Postman found dead near Enniscorthy

On the 25th of May 1921 the body of James Morrissey, an auxiliary postman, was found lying in a ditch in Coolnahorna, 200 yards from the roadside. The victim had been shot in the head and a letter was found attached to the body, written on which were the words, ‘Spy and traitor, others beware, IRA.’ A rosary was also found wrapped around his hands, perhaps linked to a final act of contrition.

John Street Enniscorthy where James Morrisey resided with his mother (Google Streetview)

Morrissey was only 27 at the time of his death and had previously served in the British army for two years before being discharged due to ill health. For five years after he was secretary for the Enniscorthy ‘Discharged Soldier’s Federation’ and worked as a postman, covering an area near Marshalstown, not to far outside of Enniscorthy town. Regarding the circumstances surrounding his killing a Thomas Doyle, in his witness statement to the bureau of military history, recalled how the IRA had obtained a letter during a raid on a mail train, supposedly written by Morrisey, implicating him as a spy. Tom further recalled an occasion when Morrissey, together with other ex service members, entered Enniscorthy Courthouse and put on the uniforms of real soldiers. He then proceeded to lead them around the town to ‘paint it red’, vandalizing shop premises and abusing the town’s inhabitants. Further to Thomas Doyle’s version the witness statement of a Thomas Balfe claims Morrisey was a known spy and had ignored previous warnings. No further detail is given regarding the nature of these warnings but it can be assumed that they were most likely verbal in nature.

Further discussing the topic Tom Doyle recalls how it was decided to set a trap for Morrissey. A letter was purposefully held back at the post office which should have been delivered by the postman on duty just before Morrissey. The duty then fell for Morrissey to deliver the letter, the address of which sent him outside of his normal delivery route and down a long lane were men were waiting for him and from where he was then taken and executed. Edward Balfe claims that he heard from a reliable source how Morrissey told his mother that he didn’t expect to be home again before he left that morning. In the book ‘The Dead of the Irish Revoloution’ those involved in the killing are named as James Whelan, Frank Gibbons, Thomas Roche and William Kavanagh.

When he failed to return home that evening his mother raised the alarm and a search party of police and military discovered his body and brought it back to Enniscorthy. He was given a military funeral and laid to rest in St. Johns graveyard, often referred to as Carrig graveyard, located just south of Enniscorthy town on the western side of the Slaney River. All shops in the town were ordered to shut for the funeral and its alleged a British captain named ‘Yeo’ beat up prisoners’ in Enniscorthy courthouse as a reprisal. The Enniscorthy guardian reported how owing to the fear of reprisals the town was deserted the night after Morrissey’s body was found. Several premises had their shutters and windows broken including that of Mr J. Murphy, boat merchant, Main St; Mr S. Roche, saddler, templeshannon; Mr J. Whelan, Vinegar Hill Hotel, Rafter Street; Mr P. Rafter, Publican, the bridge; Mr Sam Walsh, painter and decorator, Court Street. The following night a bomb was also thrown through a fanlight into the premises of Mr John Whelan, Weafter Street, causing considerable damage to the interior. Another bomb was also thrown through the fanlight of a J. Murphy but fortunately failed to explode.

Sources

Bureau of Military History Witness statement, Thomas Doyle #1040

Bureau of Military History Witness statement, Thomas Balfe #1373

Enniscorthy Guardian 28th May 1921, p5

E.O’ Halpin and D. Ó Corráin (2020) ‘The Dead of the Irish Revolution’, Yale University Press, p443

The Inch Ambush

The Ambush site at Inch as it looks today

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.

The Ambush

1905 Ordinance Survey map showing location of ambush with red line marking the approximate position of the flying column. The Blue dot marks the location of the current 1798 monument on the site.

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.

Toss Byrnes pub Inch, once the post office where the officers would have phoned for help.

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 Dupree

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.

The Medthodist Church beside the Market Square Gorey where a short service was held for Dupree (Google Street View)

British Reprisals

Official notice of reprisals in the New Ross Standard, 27 May 1921, p5

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.

Irish Times 25th May 1921, p5
MargaretVeney’s house, North Parade, Gorey which was demolished by crown forces as a reprisal for the Inch ambush (Credit: Michael Fitzpatrick Collection)

The Site Today

The view as you approach the ambush site from Inch

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.

