Attack on Clonroche Barracks

Up until early 1920 county Wexford had remained relatively peaceful throughout the War of Independence. However, this was about to change on Sunday night the 24th of April as the Wexford I.R.A were preparing to undertake their first attack on an R.I.C Barracks in the county. Their target was the barracks at Clonroche, a small village a few miles outside of Enniscorthy on the road to New Ross.

The Barracks was described as a substantial two-storey building, standing alone and just outside the village on the enniscorthy road. It was demolished in the 1970’s and stood on the site of the current Garda Barracks. A farmer’s house stood on the same side of the road as the barracks and two workers’ houses, on the opposite side, were situated about 15 yards further down the road towards Enniscorthy. Immediately opposite the barracks there was no dwelling, so its position was more or less an isolated one. The building was adequality defended with thick walls providing protection from bullet fire while sand bags were placed inside the windows at the front. Additionally, steel shutters, with port holes, were placed on all windows and steel doors were installed. The only large window at the back had sand bags placed outside it while the windows on the ground floor in the gable end had wire entanglements around them.

The Attack

The assembly point, or one of, for the attack was Darcy’s forge Moneytucker. The men on the actual attack were from Enniscorthy companies while other companies held up roads. Prior to the assault all communications (telegraph wires) between the village and Enniscorthy and Wexford and New Ross were cut as were those on both sides of Ballywilliam Barracks. Road blocks were set up on the approach roads into Clonroche with trees felled and men stationed at them, some of whom were armed with shotguns. It was shortly after one in the morning and five of the officers had gone to bed while a sixth was in the barracks day room. Suddenly he was alerted to the sound of gun fire against the front and rear of the house. The other police officers quickly woke, grabbed their weapons and took up defensive positions inside the barracks. Meanwhile outside the I.R.A had taken up positions to the front and rear of the barracks. The frontal assault consisting of only rifle fire while to the rear, a section positioned behind a five foot wall separating the barracks from the adjoining land, utilized bombs and rifle fire. The police were called on to surrender but they refused, responding with gunfire and bombs thrown through port holes in the building. The attack ceased by half 2 with the attacker leaving by 3 a.m.

Map illustrating positions during the attack depicted on Ordinance Survey Map from circa 1905.

During the attack the I.R.A made use of a new homemade weapon called a ‘tailer bomb’. A description of these was given by John Carroll in his military witness statment. (WS#1258) ‘The bombs were home-made and were called “Tailer Bombs”. They had a tail like a kite, so that the nose of the bomb, in which the exploding mechanism was placed, would first strike the object at which it had been thrown. We soon became very accurate at bomb throwing and could from a distance of thirty yards always hit our target.’

The Aftermath

An inspection the following morning showed the front wall was peppered with bullet holes and the centre window upstairs had been targets but not those on either side of it. The barracks only had a single window at the back which was ‘shattered to pieces’ and numerous bullet marks on the rear wall. The roof bore four marks, having been struck by bombs, only one of which seemed to have gone off, causing only minor damage with 2 or 3 slates smashed and creating a slight hole. There was no casualties on the night but a police officer, constable Connell, received a splinter from the bomb which blew a hole in the roof, causing a flesh wound to his left arm. The police suggested the attack ceased after they threw a bomb towards the back wall, injuring one of the attackers. A civilian and the police reported hearing a person screaming in agony. However the attackers accounts fail to mention any such event. The following morning the police retrieved 71 unexploded bombs, 2 unexploded mill bombs and three others exploded, all from the rear of the building. One explosive was made from the box of a cart wheel packed with gelignite and would have caused considerable damage to the barracks if used. During the attack a car arrived with a landmine that was intended to be used however as the attack had already commenced they could not get close to put it into position. On the night a young man, who had been held up by the attackers on his way to the fair in Enniscorthy, later estimated about 300 men were engaged in the attack with 11 motor cars involved and others arriving on bike. The police estimated 150 to 200 men were involved.

The reason for the failure to capture the barracks can be attributed primarily to the failure of many of the tailer bombs to explode. This denied the attackers the opportunity to cause any real destruction to the barracks; the initial plan had been to throw flaming bottles and other explosive devices through holes made in the roof by the tailer bombs. The resilience of the police to surrender also impacted the result as the attackers knew the assault was not sustainable in the long run due to a limited ammunition supply and the threat of reinforcements arriving.

Interesting Circumstances

An interesting twist of faith surrounds the attack on Clonroche Barracks as initially it was not originally supposed to be attacked in the first place; Patrick Ronan (WS#1157) wrote that in the summer of 1920 Ferns RIC Barracks; was the original target. However …’ just before it was to take place, one of the Volunteers told his girl he could not meet her on Sunday night as he was going to Ferns to take part in an attack on the Barracks there. So she told it to others and the attack had to be abandoned. Clonroche Barracks were attacked instead and all the bombs were used in the attack.

The Site Today

Clonroche Garda Station built on the site of the former R.I.C Barracks.

