soon afterward. It argues that the men were legitimate targets because they were “collaborators engaged in rebuilding Lisanelly barracks” and vowed that attacks on “collaborators” would continue.

Both unionist and Irish nationalist politicians condemn the attack. Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams, however, describes the bombing as “a horrific reminder of the failure of British policy in Ireland.” He adds that it highlights “the urgent need for an inclusive dialogue which can create a genuine peace process.” British Prime Minister John Major visits Northern Ireland within days and promises more troops, pledging that the IRA will not change government policy.

As all of those killed are Protestant, some interpret the bombing as a sectarian attack against their community. Less than three weeks later, the Ulster loyalist Ulster Defence Association (UDA) launches a ‘retaliation’ for the bombing. On February 5, two masked men armed with an automatic rifle and revolver enter Sean Graham’s betting shop on Ormeau Road in an Irish nationalist area of Belfast. The shop is packed with customers at the time. The men fire indiscriminately at the customers, killing five Irish Catholic civilians, before fleeing to a getaway car. The UDA claims responsibility using the cover name “Ulster Freedom Fighters,” ending its statement with “Remember Teebane.” After the shootings, a cousin of one of those killed at Teebane visits the betting shop and says, “I just don’t know what to say but I know one thing – this is the best thing that’s happened for the Provos [Provisional IRA] in this area in years. This is the best recruitment campaign they could wish for.”

The Historical Enquiries Team (HET) conducts an investigation into the bombing and releases its report to the families of the victims. It finds that the IRA unit had initially planned to carry out the attack on the morning of January 17 as the workers made their way to work but, due to fog, it was put off until the afternoon. Although suspects were rounded up and there were arrests in the wake of the attack, nobody has ever been charged or convicted of the bombing.

Karl Construction erects a granite memorial at the site of the attack and a memorial service is held there each year. In January 2012, on the 20th anniversary of the attack, Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) MLA, Trevor Clarke, whose brother-in-law Nigel McKee at age 22 was the youngest person killed in the bombing, demands that republicans provide the names of the IRA bombers.


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The Ballygawley Barracks Attack

The Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) launches an assault on the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) barracks in Ballygawley, County Tyrone, on December 7, 1985. Two RUC officers are shot dead and the barracks are raked with gunfire before being completely destroyed by a bomb, which wounds an additional three officers.

In 1985, Patrick Kelly becomes leader of the Provisional IRA East Tyrone Brigade. He, along with East Tyrone Brigade members Jim Lynagh and Pádraig McKearney, advocate using flying columns to destroy isolated British Army and RUC bases and stop them from being repaired. The goal is to create and hold “liberated zones” under IRA control that will be gradually enlarged. Although IRA Chief of Staff Kevin McKenna turns down the flying column idea, IRA Northern Command approves the plan to destroy bases and prevent their repair. In 1985 alone there are 44 such attacks. Among the most devastating is the mortar attack on Newry RUC barracks in March.

The Ballygawley attack involves two IRA active service units from the East Tyrone Brigade: an armed assault unit and a bomb unit. There are also several teams of IRA observers in the area. The assault team is armed with AK-47 and AR-15 rifles, while the bombing unit is responsible for planting and detonating a 100-pound (45 kg) bomb. Both units are commanded by Patrick Kelly.

The assault is launched on Saturday, December 7, at 6:55 PM, when the handful of RUC officers manning the base are getting ready to hand over to the next shift. In the first burst of automatic fire, the two guards at the entrance are killed, Constable George Gilliland and Reserve Constable William Clements. Constable Clements’s Ruger Security-Six revolver is taken by the attackers. The base is then raked with gunfire. Another three RUC officers who are inside run out to the back of the base, where they hope the walls might offer some cover. IRA members go into the building and take documents and weapons. The bomb is placed inside and, upon detonation, destroys the entire base, injuring three officers.

The republican IRIS Magazine (#11, October 1987) describes the attack as follows:

“One volunteer took up a position close to the front gate. Two RUC men opened the gate and the volunteer calmly stepped forward, shooting them both dead at point blank range. Volunteers firing AK-47 and Armalite rifles moved into the barracks, raking it with gunfire. Having secured the building they planted a 100-lb. bomb inside. The bomb exploded, totally destroying the building after the volunteers had withdrawn to safety.”

The first British Army unit to arrive at the base in the wake of the attack is X Company, 1st Battalion, Royal Regiment of Fusiliers.

