Bob Lambert is a name synonymous with the Irish Civil War in county Wexford. Leader of the Kyle flying column, Lambert and his men regularly harassed the Free State’s national army, undertaking numerous raids and ambushes. His combat experience though can be traced back to the War of Independence and what may possibly be the first ambush he led in May 1921.
On Tuesday evening the 24th of May 1921 the Enniscorthy Guardian reported that an ambush had occurred at ‘Ballinaslaney Wood’ (Ballynaslaney), two miles south of Oylegate village. A mixed convoy of police and military were returning from Enniscorthy to Wexford at about 6:15p.m when they were suddenly fired upon from the wood. The force, travelling mainly in lorries, quickly pulled up, dismounted and returned fire indiscriminately towards their attackers. After what was described as a brief exchange crown forces entered the wood, but failed to find anyone. The South Wexford Brigade Activity Reports refer to this very event having occured at ‘Whitefort’, an adjoining townland east of Ballynaslaney. The similar description of the events and lack of any others corresponding strongly suggests they are both the same. The names of several men who took part were included as follows:
- Robert (Bob) Lambert
- Denis McDonald
- Patrick McDonald
- George Brown
- Jack Cloney
- Dave Connolly
- Myles Harpur
- Myles O’Leary
In the years following the incident and Lambert would put his experiences to paper, a complete and unedited version of which was printed in Séamus Mac Suain’s ‘County Wexford’s Civil War’. While it primarily focuses on his activities during the Civil War, it refers to his experience in the War of Independence, including the very ambush at Whitefort, late one evening.
‘ …four of the Crossabeg Coy. went to Whitefort late in the evening. The Tans came preceded by a small car with officers in it. A ditch we hadn’t budgeted for saved the small car. The Crossley tender and Lancia car got into action and a lot of dead cattle were left in the fields. We were lucky to get out of the lane’
No casualties were reported on either sides with the exception of the cattle in the field as Lambert mentioned.
Francis Carthy in his witness statment, given several decades later to the bureau of military history, recalled the events at whitefort; Bob Lambert was O/C of the Crossabeg company and prior to the ambush had obtained six rifles from GHQ sent down on the train from Dublin. After picking up the rifles at Killurin ‘Bob saw no reason why he should pass these on to Brigade Headquarters without making some use of them.’ Consequently Lambert and his men ambushed crown forces returning to Wexford town after having burned houses as official reprisals for an ambush carried out by the North Wexford Brigade Flying Column. This was most likely the ‘Inch Ambush’ just north of Gorey, which resulted in the death of an RIC Auxiliary named Dupree. He goes on to state how after keeping the crown forces busy for a while Bob and his men eventually retired and handed the rifles over to Brigade HQ.
The ambush site
The location of the ambush is difficult to pinpoint given the lack of information surrounding the event. Both the Brigade Activity Reports and Lambert suggest it occurred in the townland of Whitefort. The main road from Wexford to Enniscorthy runs through Whitefort and is the most direct route the convoy could have travelled. Contemporary newspaper accounts though refer how the attack occurred when ‘directly’ passing Ballynaslaney wood. While there is no such woods marked on any maps within the townland a sizeable area of tree coverage is visible surrounding the area at ‘Slaney Lodge House’ in the townland of Ballynacarrig that adjoins both Ballynaslaney and Whitefort to the south. These woods though are located on a neighboring lesser road which runs just to the west of the main Enniscorthy to Wexford road. Perhaps this route was used by the crown forces to reduce the risk of being attacked, it being a lesser travelled road perhaps? The location of the woods is at a point where both roads run close to together so either or could have been utilized. Lambert states how they were lucky to get out of a lane, suggesting they utilised this as their attacking position.
The map above shows the probable ambush location. The main Enniscorthy to Wexford road is visible on the right with the lesser road to the left. A lane joins both and maybe where lambert and his men took up attack positions. The tree coverage surrounding Slaney Lodge was much more extensive 100 years ago and maybe the woods described in newspaper accounts where the gunfire was assumed to be directed from. This is easily conceivable considering the woods position directly behind the lane where lambert and the men may have been taking cover. The yellow flash shows the probable ambush location.
Enniscorthy Guardian, 28th May 1921, p8
Bureau of Military History Witness Statement, francis Carthy #1040
County Wexford’s Civil War Séamus Mac Suain, Commandant Bob Lambet, The Manuscript, p71
South WWexford Brigade Activity Reports