Unfortunately today there are no contemporary features associated with the attack remaining . The barracks was demolished in the 1970’s to facilitate the construction of the present day Garda station and accompanying residence. The area directly opposite, where the attackers would have sought cover, has been redeveloped.

Sources

‘A Cork Accent in Clonroche as Barracks Attacked’ by Tom McDonald in The Past: The Organ of the Uí Cinsealaigh Historical Society , No. 32 (2016), pp.126-141

Bureau of Military History Withness Statement:John Carroll #1258

Patrick Ronan #1157

Ferns Barracks Attacked

On Saturday the 2nd of July 1921 Ferns police barracks was attacked by members of the North Wexford Brigade flying Column, aided by the Ferns and Kilthomas companies. The column numbered twenty five men, while the Ferns and Kithomas companies combined totaled about fifteen. They surrounded and opened fire on the building, which was occupied by a mixed garrison of both Royal Irish Constabulary (R.I.C) and Black and Tans at the time, numbering between twenty and twenty four men total.

The Barracks

Nothing remains of the R.I.C barracks today. It was demolished sometime in the mid to late 20th century with the area utilized for use as the new church car park. Unfortunately a single photo of the entire building could not be found, but glimpses of the barracks exist in several others. The building functioned as a police station since at least the 1830’s, being marked on the first edition ordinance survey maps from the period. In the 1911 census buildings return it is marked as being constructed of concrete, brick or stone (most likely the latter of the three) with a slate roof and having 5 to 6 rooms. Outside a single stable and a store are also recorded. The building was rented from a Richard Donovan, whom was a prominent landowner in the area.

Photo looking up Ferns Main Street with the front of the barracks visible on the left. This image has been cropped from a larger photo used as the cover for this post. Credit: ( Ferns Heritage Archive Group)

Due to the increase in attacks on police barracks during the war of independence many were modified for better defense. Both Joseph Kileen and James O’ Toole give good descriptions of the building prior to the attack, pointing to some of the newly added defensive features. The following is a summary description of the details provided by both; The barracks was a strongly built two storey building with a valley roof which was covered by a cage of strong netting wire. (This was done to prevent the attackers from throwing bombs onto the roof, something which had been done on attacks of other barracks in Wexford. The initial explosion would create a hole in the roof, into which grenades and other bombs could be thrown, onto the garrison inside.)

Early 20th century photo taken from tower of Ferns Castle. Note the valley roof of the barracks, just visible behind the school. An explosive device could easily have been thrown and become lodged within the valley, hence why the metal wire was installed to prevent such an occurrence. (Credit: Ferns Heritage Archive Group)

It was located a short distance back from the footpath, with a low wall in front and was surrounded by a hedged in garden on both sides and to the rear. All windows had steel shutters with loopholes, allowing those inside the barracks to aim out but making it difficult for any attacker attempting to shoot in. There was a front door with windows on either side and upstairs while each gable had a ‘single small’ window. Two windows existed at the rear of the building upstairs and there was a rear entrance also. It was noted this back door was the one used by the police, possibly because the front entrance was more open and exposed to attack i.e. from a moving car or neighboring building.

Closeup aerial view of barracks taken around 1970 (Credit: Alan Owens)

The Attack

Map Depicting positions of I.R.A sections during attack on Ferns barracks marked A to D, on Ordinance Survey Map from circa 1905.

James O Toole from Clonee was in charge of the attack. A Lieutenant in the Column, he had been left in charge while the commanding officer (O.C.), Myles Breen and vice O.C. Paddy Kenny were attending a brigade council meeting. Prior to the attack the Ferns company cut telephone wires to the barracks, set up outposts on all approach roads into the village (to alert them to any enemy movement) and blocked roads . This was to have the effect of delaying or impeding the arrival of any reinforcements to the barracks. James organised his men into four sections, seven in each and positioned them to attack the barracks from the front, rear and two sides (See map with positions marked A to D.). James, together with three others, occupied the building opposite the barracks to attack it from the front (Position C: now the courtyard bar and restaurant). He placed three other men behind a ‘dead wall’ to the right of this building (Position B: now the entrance to rosemary heights between the courtyard and Garda station).

Early 20th century photo of Ferns with the ‘dead wall’ visible on the right where what is now the entrance to rosemary heights. (Credit: Ferns Heritage Archive Group)

Thomas Francis Meagher, a member of the flying column, describes in his witness statement how himself and others were assigned to a section that was to attack the eastern side of the barracks from behind Haughtons Corner (Position E on map). Here they hide behind a wall 8ft high. It had been organised prior to the attack for planks to be set on barrels so the men could see over it.

An early 20th century photo of Haughtons Corner, named so because of the shop. Notice the high wall adjoining the building, (Now a car park entrance) likely the position James O Toole would have occupied (Credit: Ferns Heritage Archive Group)

There are no accounts to indicate the position of the men who attacked the rear and western gable of the barracks but by studying the available sources, combined with a site survey, likely positions can be suggested. A field boundary, possibly a ditch or field wall, is depicted to the south of the barracks on the ordinance survey map. From here (position D on map) the section would have had a clear view and line of fire on the rear of the barracks while having some cover against any responsive fire from the garrison.

View from the south of the barracks . Note the courtyard Pub and Restaurant in the background where James O Toole was located with others. The larger right portion of the building is a modern extension.

The position to attack the western side of the barracks was likely from behind the schools western boundary wall (location A on map). Here the attackers had a line of sight and cover against. A position elsewhere along the street would have been too open and exposed.

View looking towards barracks from the west.

It was arranged to commence the attack at 2 A.M when the church bell rang. A mine was placed to one side of the barracks and upon the sound of the bell the column opened fire. The mine failed to go off, but the attack continued. James in his witness statement states that ‘The garrison (inside the barracks) replied, but their firing was not accurate’. The darkness of the night combined with the disorientating sound of gunfire would have made it difficult to pinpoint the location of the men outside. To counteract this problem the police sent up Verey lights (Flares) continuously up the chimney, to help illuminate the darkness. Contemporary newspaper accounts of the attack state ‘The firing was very intense while it lasted and people living in the vicinity of the barracks were terrified as to the result’ (Enniscorthy Guardian, 9th of July 1921). Their are contrasting accounts as to how long the attack lasted; newspaper reports from state the firing ceased after ten minutes while James O Toole in his witness statements states they withdrew after about one hour.

Aftermath

Their were no casualties recorded on either side following the attack, however there was a near miss as the Enniscorthy Guardian reports how in one of the houses opposite the barracks ‘One of the bullets pierced the thatched roof of his (the owners) house and struck the wall of his bedroom.’ Little damage is reported on the barracks while some panes of glass had been broken in the houses opposite ‘as if by the firing of a hand grenade’. Thomas Meagher in his withness statement states that ‘The rank and file did not agree with the order to withdraw but, of course, we had to obey orders.’

The site today

Bullet hole visible in granite sill of the most northerly window on the buildings east side.

No remains exist of the barracks today and the much of the contemporary streetscape which formed part of the attack have been removed including the ‘dead wall’ which was located at what is now the entrance to rosemary heights, as is the wall at haughtons corner, the field boundary to the south of the barracks and the western boundary wall of the school. Some extant features exist; the post office (now a Garda station), the building opposite (the courtyard) and the school house. During the survey a single bullet hole was noted in the granite sill of the most northerly window on the eastern side of the school building. This maybe a result of a shot fired, originating from inside the barracks, intended for those attacking its western gable.

Bullet hole in sill
bullet hole in sill

Sources

Bureau of Military History Withness Statement: Thomas Francis Meagher (IRA), Enniscorthy, Co.Wexford. #1156

Bureau of Military History Withness Statement: James O’ Toole (IRA), Gorey, Co.Wexford. #1084

Enniscorthy Guardian Newspaper , 9th July 1921

The Irish Times Newspaper, 4th July 1921

Credit: Thank you to Ferns Heritage Archive Group for permission to use photographs.

Cover Photo: Image of Ferns Main Street looking up towards castle with barracks on the left and what would later be the courtyard pub and resturaunt on the right.

Camolin Barracks Burned

On midnight, Saturday the 17th of April 1920 the New Ross Standard newspaper reports that people living in the vicinity of Camolin barracks were awoken to the sound of ‘…what appeared to be the noise of a crowbar playing on the cast iron entrance door of the police station.’ A number of men were seen, around the barracks, attempting to gain entry. After about thirty minutes the noise stopped and then, shortly after, the building was ablaze. A ‘…plentiful supply of petroleum oil (petrol)’ had been used in the burning. The fire left the building totally demolished with only the bare walls remaining, together with a small portion of the roof adjoining the western gable. The burning was not sporadic, but instead well planned as up to 30 men are reported to have took part. Scouts kepth guard on the village and the roads leading into Camolin. The group of men is reported to have left by two in the morning. The brigade activity reports state that the camolin company of the IRA were responsible for the burning.

Map from circa 1905 with location of Camolin Barracks. It was previously located across the street.

The burning of Camolin barracks was only one of many that were destroyed during 1920. Others, including Camolin, had been vacated the previous year with police officers transferred to more urban barracks like Gorey as many rural stations were considered vulnerable to attack. Michael Kirwan, a member of the north Wexford IRA, states in his witness statement that general headquarters had called for the burning of all abandoned barracks in the Brigade (north Wexford) area. This tactic was to deny the authorities any opportunity to reoccupy the buidings while also sending out a message of defiance at the same time. The barracks was located on the Ferns side of Camolin where there is a slight bend in the road. This location, on the bend, ensured a vantage point in both direction towards Gorey and Ferns. It was a two story, presumably stone  built building whose construction would have offered some comfort in an attack. Sometime later it was repaired as it now serves as a private residence.

Sources

New Ross Standard April 23rd 1920

Michael Kirwan IRA withness statement #1175

Blog Image: This is a picture of the barracks as it looks today and is a private residence. Image taken from google street view.