The attack is one of the Provisional IRA’s biggest during this period. Twelve days later the same IRA brigade mortar the RUC station at Castlederg badly damaging the base and injuring four people. The Ballygawley base is rebuilt by the Royal Engineers in 1986.

The East Tyrone IRA launches two similar attacks in the following years: the successful attack on the Birches base in 1986, and the ill-fated attack on the Loughgall base in 1987, in which eight IRA members are killed. Ballygawley itself had seen conflict before with the Ballygawley land mine attack in 1983, and would see more violence in 1988 with the Ballygawley bus bombing, that cost the lives of eight British soldiers. The gun taken from Constable Clements is found by security forces after the SAS ambush at Loughgall.

The RUC base at Ballygawley is once again targeted by the East Tyrone Brigade on December 7, 1992, in what becomes the debut of the IRA’s brand new Mark-15 improvised mortar, better known as “Barrack Buster.” Another attack with a horizontal mortar occurs on April 30, 1993, when a RUC mobile patrol leaving Ballygawley compound is targeted. According to an IRA statement, the projectile misses one of the vehicles, hits a wall and explodes.

(Pictured: A Provisional Irish Republican Army badge, with the phoenix symbolising the origins of the Provisional IRA)


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Capture of Mallow Barracks

The Cork No. 2 Brigade, Irish Republican Army (IRA), attacks and captures a military barracks in Mallow, County Cork, on September 28, 1920, the only military barracks to be captured during the Irish War of Independence. British forces later burn and sack the town.

Mallow had been a garrison town for several hundred years. Eight miles to the north lay Buttevant where one of the largest military barracks in the country is located. Not far from Buttevant are the great military training camps of Ballyvonaire, while nineteen miles to the northeast is Fermoy with its large permanent military garrisons and huge barracks adjacent to the big training centres of Kilworth and Moorepark. Twenty miles to the southeast is the city of Cork with its many thousands of troops both in the posts within the city and at Ballincollig, about six miles west of it, on the Macroom road. Thirteen miles westward a detachment from a British machine gun corps holds Kanturk. Every town and village has its post of Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) men armed to the teeth.

The idea of capturing the barracks comes from two members of the Mallow IRA Battalion, Dick Willis, a painter, and Jack Bolster, a carpenter, who are employed on the civilian maintenance staff of the barracks which is occupied by the 17th Lancers. Willis and Bolster are able to observe the daily routine of the garrison and form the opinion that the capture of the place would not be difficult. They are instructed by their local battalion officers to make a sketch map of the barracks. After that is prepared, Liam Lynch and Ernie O’Malley go with Willis and Tadhg Byrnes to Mallow to study the layout of the surrounding district. Among the details of the garrison’s routine that Willis and Bolster report to the Column leaders, is the information that each morning the officer in charge, accompanied by two-thirds of the men, take the horses for exercise outside the town. It is obvious to the two Mallow volunteers that this is the ideal time for the attack.

Situated at the end of a short, narrow street and on the western verge of the Town Park, Mallow barracks stand on an unusually low-lying location and is relatively small in size. Surrounded by a high stone wall, the barracks can be approached from the town park as well as from the main street. The various details are carefully studied by Lynch and O’Malley. While Willis and Bolster are allotted tasks within the walls of the barracks, Byrnes and Jack Cunningham are chosen to attack with the main body of the column which includes Commandant Denny Murphy of Kanturk.

On the morning of September 27, at their Burnfort headquarters, the men are ordered to prepare for action. Under cover of darkness they move into the town and enter the Town Hall by way of the park at the rear. The eighteen men of the column are strengthened by members of the Mallow battalion, a number of men posted in the upper storey of the Town Hall, from which they can command the approaches to the nearby RIC barracks. Initially it is planned that Willis and Bolster will enter the military barracks that morning in the normal manner, accompanied by an officer of the column who will pose as a contractor’s overseer. The officer is Paddy McCarthy of Newmarket, who would die a few months later in a gun battle with the Black and Tans at Millstreet.

McCarthy, Willis and Bolster enter the barracks without mishap. Members of the garrison follow their normal routine, with the main body of troops under the officer in charge leaving the barracks with the horses. In the barracks remain about fifteen men under the command of a senior N.C.O., Sergeant Gibbs.

Once the military has passed, the attackers, numbering about twenty men and led by Liam Lynch, advance toward the bottom of Barrack Street. All are armed with revolvers which are considered the most convenient and suitable weapons for the operation. Lynch has issued strict instructions that there is to be no shooting by the attackers, unless as a last resort. Inside the walls are McCarthy, Willis and Bolster, their revolvers concealed. Then Ernie O’Malley presents himself at the wicket gate with a bogus letter in his hand. Behind him and out of sight of the sentry are the other members of the main attacking party, led by Lynch, O’Brien and George Power. When the gate is opened sufficiently, O’Malley wedges his foot between it and the frame and the soldier is overpowered and the attackers rush in. McCarthy, Bolster and Willis immediately go to the guardroom where they hold up the guard. Realising what is happening, Sergeant Gibbs, rushes toward the guardroom in which rifles are kept. Although called upon to halt, he continues even though a warning shot is fired over his head. As he reaches the guardroom door, the IRA officer and one of the volunteers in the guardroom fire simultaneously. Mortally wounded, the sergeant falls at the guardroom door.

By this time the majority of the attacking party is inside the gate. Military personnel in different parts of the barracks are rounded up and arms are collected. Three waiting motor cars pull up to the gate and all the rifles, other arms and equipment found in the barracks are loaded into them. The prisoners are locked into one of the stables, with the exception of a man left to care for Sergeant Gibbs. The whole operation goes according to plan, except for the shooting of the sergeant. Twenty minutes after the sentry had been overpowered the pre-arranged signal of a whistle blast is sounded and the attackers withdraw safely to their headquarters at Burnfort, along the mountain road out of Mallow.

Expecting reprisals, the column moves to Lombardstown that night, and positions are taken up around the local co-operative creamery as it is the custom of the British to wreak their vengeance on isolated country creameries after incidents such as what had just occurred. The Mallow raid, however, has greater repercussions than the destruction of a creamery and co-operative stores. The following night, large detachments of troops from Buttevant and Fermoy enter Mallow. They rampage through the town, burning and looting at will. High over the town, the night sky is red with the flames of numerous burning buildings.

Townspeople run through the blazing streets, in search of refuge. A number of women and children are accorded asylum in the nearby convent schools. Another group of terrified women, some with children in arms, take refuge in the cemetery at the rear of St. Mary’s Church, where they kneel or lay above the graves. It is a night of terror such as which had never before been endured by the people of Mallow.

The extent of the wanton destruction outrages fair-minded people all over the world. Details of the havoc that had been wrought and pictures of the scenes of destruction are published worldwide.

(Pictured: Townspeople gather in front of one of the many buildings in Mallow which were reduced to ruins during British Army reprisals)


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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.


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Ballinalee Raid in Search of Seán Mac Eoin

The Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) raid a cottage near Ballinalee, County Longford, on January 7, 1921 looking for Seán Mac Eoin. Mac Eoin opens fire from the cottage, killing District Inspector Thomas McGrath, wounding a constable, and escaping.

Mac Eoin is a soldier and eventual politician of the Fine Gael party. He is commonly referred to as the “Blacksmith of Ballinalee.” He is born John Joseph McKeon on September 30, 1893 at Bunlahy, Granard, County Longford, the eldest son of Andrew McKeon and Catherine Treacy. He joins the United Irish League in 1908. His 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 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. On November 4, 1920, his column 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. An eighteen-year-old Constable Taylor is killed. Constable E. Shateford and two others are wounded. The story is that the small garrison sings “God Save the King” as they take up positions to return fire.

On the afternoon of January 7, 1921, a joint RIC and British Army patrol consisting of ten policemen led by an Inspector, with a security detachment of nine soldiers, appears on Anne Martin’s street. Mac Eoin’s own testimony at his trial, which is not contested by any parties present, states, “I was at the table writing when I was informed of the advance of the party. My account books were left in this house for safety. I was in partial uniform, wearing Sam Browne belt and revolver with two Mills No. 4 bombs in my pocket. Owing to some females being in the house, I had to get out as I could not endanger them by putting up a defence in the house, and as this Officer and Police Force had already signified to my sister and mother their intention to shoot me on sight, I decided to give them a run for their money. I stepped out on the street, about three paces directly in front of the oncoming force, and opened fire with my revolver. The leading file fell, and then the second file in the gateway brought their rifles to the ready. I then threw a bomb, and jumped back behind the porch to let it burst. When it had burst and the smoke had lifted, I saw that the whole force had cleared away, save the officer who was dead or dying on the street.” The casualties from this incident are District Inspector Thomas McGrath killed and a police constable wounded.