View of the high ground on the western side of the road where the column was positioned. Note the ranging rod which is 2m high. The rising ground is probably 15-20m at its highest point.
View looking back towards Inch from ambush site

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.

Descendants of those involved in the ambush at Inch present 100 years on from the event.

sources

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

Man shot dead During Raid for Dog license Funds

On the 31st of March 1921 Mr. Oriel Richard Lee, a petty sessions clerk for Oulart courthouse, had been busy issuing dog licenses from his office in Killagowan. Usually such business would be conducted inside the courthouse but Mr Lee had been working from his father’s residence ever since the courthouse building was sold earlier that year. Throughout the day he was aided in his work by RIC constable Patrick Eger of Oulart Barracks. Shortly after 8 in the evening both men decided to retire for the night and went onto the kitchen to have a cup of tea. Oriels parents, Samuel and Sara, as well as a neighbor, Richard Robinson, were also present in the house at the time. The men were just finished their brew and getting ready to part their own way when at about 9 o clock a knock was heard at the door. Oriel, likely assuming it was a late dog license caller, decided to answer it and those inside heard the words, ‘Hands Up’, and then knew that this was a raid. A single shot rang out from the Hallway and in response constable Eger fired two shots from his own revolver in the direction of the raiders who then fled the scene. While the constable stayed on the premises Mr. Robinson then went to the barracks for help. Twenty minutes later Oriel Lee staggered into the room covered in blood and managed to sit into a chair before collapsing onto the floor. Initially he was unrecognizable to either the constable or his parents until he was searched and identified by his belongings. It was discovered he had been shot during the incident. Despite the efforts of doctors his wounds were beyond any help they could offer and by the following morning Oriel had died.

A revolver was later found outside containing 6 bullets, one of which had been discharged. The South Wexford Brigade’s report on the incident states the raid was carried out by a Thomas Cullen and Thomas Cosgrave from E company to seize the dog license money. The presence of the RIC constable on the premises was most likely unexpected and the subsequent fire fight resulted in the death of Oriel Lee. He was only 31 years of age at the time and as well as his duties as a court clerk he also worked on the family farm. Both his parents were elderly while his father was blind. They were later awarded £1000 compensation for the death of their son. Later that year in October Oriels father, Samuel would pass away at the age of 69 and both he and Oriel are buried in Kilnamanagh Church graveyard.

Saint John’s Church (Kilnamanagh), Ballinvack, Co. Wexford (Credit: National Inventory of Architectural Heritage Ireland)

Sources

E.O’ Halpin and D. Ó Corráin (2020) ‘The Dead of the Irish Revolution’, Yale University Press, p368

Enniscorthy Guardian – Saturday 22 October 1921

New Ross Standard – Friday 08 April 1921 p2

New Ross Standard – Friday 17 June 1921 p6

South Wexford Brigade Activity Reports

Two brothers shot dead

On Monday morning the 21st of March 1921 Richard Murphy, who lived in the townland of Booladurragh, situated beneath the southern face of Blackrock mountain, left home with two horses to harrow a field. Upon reaching the land he opened the field gate and came upon ‘a man lying on his mouth and nose apparently dead and blood on the ground all round him.’ Richard, in a state of shock, immediately turned around and made his way to Ballindaggin to send a ‘wire’ to the police.

The victims

Contemporary newspaper accounts later reported the shocking discovery, but that there was not just one, but two men, found shot and lying close to one another within the same field. They were named as James and Thomas Skelton, two brothers, whose family home was a short distance away from where their bodies were found.

The eldest brother, James Skelton, was 28 years of age and had been working as a farm labourer with Edward Byrne of Askinacloe, not far from the family home. He had previously served in the British Army during the world war 1 and at the time of his death lived in the family cottage in Booladurragh with his father, mother, two sisters and younger brother. The other victim, Thomas Skelton, was 21 and worked as a farm laborer with a James Murphy of Kilcullen. Both of the brothers were single at the time.

Taken away.

