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
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
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.
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.’
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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)
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.
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’.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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 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.
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
By May 1921 the War of Independence had been raging for over two years in Ireland. County Wexford, although relatively quiet early on in the period, experienced a surge in IRA activity from early 1920 onwards. At the end of that year the IRA within the county was reorganized and divided into a North and South Brigade. This coincided with the formation of an Active Service Unit (ASU), more often referred to as a flying column, for the county. These were full time mobile military units who used guerilla warfare against crown forces. As its membership at the the time of its formation was entirely made up of men from North Wexford it then fell under that Brigade area’s command, therefore becoming ‘The North Wexford Brigade Flying Column’. On the 7th of May 1921 the column undertook, what was probably their most significant ambush, when they attacked an RIC patrol near the Village of Inch just north of Gorey town, resulting in the death of one RIC Auxiliary constable.
Background and Preparation
In early May 1921 the column had been resting at Coady’s of Corrigeen, underneath the shadow of the Blackstairs Mountain. Coady’s, as well as being a safehouse, was also a training camp, munitions’ factory and acted as a general meeting point or HQ for the IRA in North Wexford. Its somewhat isolated and rural location, along the Blackstairs mountains, made it a safe and secure location. Two months previously in March the column had a lucky escape in the townland of Kilmichael, near Hollyfort outside Gorey, when they were caught off-guard and surrounded in a safehouse by the RIC. Luckily they managed to escape without any casualties. Afterwards the column was temporarily disbanded before later being reorganised under the command of Myles Breen of Tinnashrule, Ferns, with Patrick Kenny of Ballycarney as second in command.
The ambush at Inch came about after information was obtained that a lorry load of RIC and Black and Tans travelled via Inch to Gorey on the 1st Saturday of every month bringing the pay to the various RIC barracks. After some planning and discussion it was decided that they would ambush the lorry on the Gorey side of Inch, at a location known as ‘the cuttings’. The site is also referred to locally as ‘Manus Rocks’ and is in the townland of Boleybawn. Having decided on their course of action the column set out on foot towards Inch. From the safety of the Backstairs mountains they travelled east towards the Sliabh Bhuai Hill range, arriving at Bill Murphy’s of the Bleech, Monasootha, where they rested for a night. While here they obtained a mine to be used in the ambush, made by a man called Daniel Byrne, whom was described as an expert explosive maker. After spending what was described at ‘a most enjoyable night’ at Bill Murphy’s the column skirted along the Wicklow Wexford border and moved onto Doyle’s of Buckstown, then through Monaseed and onto the Mount Hill. Here they met 2 scouts from the local Crannford company, named Murt Kavanagh and Dinny Maher, who were to escort them to their destination. Company scouts regularly aided the column as they passed through their area of operations. What was perhaps unfamiliar territory to many men in the column was the opposite for the scouts, who knew the local terrain like the back of their hands and ensured a safe route to travel. While on Mount Hill Murt Kavanagh told the column about the local area, including tales of 1798 and the infamous Hunter Gowen who back in those days owned the estate they were encamped on, now belonging to the Rev. Dom J.F. Sweetman who was running the well-known Benedictine College there at this time.
The mine they had been carrying, since they left Murphy’s near Sliabh Bhuai, was heavy and upon stopping on top of the mount hill the man who had been carrying it, Dick Hume, jokingly drew his small .22 revolver and threatened to shoot someone if they didn’t carry it for him. Continuing on their journey the column crossed the Bann river via a narrow foot bridge at Ballingarry. Only one person could cross at a time, which proved difficult for one member of the column , Thomas Meagher, who lost his balance and fell in. They continued on via Bolacreen and Coolinteggart finally reaching Errity’s outfarm at Ballyconlore where they rested for the night in a disused house, only a short distance away from Inch. A Dinny Allen (TD), captain of Kilanerin (D company) arranged for accommodation and food for the men while at Errittys.
