Fianna Éireann Casualty in Midnight Raid

Photo taken of firing party by the graveside of Henry O Connor. Pictured are Thomas Roche, James Quigley, Michael Reddy, James Jordon, Matthew Flyn, Myles Moore, Patrick Quigley, Patrick Maguire, Aidan Kirwan (Credit: County Wexford in the Rare Oul Times by Nicholas Furlong and John Hayes)

The incident in Context

By July 1921 the Irish War of Independence had come to an end and neogitations in the months that followed would culminate in the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty in December of that year. Following its ratification by the Dailshortly after in January 1922 however there was much debate and division throughout the country. By April 1922, just two months before the outbreak of Civil War, the tangible elements of these divisions could be seen as the IRA had been split into pro and anti-treaty factions. While a somewhat constrained peace existed between both parties, each attempted to assert their dominance by occupying various barracks and buildings in defiance of one another. The pro-treaty IRA in the form of the National Army, had their HQ in Beggars Bush Barracks Dublin, but by early April its counterpart, the anti-treaty IRA, had occupied the Four Courts, making it their de facto HQ. Elsewhere throughout the country similar scenarios played out and in county Wexford the National Army occupied the former RIC barracks in Enniscorthy while the anti-treaty forces, who absconded from Kilkenny barracks while training for the national army, occupied the town’s courthouse a short distance away.

While tensions were high though both sides in the town practised constraint, which remained in place until the outbreak of civil war later that year. This somewhat peaceful period in county Wexford though was not free of casualties and in April two republican deaths are recorded. The first was a Daniel Byrne who was tragically killed when an explosive device he was attempting to disarm in Gorey barracks acciedntaly went off.  It had been left behind by the vacating RIC the previous month and Daniel, who was an explosive expert, had been called upon to make the device safe. In an ironic twist of faith this device was the same which he had manufactured less than a year earlier to be used by the north Wexford flying column in an ambush at Inch, a few miles outside the town. It had been retrieved by the RIC following the ambush and was left behind after their departure where it remained until discovered by the IRA when they took over the building. The second casualty was Henry O Connor who was killed early in the morning on the 27th of April 1922.

Recounting the Past

Just 20 years old at the time of his death Henry came from a large family of 10 children and resided with his parents in Hospital Lane Enniscorthy. According to his pension file he held the rank of intelligence officer, serving with Fianna Eireann since 1918 and throughout the War of Independence. This was youth organisation often seen as the boy scouts of the IRA, undertaking scouting operations carrying messages and other activities. Henry worked with the Enniscorthy cooperative agricultural society limited, having served his time as a sawyer, but left to join the national army in early 1922 where he served in Dublin and then Enniscorthy. He eventually left and joined the anti-treaty IRA stationed in Enniscorthy courthouse.

On Wednesday evening the 26th Of April 1922 he received a pass to leave the courthouse between the hours of 7 and 10p.m. While returning that night he met Thomas Dwyer, who was the brigade quartermaster of the Fianna Eireann, just across the street from the courthouse entrance . In conversation he learned the Fianna were preparing to raid houses near Ferns for arms and instead of returning to the courthouse he decided to join them. The raiding party then left Enniscorthy in two motorcarsm, first calling to the home of the Chapman family in the townland of Crory. Next they proceeded to the home of Thomas Lewis at Tombrackwood a short distance away. Here the raiding party broke into two, one attempting to gain entry through the front and the other, which O Connor was part of, going around the back. In an effort to gain entry Henry banged the back door of the house with the butt of his rifle. During this it was reported a loud bang was heard and it was then found that he had been hit and fatally wounded. His comrades, placing him inside one of the cars, brought the wounded Henry to Ferns where he was attended to by a father Gaul. They later returned to Enniscorthy courthouse where O’ Connor’s lifeless body was placed inside the on the morning of Thursday the 27th of April.

Funeral

His remains were waked in the courthouse before being conveyed to the cathedral’s mortuary chapel the following day, Friday the 28th. The coffin, which was covered by a large republican flag, was carried by members of the courthouse garrison to the Cathedral, flanked on either side by an armed guard of honour. Burial took place the next day, Saturday the 29th with the funeral procession proceeding from the Cathedral, across Lymington Road (now Parnell Road), down John Street and passing by the courthouse where the remains were saluted by the occupying IRA garrison. Members of Fianna Eireann were also in attendance together with the women of Cumann na Mban, whom carried a large number of wreaths, and members of F. and G companies of the North Wexford Brigade.

Signs of Division

While a tragic incident the events which unfolded shortly afterwards serve best to demonstrate the divisions that existed in the country at the time as separate inquiries were held by both pro and anti treaty forces. In Enniscorthy courthouse Anti-treaty forces held an investigation into the incident, calling upon the county coroner, Dr. W. O. Lawlor from Bunclody, to hold the inquest. When he attended the courthouse however, he told the jury present that he had received instruction from the town’s pro-treaty IRA, stationed in the barracks, not to hold such an inquest. He explained that he was an official of Wexford County council, was paid by them and from them he must take his orders. He further stated that he did not wish to side with either of the opposing parties and wouldn’t hold an inquest until he had received instructions from the county council. In the coroner’s absence the anti-treaty IRA decided to proceed with a military inquiry instead, overseen by a brigade officer and two commandants. The inquiry found that the ‘deceased died from shock and haemorrhage caused by a bullet accidentally discharged from a rifle’. Throughout the inquiry emphasis was placed on the Fianna holding responsibility for organising the raid and not the IRA.

A second military inquiry was held in Enniscorthy barracks by Pro-treaty forces. During this John Chapman of Crory recalled the raid that took place on his home with his nephew Edward, who also resided in the house on the night, also recalling his experience. During this it transpired that once the raiders left the house it became known that £8 10 shillings was missing. Interestingly later that night though what were described at ‘2 respectably dressed men’ called to the home inquiring about any missing moneys. Upon being made aware that there was they courteously made amends, giving John Chapman £10 which he insisted was too much, offering £1 in change back to the strangers. They courteously declined however telling him that any additional money could cover the damage caused to the door during the raid. In contrast to the first group these men made a delightful impression as John stated ‘the men that came the second time were very nice young fellows, particularly the young fellow that spoke to us. I don’t think he was in the first crowd.’ These men may have been Fianna or IRA members who returned to ‘rectify’ any wrong undertaken by the previous.

Following the recollection of the first raid the second was recalled. Thomas Lewis of Woodlands Ferns described to the inquiry how he was told by his wife, at about half twelve that night, there was knocking on the front door. Next the raiders then decided to go around to the rear of the house and he recalled hearing thumping on the back door with what sounded like the butt of a rifle or a sprong handle. At this point both he and his wife were becoming very nervous and decided it was best to get up. Thomas’s brother, who was described as being in a delicate state of health, resided in the same house. When Thomas checked on his brother he was told by him that he had heard a shot outside and that one of the raiders had been hit. Throughout the incident the raiding party did not gain entry into the house and the only communication between both consisting of Thomas’s wife asking what is it they wanted from inside the house to which it was alleged they replied ‘we will soon let you know’. Almost immediately after this a motorcar could be heard racing away from the premises with those inside the house unaware that Henry O Connor had been shot. They family, shaken by the experience, eventually made their way back to bed. The next morning Thomas recalled going outside to see if anything had been taken and finding outside a comb, cap and a spent cartridge.The pro-treaty inquiry, similar to that of the anti-treaty IRA, found that Henry O’Connor died ‘…from shock and haemorrhage, caused by a rifle bullet accidentally discharged by one of a raiding party at Mr. Lewis’ Woodlands Ferns.’. 