The father of the deceased, Patrick Skelton, recalled in his witness statement, which he gave for the subsequent investigation, how his son James was taken from their home by armed men on the the night of the 21st of March. Patrick was awoken at about 1 in the morning by the sound of knocking on the front door. When he answered two men were standing outside with revolvers in their hands. One enquired of Patrick, ‘Is your son James within’, to which he replied he was not, for fear of James’s life. He was then told that they would search inside and if James was found he (Patrick) would be taken away also for telling lies. He then led the two men inside and proceeded upstairs, calling his son James. The men asked James of his name and told him to get ready and to come with them for a few minutes, after which they would let him go. James never spoke a word, only got up and went with the men. Patrick was told to go back to bed, that his son would be back soon, but he heard nothing more until the discovery of his body the following morning.

James o Toole, whom was a member of the IRA and present on the night, recalled the incident some years later to the bureau of military history. It is interesting to note contrasting differences in his account of the story. He recalled how on the night members of the north Wexford flying column had surrounded the house in an attempt to block any possibly escape. After knocking on the door and asking for James his father Patrick purposely identified his younger brother instead, while James attempted to escape. However he was caught and positively identified by ‘local men who knew the Skeltons and were there for the purpose of identifying them’. No mention is made of James’s attempt to escape or the identification of his younger brother as him in Patrick’s account.

The younger brother Thomas did not reside at the family home and lived in Kilcullen townland, which was not to far away. A workmate of his named Thomas Sutton was possibly the last person to see him alive. In the statement he gave as part of the investigation he recalled how they last spoke on Sunday the 20th of March. Both were working together, milking cows on the day, when Thomas Skelton after having a brief conversation with Sutton, said he was returning home for a shirt and that he would not be back until late. This was the last time he was seen alive. Thomas Sutton would later identify his body and remarked that as far as he knew Thomas Skelton took no part in politics.

Circumstances surrounding the shooting

Contemporary newspaper accounts from the period offer little information behind the motive for the killing of the two Skelton brothers. The witness statement of James O Toole is the only one given to the bureau which makes reference in any great detail to the shooting. According to James the two Skelton brothers came under the suspicion of the IRA after the RIC in Bunclody continued to obtain information on them, despite the shooting of Contable Jones in December 1920. Initially it was thought Jones had been providing the RIC in Ballindaggin with information regarding Volunteers and he was subsequently shot.

‘The R.I.C. in Ballindaggin had been getting a great deal of information regarding Volunteers and their movements. The I.R.A. had information that a Constable Jones was responsible for it. He was stationed in Newtownbarry for a considerable time and knew the area and people very well. He was shot by the first column in a pub in the town. After his death the R.I.C. in Newtownbarry continued to get information about us. Eventually we came to suspect two brothers named James and John Skelton, who lived with their father and younger brother named Patrick, in a small cottage at Templeshambo. They always seemed to have plenty of money which they spent very freely on amusements, etc.‘ (p13-14)

James goes on to tell how a letter, addressed to Sergeant Torsney in Bunclody, was intercepted after a mail train was held up at Scarawalsh and the mails sized. This was a regular intelligence gathering activity at the time which aimed to intercept British communications. The letter in question was found in a bag addressed to the district inspector in Enniscorthy and informed Sergeant Torsney that arrangements were being made for one of the Skelton brothers to be taken into the R.I.C. O Toole in his statement was unsure which brother this was but suggests it may have been James. A sum of money for the two brothers was also found in the envelope. He notes how he was unsure as to the origin of the letter and it may have been from the county inspectors office in Wexford or instead RIC HQ in Dublin. The information was forwarded to IRA general headquarters in Dublin and permission was given to execute the brothers. James refers to how all executions had to be sanctioned by Dublin and that permission was only given after ‘…the guilt of the persons concerned had been proven beyond the slightest doubt’ (p14). He recalls how the two brothers were taken away and told to make an act of contrition, and after having done so, were then shot.

The Execution

RIC Sergeant John McNally was the first officer to visit the scene and gave a statement for the investigation in which he described what he saw; on the morning of the 21st he found the body of James lying on his face and hands while Thomas, who had been blindfolded, was in a sitting position with his back against a wall. Both had been shot in the head. Two cards had been placed around the brothers necks accusing them of being spies. That around Thomas read ‘Spy, Sergt ——— is responsible for this man’s death, all informers beware we are on your track IRA’. The card around the neck of James read ‘Convicted Spy, IRA’. The name of the Sergeant referred to on the card around Thomas Skelton was purposely omitted from the constables statement with only a line after Sergt. In the book ‘Dead of the Irish Revolution’ those who carried out the execution are named as Patrick Fitzpatrick, James Whelan, Frank Gibbons, Thomas Roche and William Kavanagh.