Two men from Inch, Peter Kavanagh and John Sheridan, from the Kilanerin company, acted as guides going to and from the ambush site. At dawn the following morning the column was led to the ambush position along the Gorey to Arklow road, just south of Inch. The position ‘known as the cuttings’ was suited to an ambush, as the road at this point contained sharp bends, which would compel any vehicles to slow down and give the column a better opportunity for a successful attack. Also the ground on either side was higher and offered a good vantage to fire from while the trees and scrub covering offered them some protection.
The column positioned themselves along a high bank on the western side of the road, or what is the right hand side travelling from inch to Gorey. The men, armed with shotguns and rifles, numbered around 25 in total and were spaced about 5 to 10 yards apart overlooking the roadside. This meant they covered a total distance of about 125 yards, giving them a commanding range over the road beneath. Initially it was planned to set the mine they had brought with them into position along the road for the approaching lorry. However, this was decided against at the last minute when they realised as it was a fair day in Gorey and as the road would be busy they feared arousing suspicion which might alert crown forces. The mine was later found by the police following the ambush and taken back to the barracks in Gorey. It remained there following the truce, after which the IRA took over the building. Upon discovering the device in April 1922 they called in Daniel Byrne, the mines maker and ironically in a twist of faith while experimenting with the bomb it exploded killing him nearly a year after he first manufactured it.
Throughout the morning the column lay in wait for the truck but by 11 o clock that morning it had failed to arrive and they learned later it had bypassed Inch altogether. It was 12:30p.m. and the men were considering withdrawing when they noticed 5 police officers on bicycles coming along the road towards them from Inch. The officers had left their barracks in Coolgreany early that morning and were on their way into Gorey to buy their weekly provisions. They were cycling in formation and spaced a distance apart; A Sergeant Doolan was in front with another constable behind, followed by an auxillary constable called Fredrick Dupree. The two remaining officers then followed a distance behind at the rear. During the military inquiry following the ambush the policeman between Doolan and Dupree stated that they reached a bend in the road about a quarter of a mile from inch village when they were fired upon. Sergeant Doolan was wounded in the left arm and the right leg above the knee. Both men immediately took shelter in a narrow ditch on the right side of the road. The attackers continued firing at them and the officer responded with his own gunfire. He attempted to make his way up to the attackers and while attempting to do so heard a whistle, after which the firing ceased. The two constables behind saw the commotion ahead of them, took cover on the right hand side of the road and returned fire. One attempted to reach the attackers along the cliff and fired, but could see no body. Both officers then doubled back to Inch post office and phoned Gorey RIC for help as well as a doctor and nurse.
The firing was ongoing as the two officers made their way to the post office to phone for help, but by the time they returned it had ceased. Constable Dupree was then found dead on the left hand side of the road, having been shot through the breast and right lung.
The Column Escapes
The column was well aware that following the ambush they couldn’t afford to linger around, fearful of police and or military arriving from Arklow or Gorey, both towns being only about 5 miles away. The RIC in Gorey later arrived on the scene in an armored car with two additional motor cars. A Dr. Nolan from Gorey and a nurse Kimher arrived on the scene also. After the ambush the column hid in Ballinstraw wood on the property of Thomas Esmonde and after dark moved onto the home of Paddy Kenny at Ballydarragh, who was the officer commanding for the Crannford company, arriving at midnight. After eating they then moved to Murphys of the Bleach, reaching their destination at 5 or 6 in the morning. By this time the men were tired having travelled 10 miles through rough country and crossing Ballydarragh and Corriglegan hills. James O Toole in his witness statement stated that
‘all the members of the column were suffering from sore feet, cuts, etc. In my own case I sprained my ankle at Murphy’s, The Bleach, when setting out for Inch and did the whole journey in that condition. The pain was so intense that several times I had to put my foot and ankle into running water so as to numb the pain’ p12.
Eventually they reached the Bleech where they remained for a week while police activity died down.
Constable Frederick Dupree was originally from Margate in Kent and was only 19 when he was shot at Inch. He had joined the auxiliary police a year earlier, having first been stationed at Gorey before being moved to Coolgreany after four months. Following the ambush his body was brought back to the RIC barracks in Gorey. Shopkeepers were notified by the police to close their premises while the body was being conveyed through the town and that one person from each house was to attend the funeral. When the body was brought through Gorey at 4 that evening a large crowd lined behind the remains and the traders were told to close their premises for the evening. The Gorey Fair always brought large crowds but later on that day the town became very quiet with hardly anyone about. The following Tuesday Dupree’s remains were brought for a short service to Gorey Methodist church and were then transported by train from Gorey station to Dublin, then onto England for burial.