For both enquiries a Dr. Bowen examined the body and stated that due to the position of the wound the bullet could not have come from O’ Connors rifle. In addition to this one of the raiding party, Thomas Dwyer, on the way back to Ferns inspected the deceased rifle and found no empty cartridge inside. Neither inquiry gave an indication or suggestion of whom may have been responsible for firing the shot that killed Henry O Connor.  Several persons were named as having taken part in the raids that night including Owen Nolan, H.Connors, John Cardiff, Tom Doyle, Ned Earle, Walter Sutton, Thomas Dwyer and Joseph Dunbar. Of these only Thomas Dwyer and Walter Sutton were alleged to have been with O’ Connor at the rear of the building when the shot was fired. Both men’s testimonies recall having heard a shot during or immediately after the banging on the rear door. Regarding the uncertainty surrounding the incident it leaves to question did the shot come from the rear of the house by someone perhaps hidden or unknown to the raiding party? The person responsible for the shot that night was never known and it appears to remain much the same 100 years on.

The Grave of Henry O Connor in St. Mary’s cemetery Enniscorthy

Tradgedy Strikes Again

Unfortunatly tragedy struck the O’Connor family again, less than a year after Henry’s death, when his brother John, who had returned home from Liverpool and joined the anti-treaty IRA, was killed in an engagement between Free State forces and Bob Lamberts’ flying column, at Crory near Kyle. Several years their father, under the military pensions scheme, was awarded a ‘partial dependant’s gratuity’ due to his son Henry’s death. Henry’s grave is still visible today in St. Mary’s cemetery Enniscorthy and serves as a reminder of the events of 100 years ago that shaped the Ireland in which we live today.

Sources

New Ross Standard, 5th June 1922, p2

New Ross Standard, 5th June 1922, p5

Pensions File DP7242 (Henry O Connor). Avaliable at militaryarchives.ie

‘A Battle of Vilgilane’ IRA and RIC meet in Ballygarret pub

The period of a hundred years ago is a contentious one in Irish history. Sandwiched between the War of Independence and Irish Civil War, late 1921 to early 1922 saw the signing and ratification of the Anglo-Irish Treaty and the transfer of power from the British establishment to the Irish Free State. This included the phased disbandment of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC), which had served as the nations police force for nearly 100 years, replaced by the Civic Guard, later to become the Garda Siochana.

While this transfer of power from one policing authority to another was inevitable following the ratification of the treaty, the RIC already had to contend with the existence of openly public IRA policing since the truce period from July 1921 onwards; the IRA, under the nose of the existing British administration and in allegiance to their own Dail Eireann, openly undertook policing activities which they could not have been able to do so before. While a fragile peace existed between the two policing authorities occasional incidents did occur where both clashed in the carrying out of their duties. One such incident led to a case being heard at the Oulart Petty Sessions Court, held in Enniscorthy on Monday the 2nd of January 1922.

Redmond’s shop Ballygarret, presumably the same premises as that described

During this case a publican by the name of Denis Redmond was accused of allowing his pub in Ballygarret to serve drink on a Sunday the 11th of December 1921. On the day in question Constable Donoughue, stationed in Gorey, entered Redmonds premises by it’s yard gate which was open. He continued through the kitchen and into the pub, the doors of both which were also open. There he found Mrs. Redmond whom he asked as to why the pub was open, to which she responded that she was getting flour. While both were speaking two men entered the premises and the constable enquired as to their identities and reasons for being there. Both men said that they had seen the constable, who was not in uniform but in plain clothes, enter the premises and that they had followed him inside to see if he was a ‘bona fide traveller’. In response the constable identified himself and he asked both men to do the same. A somewhat comic situation followed.

While one of the men named William Cullen from Ballygarret gladly identified himself his companion, Jason Dempsey of Tingar, stubbornly would not. Instead only doing so in Irish, with Cullen having to provide the English. Constable Donoghue asked the men for their authority on the premises to which they replied that they belonged to the IRA police of the area. He then instructed both men to leave the premised to which they ignored and a request by the constable for Mrs Redmond to remove them gave similar results. The second direct request to the men was met with laughter and the responce for the constable to leave instead. He informed them that they were both committing an offence and Dempsey asked if he (the constable) had any notion of putting them out by force. However both men then left the premises, the constable doing so also.

