Up until early 1920 county Wexford had remained relatively peaceful throughout the War of Independence. However, this was about to change on Sunday night the 24th of April as the Wexford I.R.A were preparing to undertake their first attack on an R.I.C Barracks in the county. Their target was the barracks at Clonroche, a small village a few miles outside of Enniscorthy on the road to New Ross.
The Barracks was described as a substantial two-storey building, standing alone and just outside the village on the enniscorthy road. It was demolished in the 1970’s and stood on the site of the current Garda Barracks. A farmer’s house stood on the same side of the road as the barracks and two workers’ houses, on the opposite side, were situated about 15 yards further down the road towards Enniscorthy. Immediately opposite the barracks there was no dwelling, so its position was more or less an isolated one. The building was adequality defended with thick walls providing protection from bullet fire while sand bags were placed inside the windows at the front. Additionally, steel shutters, with port holes, were placed on all windows and steel doors were installed. The only large window at the back had sand bags placed outside it while the windows on the ground floor in the gable end had wire entanglements around them.
The assembly point, or one of, for the attack was Darcy’s forge Moneytucker. The men on the actual attack were from Enniscorthy companies while other companies held up roads. Prior to the assault all communications (telegraph wires) between the village and Enniscorthy and Wexford and New Ross were cut as were those on both sides of Ballywilliam Barracks. Road blocks were set up on the approach roads into Clonroche with trees felled and men stationed at them, some of whom were armed with shotguns. It was shortly after one in the morning and five of the officers had gone to bed while a sixth was in the barracks day room. Suddenly he was alerted to the sound of gun fire against the front and rear of the house. The other police officers quickly woke, grabbed their weapons and took up defensive positions inside the barracks. Meanwhile outside the I.R.A had taken up positions to the front and rear of the barracks. The frontal assault consisting of only rifle fire while to the rear, a section positioned behind a five foot wall separating the barracks from the adjoining land, utilized bombs and rifle fire. The police were called on to surrender but they refused, responding with gunfire and bombs thrown through port holes in the building. The attack ceased by half 2 with the attacker leaving by 3 a.m.
During the attack the I.R.A made use of a new homemade weapon called a ‘tailer bomb’. A description of these was given by John Carroll in his military witness statment. (WS#1258) ‘The bombs were home-made and were called “Tailer Bombs”. They had a tail like a kite, so that the nose of the bomb, in which the exploding mechanism was placed, would first strike the object at which it had been thrown. We soon became very accurate at bomb throwing and could from a distance of thirty yards always hit our target.’
An inspection the following morning showed the front wall was peppered with bullet holes and the centre window upstairs had been targets but not those on either side of it. The barracks only had a single window at the back which was ‘shattered to pieces’ and numerous bullet marks on the rear wall. The roof bore four marks, having been struck by bombs, only one of which seemed to have gone off, causing only minor damage with 2 or 3 slates smashed and creating a slight hole. There was no casualties on the night but a police officer, constable Connell, received a splinter from the bomb which blew a hole in the roof, causing a flesh wound to his left arm. The police suggested the attack ceased after they threw a bomb towards the back wall, injuring one of the attackers. A civilian and the police reported hearing a person screaming in agony. However the attackers accounts fail to mention any such event. The following morning the police retrieved 71 unexploded bombs, 2 unexploded mill bombs and three others exploded, all from the rear of the building. One explosive was made from the box of a cart wheel packed with gelignite and would have caused considerable damage to the barracks if used. During the attack a car arrived with a landmine that was intended to be used however as the attack had already commenced they could not get close to put it into position. On the night a young man, who had been held up by the attackers on his way to the fair in Enniscorthy, later estimated about 300 men were engaged in the attack with 11 motor cars involved and others arriving on bike. The police estimated 150 to 200 men were involved.
The reason for the failure to capture the barracks can be attributed primarily to the failure of many of the tailer bombs to explode. This denied the attackers the opportunity to cause any real destruction to the barracks; the initial plan had been to throw flaming bottles and other explosive devices through holes made in the roof by the tailer bombs. The resilience of the police to surrender also impacted the result as the attackers knew the assault was not sustainable in the long run due to a limited ammunition supply and the threat of reinforcements arriving.
An interesting twist of faith surrounds the attack on Clonroche Barracks as initially it was not originally supposed to be attacked in the first place; Patrick Ronan (WS#1157) wrote that in the summer of 1920 Ferns RIC Barracks; was the original target. However …’ just before it was to take place, one of the Volunteers told his girl he could not meet her on Sunday night as he was going to Ferns to take part in an attack on the Barracks there. So she told it to others and the attack had to be abandoned. Clonroche Barracks were attacked instead and all the bombs were used in the attack.
The Site Today
Unfortunately today there are no contemporary features associated with the attack remaining . The barracks was demolished in the 1970’s to facilitate the construction of the present day Garda station and accompanying residence. The area directly opposite, where the attackers would have sought cover, has been redeveloped.
‘A Cork Accent in Clonroche as Barracks Attacked’ by Tom McDonald in The Past: The Organ of the Uí Cinsealaigh Historical Society , No. 32 (2016), pp.126-141
Bureau of Military History Withness Statement:John Carroll #1258
Patrick Ronan #1157