Train Ambushed at Killurin

Late 19th / Early 20th Century Photo of the Wexford to Dublin Railway with Killurin Train Station visible in the middle background (Credit: Lawrence Collection, National Library of Ireland)

In the early part of the 20th century county Wexford was well served by the railway with lines connecting most of its major towns and villages to Dublin, Waterford and Carlow (Figure 1). The addition of a rail link at Rosslare served overseas passengers and goods, adding a somewhat international dimension. Throughout the War of Independence the IRA undertook regular raids on trains targeting both goods and mails, the latter of which were conducted for intelligence gathering purposes. In contrast to the proceeding civil war, the period was a relatively quiet time for the counties’ railways with only one ambush on a train which took place on Wednesday the 11th of May 1921 just North of Killurin Railway Station.

Figure1: Map showing Wexford’s extensive rail network in the early 1900’s.

The Ambush

The three o’ clock train departed Wexford town and headed towards Dublin. According to the witness statement of James Daly, an adjutant in the North Wexford Brigade and part of the Courtnacuddy volunteers, the target onboard was a group of ten soldiers accompanying an RIC sergeant. The latter was travelling from Wexford to Enniscorthy to pay the Devon Regiment who were stationed in the town’s courthouse . This was a weekly journey and it was understood that both the sergeant and soldiers usually travelled together in a single carriage.

The train travelling north through the Wexford countryside, skirting the western bank of the river Slaney. The route was dotted with various stops, one of which was at Killurin Station, situated south of Macmine Junction. About a quarter of a mile beyond Killurin station (Figure 2) the train arrived at a spot known as ‘The Ballast’ where there was a wood on either side of the line and also sandpits. According to contemporary newspaper accounts once the train reached this point it suddenly and unexpectedly slowed to halt, the driver reportedly having seen two red flags. What was described next as ‘Terrible and Continuous Firing’ came from the adjoining woods and sandpits and all hell broke loose.

Figure 2: Killurin station as it looks today

Upon realizing they were under attack the soldiers on board responded with their own fire . A firefight quickly ensued, lasting 10 minutes or more. The passengers on board were taken by surprise with one man describing how he was reading in his compartment when suddenly he heard shots coming from the woods, followed by cries of ‘surrender’. Passengers scrambled over one another as they sought shelter under seats and on the floors to the sound of bullets ricocheting around them. Fortunately those aboard escaped injury and no casualties were reported but one of the troops was wounded in the wrist. Despite the incident the train miraculously managed to continue on its journey, arriving in Dublin ‘only 7 minutes late, at Westland Row.’ A reporter described the condition of the 8 ca carriage train that met him there.

‘Eight coaches were riddled with bullets and presented an extraordinary spectacle at Westland Row, Dublin, where they lie awaiting repairs. Practically every window was smashed, the roofs and sides were perforated with bullets and in more than a dozen places there were traces where bullets hit the floors.’ (Enniscorthy Guardian 14th September 1921, pg 5)

‘The Guard stated the train was fairly crowded. Several bullets came into his van, one in some mysterious way coming up through the floor and embedding itself in the side of the van.’ (Ibid)

Passengers aboard in danger

In his witness statement given years later to the Bureau of Military History, James O Toole, a lieutenant in the 3rd North Wexford Battalion, stated he and others stopped firing and called off the attack upon realizing there were civilians on board. This was despite their original intelligence being that there would be only troops. He further adds that some of the soldiers used civilian passengers as shields, although this cannot be confirmed in other accounts of the incident.

From my position I saw a soldier pushing a civilian up against the carriage window, and the soldier taking cover behind him. Other members of our party told me afterwards that they saw the same thing happening in other compartments; in fact, in some cases the soldiers took cover behind women.’ (pg 9)

James Daly, an adjutant in the North Wexford Brigade and part of the Courtnacuddy volunteers, similarly indicated the reason for calling off the attack was to prevent injury to civilians. In contrast though according to James they knew there were civilians aboard, but on the day of the attack they were caught by surprise when the soldiers were seated mixed with civilians, a change from their usual arrangement together in a single carriage.

