seamus dubhghaill

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


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IRA Volunteer Mick Fitzgerald Dies on Hunger Strike

Michael Fitzgerald also known as Mick Fitzgerald, dies on hunger strike in Cork County Gaol on October 17, 1920. He is among the first members of the Irish Republican Army and plays an important role in organizing it. His death is credited with bringing world-wide attention to the Irish cause for independence.

Born in December 1881 in Ballyoran, Fermoy, County Cork, Fitzgerald is educated at the Christian Brothers School in the town and subsequently finds work as a mill worker in the locality. He joins the Irish Volunteers in 1914 and plays an important role in building the local organisation which is soon to become the Irish Republican Army (IRA). He soon rises to the rank of Battalion Commandant, 1st Battalion, Cork No.2 Brigade.

On Easter Sunday, April 20, 1919, Fitzgerald leads a small group of IRA volunteers who capture Araglin, Cork Royal Irish Constabulary Barracks located on the border with County Tipperary. He is subsequently arrested and sentenced to three months imprisonment at Cork County Gaol. He is released from prison in August 1919 and immediately returns to active IRA duty. He is involved in the holding up of a party of British Army troops at the Wesleyan Church in Fermoy. The troops are disarmed although one of them is killed. Arrested and held on remand, Fitzgerald feels that the only chance he has for release is via a hunger strike.

Fitzgerald, along with Terence MacSwiney and nine other IRA volunteers, are arrested on August 8, 1920. On August 11, MacSwiney begins a hunger strike in Brixton Gaol. Fitzgerald and the other nine volunteers at Cork County Gaol join in. At the age of 24, he is the first to die on October 17, 1920 as a result of his sixty-seven day fast. His death is followed by the deaths of Joe Murphy and Terence MacSwiney. Their deaths are credited with bringing world-wide attention to the Irish cause for independence.

Fitzgerald is buried at Kilcrumper Cemetery, on the outskirts of Fermoy, County Cork. In addition, a road is named after him in Togher, Cork.

During a November 2008 visit to Fermoy, Sinn Féin Vice-President Pat Doherty lays a wreath at Fitzgerald’s grave. Doherty says Fitzgerald’s sacrifice was like that of the hunger strikers in 1981. He says it is a great honour for him to pay homage to a man “to whom we owe so much.” Also buried in the Republican Plot in Fermoy is General Liam Lynch, who was Chief of Staff of the IRA when he was shot dead by Irish Free State troops in the Knockmealdown Mountains on April 12, 1923. His last wish was to be buried with his great friend and comrade, Mick Fitzgerald.


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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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The Templemore Miracles

In August and September 1920 the town of Templemore in County Tipperary is the sight of alleged Marian apparitions. Thousands of people come to the town daily to see the apparitions. The affair occurs during the Irish War of Independence and results in a short-lived local truce between the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and Crown forces. When the truce ends, pilgrims stop coming to the town and the sightings end. The affair is sometimes referred to as the Templemore miracles.

In January 1919 the Irish War of Independence begins and lasts until July 1921. On the night of August 16, 1920, British soldiers of the Northamptonshire Regiment attack Templemore in reprisal for the killing of an Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) officer by IRA volunteers earlier that day. They fire volleys and burn homes and businesses. No civilians or IRA men are killed but two soldiers die by accident in the fires.

Shortly after the attack, a sixteen-year old farm labourer named James Walsh claims that he was visited by the Virgin Mary in his cottage in the nearby townland of Curraheen. She told him that she was troubled by what was happening in Ireland. At her request he digs a hole in the ground in his bedroom and this soon fills with spring water. Afterwards he claims that all three statues of the Virgin Mary in his home began to bleed. He takes these statues to Templemore, where the bleeding is witnessed. One man who had been crippled for most of his life claims he is dancing in the streets after visiting Walsh’s cottage. He is the first of many who claim to have been cured of their ailments in the presence of Walsh or the statues.

Locals believe that divine intervention had prevented any of them being killed or wounded during the attack by the British. Walsh gathers people around the statues to say the Rosary in Irish. According to Ann Wilson, the statues are seen “as asserting the Catholic Irish identity of the population in the face of the non-Catholic British opponent, a superior spiritual power which would win out against the much more substantial, but merely worldly, advantages of the enemy.”

The affair is soon reported in local and national newspapers, which causes more pilgrims to go to Tipperary, both to see the statues in Templemore and Walsh’s cottage in Curraheen. On August 31, 1920 an RIC inspector writes to the Dublin Castle administration, estimating that over 15,000 pilgrims per day are coming down. Many come seeking cures for various illnesses and report that they had received them. One RIC officer resigns from his job to join a religious order. One soldier is reported to convert to Catholicism. The influx results in a large economic windfall for the town.

The official position of the church is one of ‘extreme reserve.’ The parish priest Reverend Kiely refuses to see the statues. However, no effort is made to stop people making pilgrimages. Local IRA commander James Leahy notes a division between older and younger clergy in the local church, with older clergy generally being skeptical of Walsh while younger clergy are more enthusiastic about his claims.

Prior to the apparitions beginning, Wilson had given a Virgin Mary statue to a local RIC constable named Thomas Winsey, according to the Tipperary Star. Winsey placed the statue in the barracks. This too is said to be bleeding. One day a large crowd of pilgrims besiege the barracks and have to be physically restrained when they attempt to enter it. The statue is removed from the barracks. Police and military stop appearing on the street shortly after.

The IRA effectively takes over the area at this point. They keep order, organise traffic and help pilgrims. However, they do not appear in the streets in uniform and there is an informal truce in effect between them and Crown forces.

Local IRA commander James Leahy is concerned at the effect that tips given to IRA volunteers were having on discipline. He and other local commanders interrogate Walsh and stop believing him after this. He contacts IRA Director of Intelligence Michael Collins. Collins has Dan Breen interrogate Walsh. Breen reports that Walsh “was a fake.” Collins sarcastically replies, “One can’t take any notice of what you say, Breen, because you have no religion.”

Having failed to get the church to intervene and denounce Walsh, Leahy and other IRA members decide to restart the war anyway. On September 29, IRA volunteers attack a group of RIC men between Templemore and Curraheen. Two constables are killed. As anticipated, this brings police and army reinforcements to the area. Soldiers loot and desecrate sites outside Templemore associated with the pilgrimage. Rumours begin that the town itself would soon be attacked. Pilgrims flee the area. The statues apparently stop bleeding.

Interest in the statues and Walsh’s cottage largely end at this point, ending Templemore as a sight for pilgrimages. However, Michael Collins does receive a statue at his request. Upon receiving the statue, he smashes it. He discovers that inside is an alarm clock connected to fountain pen inserts containing sheep’s blood. When the clock strikes a certain time, it sends a spurt of blood out of the statue, giving the impression it is bleeding. It is not clear whether this statue performed in Templemore or was one of the ones owned by James Walsh. Collins had received complaints from a local priest that IRA volunteers had engineered statues that would bleed at intervals.

James Walsh is labelled as a possible spy by Dan Breen. At the request of Templemore clergy he is taken to Salesian College in Limerick and placed in the care of Father Aloysius Sutherland. He emigrates to Australia in 1923, settling in Sydney. Towards the end of his life he attempts to enter numerous religious orders but is unsuccessful due to a prior divorce. He dies in Sydney in 1977, having never returned to Ireland.

Historian John Reynolds states at a talk that the affair could have been a prank that got out of hand or was a money-making swindle. He speculates that Walsh may have been used by others, who really instigated it. He discounts the local IRA as having been the instigators.

The affair is not well-known despite gaining worldwide attention at the time. However, in November 2012 the Irish-language television broadcaster TG4 screens a documentary about it. In 2019 the book The Templemore Miracles, written by John Reynolds, is published.

(Pictured: Children pray beside statues that were reported to have started bleeding, Belfast Telegraph, http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk)


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The Conor Pass Ambush

Two Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) men are killed on Conor Pass in Dingle, County Kerry, on July 13, 1920 during the Irish War of Independence.

District Inspector Michael Fallon, accompanied by three other police in a motor car, are ambushed on the Conor Pass between Cloghane and Dingle, County Kerry. The D.I. is returning from an inspection of the barracks at Cloghane when the party is ambushed by members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) West Kerry No.1 Brigade who are billetted at Fibough, in the Slieve Mish Mountains. The IRA volunteers include J. Dowling, Paddy Paul Fitzgerald, Dan Jeffers and Mick McMahon among their number.

Constables George Roach 62449 and Michael Linehan 63592 are killed outright. D.I. Fallon and Constable Joseph Campbell 67905, the driver, are both wounded. The IRA removes the bodies from the car and takes away the rifles and revolvers of the police. They then take Constable Campbell prisoner, dropping him off about three miles down the road.

Constable Linehan is 34 years old and single, and is originally from Cork. He has twelve years police service. His funeral takes place at St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Limerick with burial in Mount St. Lawrence Cemetery. A hearse cannot be obtained so the constabulary, in relays, carry the coffin from the church to the cemetery.

Constable Roach has thirteen years service and is from County Clare. He is also a single man.

Compensation awards for gunshot injuries are later made to D.I. Fallon of £850 and to Constable Campbell of £600.

(From: “Constables George Roach and Michael Linehan, killed on the Connor Pass 1920” by Peter Mc, The Royal Irish Constabulary Forum (www.irishconstabulary.com), March 7, 2011)


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Birth of Gilbert Potter, District Inspector of the Royal Irish Constabulary

Gilbert Norman Potter, a District Inspector of the Royal Irish Constabulary, is born in Dromahair, County Leitrim on July 10, 1887. He is executed by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) on April 27, 1921 in reprisal for the British execution of Irish republican Thomas Traynor.

Potter receives his commission as District Inspector on April 27, 1901 having completed his cadetship at the Depot, Phoenix Park, Dublin. His first assignment is to Castlepollard, County Westmeath. During the 1909 ITGWU strike in Cork, he is temporarily posted there from Dublin and is also involved in policing the August 14 marches in Portadown. Having had charge of No. 4 Company at the Depot, he is assigned to Cahir in 1912.

On April 23, 1921 District Inspector Potter is captured by the 3rd Tipperary Brigade, IRA, following the Hyland’s Cross Ambush. This occurs near Curraghcloney, close to the village of Ballylooby. The ambush party is initially made up of a combination of the 1st and 2nd Flying Columns 3rd Tipperary Brigade. This is the largest force assembled to date by the Tipperary IRA in anticipation of a major battle. However, the convoy of military lorries that is expected never materialises. Dan Breen and Con Moloney return to Battalion Headquarters, while Seán Hogan‘s Column withdraws northward in the direction of the Galtee Mountains.

As Dinny Lacey‘s No.1 Column prepares to leave towards the south, a small party of British soldiers accompanying two horse-drawn carts unexpectedly approaches from Clogheen and are immediately fired upon. Amid some confusion Lacey’s scattered men withdraw southwards towards the Knockmealdown Mountains. One British soldier, Frank Edward Conday, is fatally wounded and two others from the relieving party are wounded.

By chance, Potter, who is returning by car from police duties at Ballyporeen, drives into a section of the withdrawing No.1 Column. Although in civilian attire, he is recognised by one of the IRA Volunteers and taken prisoner. As part of a new strategy, he is held as a hostage for the safe release of Thomas Traynor, an IRA volunteer and father of ten young children, then under sentence of death at Mountjoy Gaol. The IRA offers to release Potter in exchange for Traynor’s release. Traynor is executed. Traynor has since been honoured by the Irish state as one of “The Forgotten Ten.”

The Column, under sporadic fire from soldiers, alerted at the nearby Clogheen barracks, follow the contours of the mountains to the village of Newcastle. Losing their pursuers, they stay for a period of time at the townland of Glasha. Here Potter is detained in an out-building of a farm which is regularly used by the IRA as a safe house. From there the party is guided into the Nire Valley by a contingent of local Waterford Volunteers and on to the Comeragh Mountains.

Accounts from Rathgormack, County Waterford suggest he is kept for at least one night at a nearby Ringfort before being taken down the hill to a field then owned by Power’s of Munsboro, where he meets his ultimate fate. At 7:00 PM, on April 27, following news of Traynor’s execution by hanging, he is shot to death, and hastily buried in a shallow grave on the banks of the River Clodiagh. A diary he kept during his period of captivity and some personal effects and farewell letters, are returned anonymously to his wife. It is the first confirmation she has that he has been killed. The artifacts are later lost when his son’s ship is torpedoed in 1942, during World War II.

(Pictured: Photo of District Inspector Gilbert Potter R.I.C. that appeared in the Press during his time in captivity)


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The Kilmeena Ambush

The Kilmeena ambush takes place at Kilmeena, County Mayo, on May 19, 1921 during the Irish War of Independence. The ambush ends in defeat for the local West Mayo Irish Republican Army (IRA), with six IRA volunteers killed and seven wounded. Two members of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) and one Black and Tan are also killed in the action.

The IRA in west Mayo is relatively quiet until January 1921, when Michael Kilroy, described as “a puritanical and ascetic blacksmith” takes over command of the Brigade after Thomas Derrig is arrested by the Royal Irish Constabulary. Kilroy forms a relatively large “flying column” of 40 to 50 men to carry out attacks on Crown forces in the area. On May 6 they suffer a reverse at Islandeady, when a police patrol comes upon the IRA men cutting a road. Three volunteers are killed and two captured.

On May 18, 1921, the IRA decides to attack an RIC/Black and Tan convoy at Kilmeena. Two small-unit attacks are made on the RIC barracks in Newport and Westport to try to draw the police out of their well-defended barracks. One RIC man dies in these attacks.

At 3:00 AM the next day, May 19, the column of 41 IRA men take up position close to Knocknabola Bridge. The British convoy, traveling from Newport to Westport, consists of two Crossley lorries and one Ford touring car and a total of about thirty men. The convoy does not arrive until 3:00 PM and its arrival sparks a two-hour fire-fight. In the battle, one RIC man is wounded and later dies. The British regroup around the house of the parish priest, Father Conroy, and launch a counterattack.

Four IRA volunteers are killed. They are Seamus Mc Evilly, Thomas O’Donnell, Patrick Staunton and Sean Collins. Paddy Jordan of the Castlebar battalion is injured and dies later at Bricens Hospital in Dublin. Seven more IRA men are wounded.

The remainder of the column, carrying their wounded, flee over the mountains to Skerdagh, where they have safe houses. However, the police track them there and, in another exchange of fire, another IRA man is killed, Jim Brown from Newport, along with one RIC Constable and a Black and Tan.

The Black and Tans throw the dead and wounded IRA men onto the street outside the RIC barracks in nearby Westport, causing widespread revulsion among the local people and local police. The Marquis of Sligo, no friend of the republican guerrillas, visits the barracks to complain of their treatment of enemy dead. At the funerals of those killed, in Castlebar, the authorities allow only close family to attend and forbid the draping of the Irish tricolour over the coffins.

The local IRA blames their defeat in the ambush on the failure of an IRA unit from Westport to show up in time.

Kilroy’s column manages to get some revenge for the setback at Kilmeena the following month in an action at Carrowkennedy on June 3, where they kill eight policemen and capture sixteen.


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The Hollyford Barracks Attack

Irish Republican Army (IRA) volunteers destroy the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) barracks at Hollyford, County Tipperary, on May 11, 1920.

In 1920 twelve RIC Constables, or Peelers as they are called, are stationed in the barracks in Hollyford. They are regarded as the eyes and ears of the British establishment and therefore a thorn in the side of the local IRA. Since the previous year, the IRA has developed a policy of attacking police barracks throughout the country and forcing their closure thereby reducing the flow of information to Dublin Castle.

On the night of May 11, 1920 it is the turn of Hollyford Barracks. The local IRA with its leaders assemble at Phil Shanahan’s house on the Glenough road. At this time Shanahan is a member of the first Dáil, elected from a Dublin constituency as he is living and running a public house there. He fought in the Jacob’s Biscuit Factory under Thomas MacDonagh during the 1916 Easter Rising. It is decided the attack will be led by Ernie O’Malley, an organiser for the IRA who moves around to various Brigades throughout the country. His second in command is Séumas Robinson, commanding officer of the 3rd Tipperary Brigade. Other officer are Seán Treacy, whose mother Bridget Allis is from Lacknacreena, Dan Breen who is quartermaster general (QMG) of the Brigade, Comdt. Tadgh O’Dwyer, Captain Paddy O’Dwyer and Lt. Jim O’Gorman.

Roads are blocked in the vicinity and telephone lines are cut. Robinson and O’Malley, with the help of ladders, get on the roof and with lump hammers break holes in the slates. They then drop hand grenades and petrol in through the holes. They also ignite turf sods soaked in petrol and drop them through the holes. The fire on the upper floor escalates. While all this is happening, Seán Treacy, with his covering party, concentrate their fire on the port holes which keeps the occupants pinned down. The battle goes on all night and, as daylight approaches on the morning of May 12, the attackers have to withdraw without dislodging the police. While they do not achieve their aim to capture guns and ammunition, they do enough damage to ensure the RIC leaves Hollyford immediately never to return.

The next occupants, following the Anglo-Irish Treaty, are the Gárda Síochána in 1948. Various changes in personnel take place in the 1950s until Gárda Maurice Slattery is the only Gárda left in Hollyford. In 1965, after a lifetime in the Gárdí, he retires and he and his family move to Limerick. He is the last Gárda to serve in Hollyford.

(From: “The Burning of Hollyford Barracks,” Third Tipperary Brigade Memorial (www.thirdtippbrigade.ie), July 12, 2018)


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The Sheemore Ambush

The Sheemore ambush is an ambush carried out by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) on March 4, 1921, during the Irish War of Independence. It takes place at Sheemore near Carrick-on-Shannon, County Leitrim.

The ambush is carried out by the IRA’s South Leitrim Brigade on a British Army and Auxiliary Division convoy. The British force suffers casualties and admits one fatality, a captain in the Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment, although some local sources claim several more are killed.

On Friday morning, March 4, 1921, as the congregation makes their way out of the ‘First Friday Mass’ in the Roman Catholic parish church in Gowel, they are met by three lorries carrying 30–40 Auxiliaries, Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC), and British Army members. The men are lined up for searching on one side while a ‘female searcher’ attends to the women. There is no panic and as nothing is found and there are no arrests. The church had been identified as a likely place for volunteers of the IRA’s South Leitrim Brigade to attend. Father Edward O’Reilly, the church’s curate, is openly friendly towards the volunteers. After they search the church interior, the police and soldiers remount their lorries and continue back to Carrick-on-Shannon.

About 2 kilometres down the road, on the slopes of Sheemore, volunteers of the South Leitrim Brigade await them. The day before, the Brigade had received word from Joe Nangle from Drumshanbo of the British operation. They take up position behind a low wall which runs on the brink of an eighty-foot-high rock face on the side of Sheemore. It is four hundred yards from the road. There are seven volunteers – Brigadier Seán Mitchel (who was in command), Charles E. McGoohan (from Ballinamore), Michael Geoghegan (from Aughacashel), Mattie Boylan (from Carrick-on-Shannon), Michael Martin (from Ballinamore), Joe Nangle and Harry McKeon.

At the command from Mitchell, the IRA opens fire on the convoy. The members of the convoy jump from their lorries, and take cover behind a wall which runs along the road. The police run despite the shouts from the soldiers to stand their ground. The officer in command tries to use field glasses to spot the positions of the IRA. After a forty-five-minute gunfight the IRA withdraws, and the British make no attempt to follow them. Instead they gather up their casualties and return to Carrick-on-Shannon, where Black and Tans later undertake reprisals, burning and looting, and burn both the premises of the Leitrim Observer newspaper and the local rowing club to the ground. They also burn the Temperance Hall in Gowel.