Following the ambush at Inch crown forces carried out several reprisals. A notice in the New Ross Standard on the 27th of May 1921 (p5), stated that Colonel Commandant Cameron ordered the destructions as the owners were active supporters of the armed rebels who undertook the ambush at Inch resulting in the death of constable Dupree. It stated the following houses were destroyed on Monday-Tuesday the 23rd-24th May 1921.
The House of John Etchingham Courtown Harbour
The House of Patrick Kenny Ballykale Gorey
The house of Margaret Veney, North Parade Gorey
The house of M. Kelly , Clones Ferns
The Liquor in the establishment of Patrick Byrne Inch
The Irish Times on the 25th May 1921, p5 reported the destruction of Veney’s Gorey stating that the residence of Frederick Veney was leveled with explosives at 1 o clock on Tuesday monring. Military and police armed with machine guns arrived in Gorey the previous evening staying in the courthouse and barracks. The injured parties were only allowed to remove bedding and valuables.
The Site Today
The location of the Inch ambush today is distinctive and easily recognisable due to the high ground on the western side of the road where the column were positioned. In the 100 years since the event alterations have removed the bend where the RIC would have been fired upon. This would have been located approximately where the 1798 monument stands today.
100 years on
Unfortunately due to the current pandemic and restrictions it was not possible to hold a commemoration event at Inch to mark it’s centenary. However, a small group of people gathered for a short period at the location to mark the event, 100 years on. The group included, starting from the left, the author of this article, followed by Gráinne and John Kavanagh. (John’s father was Peter Kavanagh, D/Company (Kilanerin), who in 1921 acted as a guide escorting the column to and from the ambush position). Also present was Denis Sheridan (sixth from the right, whose father, John (Jack) Sheridan, also acted as a guide with Peter Kavanagh) together with the extended Sheridan family. Also Charlie O’Shaughnessy, (fifth from the right) whose father Jack and uncle Ted were members of D Company and his aunt, Hanah, was adjutant of Castletown Cumann na mBan. Thanks to Peter O Connor for taking the photo.
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, Michael O Brien #1158
Bureau of Military History Witness statement, Patrick Carton #1160
Enniscorthy Guardian 11th May 1921 , p4
Irish Times 25th May 1921, p5
County Wexford in the Rare Oul Times by Nicjholas Furlong and John Hayes, Vol 4
Thanks to Owen Dunbar of Gorey for bringing additional references to my attention
Shortly before nine in the evening on Saturday the 19th of March 1921, four RIC constables left the safety of their barracks in Foulksmills to buy some necessities from Furlongs, the village’s grocers. The business was situated a short walk up the street from the RIC barracks. As the four officers were entering the shop a bomb was thrown at them from behind a large tree which stood in the center of the village. One of the constables, Dermot J Dunne, who was originally from Galway, was the last of the group to enter Furlongs and was just outside when the device exploded. He was wounded in the right shoulder and calf of the left leg. Although injured he managed to stagger into the safety of the shop where another constable closed the door behind him. Just then shotgun fire rang out with some of the pellets penetrating the door, fortunately though nobody was injured. The attackers fired several more shots before they made off in different directions. The police then took their wounded comrade back to the safety of their barracks.
The 20 or so customers inside Furlong’s during the attack were unharmed, attributed to one half of the double door being closed at the time of the explosion and absorbing many of the splinters, some of which embedded themselves in the wall outside. Mrs. Furlong herself had a lucky escape as she was holding the open half at the time of the explosion.
After the attack rockets and verey lights sent up from the barracks illuminated the night sky and signaled for assistance. It was reported the rockets could be heard from Taghmon, 5 miles away and were visible in Wexford town, 14 miles away. The parish priest Michael Hickey Clongeen hurried to the barracks to minister to the wounded man. At 11 o clock military from New Ross arrived on the scene and a Dr. Hickey to administer treatment to the wounded officer, who was later removed to hospital in Dublin. The attack was condemned by Fr Hickey at mass in Clongeen on Sunday Morning. Earlier in December 1920 a large scale attack took place on the barracks in Foulksmills and it was regularly sniped or shot at in the six months prior to the Truce from January to June 1921.
The ambush was undertaken by members of D company (Adamstown) 1st Battalion; Thomas Furlong, James Furlong, Peter Jordon, M. McDonald. Today the Oak Tree pub occupies the premises which was Furlongs and amazingly the tree from behind which the IRA threw the bomb still stands to this day, a direct physical link to the event.
On Tuesday afternoon the 15th of February 1921 five police officers, travelling in their Ford Motorcar from Bunclody to Enniscorthy, were ambushed near Ballycarney by the North Wexford Brigade Flying Column. The Irish Times, reporting on the incident, stated that the car, being driven by a sergeant Torsney, was passing through Munfin, a short distance north of Ballycarney. Suddenly Torsney heard a noise, which he assumed was a burst tyre and decided to pull over and investigate. But just as he was slowing down the sound of rifle and revolver shots rang out from behind a hedge on the left side of the road. The other officers in the car returned fire on their attackers while sergeant Torsney sped up and they made a narrow escape. The bonnet of the vehicle was reported to be riddled with bullet marks and fortunately for its occupants they escaped without injury.
First Ambush in the county
Thomas Dwyer, one of those who took part in the attack, recalled decades later in his witness statement to the bureau of military history how the north Wexford flying column didn’t have much luck in previous ambushes since its formation in late 1920. Several attempts had been undertaken but on each the enemy forces failed to show. The incident in Ballycarney was the first ambush by the column in Wexford where a shot was fired. Dwyer recalled how Phil Lennon, then the columns officer commanding, afterwards remarked, “It is the first ambush in the county and I am proud to have been in it”.
One would imagine that as this was the first somewhat successful ambush by the column it would be well recorded and documented. However the accounts relating to it vary. Thomas Dwyer stated that they were awaiting the arrival of an RIC cycle patrol that failed to show when instead a car turned up. Michael Kirwan though states the ambush was originally intended not for a cycle patrol but instead a lorry delivering supplies from Wexford town to Bunclody for the Devon Regiment stationed at the latter. The account of a Thomas Meagher also refers to the target being a lorry. James O Toole states they happened upon a police car unexpectedly while trenching the roads, with no previous plans for an ambush.
Despite these differences the vehicle fired upon in the end was most certainly a car, as that is what was reported in the contemporary newspaper accounts. One commonality the accounts do share though is that the targeted vehicle arrived later than expected, which caught the column by surprise and that there was a delay in engaging the target due to this fact. Reference is made to how they had planned to block the road by felling a tree across it. One half was cut and held by a rope, ready to drop when the order was given.
The Irish Times report on the incident is is slightly biased and somewhat exaggerates the actions of the police. For example, the police estimated at least 50 people were involved in the attack, a number which is very unlikely, especially given the fact that the column never numbered near that many people during the period. Also the promptness of the police response fire to their attackers and the quickness of Sergeant Torseney to respond and speed away are given particular focus. Additionally they believed one of the attackers was badly wounded also, when in fact no casualties on either side were recorded.
The Ambush Site
The Irish times newspaper reported that the incident took place on the main road between Bunclody and Enniscorthy at ‘Munfin’. It described the road at this point as being twelve feet wide and the attackers had taken position on the left side where they were sheltered by a high thick hedge. Thomas Meagher in his witness statement tells how it occurred about a mile outside Ballycarney, on the Bunclody road at a location known as ‘the White Woman’s Hollow.’
The location was called so as it was supposedly haunted by a lady who wore white as referenced in the ‘Schools Folklore Collection’ from Bunclody school. This collection is made up of folklore and local traditions compiled by primary school pupils from all over the country between 1937 and 1939.