…on the day of the ambush they (the soldiers) were mixed up amongst the passengers, about 2 in each carriage, and so upset I.R.A. arrangements which were worked out on the understanding that the soldiers would be together in one carriage. (pg 5)

Making good their escape

After the attack James Daly described how they had great difficulty in escaping as it was daylight and the countryside was being scoured by military lorries in search of them. On several occasions these passed within only a few fields and they were lucky to escape undetected. Specific mention and gratitude was given to Denis Asple of Galbally who ‘… knew the country well for getting the IRA safely away by every lane and mass path.’ (pg 5)

Photo of Denis Asple, whose local knowledge of the area proved vital in allowing the IRA to evade capture following the ambush (Photo kindly provided by the Asple family of Galbally)

He also cited the lack of ammunition was an ongoing problem for the IRA at the time stating

The attacking party on the train at Killurin, armed with shotguns and 4 rifles, only had about 8 or 10 rounds of buckshot each. When these were fired there wasn’t a cartridge left in the battalion area.‘ (pg 5)

The group of volunteers likely made their escape along the valley of a small northwest to southeast stream that flows into the river Slaney immediately southwest of the ambush site. It would have provided the men with cover, allowing them to remain concealed before dispersing into the roaming countryside and fields to the west. The route is shown on the map at the end of this article.

Circumstances surrounding the ambush

James O Toole described how himself, lieutenants and company captains were attending a training camp in the Blackstairs mountains when they got word that a troop train was proceeding on the Wexford to Dublin line. With that the flying column, who were also in attendance, left camp and headed to ‘…a spot near Killurin where there was an embankment on both sides of the line.‘ Railway sleepers were placed across the line, which differs from the newspaper accounts, and the train came to a halt. They then opened fire on the train from their position on top of the embankment. According to James Daly the attacking party was hand picked and made up of 5 men from each company in the 2nd Battalion area, numbering 35 in total.

This was the first and only ambush on a train during the War of Independence in county Wexford and a precursor to what would become much regular during the Civil War that was to come. Some discrepancies are noticeable in the accounts; railway sleepers being used to stop the train rather than the red flags as described in the newspapers; soldiers using civilians as human shields; whether the attack was called off due to the soldiers being mixed among the passengers or the presence of civilians on the train in general. Despite these variations though it is clear the train was deliberately halted and that the attack was called off to prevent civilian casualties and save life’s.

Identifying The Ambush Site

The site was described in Newspaper accounts as being a quarter of a mile outside of Killurin station, at a location known as ‘The Ballast’, which offered a ‘…splendid vantage point for such an attack.’ James O Toole described the ambush site as ‘…a spot near Killurin where there was an embankment on both sides of the line.‘, while James Daly recounted how ‘The train was brought to a standstill in a place known as the “Sandpit”, about a mile on the Macmine side of Killurin.

From these we know that the ambush site was on the north side of Killurin station, with an embankment and woods on either side while the reference to sandpits suggests quarry activity in the immediate area. Only one such location matches this description north of Killurin station and is located just beyond the railway bridge about a quarter of a mile as described with woods on either end. The existence of woods and sandpits at this point is obvious from OS maps which post date the ambush by only a few years.

OS map post 1921 with ambush site circled in red. Note the locations marked as S.P for sandpit as described in the accounts.

The assistance and local knowledge of the Byrne family of Brookhill House, Ballyhogue, was fundamental in identifying and visiting the site. The family recalled a memory of quarrying at the location which would tie in with James Daly’s reference to the location being called the ‘sandpit’.

The Byrne family standing at the location of the ambush site 100 years after the incident. (From left: Sarah, James, Jackie and Mary Byrne)

Although 100 years has passed since the event the ambush site remains much the same, flanked on both sides by mature forests and high embankments. A slight bend in the railway line at this point may also have been a factor in why this location was chosen; providing a limited line of sight for any oncoming trains which ensured any obstruction on the tracks would have come to the driver as a sudden unexpected surprise.

The ambush site as it looks today

The Attacking Party

The North Wexford Brigade Activity Reports provide a list of 34 men associated with the ambush. While James O Toole’s witness statement states it was the flying column who were responsible for the attack that of James Daly’s corresponds with the list provided in the activity reports and that it was undertaken by a party of local men instead.

Photo of James Breen of Keright Co. Wexford, one of those who took part in the ambush at Killurin, pictured in later years with his wife Mary (Photo kindly provided by the Breen Family of Kereight.

Mapping the Killurin Ambush

Through a combination of cartographic sources, descriptive references and local knowledge it was possible to create a map detailing the ambush site. It provides a visual aid of understanding the event with many physical archaeological elements associated with it surviving to this day including the railway line itself and Killurin station, now a private residence. The ambush site also has remained much the same as the day of the attack. The local RIC barracks, which was burned in 1920 and is now a rebuilt private residence, forms another element in the local revolutionary landscape from the period.

