Lead up to the ambush
In his witness statement to the Bearu of Military History Sean Whelan recalls an I.R.A ambush on police officers, cycling back from Enniscorthy towards Clonroche, at red Pat’s Cross. The event took place on Saturday the 13th of June 1920. On that morning three volunteers by the names of Joe McMahon, Tom Roche and Frank Gibbons called to number 1 Irish Street in Enniscorthy where Sean Whelan had a boot repairing shop. The three had spotted two R.I.C officers enter Ringwoods Barbers in Templeshannon on the opposite side of the town, presumably to get a haircut. They asked Sean, whom was the quartermaster of the ‘North Wexford Brigade’, to give the green light for a hold up. Sean gave the go ahead and placed Joe in charge, handing him his Colt .45 revolver.
Sean gave instructions to bring three others, Michael Kirwan, Matt Lynam and Jem Fitzharris with them. On returning to the barber shop they saw there were several other people inside and decided to call off the hold up for fear of injuring any civilians. It was decided instead to ambush the police on their way back to Clonroche at a place called Red Pat’s Cross.
From studying newspaper reports of the ambush and the account given by Sean Whelan in his statement the location was likely along a stretch of road just after the cross. Here there is a ‘high ditch’, to the left which the attackers hide behind. The New Ross Standard describes how at about 4.30 p.m. three officers were cycling from Enniscorthy back towards Clonroche; Constable Sullivan and Creighton were stationed at Clonroche and making their way back from the station in Enniscorthy while the third, a constable Molloy, decided to join them part of the way. Molloy was unarmed but the others carried revolvers. Accounts differ as to what happened next. The New Ross standard reports that the police were confronted from behind the ditch and told ‘hands up’. They ignored this believing it to be a joke, until they were fired upon in which they case they quickly dismounted their bikes and made for the safety of the ditch opposite to that of the attackers. In contrast Sean Whelan’s statement describes how as the volunteers were moving into position one of their revolvers accidentally went off as the police were approaching and upon hearing they went for cover.
Following whatever the circumstances which began the event a firefight broke out between the police and I.R.A volunteers with only the road separating them. They took cover behind the ditches and newspaper reported that the police ‘discharged all the chambers of their revolvers’ in the direction of the attackers. After dispelling all of their ammunition the volunteers decided to retreat back and the police reported mounting the ditch and seeing several men making their escape. The police reported that at least 20 shots were fired at them while witnesses at the nearby golf links reported hearing only 13 shots.
Following the attack there was a large police and military presence that evening. During a search of the area they recovered a lot of webley revolver bullets, likely belonging to the volunteers. They also recovered a new bicycle, again probably belonging to one of the volunteers. Although there were no civilians caught up in the ambush it was reported that a car travelling to New Ross from Enniscorthy heard the gunshots and decided to turn back. Two cyclists travelling the opposite direction did the same also. Sean Whelan says how they were disappointed with the outcome of the attack.
The lack of any rifles or shotguns used in the attack can be attributed to two things. First the sudden nature of the ambush, which allowed for little if any preparation. Second, the fact that in the early stages of the war of independence in Wexford such weapons were in short supply and those which they had were well hidden and could not be got at a moments notice. The site remains much the same as it did in 1920. The location was once quiet rural but this has changed with the construction of houses along the route and at nearby Red Pat’s Cross through the years.
New Ross Standard June 18th 1920.
North Wexford Brigade Activity Files # 10
Sean Whelan, Enniscorthy, Bureau of Military History Witness Statement #1294