Raid on Mail Train at Killurin

In the early 1900s county Wexford was well served by the railways. As well as lines from Rosslare to Waterford and Dublin, a line also ran from Macmine Junction heading west to Palace East, where it branched off towards New Ross and Bagnelstown Co. Carlow via Ballywilliam. There were multiple stops along these routes, some of which are still operational, while others (where the line isn’t closed) the train now runs fast through. One of these former stations was located at Killurin on the Wexford to Dublin line, just below Macmine Junction.

1895 map showing the Wexford’s railways. NOTE the Waterford to Rosslare line was not yet included in this edition. (Credit: British Library)

On Friday the 13th of August 1920 the New Ross Standard reported that just before the 5.30 a.m. train arrived at Killurin station several armed men with revolvers held up the signal man, a Mr. J. Wheeler. The approaching train was stopped and the men enquired was there any steel shutters aboard (likely bound to be installed in a RIC barracks to boost its defense). None were found but 10 bags of ‘official mails’ was stolen instead. However, the private mails were left untouched and the raiders made their escape in a motorcar.

This was the first of about twenty similar raids on the mail trains at Killurin during the war of Independence. They were an important exercise in intelligence gathering, providing valuable information including official reports from various RIC barracks with information on their strength and activities. The home address of many Black and Tans were also obtained and then sent to G.H.Q. This was at a time when the IRA were burning houses in England as reprisals for events in Ireland. Francis Carty in his witness statement tells how the engine drivers ‘…usually stopped the train at Killurin on observing the customary gestures’ (p14), suggesting that the they were regularly cooperative in facilitating the raids. He mentions particularly how many of the letters were opened and rubber stamped with ‘censored IRA’ to give the impression of an extensive intelligence gathering operation. This certainly would have had the desired effect of limiting peoples cooperation with British forces. Especially if they thought any letters they maybe sending were being read by those who they were meant to provide information on. Privacy was respected though and it is mentioned that civilian mail was never read.

Francis recalls the benefit of these operations and of one instance of the variety of information that could be obtained.

‘Letters from Black & Tan members of the R.I.C. in Taghmon Barracks spoke of the dangerous position they were in as a result of barrack attacks. They stated that it was unsafe to venture far from their barracks by day or by night and one of these letters compared conditions to the trench warfare in France during the first World War. A number of the letters spoke of eggs which these Black & Tans were sending to English relatives. They said that there was no limit to the amount of eggs they could send provided they received a supply of egg boxes. The eggs were, of course, being stolen from the farmers. ‘ (p14-15). Similar raids took place at Campile Station and at Rathgarogue Station during the period.

Killurin Train Station Today

Close up taken from a wider photo of Killurin railway line early 1900s.. Killurin station is visible with platforms and signal cabin. (Credit; National Library of Ireland, The Lawrence Collection. Available online)

Killurin station closed to all traffic in 1964 and the train now runs fast through. The original station structure, a two-storey red bricked building built in 1872, still stands and is now a private residence. The platforms are still in place but hidden by vegetation.

Killurin train station as it looks today (Credit: Barntown Heritage Group facebook page)
View back towards station with overgrown platform visible to the right. (Credit: Barntown Heritage Group facebook page)

Throughout the period mails were raided from other stations in Wexford also including Ferns, Campile , Rathgarouge and others. It is noticeable that the more rural stations were preferred to those in the towns.

Sources

Bureau of Military History Witness Statement, Francis Carty, (IRA) #1040

New Ross Standard, Friday 20th August 1920, p4.

South Wexford Brigade Activity Reports

Thanks to ‘The Barntown Heritage Group’ for permission to use the photos of Killurin station.

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