Map of Ambush Site.

Sources

Bureau of Military History Witness Statement James O Toole #1084

Bureau of Military History Witness Statement James Daly #1257

Enniscorthy Guardian 14th September 1921, pg 5

North Wexford Brigade Activity Reports

A special thanks to the Byrne family of Brookhill house Ballyhogue for their assistance in identifying the ambush site; The Asple and Breen families for allowing use of their family photos and Aidan Murphy of Ballyhouge for his assistance also.

Ardamine House Burned

In 1818 Solomon Richards, an eminent Dublin Surgeon, bought Ardamine estate from Sir Walter Roberts of Courtlands Devon. What was described as a ‘smallish white square house which was used by the family as a seaside holiday home’ existed on the site and would later become Ardamine house. In the 1820s and 1830s Solomon Richard’s son, John Gobbard Richards, added extensively onto the building. In 1835, Lewis in his topographical dictionary of Ireland, referred to how ‘the grounds have been recently embellished with thriving plantations and other improvements’.

After John’s death the estate passed onto his son, Solomon Augustus and then to his son Bernard John, who died young and unmarried in 1879. As Bernard had no family it subsequently became the property of his brother, Major Arthur William Mordaunt Richards, who was high sheriff, a justice of the peace, and deputy lieutenant for county Wexford.

Ardamine House Gorey late 19th/early 20th century photo (Credit: Robert French Collection, National Library of Ireland)

On the 8th of July 1921 Ardamine House, the residence of Major Richards, was burned to the ground. The major was not resident in the house at the time of the incident, instead residing in England for some years before. In preparation for the operation the surrounding roads were blocked with felled trees and outposts set up to impede the arrival of crown forces. Only the gardener and his wife were in the building on the night when about 80 raiders arrived. Once they gained admission inside the mansion some of them asked to be led to the garden house where they took the watering cans and filled them with petrol, which they then sprinkled around the house. After three hours the beautiful building was burned to the ground.

The raiders were complimented for the courtesy, apologising as they left the burning building, but said they had to carry out their instructions. It was estimated to cost at least £50,000 to rebuild the house which boasted its own electric plant. A compensation claim of £35,000 was later lodged.

James O Toole, in his withness statement to the bureau of military history, recalled years later that Major Richards was a signatory of the death warrants of the 1916 rising leaders. It had been their intention to also destroy Courtown house of the same night but they received countermanding orders at the last minute. The North Wexford brigade activity files state the operation was undertaken by the Courtown and Riverchapel company as a reprisal for the destruction of several houses by British forces following the ambush at Inch outside Gorey in May that year in which an RIC constable was shot dead.

After the destruction of Ardamine house Major Richards considered rebuilding before later abandoning the idea and returning to live in England. The estate was sold out to the land commission in 1922. The only remnants of the estate today are some woods, stables, a complex of workers houses, the walls of the walled garden and a sundial which still stands on which is inscribed ‘I give all men warning how the shadows fly. All men are shadows and a shadow am I. A hotel currently occupies the site.

Ardnamine House and Ballyrankin (located near Bunclody) were the first ‘Big Houses’ to be destroyed in the county with many others falling victim to the Civil War that was yet to come.

Sources

Bureau of military history witness statement, Jame O Toole #1084

Enniscorthy Guardian, 16th July 1921, p5

North Wexford Brigade Activity Files.

Houses of Wexford, 2016 by David Rowe & Eithne Scallan, Ballinakella Press #15.

Kilmore Quay Barracks Burned

On Thursday morning the 13th of May 1920 the R.I.C Barracks at Kilmore was burned by the Bridgetown company of the I.R.A. The New Ross Standard reported that about 2 a.m. the building was noticed ablaze and the fire was started with the aid of some straw soaked in paraffin. Afterwards only the burned walls remained. The building had been vacated by the police for some time before.

The Barrack building was rented from a Mrs. Francis Roche who was later awarded £680 compensation in the courts (New Ross Standard, 25th June 1920, p6). This was later increased to £850 following an appeal. (The Irish Times, 7th July 1920).

The exact location of the barracks is as of yet unknown, only that is was located near the coastguard station and post office.

