By May 1921 the War of Independence had been raging for over two years in Ireland. County Wexford, although relatively quiet early on in the period, experienced a surge in IRA activity from early 1920 onwards. At the end of that year the IRA within the county was reorganized and divided into a North and South Brigade. This coincided with the formation of an Active Service Unit (ASU), more often referred to as a flying column, for the county. These were full time mobile military units who used guerilla warfare against crown forces. As its membership at the the time of its formation was entirely made up of men from North Wexford it then fell under that Brigade area’s command, therefore becoming ‘The North Wexford Brigade Flying Column’. On the 7th of May 1921 the column undertook, what was probably their most significant ambush, when they attacked an RIC patrol near the Village of Inch just north of Gorey town, resulting in the death of one RIC Auxiliary constable.
Background and Preparation
In early May 1921 the column had been resting at Coady’s of Corrigeen, underneath the shadow of the Blackstairs Mountain. Coady’s, as well as being a safehouse, was also a training camp, munitions’ factory and acted as a general meeting point or HQ for the IRA in North Wexford. Its somewhat isolated and rural location, along the Blackstairs mountains, made it a safe and secure location. Two months previously in March the column had a lucky escape in the townland of Kilmichael, near Hollyfort outside Gorey, when they were caught off-guard and surrounded in a safehouse by the RIC. Luckily they managed to escape without any casualties. Afterwards the column was temporarily disbanded before later being reorganised under the command of Myles Breen of Tinnashrule, Ferns, with Patrick Kenny of Ballycarney as second in command.
The ambush at Inch came about after information was obtained that a lorry load of RIC and Black and Tans travelled via Inch to Gorey on the 1st Saturday of every month bringing the pay to the various RIC barracks. After some planning and discussion it was decided that they would ambush the lorry on the Gorey side of Inch, at a location known as ‘the cuttings’. The site is also referred to locally as ‘Manus Rocks’ and is in the townland of Boleybawn. Having decided on their course of action the column set out on foot towards Inch. From the safety of the Backstairs mountains they travelled east towards the Sliabh Bhuai Hill range, arriving at Bill Murphy’s of the Bleech, Monasootha, where they rested for a night. While here they obtained a mine to be used in the ambush, made by a man called Daniel Byrne, whom was described as an expert explosive maker. After spending what was described at ‘a most enjoyable night’ at Bill Murphy’s the column skirted along the Wicklow Wexford border and moved onto Doyle’s of Buckstown, then through Monaseed and onto the Mount Hill. Here they met 2 scouts from the local Crannford company, named Murt Kavanagh and Dinny Maher, who were to escort them to their destination. Company scouts regularly aided the column as they passed through their area of operations. What was perhaps unfamiliar territory to many men in the column was the opposite for the scouts, who knew the local terrain like the back of their hands and ensured a safe route to travel. While on Mount Hill Murt Kavanagh told the column about the local area, including tales of 1798 and the infamous Hunter Gowen who back in those days owned the estate they were encamped on, now belonging to the Rev. Dom J.F. Sweetman who was running the well-known Benedictine College there at this time.
The mine they had been carrying, since they left Murphy’s near Sliabh Bhuai, was heavy and upon stopping on top of the mount hill the man who had been carrying it, Dick Hume, jokingly drew his small .22 revolver and threatened to shoot someone if they didn’t carry it for him. Continuing on their journey the column crossed the Bann river via a narrow foot bridge at Ballingarry. Only one person could cross at a time, which proved difficult for one member of the column , Thomas Meagher, who lost his balance and fell in. They continued on via Bolacreen and Coolinteggart finally reaching Errity’s outfarm at Ballyconlore where they rested for the night in a disused house, only a short distance away from Inch. A Dinny Allen (TD), captain of Kilanerin (D company) arranged for accommodation and food for the men while at Errittys.
Two men from Inch, Peter Kavanagh and John Sheridan, from the Kilanerin company, acted as guides going to and from the ambush site. At dawn the following morning the column was led to the ambush position along the Gorey to Arklow road, just south of Inch. The position ‘known as the cuttings’ was suited to an ambush, as the road at this point contained sharp bends, which would compel any vehicles to slow down and give the column a better opportunity for a successful attack. Also the ground on either side was higher and offered a good vantage to fire from while the trees and scrub covering offered them some protection.
The column positioned themselves along a high bank on the western side of the road, or what is the right hand side travelling from inch to Gorey. The men, armed with shotguns and rifles, numbered around 25 in total and were spaced about 5 to 10 yards apart overlooking the roadside. This meant they covered a total distance of about 125 yards, giving them a commanding range over the road beneath. Initially it was planned to set the mine they had brought with them into position along the road for the approaching lorry. However, this was decided against at the last minute when they realised as it was a fair day in Gorey and as the road would be busy they feared arousing suspicion which might alert crown forces. The mine was later found by the police following the ambush and taken back to the barracks in Gorey. It remained there following the truce, after which the IRA took over the building. Upon discovering the device in April 1922 they called in Daniel Byrne, the mines maker and ironically in a twist of faith while experimenting with the bomb it exploded killing him nearly a year after he first manufactured it.
