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.
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.
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