The Enniscorthy Guardian reporting on the incident stated the bodies of the men were discovered ”at the back of an unused house at Boladurragh, which is situated about half a mile from his (Patrick Skelton’s) home’. Where the bodies where found appears to also have been the same place as the execution. It ws situated on the Bunclody to Kiltealy road just north of a crossroads known as Butlers cross. Although reported as being in the townland of Booladurragh the site is actually in Boolamore townland with the road forming the border between the two.

Map showing site of disused house where the execution took place.
Approximate location of disused house marked by ranging rod looking south. The house would have been set back a short distance from the roadside within the field.

Nothing remains of the disused house today and the field has since been planted with Christmas trees. No marker or memorial exists on the site. The home of the brothers, where James was taken from, is located a short distance to the north and it seems that the IRA intended for the bodies to be easily found.

A story untold

Few sources exist relating to the execution of the Skelton brothers in March of 1921. The only witness statement in the Bureau of Military History which covers the incident in any detail is that of James O Toole. Some discrepancies are noticeable when its compared against other sources. This includes using the wrong names, referring to Thomas as John and indicating that both brothers lived in the home house when only James did. It should be taken into consideration that the account was written many years after the incident took place and is from a single viewpoint. In contrast to the accusation that the brothers were informing on the IRA the police reports refer to them having no association with either the police or politics. The execution appears to have been sanctioned by IRA GHQ in Dublin, as stated by James in his witness statement and suggests that such an incident would not have been undertaken without much consideration.

In his witness statement James O Toole refers to the shooting of RIC constable William Jones in Bunclody in December 1920 and how the RIC in the town continued to receive information despite this. The circumstances surrounding Jones death (which this author has written on previously) were questionable with conflicting accounts surrounding the circumstances. It appeared to be either an opportunistic killing or else was undertaken because he was suspected of providing information on local IRA activities. The latter of the two may not have been true, as suggested by James’s statement and from this the Skelton brothers were suspected. This highlights the nature of such operations and that fault and confusions could of and did occur. Looking back on the events of 100 years ago today it is important to consider the difficult legacies of the past with understanding, generosity of spirit and empathy and to value equally the dignity of all lives that were lost during the period.

Sources

Bureau of Military History Witness statement, James O Toole #1084

Courts of inquiry in lieu of inquest: James and Thomas Skelton (National Archives United Kingdom [hereafter NAUK], War Office [WO] 35/159B/7).

E.O’ Halpin and D. Ó Corráin (2020) ‘The Dead of the Irish Revolution’, Yale University Press, p349

Enniscorthy Guardian 26th March 1921, p4

A special thanks to Aaron Ó Maonaigh for his help with sources

Thanks also to Liam Kelly for help with identifying the sites referred to in this article

Former British Solider Shot in Enniscorthy

In late 1920 the IRA in Enniscorthy became suspicious of possible informers operating within the town after three of their men were arrested over a short period of time. It was decided to send a warning to two individuals whom they suspected of being spies, named Foley and Newsome. The latter, Fredrick Newsome, had previously served in the British army. He was 21 years old and lived at number 7 John Street with his parents,

One night, both men were standing at ‘Coffey’s Corner’ in the market square when they were approached by several IRA men. Newsome was escorted a few doors down Slaney Street and given a stern warning that if he continued to inform he would be shot!. While this was happening a patrol of RIC police and black and tans was making their way up from the bottom of Slaney Street. This caught the IRA men by surprise and Newsome used the opportunity to run and escape. As he fled his captures they took aim with their revolvers and fired, but fortunately for Newsome they missed and he made good his escape. Meanwhile the police patrol upon hearing the commotion fired upon the IRA , who then fired back. After a brief exchange the police retreated under gunfire and the IRA made their escape down castle hill. They headed to the mental asylum where they hide in the laundry room for the night. Newsome later informed on his attackers and their houses were subsequently raided.