In the deliberations that followed Mr. Redmond told Major Crosbie, whom was presiding over the case, that he had gone to take in the cows hence why the gate was left often to let them in. Following a comical period of questions also between the Major and constable as to the pub being open or closed the former dismissed the case altogether.

Sources

‘A battle of vigilance’ New Ross Standard 6th January 1922, p8

Attack on RIC barracks Duncannon

The former RIC Barracks in Duncannon as it looks today (Google Street View)

During the War of Independence in county Wexford Duncannon RIC barrack was one of a handful outside of the towns that remained open. A large two storey building, the barracks was situated on the eastern edge of the village at a junction with the main street. Like other barracks still functioning at the time it had likely become heavily fortified with the addition of sandbags, steel doors, loopholes and possibly barbed wire entanglements. Although situated in a rural fishing village the presence of a costal military fort provided additional protection to its garrison; In early April 1920 the New Ross Standard reported how after lying empty for many years Duncannon Fort was reoccupied by military with soldiers carrying machine guns and other military equipment reportedly seen entering the fort. Additionally the closure of many rural barracks throughout Wexford in 1920 resulted in the augmentation of garrisons in other barraks, including Duncannon.

Despite a larger garrison and a substantial military presence only a stones throw away it didn’t deter the local IRA from undertaking attacks on the RIC barracks. Two such incidents are recorded in the South Wexford brigade activity reports; on the 23rd of April, involving sniping by B (Campile) and C (Ramsgrange) companies 2nd Battalion and on the 10th of May 1921 a 30 minute attack involved members of C and D (Fethard on Sea) company 2nd battalion. Discrepancies are noted however regarding these dates against other sources. The Enniscorthy Guardian, referring to an official report from Dublin Castle, stated that on the 29th of April at 1 a.m. Duncannon barracks was attacked with bombs and rifles by a party of 20 men. The attack lasted 20 minutes and no RIC casualties were reported. This appeared to be part of a regional operation as Foulksmills barracks was also attacked on the same night. Earlier that month the Irish times reported an attack at 10.30 p.m. lasting 30 minutes which involved ‘brisk firing’. Interestingly the author highlights how the attackers withdrew after search lights from a warship docked in Waterford harbor were observed. References are made in the brigade activity reports and bureau of military history witness statements to regular ‘sniping’ on Duncannon barracks. Such activity generally involved occasional shots fired at the building to harass the garrison inside and such incidents may have escaped the weekly news headlines.

Peter Cummins in his witness statement to the Bureau of Military History states there was a total of 6 attacks on Duncannon barracks. On one of these occasions a landmine was used. The device exploded but failed to cause any major damage, however he states that unbeknownst to the attackers the garrison inside were ready to surrender. The IRA though had no way of knowing this and also didn’t have any proper arms to push on for a victory. In an interestingly modest comment regarding attacks on Duncannon Barracks Peter stated:

‘It has since been stated by Battalion officers that certain of these attacks on Duncannon barracks were major engagements. This has obviously been done for pension purposes.’

One pension application which references Duncannon is that of Richard Rowe. He describes being involved in attacks on Duncannon barracks on two separate occasions which involved the use of bombs, shotguns and rifles, while the RIC had machine guns.

A detailed sketch plan was provided in the South Wexford brigade activity reports illustrating one attack on the barracks. The plan shows the barrack building with ‘bricked loopholes’ highlighted and a total of 7 sections taking up positions behind walls or boundaries surrounding the barracks to the rear and side. The elevated ground to the rear of the building would have provided a particularly good vantage point for an attack. The former barrack building still stands in the village today as a well kept private residence. The area surrounding has undergone extensive development in the last century to the point where it is no longer situated on the outskirts of the village anymore. No obvious scarring from bullets or explosives are visible on the exterior of the building.

Portion of sketch plan illustrating attack on Duncannon RIC Barraks (Credit: South Wexford Brigade Activity Reports)

Despite the numerous attacks the garrison inside escaped without any reported casualties. However one death is recorded at Duncannon barracks when in February 1921 an RIC constable W. Fennessy was accidentally shot by a bullet from a comrades revolver. The latter had been shooting crows for target practice while returning to the barracks from patrol duty and while attempting to re-holster his gun it slipped from his hand. When he grabbed the weapon it fired and bullet hit constable Fennessy who died two hours later from his wounds.