Sources

New Ross Standard, 14th May 1920, p5

New Ross Standard, 25th June 1920, p6

The Irish Times, 7th July 1920, p5

Four Police constables wounded at Camolin in Wexford’s Last War of Independence Ambush

It was Tuesday the 5th of July 1921, within the closing weeks of the War of Independence and he North Wexford Flying Column were resting at Kinsella’s of Ballinamona, 5km northeast of Camolin village. Their commanding officer, Paddy Kenny, decided to send one of the men, Patrick Carton, to Camolin to purchase cigarettes. Many years later Patrick described in his witness statement to the bureau of military history how he set out armed with a 0.38 revolver and a single Mills bomb. Although he may have appeared well armed ammunition was in short supply for the IRA and this was highlighted by the fact that Patrick only had three bullets on his person.

Photo of Patrick Carton in later life (Courtesy of his granddaughter Mary Breen and kindly provided by John Kavanagh)

His destination Camolin was a small rural village in north county Wexford, situated along the Gorey to Ferns road. In 1921 it boasted a post office, church, railway station and until it had been burned by the IRA the previous year, an RIC barracks. Patrick made his way into the village along the Ballyshane road, stopping off at the home of Andrew O Brien and his wife. This was one of many friendly houses in the district where men like Patrick knew a warm welcome always awaited them. While inside, comfortably drinking a cup of tea, he was suddenly alerted to an cycle patrol of 8 RIC officers coming up the street towards the house. Being conscious of the danger Patrick warned Andrew and his wife to seek shelter out the back in case he would need to fight his way out. Fortunately though tensions eased and worries relaxed when the patrol continued past the house and onto the crossroad a short distance away. However the danger was not over yet and after pausing for a while the patrol doubled back, but to Patricks relief continued past the house once more and into a nearby residence belonging to the Gahan family. Contemporary newspaper accounts recounted how the constables had come from Ferns barracks to inspect motor car permits and pay police pensioners who were unable to travel to Ferns for their monthly pensions.

No description available.
Photo of Andrew O Brien’s house (Left) where Patrick Carton stopped off for tea. The house was demolished in in the 70s and was the site of the village’s post office until it closed in 2019 (Photo courtesy of John Kavanagh)

It was about 7 or half 7 in the evening and while the RIC were pre occupied with their duties Patrick decided it was best to make himself scarce. Rushing across the street he jumped over a wall and into a field. Using it for cover he followed the wall along until he got to a point near Valentia house. Here he climbed on top of the wall and saw that some of the patrol had passed by while the remaining four constables were coming along the road in pairs, spread equally apart. As they got nearer one of the constables spotted Pat and in an attempt to alert the others shouted ‘look out’. With that Patrick took out the mills grenade he had, flung it towards the patrol and took cover behind a 6 foot high tree stump. The newspaper account state that there were 2 bombs (grenades) thrown instead with the first failing to inflict any damage. Despite this minor difference in scenario’s a bomb did land right in the centre of the cycle patrol, injuring all 4 constables.

OSI map from 1905 with the approximate location of the ambush marked with a red circle

Upon hearing the commotion, Sergeant McNamara, who was leading at the head of the patrol with the three other constables, opened fire on Patrick’s position. The official report from Dublin Castle stated the firefight lasted nearly 15 minutes with rifle fire coming from multiple attackers. This seems unlikely however with Patrick having so little ammunition and maybe an exaggeration by the crown forces to make it appear that they put up a better fight. Following the short firefight Patrick made his way towards Ballydaniel bridge, eventually reuniting with the column and informing Paddy Kenny of what had just happened. It was then decided they would move to the safety of Murphy’s of the Bleach among the Sliabh Bhuai hill rang. They rested here for a couple of days when they were informed of the truce set for the 11th of July.

Tending to the wounded

After the fighting had seized Dr Wyse of Camolin dispensary was sent for and quickly arrived on the scene. Four ladies had their holiday to Courtown cut short when the car they were travelling in was commandeered and the 4 wounded constable taken back to Ferns barracks. Here they were attended to by a doctor Green from the Ferns dispensary.

One of the worst injured was Constable George Evans from wales who had his left thumb blown off and his index finger badly lacerated. Fortunately his thumb was recovered on the roadside after the attack. He previously served in the army and then worked as a steel hardener before joining the RIC on the 21st of May, just over a month before the ambush.

A Constable Stephens fractured his right arm above the elbow and sustaining injuries to his right thigh and hip. He had served in the British army from 1904-1911, re-joining when the war broke out in 1914 before being captured in France and remaining in custody for a whole year. He previously worked as a steel hardener before joining the RIC and was only two months into the job when the ambush occurred. He had a wife and 2 children.