Nurse Alice Grey (or Gray), the ‘female searcher,’ who is a member of the ambushed convoy, is recognised by the British authorities for her role in the incident.

Contemporary newspaper reports indicate that one officer and four men of the Bedfordshire Regiment were wounded, as were two members of the RIC. The British officer died the following day, and some people reportedly left the area for fear of reprisals.

(Pictured: Monument in memory of the Volunteers who took part in the Sheemore Ambush)


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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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The Clonmult Ambush

The Clonmult ambush takes place on February 20, 1921, during the Irish War of Independence.

Irish Republican Army (IRA) volunteers occupying a farmhouse in Clonmult, County Cork are surrounded by a force of British Army, Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) and Auxiliaries. In the action that follows, twelve IRA volunteers are killed, four wounded and four captured. A total of 22 people die in the ambush and subsequent executions – fourteen IRA members, two Black and Tans and six suspected informers.

The 4th battalion of the IRA First Cork Brigade, under Diarmuid O’Hurley and based around Midleton, Youghal and Cobh, had been a successful unit up until the Clonmult ambush. They had captured three RIC barracks and carried out an ambush in Midleton itself. In January 1921, the unit takes possession of a disused farmhouse overlooking the village of Clonmult. O’Hurley plans to ambush a military train at Cobh Junction on Tuesday, February 22, 1921 and at the time of the Clonmult action is scouting a suitable ambush site. However, according to historian Peter Hart, they “had become over-confident and fallen into a traceable routine.” An intelligence officer of the British Army Hampshire Regiment traces them to their billet at a farmhouse in Clonmult.

British troops, a party of the 2nd Battalion, Hampshire Regiment under the command of Lieutenant A. R. Koe, surround the house. Two IRA volunteers notice the advancing troops and open fire. Both are killed, but the shooting warns those sheltering inside the house, and a siege begins. A sortie from the house is attempted in the hope of gaining reinforcements from the local IRA company.

The acting IRA commander, Captain Jack O’Connell, manages to get away but three other volunteers are killed in the attempt. But O’Connell is unable to bring help in time. The Volunteers trapped inside make a desperate but unsuccessful attempt to escape through a narrow opening in the gable. Their hopes are dashed when British reinforcements arrive instead — regular RIC police, Black and Tans and Auxiliaries. The police also bring petrol, which an Army officer uses to set the thatched roof of the farmhouse on fire. With the farmhouse burning around them, an attempt is then made by the IRA to surrender.

What happens next is disputed. In his after-action report, Lieutenant Koe reports that at 6:30 PM six or seven rebels come out of the house with their hands up. As the Crown Forces go to meet them the remaining rebels in the house open fire. Some of the rebels outside the house are killed or wounded by the crossfire that ensues. The Crown Forces rush the house and the eight rebels inside are taken prisoner. By contrast, the surviving Volunteers claim that their men had surrendered in good faith, and had come out with their hands up, only to be shot by the police without any provocation. Opinion is divided amongst historians as to which version of the story to believe.

A total of twelve IRA Volunteers are killed in the action, with four more wounded and only four taken prisoner unscathed. Two of the IRA prisoners, Maurice Moore and Paddy O’Sullivan, are later executed in the Cork military barracks on April 28. Patrick Higgins, an IRA man who survived the killings, is sentenced to death but is reprieved due to the truce that ends the war on July 11. Hampshire Regiment historian Scott Daniell notes on the action that “like all the Irish operations, it was hateful to the British troops.”

The IRA suspects that an informer had led the British to the billet of the column wiped out at Clonmult, and over the following week, six alleged spies are executed by the IRA in the surrounding area. Mick Leahy, a local IRA officer, states that “things went to hell in the battallion” after Clonmult. Diarmuid O’Hurley, the commander of the battalion, is not at Clonmult but is later killed on May 28, 1921.