‘The White Woman’s Hollow. There is a hollow in the road about four miles south of Bunclody, and near Ballycarney. It is called the White Woman’s Hollow, because a white woman is seen there riding a white horse at twelve o’clock at night. They say that a woman was killed there and that the white woman is her ghost. She is seen crossing the road from one ditch to the other. When twelve o’clock strikes she will disappear, and will not be seen until the next night. A man named Michael Byrne of Clohamon is supposed to have seen her.
The precise location of the ‘white woman’s hollow’ in Munfin is not marked on any maps and alterations to the road (now the N80) in the last 100 years have left no such hollow obvious or visible. However, local knowledge and memory places it at the point in the road where there now exists a layby, shown in the photograph below.
The flying police man
The ambush at Munfin may have been the first such experience for many of the officers, except the driver of the police car Sergeant Torsney, whom had a lucky escape previously in 1920; While cycling near Ferrycarrig with another constable both were ambushed by two men at gunpoint and ordered to stop. The two officers in fear for their life kept cycling through and were fired upon with Torsney receiving a bullet to his leg. Torsney was an active member of Waterford RIC cycling club in the 1890s winning Ireland’s one-mile bicycle championship in May 1893, earning him the nickname ‘The flying police man’. Though injured he miraculously continued to cycle until they reached the safety of the barracks in Taghmon. Later in December of that year he was in the barracks in Bunclody when constable William jones was shot only a few doors up in Kelly’s pub.
The Ambush site today
Today the stretch of road at Munfin where the ambush took place forms part of the busy N80. It has changed drastically from what it would have looked like 100 years ago and many of those who use it on a regular basis may not even realise it was the site of the first ambush by the North Wexford Flying Column. No memorial or marker exists on the site and knowledge of the incident and its location has been confined to history. Sites and landscapes like these form an important part of our more Revolutionary past and should be given the same consideration as other historical and archaeological sites within the county. But hopefully to those who have read this piece they will remember the events which took place along the roadside at Munfin 100 years ago this year.
Bureau of Military History Witness Statement, James O Toole #1084
Bureau of Military History Witness Statement, Michael Kirwan #1175
Bureau of Military History Witness Statement, Thomas Dwyer #1198
Bureau of Military History Witness Statement, Thomas Meagher #1156
The Irish Times, 16th February, p5
Schools Folklore Commission
A special thanks to Colette Bennett and others on the ‘Bunclody History and Photos Facebook Page’ for helping to identify the ambush site.
In early June 1920 two RIC police constables named Armstrong and Torsney were cycling from Wexford to the barracks in Taghmon when they were ambushed by two men. The event took place somewhere along the road between Ferrycarrig and Ardcandrisk (see map below).
The south wexford brigade activity reports state that a William Cullimore, from Pearse St. Wexford and a Pierce Byrne, from Charlotte St. Wexford, were responsible. Upon seeing the RIC officers coming towards them both men stood in the middle of the road, calling on them to halt. The police however refused and kept on cycling. Cullimore opened fire from a ’38 Revolver’. Byrne was unarmed. One of the officers, Sergeant Torsney, was hit in the hip/leg area, but continued to cycle on and both officers managed to escape. Newspaper reports on the event state that the police were chased along the road, being fired at by the men and that Torsney was wounded in his left leg, but both officers managed to reach Taghmon Barracks safety. They did not return fire at their attackers.
The exact location where the ambush occurred is unknown but the stretch of road where it happened is well suited for such. The modern N11 road, which continues south after Ferrycarrig bridge, did not exist. Instead it followed the south side of the river Slaney along the shore and continued along where the heritage park entrance is located today. The river on the north side of the road, combined with the high ground to the south near Ferrycarrig bridge and the railway line on the same side further west would have left little choice for a quick escape. Despite this however the police did manage to do so and this event may have been a chance encounter rather then a planned one.
Conflicting accounts are noticeable in some newspaper reports. The Munster News ( 9th June 1920 ) and Irish Independent (8th June 1920) state the police reported being attacked by 4 men instead of the 2 reported in the activity reports. The Irish Times (8th June 1920) compliments the latter, also reporting 2. The increase to four men was likely an attempt by the police to bolster their escape.