Throughout the morning the column lay in wait for the truck but by 11 o clock that morning it had failed to arrive and they learned later it had bypassed Inch altogether. It was 12:30p.m. and the men were considering withdrawing when they noticed 5 police officers on bicycles coming along the road towards them from Inch. The officers had left their barracks in Coolgreany early that morning and were on their way into Gorey to buy their weekly provisions. They were cycling in formation and spaced a distance apart; A Sergeant Doolan was in front with another constable behind, followed by an auxillary constable called Fredrick Dupree. The two remaining officers then followed a distance behind at the rear. During the military inquiry following the ambush the policeman between Doolan and Dupree stated that they reached a bend in the road about a quarter of a mile from inch village when they were fired upon. Sergeant Doolan was wounded in the left arm and the right leg above the knee. Both men immediately took shelter in a narrow ditch on the right side of the road. The attackers continued firing at them and the officer responded with his own gunfire. He attempted to make his way up to the attackers and while attempting to do so heard a whistle, after which the firing ceased. The two constables behind saw the commotion ahead of them, took cover on the right hand side of the road and returned fire. One attempted to reach the attackers along the cliff and fired, but could see no body. Both officers then doubled back to Inch post office and phoned Gorey RIC for help as well as a doctor and nurse.
The firing was ongoing as the two officers made their way to the post office to phone for help, but by the time they returned it had ceased. Constable Dupree was then found dead on the left hand side of the road, having been shot through the breast and right lung.
The Column Escapes
The column was well aware that following the ambush they couldn’t afford to linger around, fearful of police and or military arriving from Arklow or Gorey, both towns being only about 5 miles away. The RIC in Gorey later arrived on the scene in an armored car with two additional motor cars. A Dr. Nolan from Gorey and a nurse Kimher arrived on the scene also. After the ambush the column hid in Ballinstraw wood on the property of Thomas Esmonde and after dark moved onto the home of Paddy Kenny at Ballydarragh, who was the officer commanding for the Crannford company, arriving at midnight. After eating they then moved to Murphys of the Bleach, reaching their destination at 5 or 6 in the morning. By this time the men were tired having travelled 10 miles through rough country and crossing Ballydarragh and Corriglegan hills. James O Toole in his witness statement stated that
‘all the members of the column were suffering from sore feet, cuts, etc. In my own case I sprained my ankle at Murphy’s, The Bleach, when setting out for Inch and did the whole journey in that condition. The pain was so intense that several times I had to put my foot and ankle into running water so as to numb the pain’ p12.
Eventually they reached the Bleech where they remained for a week while police activity died down.
Constable Frederick Dupree was originally from Margate in Kent and was only 19 when he was shot at Inch. He had joined the auxiliary police a year earlier, having first been stationed at Gorey before being moved to Coolgreany after four months. Following the ambush his body was brought back to the RIC barracks in Gorey. Shopkeepers were notified by the police to close their premises while the body was being conveyed through the town and that one person from each house was to attend the funeral. When the body was brought through Gorey at 4 that evening a large crowd lined behind the remains and the traders were told to close their premises for the evening. The Gorey Fair always brought large crowds but later on that day the town became very quiet with hardly anyone about. The following Tuesday Dupree’s remains were brought for a short service to Gorey Methodist church and were then transported by train from Gorey station to Dublin, then onto England for burial.
Following the ambush at Inch crown forces carried out several reprisals. A notice in the New Ross Standard on the 27th of May 1921 (p5), stated that Colonel Commandant Cameron ordered the destructions as the owners were active supporters of the armed rebels who undertook the ambush at Inch resulting in the death of constable Dupree. It stated the following houses were destroyed on Monday-Tuesday the 23rd-24th May 1921.
The House of John Etchingham Courtown Harbour
The House of Patrick Kenny Ballykale Gorey
The house of Margaret Veney, North Parade Gorey
The house of M. Kelly , Clones Ferns
The Liquor in the establishment of Patrick Byrne Inch
The Irish Times on the 25th May 1921, p5 reported the destruction of Veney’s Gorey stating that the residence of Frederick Veney was leveled with explosives at 1 o clock on Tuesday monring. Military and police armed with machine guns arrived in Gorey the previous evening staying in the courthouse and barracks. The injured parties were only allowed to remove bedding and valuables.
The Site Today
The location of the Inch ambush today is distinctive and easily recognisable due to the high ground on the western side of the road where the column were positioned. In the 100 years since the event alterations have removed the bend where the RIC would have been fired upon. This would have been located approximately where the 1798 monument stands today.
100 years on
Unfortunately due to the current pandemic and restrictions it was not possible to hold a commemoration event at Inch to mark it’s centenary. However, a small group of people gathered for a short period at the location to mark the event, 100 years on. The group included, starting from the left, the author of this article, followed by Gráinne and John Kavanagh. (John’s father was Peter Kavanagh, D/Company (Kilanerin), who in 1921 acted as a guide escorting the column to and from the ambush position). Also present was Denis Sheridan (sixth from the right, whose father, John (Jack) Sheridan, also acted as a guide with Peter Kavanagh) together with the extended Sheridan family. Also Charlie O’Shaughnessy, (fifth from the right) whose father Jack and uncle Ted were members of D Company and his aunt, Hanah, was adjutant of Castletown Cumann na mBan. Thanks to Peter O Connor for taking the photo.
Bureau of Military History Witness statement, Thomas Dwyer #1198
Bureau of Military History Witness statement, James O Toole #1084
Bureau of Military History Witness statement, Michael O Brien #1158
Bureau of Military History Witness statement, Patrick Carton #1160
Enniscorthy Guardian 11th May 1921 , p4
Irish Times 25th May 1921, p5
County Wexford in the Rare Oul Times by Nicjholas Furlong and John Hayes, Vol 4
Thanks to Owen Dunbar of Gorey for bringing additional references to my attention