In the spring of 1921 a staff captain by the name of Seamus Hughes was sent down from GHQ in Dublin to reorganise the South Wexford Brigade IRA. As part of the shake up he dismissed the Brigade O.C Tom Hanlon, appointing a man by the name of Dick Sinnott instead. Sinnott was not looked upon favourably by the other officers as he was not known to them, while it was also thought he was not particularly ‘war minded’. In order to gain the respect of his fellow officers Sinnott, together with Hughes, decided to ambush the RIC District Inspector McGovern in Wexford town.
On Thursday the 19th of May 1921, McGovern was making his way back to his home at the end of Distillery Road. He was ambushed at a point with walls on either side, which would have made escape difficult. Sinnott was given a false moustache to help disguise himself, as he was known by his target. Fortunately for McGovern he was only wounded in the right thigh and managing to make it back to the safety of his home following a brief exchange of fire between both parties.
Shortly after midnight on the same day as the attempted shooting of McGovern a Mrs. Doyle, who lived along North Main Street, was awoken from her sleep by the sound of footsteps outside, immediately underneath her bedroom window. The sound of broken glass came next followed by a loud explosion and then footsteps retreating. Upon looking out her window she saw the premises opposite hers, belonging to grocer and Sinn Fein Councillor Mr. E.P. Foley, was ablaze. The premises directly above this belonged to a Mr. John Merriman an accountant and fortunately he and his wife were not inside at the time the fire broke out, which resulted in a considerable amount of furniture being damaged. It was noted in the newspaper reports that there was no fire engine in the town and that there was also a shortage of water. Several neighbouring premises were damaged as a result of the fire including that of Mr John Kehoe draper, Mr James Kelly baker, John Howelin tobacconist and fruiteer, Mr. John M’Goldrick butcher and Mr. Francis Rochford publican. The burning of Foley’s was an unofficial reprisal by crown forces on for the attack on district inspector McGovern. Today Cullen’s occupies the site where Foley’s shop once stood on 16 North Main Street.
Unofficial reprisals were common during the War period in Wexford. The descriptions provided by contemporary newspaper reports are generally vague on such incidents, given the general secretive nature of such operations and the culprits are usually best described as masked men who come and go quickly. However in other examples ‘official reprisals’ were undertaken and even noted in Newspapers. An example of this followed the Inch ambush in Gorey in 1921 where several homes and premises were destroyed by crown forces following the shooting of an auxiliary constable. The IRA in response to such attacks undertook their own, an example being the burning of Ballyrankin house in 1921, supposedly a response to the burning of the Irish School near Bunclody referred to earlier.
Dublin Evening Telegraph, 20th May 1921, p2
Enniscorthy Guardian, 28th May 1921, p5
Bureau of Military History Witness Statement: Francis Carty #1040