View of Slaney Place where Newsome was shot as it looks today (Google Street View)

Following on from this incident Newsome was tried in his absence by an IRA court-martial on the charge of being a spy. He was found guilty and sentenced to death. John Carroll in his witness statement to the bureau of military history states that he received orders from his Brigade officer commanding to execute Newsome. John Carroll, together with another man named John lacey, would carry out the sentence the on the 8th of February 1921. On that particular evening Fredrick Newsome, accompanied by a friend named Maurice Waters, were making their way back into town after an evening stroll out past Templeshannon way. They were coming their way back over the old bridge and rounding the corner along Slaney Place when Lacey and Carroll, who had been awaiting Newsomes’s arrival, shot him twice. After this both shooters casually made their escape up Slaney Street. It was reported that after the first shot one of them remarked ‘put another one in him (Newsome)’. Although Newsome was shot he managed to raise himself back onto his feet and attempted to make his way towards the police barracks, on the opposite end of the abbey square. He could be heard shouting in agony ‘Murder’ and ‘Help’ as he struggled to reach the barracks. Waters ran ahead to seek help. Along the way he met two individuals, whom he asked for assistance in getting a doctor and priest. Surprisingly they refused to do so, perhaps in fear of what might happen to them if they interfered in a local IRA operation. Eventually the police heard the commotion outside and saw Newsome attempting to make his way across the abbey square before collapsing on the ground. Both himself and his friend were brought inside the barracks. Newsome was then transferred to the towns workhouse to receive further medical attention, but his wounds were beyond any help which the doctors could offer and he died just before 5 the following morning, the 9th of February 1921.

The entrance to Carrig graveyard just outside Enniscorthy. (Credit: Wexfordfilmlocations.ie)

Newsome’s funeral took place a day later, on the 10th of February 1921. The military gave notice to shopkeepers and other business in the town to shut as a mark of respect. He was buried in St. Johns graveyard, often referred to as Carrig graveyard, located just south of Enniscorthy town on the western side of the Slaney River. His father was later awarded £150 compensation with £4 towards expenses. In enquiries that followed after Maurice Waters wrongly identified a Thomas Roche of Temple Shannon (Who had taken part in the previous attempt on Newsome’s life) as one of the gunmen. A month later though Roche would be involved in the killing of the Skelton brothers near Bunclody.

Sources

E.O’ Halpin and D. Ó Corráin (2020) ‘The Dead of the Irish Revolution’, Yale University Press, 295–296

Bureau of Military History Witness Statement, John Carroll #1258

Bureau of Military History Witness Statement, Thomas Dwyer #1198

Bureau of Military History Witness Statement, Thomas Doyle #1040

E.O’ Halpin and D. Ó Corráin (2020) ‘The Dead of the Irish Revolution’, Yale University Press, 295–296

The Enniscorthy Guardian, 12th February 1921, p4 and 7.

Man Shot by Police in Ferns

At 5:30p.m. on Monday the 5th of July 1920 RIC constables Connell and (Henry) Lenihan, who were stationed in Ferns, walked into the public house of Thomas Dunbar. The pub was located at the Lower end of the village on the corner of Main street and Milltown Road. Both policemen were in an intoxicated state, having been drinking for some time before. Taking notice of this Mr. Dunbar refused to serve the men. But they were adamant on obtaining more, so they decided to help themselves behind the counter and remained in Dunbar’s for the rest of the evening, drinking as they pleased.

Late 19th/early 20th century photo of Ferns Lower main street with Dunbar’s pub (Marked A) and Bolger’s premises (B) opposite (credit: National Library of Ireland, Lawrence collection)

Later in the evening at about 9p.m. a man named James Dunne walked into the pub. James was 35 and worked as a Miller for Bolger’s of Milltown Ferns. He was in the pub for only a short while when an altercation occurred between himself and constable Lenihan. The latter had been antagonized Dunne, who was reported as being sober. Several men who were also drinking in the pub attempted to break up the two. During this constable Connell took out his revolver and three shots were discharged inside the premises, one into the floor and the other two into the ceiling.

Following the incident Dunne left the pub by the front door leading onto the main street. Lenihan, in a drunken rage, pursued him to the street corner, antagonized him further. This led to a scuffle between the two in which Dunne knocked Lenihan to the ground. Wanting nothing more to do with the drunken policer officer Dunne then went to walk away. But Lenihan got up and pointed his revolver at Dunne, ordering him to get down on his knees. One witness reported hearing Dunne being ordered to ‘kneel down on the ground and beg his (Lenihan’s) pardon’, to which he replied, ‘I never did it to anyone and I won’t do it to a cur like you.’ Lenihan then went for Dunne, putting his hand around his neck and shooting him three times at close range. Now injured, Dunne got up and stumbled across the road to Bolger’s Wall where he collapsed on the ground and died. Lenihan went back to the barracks where he was later found in a drunken sleep and covered with blood. He was later convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to seven years penal servitude.