The attacks on Duncannon barracks seem to be a combination of sniping and large scale attacks with at least one of the latter taking place and involving the use of bombs. The aim of such large attacks was to capture the building and according to Peter Cummins they came close on at least one occasion.

Sources

Bureau of Military History Withness Statement, Peter Cummins #1470

Enniscorthy Guardian, 4th March 1921, p3

Enniscorthy Guardian, 7th May 1921, p4

New Ross Standard, 9th April 1920, p5

The Irish Times, 4th April 1921, p5

Military Pension, Richard Rowe MSP34REF22176

Wexford coastguard Stations burned.

Being a coastal county Wexford has a rich maritime heritage stretching back several centuries. The remnants of former coastguard stations that once dotted its coast form part of this heritage, some of which were targeted during the Irish War of Independence.

Coastguard Stations burned and/or raided during the WOI

History of the Coastguard in Ireland

Established in 1824 the initial purpose of the Coastguard service in Ireland was primarily that of revenue protection. However, by 1856 it was transferred into the Admiralty and effectively became part of the Royal Navy. It undertook a range of duties including sea rescues, the distribution of famine relief, control of smuggling and from the mid 1850s defense of the coasts in times of war or emergency. 200 coastguard stations dotted the Irish coast by 1860. Up to the late 20th century these were generally comprised of a terrace of cottages/houses, a boat house, a watch tower and other ancillary buildings. Senior officers generally had larger houses built separately or at the end of a terrace. From the mid 1800s the board of works (OPW) became responsible for the construction and maintenance of coastguard stations and buildings became more substantial, generally consisting of a terrace of stone or brick built houses, usually two storey with a watch tower located at one end. Some had defensive features such as oriel windows with gun loops, strong exterior doors and iron window shutters. In the 1920s many stations were raided by the IRA for arms and ammunition. 

Raids on coastguards stations

In June 1920 Bar of Lough station, near Carrig on Bannow, was attacked and the coastguards taken captive. They were relived of their revolvers and ammunition together with a quantity of rockets which were used for rescues. Being aware of the importance of the latter though one rocket was left behind in case it was needed for such an emergency. The station was raided again on Sunday the 8th of May 1921 with its doors and windows broken. Canvass candles and bunting was reported stolen with the raid presumably undertaken to procure weapons and ammunition.

On Sunday the 12th of June 1921 Courtown Coastguard station was raided shortly before midnight. Unfortunately for the raiders any arms and ammunition had long since been removed from the premises. Telegraph and telephone wires in the locality were cut as part of the operation.

The terrace of houses comprising Courtown coastguard station (Credit: National Library of Ireland, Lawrence Collection)

Burning of Coastguard Stations

In July of 1921 just before the truce came into place three stations were burned in county Wexford; Kilmichael, Bar of Lough and Morriscastle. The latter two occurred close to the truce on the 11th and may have been deliberate final acts of defiance by the local IRA companies.

Bar Of Lough

The former ruins of Bar of Lough coastguard station (Credit: https://www.coastguardsofyesteryear.org/photogallery.php?photo_id=40)

On July the 10th the coastguard station at Bar of Lough, together with with the officer’s house and boathouse were purposely destroyed by fire. The ruins of the buildings were visible until several years ago before being completely demolished.

Morriscastle

On the 8th of July Morriscastle coastguard station was burned by members of Kilmuckridge and Ballygarret IRA companies. Telephone wires were cut in advance. The station was comprised of a row of terraced houses, similar in appearance to Courtown coastguard station and was described as a ‘fine cut stone building’. The coastguards still occupied it at the time and were ordered out before it was set ablaze. Furniture belonging to five of the coastguards was taken out while that of a sixth, who was on leave, remained in his locked room and was lost to the fire. They remained in Gorey that night, leaving for their homes the following morning. £7000 compensation was later awarded for the stations destruction and a further £300 for lost stores. The monies was awarded to the admiralty, who leased the building from a colonel Loftus Bryan, but on the condition that the former was bound to reconstruct the building. The station today is a private residence.

