Black and Tans Ambushed in Ferns

On Monday night the 4th of April 1921 an RIC police patrol was ambushed in the village of Ferns, Co. Wexford. One of those involved in the attack, Joseph Killeen, recalled the event in his witness statement to the bureau of military history many years later; On the night of the ambush himself, together with four members of the North Wexford Flying Column, Stephen Pender, William Kavanagh, Tom (Lundy) Dwyer and har Connors, took up position behind a ‘high wall’ along the main street, about 50 yards from the RIC barracks. Tom Dwyer in his witness states recounting the same event states the wall was located where the former national bank building now stands.

Late 19th/ early 20th century photograph showing the junction of Main Street and the Enniscorthy road with probable ‘high wall’ utilised during the ambush visible (Lawrence photographic collection, National Library of Ireland)

Joseph was armed with 0.45 revolver and five rounds of ammunition, while the other men in the party also had revolvers and a few home made hand grenades. Joseph state the target was ‘…a composite patrol of six R.I.C. and Black and Tans…’. and ‘The patrol approached in single file on both sides of the street. When they came opposite our position, we opened fire on them and threw some grenades.’

Ordinance Survey Map of Ferns C. 1905 with associated ambush locations overlaid.
Joseph Killeen in later life. (Photo courtesy of his grandson Joe Killeen)

A contemporary newspaper report stated that bombs, revolver and rifle fire were directed at the police from a high wall along the Main Street. In response two of the police fired back on the attackers with their carbines, while the other four constables ran back to the safety of the barracks. Meanwhile another constable inside the barracks, upon hearing the gunfire outside, sent up Verey lights into the night sky to alert neighbouring barracks for assistance. The four constables had reached the saftey of their barracks when the rear of the building was targeted with gunfire and ‘so incessant was the fire that it was next to impossible to emerge in safety to go to the assistance of their comrades on the street’ . In an attempt to save the remaining two officers outside five of the constables emerged, firing at their attackers, whom then fled. Evidence of the short battle could be seen the following morning as bullet marks were visible in many of the neighbouring houses and the back of the barracks also. The official report from Dublin castle stated the fighting last for about fifteen minutes with no casualties were reported. The following morning there was a strong police and military presence in the area. A Myles Kenny from Ballyduff was arrested and brought to Enniscorthy and detained.

Tom Dwyer’s account differs to that of Joseph Kileens as the former states the police were escorting a mail car drawn by a donkey and cart, while the latter makes no mention of such. The newspaper report also makes no reference to any mail car and Kileen’s recollection of the event and is therefore the most plausible.

Mid 20th century photo of the former RIC barracks (left) looking up the main street in Ferns (Credit: Ferns Heritage Archive Group)

The Site Today

The streetscape where the ambush took place has undergone many changes in the 100 years since. The ‘high wall’ where Joseph Killeen and the others hid behind was cleared to make way for the construction of the national bank building in the 1920s. This building is still visible but no longer functions as a bank. The RIC barracks was demolished in the late 20th century and the site now forms part of the catholic church car park. A single bullet hole is visible on one of the granite window sills of the school building, situated beside where the barracks once stood and any maybe associated with the event.

View of ambush site as it looks today. The former bank building visible to the right of the roundabout was where the ‘high wall’ was once positioned. (Google Street View)

The church car park where the RIC barracks once stood.

A bullet hole is visible in a window sill of the old school building which is situated beside where the RIC barracks was. A physical reminder of the events that April evening in 1921.


Enniscorthy Guardian, April 9th 1921, p5

Bureau of Military History Withness Statement: Joseph Killeen #1215

Bureau of Military History Withness Statement: Thomas Dwyer #1198

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: