seamus dubhghaill

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


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The Knocklong Ambush

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Death of Liam Tobin, Irish Army Officer & IRA Intelligence Officer

Liam Tobin, officer in the Irish Army and the instigator of the Irish Army Mutiny in March 1924, dies in Dublin on April 30, 1963. During the Irish War of Independence, he serves as an Irish Republican Army (IRA) intelligence officer for Michael CollinsSquad.

Tobin is born William Joseph Tobin at 13 Great Georges Street in Cork, County Cork, on November 15, 1895, the eldest son of Mary Agnes (nee Butler) and David Tobin, a hardware clerk. He has two younger siblings, Katherine and Nicholas Augustine Tobin, also born in Cork. His family moves to John Street in Kilkenny and then to Dublin. He goes to school in Kilkenny and is an apprentice in a hardware shop at the time of the 1916 Easter Rising. As a participant in the Rising he fights in the Four Courts garrison under Edward Daly. He is arrested, court martialed, and sentenced to death but his sentence is commuted to life imprisonment. He is a prisoner in Kilmainham, Mountjoy, Lewes, Dartmoor, Broadmoor and Pentonville prisons. He is released in June 1917.

In early 1919 Tobin becomes Collins’ chief executive in the Intelligence Directorate handling the many spies in Dublin Castle, including double agent David Neligan. Nancy O’Brien works for Under-Secretary for Ireland James Macmahon, decoding messages sent from London. Each day between 2:30 and 3:30 she passes any information acquired to either Tobin, Joseph McGrath, or Desmond FitzGerald. Tobin is involved in planning the assassinations of British soldiers, informants, members of the Royal Irish Constabulary, the Dublin Metropolitan Police, and operatives of MI5. He constructs detailed profiles of everyone remotely connected to the British government, often using Who’s Who, The Morning Post, and The Times, a newspaper that describes him as “one of the most formidable of [the] Twelve Apostles.”

In October 1921, Tobin travels with the Irish Treaty Delegation as part of Collins’ personal staff.

Tim Pat Coogan and James Mackay have examined Tobin’s involvement in the assassination of British Field Marshal Sir Henry Wilson. Wilson’s public tirades about Collins is evidence of mutual personal dislike between the two men. In May 1922 Collins tells Tobin “We’ll kill a member of that bunch” to the news of “bloody pogroms” in Belfast. Wilson is intimately involved with the Ulster loyalist cause, including the Curragh Mutiny and the establishment of the Ulster Special Constabulary. Just before the shooting, Coogan places Tobin in London. He meets courier Peig Ni Braonain at Euston Station collecting a document that has been sent from Dublin. Returning to Dublin before the incident, he is jubilant when he tells defence minister Richard Mulcahy about Wilson’s death. Mulcahy is appalled and threatens to resign.

Following the Anglo-Irish Treaty, Tobin is appointed deputy director of intelligence in the new state and assigned to the Criminal Investigation Department based at Oriel House. However Collins soon replaces him with Joseph McGrath. Tobin is placed on the Army Council and is Director of Intelligence from September 1922 until his appointment as Senior Aide-de-Camp to the new GovernorGeneral of the Irish Free State, Tim Healy, in November 1922. The position provides an apartment in Viceregal Lodge.

In October 1922, Tobin’s brother Nicholas, a Free State captain, is accidentally shot dead by his own troops during the raid and capture of a bomb making factory at number 8 Gardiner’s Place, Dublin.

Tobin believes in the stepping stone doctrine which sees the Treaty as a stage towards full independence. With the outbreak of the Irish Civil War he remains loyal to Collins and takes the Pro-Treaty side. He leads in the fight against the Anti-Treaty IRA in the south. Disillusioned with the continuing hostilities and in the aftermath of the death of Collins, he forms an association called the IRA Organisation (IRAO) or “Old Irish Republican Army” to distinguish themselves from the anti-treaty insurgents.

Richard Mulcahy, the new Irish defence minister, proposes to reduce the army from 55,000 to 18,000 men in the immediate post- Civil-War period. Tobin knows his own position is to be affected and shares the perception that the Irish Army treats former British officers better than former IRA officers. On March 7, 1924, Tobin, together with Colonel Charlie Dalton, sends an ultimatum to President of the Executive Council of the Irish Free State W. T. Cosgrave demanding an end to the army demobilisation. The immediate response is an order for the arrest of the two men on a charge of mutiny. The cabinet, already wary of the Irish Army, orders an inquiry and appoints Garda Commissioner Eoin O’Duffy to the army command.