One of those involved in the burnings, Laurence Redmiond, recounted the event several decades later to the Bureau of Military History:

During the first few days of July, 1921, theBattalion 0/C, Myles Breen, visited Kilmuckridge Company and gave instructions to burn Morriscastle Coastguard Station, and to co-operate with the Ballygarrett Company to carry out the job. It was decided to do the job on the night of the 6th July, 1921. The station was occupied by one officer and five coastguards and their families. Patrick McCreavy, Captain of Ballygarrett, took charge of the men from that Company. Joe Quinsay was in charge of the men from Kilmuckridge Company. There were about fifteen men from both Companies. We cut the telephone wires. We knocked on the doors. Some of the occupants did not answer. It was necessary to fire a few shots in the air to let them know we were determined they should come out. When they were assembled outside, they were told we were going to burn the station. They were given half an hour to take out any private property they might have. We collected a quantity of gun-cotton, detonators and rocket Verey lights. We then put the coastguards and their families in the Rocket House, which we considered vas a safe distance from the main building. We obtained a quantity of hay from an adjoining field, spread it on the floors, sprinkled it with paraffin oil and then set it alight. The station was completely destroyed. The following day a gun boat came to take the coastguards and their families away. I went down to see the last of them. (Bureau of Military History Witness Statement: Laurence Redmond #1010 p5 & 6)

Kilmichael

Kilmichael coastguard station was a fine stone built two story building constructed around 1870. Its architecture is characteristic of the period and includes defensive features, being box oriels that protrude from the sides and gables of the building with gun loops visible on their sides. On the 4th of July the building was completely gutted after being set a fire by a group of armed men. The coastguards and their families still resided in the station and before it was set ablaze were removed to neighboring houses by the strangers who were described as being courteous. £5200 compensation was later awarded for its destruction.

Kilmichael Coastguard Station as it looks today

Sources

Coastguard Stations

Mayne, D. (2016). Fortification as an element in the design of Irish coastguard Stations, 1867-1889. The Irish Sword, The Journal of the Military History Society of Ireland (Vol XXX, Number 121), p275.

O’Sullivan, M. and Downey, L. (2013). Coastguard Stations. Archaeology Ireland Vol. 27, No. 4 (Winter 2013), p30-33, Wordwell Ltd.

Courtown Coastguard Station Raid

Enniscorthy Guardian 18 June 1921, p5

Bar of Lough Coastguard Station Raids and Burning

Enniscorthy Guardian 16 July 1921, p5 – Burning of Station

New Ross Standard 25 June 1920, p3 – Raid

New Ross Standard  18 November 1921, p8 – Compensation claim

Kilmichael Coastguard Station

Enniscorthy Guardian, 16 July 1921, p5 – Burning of Station
The Irish Times, 12th Nov 1921, p8 – Compensation claim

Morriscastle Coastguard station

Bureau of Military History Witness Statement, Laurence Redmond  (#1010) p5-6 Description of Burning the station

Enniscorthy Guardian, 16 July 1921, p5 – Burning of Station
New Ross Standard 18 November 1921, p8 – Compensation Claim

Rosslare RIC Barracks attacked

At two in the morning on Sunday the 15th of May 1921 the nights silence was broken around Rosslare Harbour when the local RIC barracks was attacked by members of the Tagoat company, South Wexford Brigade IRA . The attackers concentrated their rifle fire on the building and the police inside responded with their own. Despite the intensity of the brief conflict no casualties were reported, except one of the police, who received what was described as a splinter. Contemporary newspaper accounts described the attack as daring due to the scarcity of cover near the building. Its isolated position is illustrated on the 1905 ordinance survey map. The barrack building was described as being modern at the time, as well as ‘strong and substantial’. Up to ten years prior it had been in the occupation of the owner, a Mrs. Mary Allen.

1905 Ordinance Survey Map with Ailsa lodged (Barracks) marked.

A year before the attack in June 1920 Mrs Allen had lodged an appeal in court against the possession of her house, known as Ailsa Lodge; the police had taken up residence in February 1918. It was raised against her that the usual right to terminate a tenancy after six months did not apply in this case because the building was utilized as a police barracks rather that a private renting; there was difficulty in obtaining an alternative barrack premises, while it was also located near an important port and coastguard station.

Suspect arrested

Following the attack on the barracks a mixed party of military and police proceeded to the house of Adam Jones who was accused of participating in the attack . Jones had served in the British army previously, including during the War for a period. When they arrived at his home in Mauritiustown he was found in bed and a subsequent inspection of his clothes found they were wet, smelled of sea salt and had sand on them. A single shotgun cartridge was also found in one of his coat pockets. The authorities claimed to have found fresh footprints leading from the sea shore up to Jone’s house.

In the court case that followed Jone’s defendant argued against the evidence stating that the cartridge found was of a regular type which was readily available and could be easily bought by anyone. Meanwhile the tracks it was argued could belong to anyone as no further attempt was taken to record additional details such a shoe size; they could have belonged to someone looking after cattle that where in the same field or someone who was simply crossing it for travel. Furthermore in his defense Jones said his clothes were dirty from tending cattle and he found the cartridge previously in the golf links while walking home from Rosslare.

Following the case he was found not guilty of ‘levying war by taking part in an attack on his majesty’s forces’ but was found guilty regarding procession of ammunition and was sentenced to three years penal servitude.

The old RIC barracks still stands in Rosslare today but is now a private residence. In the South Wexford Brigade Activity reports a sketch plan was provided which illustrates the position the attackers took. The isolated position of the barracks is obvious and the attackers took up position in a line behind the western boundary of the site. Those who took part were named as Patrick Mythen, Adam Jones, John O’ Reilly, Phil O’ Reilly, Dan Walsh, James Rowe and William Barry,

Sketch plan of barrack attack with positions numbered 1-6 (Credit: South Wexford Brigade Activity Reports)

Any further information or images relating to the former barracks would be greatly appreciated and you can contact the page at wexfordwarofindependence@gmail.com

Sources

New Ross Standard, 5th March 1920, p5

Enniscorthy Guardian, 2nd July 1921, p2

New Ross Standard, 15th July 1921, p4

New Ross Standard, 20th May 1921, p4

South Wexford Brigade Activity Reports

Bob Lambert and The Whitefort ambush

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.

Robert "Bob" Lambert after his election to Dail Eireann.jpg
Bob Lambert. Credit Wikipedia

The Ambush

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.

Example of an armored car from the Irish Civil War

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.

Map showing 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 were positioned

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.

Sources

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

Petrol Stolen

In August 1920 the IRA in Wexford town stole nearly 200 gallons of petrol, belonging to the British Army, from the South Wexford Railway Station, This was located near the military barracks, so was a risky operation. This railway station no longer exists and instead the town is served today by what was the ‘North Wexford Station’.

Site of the former south wexford station as it looks today (Google Street View 2019)

Sources

South Wexford Brigade Activity Reports

Attempted shooting of Police Inspector

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.

Reprisal Burnings

Cullens North Main Street Wexford, formerly Foleys in 1921, which was burned as a reprisal for the attempted shooting of RIC District Inspector McGovern

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.

Edward Foley, whose shop was burned down as a reprisal. (Credit: Wexford in the Rare Oul Times, Vol 4)

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.

Sources

Dublin Evening Telegraph, 20th May 1921, p2

Enniscorthy Guardian, 28th May 1921, p5

Bureau of Military History Witness Statement: Francis Carty #1040

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.

Sources

Enniscorthy Guardian, April 9th 1921, p5

Bureau of Military History Withness Statement: Joseph Killeen #1215

Bureau of Military History Withness Statement: Thomas Dwyer #1198