On Monday evening the 20th of December 1920 members of the South Wexford Brigade IRA arrived in the village of Carrig-On-Bannow, planning to destroy the RIC barracks. During the operation an altercation occurred between an IRA member and a civilian, the latter of whom was shot and killed.
Background to the event
In December 1920 the South Wexford Brigade IRA planned to destroy the RIC Barracks in Carrig-On-Bannow. A shop and pub, belonging to a Mr. James Walsh, was attached to the barracks building. At the time the police had also commandeered the area above these to accommodate additional personal. Francis Carty in his witness statement describes how they had planned to ‘…place a large quantity of gelignite in the public house against the inner wall of the barracks. The charge was calculated to be sufficient to destroy the barracks and its contents completely.’ (p6). A man called Tom Traynor, whom was the county engineer, had calculated the amount of explosives required for the job.
The Barracks Building
The RIC barracks was located on the northern end of the village, along the main street, The ‘Wicklow People’ on reporting the incident described the barracks as ‘strongly fortified and regarded as impregnable’. By Dec 1920 many rural barracks in Wexford had been sabotaged, burned or attacked. Foulksmills barracks had been attacked just 2 days before the incident in Carrig-on-Bannow. Subsequently as result of these events many had become heavily fortified, including Carrig-On-Bannow barracks. The newspaper report makes reference to ‘… a loophole window’ indicating the barracks possibly had steel shutters with loopholes attached to its windows. Mr. James Walsh, as well as owning the shop and pub, also owned the barracks building, which the police rented from him for a fee.
Attempt to blow up barracks
Francis Carty states in his witness statement that 12 men were involved in the operation. Before the operation telegraph wires were cut to stop the police calling for aid and delay the arrival of any potential reinforcements. Explosives had been hidden in a graveyard near the village and were picked up en route on the day. At around 6 in the evening, under the cover of darkness, 2-3 cars arrived and stopped outside the village, having come from Wexford town. The IRA had been informed that Mr. Walsh would not be in the shop at the time and instead there would be a young man assisting him that would not offer any resistance. This was John Walsh, a nephew of James Walsh. A donkey and cart was commandeered from a man outside the village to place the explosives into. This was to be led up to the barracks and the explosives placed inside the adjoining shop. The ‘Wicklow People’ reported how two men, armed with revolvers, approached the owner of the donkey and cart and took it, but reasurred thrm that they would return it after the operation.
The Military Enquiry reported in ‘The Wicklow People’ told how John Walsh left the shop at about 6:45 p.m. after his uncle, James Walsh, had arrived and relieved him. It was unexpected to the IRA that James Walsh would arrive, but they decided to continue with the operation. At about 7 p.m. two men entered the premises. Francis Carty identifies one of these men as ‘Davy Sears’ and how when he attempted to buy cigarettes Mr. James Walsh became suspicious of him. The Enquiry told how after a brief exchange of words a struggle broke out between Davy Sears and James Walsh. The ensuing struggle escalated from the shop to just outside the property when two shots rang out and James was wounded. The IRA decided to abandon the operation and fled the scene, heading northwards out of the village. Meanwhile, upon being awoken by the noise one of the police officers in the adjacent barracks took position upstairs and fired two shots at a wall opposite the building on the other side of the street. Having heard the commotion he likely assumed the barracks was under attack and fired where he thought any attackers may have been positioned. Francis Carty describes how he had been observing the incident nearby and upon hearing the shots from the police intended to fire back with a ‘parrabellum pistol’ he had. However, he mistakenly pressed the magazine release and it with its store of bullets fell to the ground. These were later retrieved by the police.
Following the attackers retreat James Walsh lay wounded outside his store calling for his nephew saying ‘John I’m shot’. Twenty minutes later the parish priest, a Canon Mortimer O Sullivan administered the last rites (Irish Times, 22nd Dec 1920, p5) and within a half hour of the shooting James died (New Ross Standard, 21st Dec 1920, p5), The cause of death was given as a result of two bullet wounds, both shot at close range.
James, most likely becoming aware of the IRA men and their intention, attempted to interfere and halt their actions. Knowing that the police were nearby he probably anticipated that his struggle would alert them and they would then render assistance. He was aged 50 years at the time of his death and was unmarried with no children. His remains were interned in Ambrosetown Graveyard.
Following on from the incident those involved managed to escape before any military cordons were set up on the area. They arrived back in Wexford town, leaving the cars a distance outside from it and walking in via separate roads. The Brigade Activity Reports tell how one telegraph wire was left uncut and the police actually wired for assistance. Fortunately for the IRA though a man named ‘Aidan Cullen’, whom was on duty in Wellingtonbridge post office, intercepted this message and prevented the capture of the men returning to Wexford.
The site today
The building has changed little from the exterior. The portion which served as the barracks is now a private residence while the former shop and pub section of the building retain their commercial fronts and in 2019 was used as a takeaway. There is no marker or memorial on the site to indicate that the incident ever occurred.
Irish Times, 22nd Dec 1920, p5
New Ross Standard, 21st Dec 1920, p5
South Wexford Brigade Activity Reports
The Wicklow People, 23rd Dec 1920, p5
Cover Photo: Former RIC Barrack (Right) and commercial premises of James Walsh as it looked in 2019.