The other two constables injured were William Jackson from Scotland, who was wounded in his right thigh and a constable Robert Johnson from England, who was wounded in his left calf. Apparently a rifle bullet went through the crown of his cap during the ambush, giving him a lucky escape. The first two mentioned, Constables Stephens and Evans, were later removed to a Dublin Hospital for further treatment.

In November of that year an article from the Irish Times newspaper reported compensation was paid out to the the victims amounting to Stephens: £2600, Evans £150 and Johnson £760.

Ambush Site

The Ambush site as it looks today looking towards Ferns with the approximate position of ambush marked by X

The site of the ambush is easily identifiable thanks to a description from the Enniscorthy Guardian. The journalist reporting on the incident described how the police patrol was ambushed when they ‘… reached a point about 15 yards (13.7m) on the Ferns side of the lodge leading to Camolin House’. It also describes how the bomb was thrown ‘…over the demense wall about 6ft high‘.

The location has changed little since 1921. The entrance lodge into Camolin House, now Valentia nursing home, remains as those the boundary wall behind which Pat Carton hid. Many of the trees that make up this wooded location would have provided Pat with cover to make his escape, following the river Bann towards the eastern end of the town before crossing the road at Ballydaniel Bridge. The ambush is reported to have occured at 7 p.m. based upon the official report of the incident.

This was the last ambush with casualties in county Wexford during the War of Independence

Sources

Bureau of Military History Witness Statement, Patrick carton, #1160

Enniscorthy Guardian, 9th July 1921, p5

Enniscorthy Guardian, 12th November 1921, p6

Irish Times, 8th July 1921, p5

Irish Times, 12th November 1921, p8

North Wexford Brigade Activity Files

Thanks to John Kavanagh for his assistance and help while compiling this article.

Wexford Courthouse Burned

Wexford Courthouse late 19th/early 20th Century

On the 18th of June 1921 the early morning silence was broken in Wexford town by the sound of a terrific explosion emanating from the Courthouse. The building was situated along the quays, opposite todays Wexford bridge and the explosion was the result of an operation planned by Francis Carty, who up until this point was dissatisfied with the success of the IRA. Subsequently he decided to destroy Wexford courthouse, which he considered ‘…the symbol of English law in Wexford town.’

On the night Francis describes how himself and Gerry O Brien, gained entry into the courthouse through it’s windows and proceeded to sprinkle petrol throughout the building. When they then exited the building other men outside flung paraffin torches through the windows. The resulting explosion was so strong that one of these men was carried from the top step of the building where he stood and lifted into the air and over the buildings 10ft iron railings. Fortunately he managed to land safetly and escape without any injuries. Francis, who lived nearby in the town did not attempt to return home following the explosion, instead opting to sleep away from home that night. Meanwhile his friend Gerry O Brien, who also lived in the town, was halted by the RIC as he made his way home, but managed to persuade them he was going to get the fire brigade!

Unbeknown to the IRA the buildings caretaker, a Mrs. McNally was sleeping inside with her 12 year old niece. Luckily upon being awoken by the explosion they managed to escape the building unharmed. The fire brigade, together with members of the public, arrived quickly on the scene and after four hours managed to extinguish the inferno. The flames had managed to engulf the entire building including the crown court, two judges chambers, council chamber, crown solicitor’s rooms, the petty and grand jury quarters and finally the prisoner’s rooms. Only the petty sessions court remained intact as well as the former county council’s offices. Despite the fire the police managed to save nearly all the records of the Clerk of Crown and Peace. The damage to the building was estimated at £15,000 which today would be somewhere in the region of €778,000.

The building was originally built in 1806 to replace another courthouse on the bullring and was designed by Richard Morrison who also designed St. Mary’s Pro Cathedral in Dublin. In the decades that followed the building fell into a dilapidated state that it was decided to no longer invest money towards it’s repair. It was eventually demolished with a petrol station built on the site. This too has since been demolished and the site is now used as a car park.