Mac Eoin is captured at Mullingar railway station in March 1921, imprisoned and sentenced to death for the murder of RIC District Inspector McGrath in the shooting at Anne Martin’s street in January 1921. Michael Collins organises a rescue attempt in June 1921. Six IRA Volunteers, led by Paddy Daly and Emmet Dalton, capture a British armoured car and, wearing British Army uniforms, gain access to Mountjoy Prison. However, Mac Eoin is not in the part of the jail they believed and, after some shooting, the party retreats.

Within days, 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 Collins threatens to break off treaty negotiations with the British government unless he is freed. It is rumoured that Sean Mac Eoin serves as the best man at Collins’ wedding.


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Assassination of RIC Inspector Phillip O’Sullivan

The Irish Republican Army (IRA) kills twenty-three-year-old Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) District Inspector Phillip O’Sullivan in Dublin on December 17, 1920 while he is walking with his fiancee. O’Sullivan is from County Cork.

O’Sullivan is the son of Florence O’Sullivan and Margaret Aloysius O’Sullivan (née Barry) of Denis Quay, Kinsale, County Cork, who were married in Wicklow, County Wicklow in 1895. His father is a solicitor, practising in Kinsale.

O’Sullivan joins the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve and is commissioned as a Temporary Lieutenant on June 8, 1918. He is sent for training to HMS Hermione, an Astraea-class cruiser, from where he is sent on August 22, 1918 to “Our Allies,” the mother ship for motor launches. He later serves on Motor Launches 386 and 530. While serving on a motor launch in the Mediterranean Sea, he is awarded the Military Cross for bravery during the Second Battle of Durazzo on October 2-3, 1918. He is demobilised on July 8, 1919, with the rank of Lieutenant, but this is later reversed as he had not yet reached the minimum age of 22.

O’Sullivan then qualifies as a solicitor, and subsequently joins the Royal Irish Constabulary on July 24, 1920. He is appointed a District Inspector on October 1, 1920.

O’Sullivan is engaged to a Miss Moore and he meets her near the General Post Office (GPO) on O’Connell Street in Dublin on December 17, 1920. They are walking down Henry Street when he is assassinated by a group of four men. One man shoots him in the head, but Miss Moore manages to grab the revolver from him. A second man shoots him as he lay on the ground. He dies one hour later in nearby Jervis Street Hospital. The cause of death is listed as shock and haemorrhage resulting from bullet wounds. His body is identified by his father. He is buried in the grave of his grandfather.

O’Sullivan had been identified by Ned Kelliher, possibly also from Kinsale, who had trailed him for a week. He points out O’Sullivan to members of Michael Collins‘s Squad, one of whom is Joe Byrne. Miss Moore states that she had been warned some time previously that O’Sullivan was “one of the Black and Tans” and she should have nothing to do with him. She had dismissed the threat.

O’Sullivan’s death is registered on January 7, 1921, on foot of a certificate received from a Military Court of Inquiry, following an inquest held on December 18, 1920.

The assassination is recorded by Joe Byrne in Witness Statement No. 461 to the Bureau of Military History, dated December 16, 1950. “I remember an evening in December 1920, when I was instructed, with others to proceed to Henry Street to assist in the shooting of D.I. O’Sullivan. About four of us comprised the party. A couple of us were detailed not to take part in the actual shooting but to cover off the men who were to do the job. I saw the D.I. being shot by a member of the Squad and when the shooting was over we returned to Morelands.” Morelands is a shop on Abbey Street, Dublin, used as a base by The Squad.

O’Sullivan’s name is included on the supplementary list of the Glasnevin Cemetery War Memorial.

(From: The Royal Irish Constabulary Forum, irishconstabulary.com | Pictured: Photograph of District Inspector Philip John O’Sullivan, Cork Examiner, December 21, 1920)


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Death of Cathal Brugha, Revolutionary & Politician

cathal-brugha-1Cathal Brugha, Irish revolutionary and republican politician, dies in Dublin on July 7, 1922 from injuries received two day earlier when shot by Irish Free State forces on O’Connell Street.

Brugha is born Charles William St. John Burgess of mixed Roman Catholic and Protestant parentage in Dublin on July 18, 1874. He attends Colmkille Schools until 1888 when he is admitted to Belvedere College. He intends to study medicine but this does not come to fruition after his father’s business fails in 1890. He is seen as an austere figure, not very different from Éamon de Valera, and is known not to smoke cigarettes, swear or drink alcohol.

In 1899, Brugha joins the Gaelic League, and he subsequently changes his name from Charles Burgess to Cathal Brugha. He meets his future wife, Caitlín Kingston, at an Irish class in Birr, County Offaly, and they marry in 1912. The marriage produces six children. He becomes actively involved in the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) and in 1913 he becomes a lieutenant in the Irish Volunteers. He leads a group of twenty Volunteers to receive the arms smuggled into Ireland in the Howth gun-running of 1914.

Brugha is second-in-command at the South Dublin Union under Commandant Éamonn Ceannt in the Easter Rising of 1916. On the Thursday of Easter Week, being badly wounded, he is unable to leave when the retreat is ordered. Brugha, weak from loss of blood, continues to fire upon the enemy and is found by Eamonn Ceannt singing “God Save Ireland” with his pistol still in his hands. He recovers over the next year, but is left with a permanent limp.

Brugha proposes a Republican constitution at the 1917 Sinn Féin convention, which is unanimously accepted. In October 1917, he becomes Chief of Staff of the Irish Republican Army and holds that post until March 1919.

Brugha is elected as a Sinn Féin MP for the County Waterford constituency at the 1918 Irish general election. In January 1919, Sinn Féin MPs refuse to recognise the Parliament of the United Kingdom and instead assemble at the Mansion House in Dublin as a revolutionary parliament called Dáil Éireann. Owing to the absence of Éamon de Valera and Arthur Griffith, he presides over the first meeting of Dáil Éireann on January 21, 1919.

Brugha is elected Ceann Comhairle of Dáil Éireann at its first meeting on January 21, 1919, and he reads out the Declaration of Independence in Irish, which ratifies “the establishment of the Irish Republic.” On the following day he is appointed president of the ministry pro tempore. He retains this position until April 1, 1919, when Éamon de Valera takes his place.

Brugha has differences with Michael Collins, who, although nominally only the Irish Republican Army‘s (IRA) Director of Intelligence, has far more influence in the organisation as a result of his position as a high-ranking member of the IRB, an organisation that Brugha sees as undermining the power of the Dáil and especially the Ministry for Defence. He opposes the oath of allegiance required for membership of the IRB. In 1919, his proposition that all Volunteers should swear allegiance to the Irish Republic and the Dáil is adopted.

At a top-level IRA meeting in August 1920, Brugha argues against ambushes of Crown forces unless there is first a call to surrender, but it is dismissed as unrealistic by the brigade commanders present. He also has the idea of moving the front line of the war to England, but is opposed by Collins.

On January 7, 1922, Brugha votes against the Anglo-Irish Treaty. During the Treaty debates, he points out that Collins has only a middling rank in the Department for Defence, which supervises the IRA, even though Griffith hails him as “the man who had won the war.” It is argued that, by turning the issue into a vote on Collins’ popularity, Brugha swings the majority against his own side. Frank O’Connor, in his biography of Collins, states that two delegates who had intended to vote against the Treaty changed sides in sympathy with Collins. Brugha leaves the Dáil and is replaced as Minister for Defence by Richard Mulcahy.

In the months between the Treaty debates and the outbreak of Irish Civil War, Brugha attempts to dissuade his fellow anti-treaty army leaders, including Rory O’Connor, Liam Mellows and Joe McKelvey, from taking up arms against the Free State. When the IRA occupies the Four Courts, he and Oscar Traynor call on them to abandon their position. When they refuse, Traynor orders the occupation of the area around O’Connell Street in the hope of easing the pressure on the Four Courts and of forcing the Free State to negotiate.

On June 28, 1922, Brugha is appointed commandant of the forces in O’Connell Street. The outbreak of the Irish Civil War ensues in the first week of July when Free State forces commence shelling of the anti-treaty positions.

Most of the anti-Treaty fighters under Traynor escape from O’Connell Street when the buildings they are holding catch fire, leaving Brugha in command of a small rearguard. On July 5, he orders his men to surrender, but refuses to do so himself. He then approaches the Free State troops, brandishing a revolver. He sustains a bullet wound to the leg which “severed a major artery causing him to bleed to death.” He dies on July 7, 1922, eleven days before his 48th birthday. He had been re-elected as an anti-Treaty TD at the 1922 Irish general election but dies before the Dáil assembles. He is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin.