Background and Organisation

During the 1916 Rising county Wexford was one of only several locations outside of Dublin to rise. For nearly a week the Irish Volunteers controlled Enniscorthy Town, with Ferns Village also occupied. However, this success was short lived and after the surrender of forces in Dublin, the rising in Wexford also came to an end. Arrests followed with many Wexford men imprisoned and sent to internment camps in Frongoch internment camp in Wales. Although initially the rising proved unpopular, public opinion changed after the execution of the its leaders in Dublin. Consequently, when the Wexford volunteers arrived home in 1917 they were received as heroes.

1877 – Birth of the leader of the alcohol free 1916 Rising, Canon ...
Irish Volunteers and leaders of the Easter Rising in Wexford being led away from the Athenaeum in Ennisorthy (which served as their HQ during the rising) by British forces

The volunteers began to organise under the Sinn Fein banner, advocating for an Independent Republic. Helped by their stance against the introduction of conscription into Ireland during the war Sinn Fein won a landslide victory in the 1918 election with 73 seats out of 105. Those new elected abstained from Westminister Parliament and set up their own named ‘Dail Eireann’. On the same day the first shots of the War of Independence were fired when two police officers were shot dead in an ambush at Soloheadbeg in Tipperary by the military wing of Dail Eireann the ‘Irish Republican Army’ (IRA). Over time attacks on the police increased to the point that their position was untenable in many location throughout the country. In early 1920 the ‘Black and Tan’s’ arrived in Ireland to support the police. They were made up of volunteers from Britain and Ireland, some of whom had previously fought in the world war. The Auxiliaries arrived later in mid 1920 and was made up of former British army officers. In January 1921 Wexford was placed under Martial Law.

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Map showing organisation of I.R.A units in county Wexford. (Credit: Atlas of the Irish Revolution, 2018, Cork University Press, page 546)

Originally the entire county of Wexford was organised into a single unit but underwent re-organisation during the War of Independence. The county formed part of the Third Eastern division and was divided into two brigades; the North Wexford Brigade and South Wexford Brigade. The territory of the North Wexford Brigade took in part of South Wicklow. Each Brigade was made up of four Battalions which in turn was made up of various companies. In July 1921 the combined strength of both the North and South Brigades numbered 2, 162 including all ranks (IRA nominal rolls of Wexford, organisation and membership files, avaliable at militaryarchives.ie)

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