Site of the former courthouse as it looks today from opposite Wexford Bridge (Credit: Google Street View)

Sources

Bureau of Military History Withness Statement: Francis Carty #1040

Enniscorthy Guardian, 25th June 1921, p3

https://wexfordhub.com/history/wexford-courthouse/

Limerick Auxie Disarmed at Campile Train Station

On the 2nd of April 1921 members of the South Wexford Brigade IRA lay in wait for a party of military, which were due to arrive at Campile station by rail. At 11 p.m. the express train to Rosslare left Waterford. However instead of a party of military only a single member of the R.I.C Auxiliaries, from Pallas Co. Limerick, was on board. The signalman at Campile station had already been ‘seized’ and when the train came to a stop it was boarded by armed men. They Auxie, who was dressed in his civilian clothes at the time, stated his identity. He was promptly taken from the train onto the platform and relieved of his revolver, ammunition and some documents he had on his person. Contemporary newspaper accounts recalled how he was ‘made swear never to return to Ireland’ and that a young lady pleaded with the men not to shoot him. The train then continued onto Rosslare and was reported as being a half hour late. One can’t hope but wonder did the Auxie miss the boat!

Campile Train Station in the 1960s (Credit: National Library of Ireland; O’ Dea Collection)

The line from Waterford to Rosslare no longer open, being closed to passenger traffic in 2010, while the station building at Campile no longer remains.

Sources

Enniscorthy Guardian, 16th April 1921, p4

South Wexford Brigade Activity Reports

Attempted ambush on police outside Bunclody Church

On Sunday morning the 5th of June 1921 the New Ross Standard reported a brief firefight that occurred outside of Bunclody’s Catholic Church when four police officers were making their way to eight o clock mass. At the same time a patrol of five other officers came across a number of men hiding in a wood behind a high wall opposite the convent gate and opened fire on them. The men in retreating returned fire upon the four officers making their way to mass who then took cover along the roadside and returned fire. The men managed to escape and no casualties were reported but the sound of gunfire terrified many mass goers. Some lay prostate on the ground while others sought shelter in nearby Newtownbarry house and its farmyard. Similarly those inside the church lay flat upon the ground and some sought shelter in the sanctuary and convent. The parish priest Rev. A Forrestal upon hearing the shots reportedly rushed outside to offer assistance. Crown forces surrounded the church and searched the congregation coming from 12 o clock mass. There was a considerable police and military activity in the district the following day.

Map showing the approximate location of the IRA men depicted on an 1905 ordinance survey map. The site of St. Mary’s church and the convent is today the FCJ secondary school.

The same incident is reported in the activity files of the north Wexford Brigade with some discrepancies regarding the number of police officers involved and also that an officer was supposedly wounded. Seven IRA men were involved in the incident, two of whom were members of the flying column. The men were named as David Grean, Patrick Furlong, Luke Burke, Nicholas Doyle, Eamon Murphy, Peter Doyle, Hugh Morrissey and Patrick Farrell.

The former Catholic Church in Bunclody (Credit: National Library of Ireland)

The location where the incident took place is situated a short distance outside Bunclody town on the north side of the river Slaney. Once the site of the towns catholic church the roadside location remains much the same with the high wall were the IRA men would have hide behind still visible. The former catholic church was demolished sometime in the 20th century, although some of the convent buildings remain. The FCJ secondary school now occupies the site.

The site of the ambush as it looks today. The church was located on the right and the high wall behind which the men hide can be seen across the road (Google Street View)

Sources

North Wexford Brigade Activity Files

The New Ross Standard, 10th June 1921, p8

Postman found dead near Enniscorthy

On the 25th of May 1921 the body of James Morrissey, an auxiliary postman, was found lying in a ditch in Coolnahorna, 200 yards from the roadside. The victim had been shot in the head and a letter was found attached to the body, written on which were the words, ‘Spy and traitor, others beware, IRA.’ A rosary was also found wrapped around his hands, perhaps linked to a final act of contrition.

John Street Enniscorthy where James Morrisey resided with his mother (Google Streetview)

Morrissey was only 27 at the time of his death and had previously served in the British army for two years before being discharged due to ill health. For five years after he was secretary for the Enniscorthy ‘Discharged Soldier’s Federation’ and worked as a postman, covering an area near Marshalstown, not to far outside of Enniscorthy town. Regarding the circumstances surrounding his killing a Thomas Doyle, in his witness statement to the bureau of military history, recalled how the IRA had obtained a letter during a raid on a mail train, supposedly written by Morrisey, implicating him as a spy. Tom further recalled an occasion when Morrissey, together with other ex service members, entered Enniscorthy Courthouse and put on the uniforms of real soldiers. He then proceeded to lead them around the town to ‘paint it red’, vandalizing shop premises and abusing the town’s inhabitants. Further to Thomas Doyle’s version the witness statement of a Thomas Balfe claims Morrisey was a known spy and had ignored previous warnings. No further detail is given regarding the nature of these warnings but it can be assumed that they were most likely verbal in nature.