On March 18, the mutineers assemble with hostile intent at a Dublin pub. An order is made to arrest the mutineers and the cabinet demands the resignation of the army council. The generals resign, affirming the subservience of the military to the civilian government of the new state.

In later years, Tobin rebuilds relations with his Civil War foes and joins Éamon de Valera‘s Anti-Treaty Fianna Fáil party. He joins up with Joseph McGrath to form the Irish Hospitals’ Sweepstake in the 1930s. Many other former army comrades find work in this lottery. He leaves the Sweep in 1938. After World War II, he becomes Superintendent of the Oireachtas for the Irish Dáil.

On October 14, 1929, Tobin marries Monica “Mona” Higgins at the Church of the Holy Family, Aughrim Street, Dublin. They have two daughters, Máire and Anne Tobin. Following the death of his father, David, in 1956, Tobin’s health declines, resulting in his death in Dublin on April 30, 1963.

Tobin is portrayed by actor Brendan Gleeson in Neil Jordan‘s biopic Michael Collins.


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The Limerick Soviet

The Limerick Soviet exists for a two-week period from April 15 to April 27, 1919, and is one of a number of self-declared Irish soviets that are formed around Ireland between 1919 and 1923. At the beginning of the Irish War of Independence, a general strike is organised by the Limerick Trades and Labour Council, as a protest against the British Army‘s declaration of a “Special Military Area” under the Defence of the Realm Act 1914, which covers most of Limerick city and a part of the county. The soviet runs the city for the period, prints its own money and organises the supply of food.

From January 1919 the Irish War of Independence develops as a guerrilla conflict between the Irish Republican Army (IRA) (backed by Sinn Féin‘s Dáil Éireann), and the British government. On April 6, 1919 the IRA tries to liberate Robert Byrne, who is under arrest by the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) in a hospital, being treated for the effects of a hunger strike. In the rescue attempt Constable Martin O’Brien is fatally wounded and another policeman is seriously injured. Byrne is also wounded and dies later the same day.

In response, on April 9 British Army Brigadier Griffin declares the city to be a Special Military Area, with RIC permits required for all wanting to enter and leave the city as of Monday, April 14. British Army troops and armoured vehicles are deployed in the city.

On Friday, April 11 a meeting of the United Trades and Labour Council, to which Byrne had been a delegate, takes place. At that meeting Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union (ITGWU) representative Sean Dowling proposes that the trade unions take over Town Hall and have meetings there, but the proposal is not voted on. On Saturday, April 12 the ITGWU workers in the Cleeve’s factory in Lansdowne vote to go on strike. On Sunday, April 13, after a twelve-hour discussion and lobbying of the delegates by workers, a general strike is called by the city’s United Trades and Labour Council. Responsibility for the direction of the strike is devolved to a committee that describes itself as a soviet as of April 14. The committee has the example of the Dublin general strike of 1913 and “soviet” (meaning a self-governing committee) has become a popular term after 1917 from the soviets that had led to the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic.

A transatlantic air race is being organised from Bawnmore in County Limerick at the same time, but is cancelled. The assembled journalists from England and the United States take up the story of an Irish soviet and interview the organisers. The Trades Council chairman John Cronin is described as the “father of the baby Soviet.” Ruth Russell of the Chicago Tribune remarks on the religiosity of the strike committee, observes “the bells of the nearby St. Munchin’s Church tolled the Angelus and all the red-badged guards rose and blessed themselves.” The Sinn Féin Mayor of Limerick, Phons O’Mara, tells Russell there is no prospect of socialism, as “There can’t be, the people here are Catholics.”

The general strike is extended to a boycott of the troops. A special strike committee organises food and fuel supplies, prints its own money based on the British shilling, and publishes its own newspaper called The Worker’s Bulletin. The businesses of the city accept the strike currency. Cinemas open with the sign “Working under authority of the strike committee” posted. Local newspapers are allowed to publish once a week as long as they have the caption “Published by Permission of the Strike Committee.” Outside Limerick there is some sympathy in Dublin, but not in the main Irish industrial area around Belfast. The National Union of Railwaymen does not help.

On April 21 The Worker’s Bulletin remarks that “A new and perfect system of organisation has been worked out by a clever and gifted mind, and ere long we shall show the world what Irish workers are capable of doing when left to their own resources.” On Easter Monday 1919, the newspaper states “The strike is a worker’s strike and is no more Sinn Féin than any other strike.”

Liam Cahill argues, “The soviet attitude to private property was essentially pragmatic. So long as shopkeepers were willing to act under the soviet’s dictates, there was no practical reason to commandeer their premises.” While the strike is described by some as a revolution, Cahill adds, “In the end the soviet was basically an emotional and spontaneous protest on essentially nationalist and humanitarian grounds, rather than anything based on socialist or even trade union aims.”

After two weeks the Sinn Féin Lord Mayor of Limerick, Phons O’Mara, and the Catholic bishop Denis Hallinan call for the strike to end, and the Strike Committee issues a proclamation on April 27, 1919 stating that the strike is over.

(Pictured: Photograph of Members of the 1919 Limerick Soviet, April 1919, Limerick City)


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The Black and Tans Arrive In Ireland

The Black and Tans (Irish: Dúchrónaigh), special constables recruited into the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) as reinforcements during the Irish War of Independence, arrive in Ireland on March 25, 1920. Recruitment begins in Great Britain in January 1920 and about 10,000 men enlist during the conflict. The vast majority are unemployed former British soldiers from Britain who had fought in World War I. Some sources count a small number of Irishmen as Black and Tans.

The British administration in Ireland promotes the idea of bolstering the RIC with British recruits. They are to help the overstretched RIC maintain control and suppress the Irish Republican Army (IRA), although they are less well trained in ordinary policing. The nickname “Black and Tans” arises from the colours of the improvised uniforms they initially wear, a mixture of dark green RIC (which appears black) and khaki British Army. They serve in all parts of Ireland, but most are sent to southern and western regions where fighting is heaviest. By 1921, Black and Tans make up almost half of the RIC in County Tipperary, for example.

Few Black and Tans are sent to what becomes Northern Ireland, however. The authorities there raise their own reserve force, the Ulster Special Constabulary (USC). For the most part, the Black and Tans are “treated as ordinary constables, despite their strange uniforms, and they live and work in barracks alongside the Irish police.” They spend most of their time manning police posts or on patrol—”walking, cycling, or riding on Crossley Tenders.” They also undertake guard, escort and crowd control duties. While some Irish constables get along well with the Black and Tans, “it seems that many Irish police did not like their new British colleagues” and se them as “rough.”

Alexander Will, from Forfar in Scotland, is the first Black and Tan to die in the conflict. He is killed during an IRA attack on the RIC barracks in Rathmore, County Kerry, on July 11, 1920.

The Black and Tans gain a reputation for brutality and become notorious for reprisal attacks on civilians and civilian property, including extrajudicial killings, arson and looting. Their actions further sway Irish public opinion against British rule and draw condemnation in Britain.

The Black and Tans are sometimes confused with the Auxiliary Division, a counterinsurgency unit of the RIC, also recruited during the conflict and made up of former British officers. However, sometimes the term “Black and Tans” covers both groups. Some sources say the Black and Tans are officially named the “RIC Special Reserve,” but this is denied by other sources, which say they are not a separate force but “recruits to the regular RIC” and “enlisted as regular constabulary.”

More than a third leave the service before they are disbanded along with the rest of the RIC in 1922, an extremely high wastage rate, and well over half receive government pensions. Over 500 members of the RIC died in the conflict and more than 600 are wounded. Some sources state that 525 police are killed in the conflict, including 152 Black and Tans and 44 Auxiliaries. This figure of total police killed also includes 72 members of the Ulster Special Constabulary killed between 1920 and 1922 and 12 members of the Dublin Metropolitan Police.

Many Black and Tans are left unemployed after the RIC is disbanded and about 3,000 are in need of financial assistance after their employment in Ireland is terminated. About 250 Black and Tans and Auxiliaries, among over 1,300 former RIC personnel, join the Royal Ulster Constabulary. Another 700 joined the Palestine Police Force which is led by former British Chief of Police in Ireland, Henry Hugh Tudor. Others are resettled in Canada or elsewhere by the RIC Resettlement branch. Those who return to civilian life sometimes have problems re-integrating. At least two former Black and Tans are hanged for murder in Britain and another, Scott Cullen, wanted for murder, commits suicide before the police can arrest him.

(Pictured: Sir Hamar Greenwood inspects a group of Black and Tans in 1921)


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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 Clonfin Ambush

The Clonfin Ambush is carried out by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) on February 2, 1921, during the Irish War of Independence. It takes place in the townland of Clonfin between Ballinalee and Granard in County Longford. The IRA ambushes two lorries carrying members of the British Auxiliary Division, sparking a lengthy gun battle in which four Auxiliaries are killed and eight wounded. The Auxiliaries eventually surrender and their weapons are seized. The IRA commander, Seán Mac Eoin, wins some praise for helping the wounded Auxiliaries. Following the ambush, British forces burn a number of houses and farms in the area, and shoot dead an elderly farmer.

The IRA’s North Longford Flying Column, twenty-one strong and led by Seán Mac Eoin, is formed in late 1920. In that year they kill four Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) constables. In November, a company of the Auxiliary Division – a paramilitary police force made up of ex-military officers – has been stationed in the county to put down the local IRA, and are reinforced in January 1921. Whereas previously the IRA had tried to operate in relatively large numbers, often attacking police barracks, from this point forward, their GHQ in Dublin orders smaller but more frequent attacks to be made.

The ambush site, on the road between Granard and Ballinalee, is well chosen. Mac Eoin selects a position where the ambushers have excellent cover and are barely visible to the British. The plan is to explode a mine as the lorries pass. The British assessment is that, “the ambush was most cleverly laid.”

The IRA detonates the roadside improvised explosive device (IED) as two British lorries are passing a bridge, killing the driver of the first lorry instantly. The IRA unit then opens fire on the lorries, triggering a fire-fight lasting two hours. One of the Auxiliaries gets away and manages to summon reinforcements.

During the fighting, four members of the IRA party work their way around the flank of the Auxiliaries, killing their commander, Lt. Commander Francis Craven. After his death, the remaining policemen surrender. A total of four Auxiliaries are killed and eight wounded.

MacEoin’s treatment of his prisoners is humane. He congratulates them on the fight they had put up and prevents his fighters from assaulting the Auxiliaries. He also has water brought from nearby houses for the British wounded. When he is later captured by the British, three Auxiliaries testify at his courtmartial to his generous treatment of them at Clonfin. Mac Eoin’s humane treatment reportedly delays the IRA’s getaway and they are almost caught by 14 lorries of British reinforcements as they escape across Clonfin Wood. The IRA had captured 18 rifles, 20 revolvers ammunition, a Lewis gun and 800 rounds of ammunition.

In the aftermath of the ambush, British forces raid the nearby towns of Killoe, Ballinamuck, Drumlish, Ballinalee, Edgeworthstown, Granard and Ardagh. A number of houses and farms are burned. They shoot dead an elderly farmer, Michael Farrell, in reprisal for the ambush.

The IRA flying column lays low after the ambush and does not attempt any more attacks until the end of the month. MacEoin, the Longford IRA leader, is captured at Mullingar railway station in early March and charged with the murder of RIC DI MGrath. He is released in July under the terms of the Truce which ends hostilities. In his absence, the Longford IRA are not able to sustain the intensity of their campaign.

A stone monument is erected at the site of the ambush in 1971 to mark the 50th anniversary of the event. The IRA combatants are MacEoin (Ballinalee), Sean Duffy (Ballinalee), James J. Brady (Ballinamuck), Tom Brady (Cartronmarkey), Paddy Callaghan (Clonbroney), Seamus Conway (Clonbroney), Pat Cooke (Tubber), Seamus Farrelly (Purth), Paddy Finnegan (Molly), Larry Geraghty (Ballymore), Mick Gormley (Killoe), Hugh Hourican (Clonbroney), Jack Hughes (Scrabby), Mick Kenny (Clonbroney), Paddy Lynch (Colmcille), John McDowell (Clonbroney), Jack Moore (Streete), Mick Mulligan (Willsbrook), Michael F. Reynolds (Killoe), Sean Sexton (Ballinalee) and Jim Sheeran (Killoe).

(Pictured: The stone monument located at Clonfin, near the village of Ballinalee, County Longford, marking the site of the ambush. Erected in 1971 to mark the 50th anniversary of the event, the limestone monument features strong military, anti-British language and symbolism.)


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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 Pickardstown Ambush

The Pickardstown Ambush, an action by a combined Waterford force against a British Army patrol at Pickardstown, takes place near the town of Tramore, County Waterford on the night of January 7, 1921, during the Irish War of Independence. The ambush follows a feint attack on the Tramore Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) barracks.

The ambush is conceived by Irish Republican Army (IRA) East Waterford Officer Commanding (OC) Paddy Paul, who gathers volunteers from the local Dunhill and Waterford City units of his command, as well as West Waterford OC Pax Whelan and West Waterford flying column OC George Lennon. This makes for a total of fifty men although several are armed only with shotguns.

An attack is made on the RIC barracks in the town, and the British military garrison in Waterford quickly dispatches forty troops in four Crossley tenders. However the ambush has been badly planned with the result that the British troops are able to make a determined counterattack. Two IRA volunteers, Thomas O’Brien and Michael McGrath, are reportedly taken away and shot by members of the Devon Regiment. Two other volunteers are wounded. One British soldier and one Black and Tan are wounded.

A memorial is later erected on the ambush site. In later years, local Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) fields are named after the two dead IRA men.

(Pictured: Members of the Irish Republican Army East Waterford Brigade)


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Birth of George Plant, Member of the Irish Republican Army

George Plant, Irish Republican Army (IRA) member who is executed by the Irish Government in 1942, is born into a Church of Ireland farming family in Fethard, County Tipperary, on January 5, 1904.

Plant is the second eldest child and son in a family of six children. His parents are John William Albert Plant, a farmer, and Catherine Hayden.

One Sunday in 1916 George and his older brother Jimmy are arrested by the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) after being seen speaking to two well known republicans, Seán Hayes and Dan Breen. In custody the two brothers are beaten and mistreated resulting in a hatred of the RIC. He serves with the Irish Republican Army during the Irish War of Independence and with the Anti-Treaty IRA in the Irish Civil War.

In 1923 George and Jimmy leave Ireland for Canada and the United States but continue as active IRA members. In 1929 they return to Ireland and carry out a bank raid in Tipperary on behalf of the IRA. They are arrested two days later at the family farm and subsequently sentenced to 7 years in prison. They are released in a general amnesty after the Fianna Fáil and Éamon de Valera election victory in 1932. He is a strong supporter of Seán Russell. In 1939 following the outbreak of World War II, known in Ireland as The Emergency, de Valera is determined to maintain Irish neutrality and is not going to allow the IRA to jeopardize this. The IRA links with Germany and campaign in Britain are severely straining Anglo-Irish relations so emergency legislation is introduced.

Russell, the IRA Chief of Staff, dies in August 1940 after taking ill on board a U-boat and Stephen Hayes from County Wexford becomes IRA Chief of Staff. In late August 1940 an address on Lansdowne Road Dublin is raided by the Garda Síochána. Among the men arrested is Michael Devereux, a 24-year-old married truck driver from County Wexford who is also Quartermaster of the IRAs Wexford Brigade. He is released after three days without charge. Shortly afterwards Gardaí in County Wexford find an IRA arms dump. Many in the IRA suspect that Devereux had turned informer, so Stephen Hayes orders Devereux’s execution. George Plant and another man, Michael Walsh from County Kilkenny, are ordered to carry out the order. Devereux meets Plant and Walsh who tell Devereux that Tom Cullimore, the Wexford Brigade’s OC is blamed for the arms dump and that they have shot him. They order Devereux to drive them to an IRA safe house at Grangemockler in south County Tipperary. Devereux, believing he is the prime suspect in a murder, stays willingly at the safe house. A week later, on September 27, 1940, Devereux is invited to go for a walk with Plant and Paddy Davern, the owner of the safe house. Somewhere along the walk Plant accuses Devereux of being an informer and shoots him dead. Plant is arrested nine weeks later on suspicion of IRA membership and brought before the Special Criminal Court in Dublin. On February 10, 1941 Radio Éireann broadcasts a radio appeal for Michael Devereux on behalf of his wife.

In September 1941 Stephen Hayes is accused of being an informer by a group of Northern IRA members led by Seán McCaughey. He manages to escape to a garda station. Shortly afterwards a large force of Garda Síochána and Irish Army descend on the area around the Davern farmhouse where they find Devereux’s car buried under an onion bed and eventually discover Devereux’s body, a year to the day after his death. Two weeks later, Plant, already in prison on IRA membership charges, is charged with Devereux’s murder. A trial is held with a senior IRA officer, Joseph o’Connor, also charged with Devereux’s murder. The first trial collapses after two days when Paddy Davern and Micheal Walsh, two of the prosecution witnesses, refuse to give evidence. This result leads to the court issuing a nolle prosequi order which should have meant the end of the affair, however both men are rearrested and recharged with the same offence, under Emergency Order 41f. Minister for Justice Gerald Boland transfers the case to a Special Military Court with army officers acting as judges. In addition to Plant, Paddy Davern and Michael Walsh are also now charged with Devereux’s murder. The second trial begins at Collins Barracks, Dublin in February 1942 with Seán MacBride, a former IRA Chief of Staff and future government minister as the defendant’s barrister. Davern states his original statement was given at gunpoint but under the new order even statements given under duress are admissible. The court only has two sentencing options – death or acquittal. Joseph O’Connor is acquitted and despite MacBride’s best efforts the other three are sentenced to death. Davern and Walsh have their sentences commuted to life imprisonment, and are both released in 1946.

Just one week after sentence is passed, Plant is executed in Portlaoise Prison by a six-man firing squad drawn from the Irish Army. Much bitterness is caused by the treatment of Plant’s relatives. Neither his wife or mother or infant son are allowed to visit him in the week before his execution. Censorship ensures there is little mention in the newspapers so his family only learns of his execution from a brief radio broadcast shortly before they receive a telegram. He is buried in the grounds of Portlaoise Prison, but is reinterred in 1948, when he is buried with full IRA military honours in his local church St. Johnstown in County Tipperary, and a Celtic cross is erected over his grave.

Plant’s wife moves to the United States where she remarries. His brother Jimmy dies in London in 1978. The Plant’s family farm is now part of the Coolmore Estate.


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The Kilcommon Ambush

On the morning of the December 16, 1920 during the Irish War of Independence, an eight man Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) foot patrol under the command of Sergeant Thomas Bray, leaves the barracks at Kilcommon Cross, County Tipperary, to retrieve mail from the Post Office in Kilcommon village, a mile away.

As they approach the crest of a hill on the narrow road between the Cross and the village, approximately twenty men of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) 1st Tipperary Brigade open fire on them. The object of the attack is apparently quite simple – to kill members of the police, and in particular Sergeant Bray.

The ambush, although triggered early, is successful, with the deaths of four of the constables and the serious wounding of one other. The remaining three policemen are able to take cover and return to the barracks, including the Sergeant. Two RIC rifles are lost and there are no casualties on the IRA side.

The dead constables are Patrick Joseph Halford (27) of Meath, Ernest Frederick Harden (21) of Essex, Albert Holman Palmer (24) of Surrey, and Arthur Smith (22) of London. Constable Alfred Edwin Bundy of Gloucestershire is seriously wounded and requires hospital care. He is pensioned out early, in June 1921, as a result of his injuries.

There is some suggestion that the local IRA units are not at all keen on an ambush in their area, for fear of retribution. The brigade commanders push ahead with it however, and the inevitable ‘unofficial reprisals’ are carried out, with the killing of some livestock and the burning of some dwellings, including the home of one of the IRA volunteers.

The total strength in Kilcommon RIC Barracks at this time was around 16 police. Most of them are British recruits – Black and Tans – and under the control of only one Sergeant. Immediately after the ambush a further six men are drafted in as replacements.

Two of the eight police involved in the incident that day remain to be identified. But present in Kilcommon barracks during the period are two constables who are later to have careers in the Palestine Gendarmerie, Arthur Charles Howard and Arthur Fisher. Fisher becomes an officer in the Arab Section of the Palestine Gendarmerie and later the Transjordan Frontier Force (TJFF).

(From: “The Kilcommon Ambush, 16 December 1920” by Peter Mc, The Royal Irish Constabulary Forum, irishconstabulary.com | Pictured: The vicinity of the ambush site)