Ambush at Red Pat’s Cross (Enniscorthy)

Lead up to the ambush

In his witness statement to the Bearu of Military History Sean Whelan recalls an I.R.A ambush on police officers, cycling back from Enniscorthy towards Clonroche, at red Pat’s Cross. The event took place on Saturday the 13th of June 1920. On that morning three volunteers by the names of Joe McMahon, Tom Roche and Frank Gibbons called to number 1 Irish Street in Enniscorthy where Sean Whelan had a boot repairing shop. The three had spotted two R.I.C officers enter Ringwoods Barbers in Templeshannon on the opposite side of the town, presumably to get a haircut. They asked Sean, whom was the quartermaster of the ‘North Wexford Brigade’, to give the green light for a hold up. Sean gave the go ahead and placed Joe in charge, handing him his Colt .45 revolver.

.45 Colt Revolver. Similar that which would have been used by Joe McMahon

Sean gave instructions to bring three others, Michael Kirwan, Matt Lynam and Jem Fitzharris with them. On returning to the barber shop they saw there were several other people inside and decided to call off the hold up for fear of injuring any civilians. It was decided instead to ambush the police on their way back to Clonroche at a place called Red Pat’s Cross.

The ambush

From studying newspaper reports of the ambush and the account given by Sean Whelan in his statement the location was likely along a stretch of road just after the cross. Here there is a ‘high ditch’, to the left which the attackers hide behind. The New Ross Standard describes how at about 4.30 p.m. three officers were cycling from Enniscorthy back towards Clonroche; Constable Sullivan and Creighton were stationed at Clonroche and making their way back from the station in Enniscorthy while the third, a constable Molloy, decided to join them part of the way. Molloy was unarmed but the others carried revolvers. Accounts differ as to what happened next. The New Ross standard reports that the police were confronted from behind the ditch and told ‘hands up’. They ignored this believing it to be a joke, until they were fired upon in which they case they quickly dismounted their bikes and made for the safety of the ditch opposite to that of the attackers. In contrast Sean Whelan’s statement describes how as the volunteers were moving into position one of their revolvers accidentally went off as the police were approaching and upon hearing they went for cover.

Plan of Ambush site.

Following whatever the circumstances which began the event a firefight broke out between the police and I.R.A volunteers with only the road separating them. They took cover behind the ditches and newspaper reported that the police ‘discharged all the chambers of their revolvers’ in the direction of the attackers. After dispelling all of their ammunition the volunteers decided to retreat back and the police reported mounting the ditch and seeing several men making their escape. The police reported that at least 20 shots were fired at them while witnesses at the nearby golf links reported hearing only 13 shots.

View of strech of road where ambush took place looking back towards Clonroche. Note the high ditch on the left (Google Street View)


Following the attack there was a large police and military presence that evening. During a search of the area they recovered a lot of webley revolver bullets, likely belonging to the volunteers. They also recovered a new bicycle, again probably belonging to one of the volunteers. Although there were no civilians caught up in the ambush it was reported that a car travelling to New Ross from Enniscorthy heard the gunshots and decided to turn back. Two cyclists travelling the opposite direction did the same also. Sean Whelan says how they were disappointed with the outcome of the attack.

The lack of any rifles or shotguns used in the attack can be attributed to two things. First the sudden nature of the ambush, which allowed for little if any preparation. Second, the fact that in the early stages of the war of independence in Wexford such weapons were in short supply and those which they had were well hidden and could not be got at a moments notice. The site remains much the same as it did in 1920. The location was once quiet rural but this has changed with the construction of houses along the route and at nearby Red Pat’s Cross through the years.


New Ross Standard June 18th 1920.

North Wexford Brigade Activity Files # 10

Sean Whelan, Enniscorthy, Bureau of Military History Witness Statement #1294 

A Near Miss At Dunanore

In spring 1918, prior to the War of Independence, what maybe considered, the ‘first attempted IRA ambush in Wexford’, occurred in the townland of Dunanore, between Bree and Enniscorthy. The ambush was planned for a party of R.I.C police vacating Galbally Barracks and whom were being driven to Enniscorthy in a ‘long car’.

Galbally R.I.C Barracks (now a private residence) Source: Google Streetview

Twenty three men, armed with ‘shotguns and small arms’, lay in wait along a stretch of road referred to as ‘the Dungeon Road’. This was described as ‘very dark and overhung with rocks with the river Boro on the other side’. After waiting for several hours word arrived that the police had travelled another road and subsequently missed the awaiting ambush. Michael Kirwan in his witness statement was under the impression that the police may have uncovered news of their plans and decided to travel a different route.

Map of ambush showing probable I.R.A position and route of police patrol

Despite the lack of any physical engagement the ambush site is worth studying. Based on the previous given description of the ‘Dungeon road’ a stretch (of road) south of the river Boro between Ballynapierce Bridge and Victoria Bridge can be identified as the probable IRA position (See map). At this point on the map the road becomes enclosed; flanked by the rover Boro on the north and overhanging rock on the south, which would have given the ambush party the higher ground over the police. Additionally, any vehicles approaching this location coming west, from Galbally, would have had to first round a bend in the road, therefore causing a delayed view of any potential dangers ahead. It would have provided an element of surprise for the IRA. The site has changed little today and passing through, over 100 years since the time of the event, you can still get a sense of why those men chose this location.

The Dungeon road as it looks today. Note high rock on one side (Source: Google Streetview)

Sources: Bureau of Military History Withness Statement,Michael Kirwan (IRA), Enniscorthy, Co.Wexford. #1175