Further discussing the topic Tom Doyle recalls how it was decided to set a trap for Morrissey. A letter was purposefully held back at the post office which should have been delivered by the postman on duty just before Morrissey. The duty then fell for Morrissey to deliver the letter, the address of which sent him outside of his normal delivery route and down a long lane were men were waiting for him and from where he was then taken and executed. Edward Balfe claims that he heard from a reliable source how Morrissey told his mother that he didn’t expect to be home again before he left that morning. In the book ‘The Dead of the Irish Revoloution’ those involved in the killing are named as James Whelan, Frank Gibbons, Thomas Roche and William Kavanagh.

When he failed to return home that evening his mother raised the alarm and a search party of police and military discovered his body and brought it back to Enniscorthy. He was given a military funeral and laid to rest in St. Johns graveyard, often referred to as Carrig graveyard, located just south of Enniscorthy town on the western side of the Slaney River. All shops in the town were ordered to shut for the funeral and its alleged a British captain named ‘Yeo’ beat up prisoners’ in Enniscorthy courthouse as a reprisal. The Enniscorthy guardian reported how owing to the fear of reprisals the town was deserted the night after Morrissey’s body was found. Several premises had their shutters and windows broken including that of Mr J. Murphy, boat merchant, Main St; Mr S. Roche, saddler, templeshannon; Mr J. Whelan, Vinegar Hill Hotel, Rafter Street; Mr P. Rafter, Publican, the bridge; Mr Sam Walsh, painter and decorator, Court Street. The following night a bomb was also thrown through a fanlight into the premises of Mr John Whelan, Weafter Street, causing considerable damage to the interior. Another bomb was also thrown through the fanlight of a J. Murphy but fortunately failed to explode.

Sources

Bureau of Military History Witness statement, Thomas Doyle #1040

Bureau of Military History Witness statement, Thomas Balfe #1373

Enniscorthy Guardian 28th May 1921, p5

E.O’ Halpin and D. Ó Corráin (2020) ‘The Dead of the Irish Revolution’, Yale University Press, p443

Police officers ambushed near Clonroche

On Saturday the 28th of May 1921 the Enniscorthy Guardian reported that two RIC constables cycling from Clonroche, to the nearby railway station at Chapel, were ambushed by around 40 men armed with shotguns and rifles. The police reportedly returned fire and the attackers fled.

Map showing route travelled by RIC (dashed red line) and the likely ambush location (dashed green line)

This same ambush is recalled in the Bureau of Military History Witness Statements, given some decades later, by men involved directly in the incident. According to their accounts the operation was a planned ambush undertaken by members of the North Wexford Flying Column. Although contemporary newspaper accounts state around 40 individuals were involved the real number was likely instead to be around half that amount, as it would have been in similar ambushes by the column. Daily a group of RIC constables cycled from their barracks in Clonroche to Chapel railway station, located about 2km south of the Clonroche village, for supplies. This was the intended target for the column who positioned themselves somewhere along the route, spread out for about half a mile. Thomas Dwyer in his statement recalled the location chosen for the ambush as a flat stretch of road with Clonroche barracks visible in the distance. A man called Johnny Maguire was placed at the head of the group and told to open fire with his parabellum pistol when the final officer passed his position. This type of pistol apparently had a distinguishable shot and would be the signal for the rest of the column to open fire on the other officers.

The exact number of RIC officers involved varies from 6 to 12 with the smaller number the most likely. As the column lay in wait two RIC constables cycled into their position along the roadside. Johnny Maguire, awaiting the arrival of the remaining police, did not open fire as ordered. However, as the two constables cycled passed it quickly became apparent that no others were coming. Then in a quick reaction the column opened fire on the officers, who at this stage had passed the ambush position. Accounts state they quickly dismounted and made their escape across the fields with the column making their own getaway after. No casualties were reported on either side.

The former railway station at chapel as it looks today from the road bridge which crossed the track (Google Streetview)

The location of the ambush site is not known but its description as a ‘flat’ stretch of road in view of the RIC barracks would place it near the village or a short diatance out.

Sources

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, Patrick Carton #1160

New Ross Standard Friday 03 June 1921 p5