1905 Ordinance Survey Map of Ferns Lower with Dunbars Pub and Bolger’s Wall where James Dunne collapsed marked

James Dunne wasn’t married and had no children. His family came from Ballintray, near Courtown, where they ran a mill. Following the shooting his remains were interred in St. Michaels cemetery Gorey and a large crowd was reported at the funeral. ‘All National organizations were represented and bands also attended’ while ‘A Volunteer commandant acknowledged the action of soldiers, who saluted the remains’.

Image may contain: plant, grass and outdoor
James Dunne’s headstone in St. Michaels cemetery Gorey . (Photo Courtesy of Owen Dunbar, Gorey, 2020)

Dunbar’s pub where the incident took place still operates as a pub in Ferns to this day.

Dunbar’s pub Ferns as it looks today. (Credit: Google Street View)

Sources

The New Ross Standard, 16th July 1920, p3

The New Ross Standard, 23rd July 1920, p2

The Wicklow People, 18th December 1920, p8

Attack on Carrig-On-Bannow Barracks results in Civilian Casualty

On Monday evening the 20th of December 1920 members of the South Wexford Brigade IRA arrived in the village of Carrig-On-Bannow, planning to destroy the RIC barracks. During the operation an altercation occurred between an IRA member and a civilian, the latter of whom was shot and killed.

Background to the event

In December 1920 the South Wexford Brigade IRA planned to destroy the RIC Barracks in Carrig-On-Bannow. A shop and pub, belonging to a Mr. James Walsh, was attached to the barracks building. At the time the police had also commandeered the area above these to accommodate additional personal. Francis Carty in his witness statement describes how they had planned to ‘…place a large quantity of gelignite in the public house against the inner wall of the barracks. The charge was calculated to be sufficient to destroy the barracks and its contents completely.’ (p6). A man called Tom Traynor, whom was the county engineer, had calculated the amount of explosives required for the job.

The Barracks Building

The old barracks in Carrig on Bannow as it looked in 2019. The shop and pub owned by Mr. Walsh, with their own separate entrances and signage, was located on the left. The police barracks occupied the adjoining building on the right and they additionally commandeered the space directly above the pub and shop in 1920. (Google Street View 2019)

The RIC barracks was located on the northern end of the village, along the main street, The ‘Wicklow People’ on reporting the incident described the barracks as ‘strongly fortified and regarded as impregnable’. By Dec 1920 many rural barracks in Wexford had been sabotaged, burned or attacked. Foulksmills barracks had been attacked just 2 days before the incident in Carrig-on-Bannow. Subsequently as result of these events many had become heavily fortified, including Carrig-On-Bannow barracks. The newspaper report makes reference to ‘… a loophole window’ indicating the barracks possibly had steel shutters with loopholes attached to its windows. Mr. James Walsh, as well as owning the shop and pub, also owned the barracks building, which the police rented from him for a fee.

1905 Ordinance Survey Map of Carrig-On-Bannow Village with location of RIC barracks building marked.

Attempt to blow up barracks

Francis Carty states in his witness statement that 12 men were involved in the operation. Before the operation telegraph wires were cut to stop the police calling for aid and delay the arrival of any potential reinforcements. Explosives had been hidden in a graveyard near the village and were picked up en route on the day. At around 6 in the evening, under the cover of darkness, 2-3 cars arrived and stopped outside the village, having come from Wexford town. The IRA had been informed that Mr. Walsh would not be in the shop at the time and instead there would be a young man assisting him that would not offer any resistance. This was John Walsh, a nephew of James Walsh. A donkey and cart was commandeered from a man outside the village to place the explosives into. This was to be led up to the barracks and the explosives placed inside the adjoining shop. The ‘Wicklow People’ reported how two men, armed with revolvers, approached the owner of the donkey and cart and took it, but reasurred thrm that they would return it after the operation.

The Military Enquiry reported in ‘The Wicklow People’ told how John Walsh left the shop at about 6:45 p.m. after his uncle, James Walsh, had arrived and relieved him. It was unexpected to the IRA that James Walsh would arrive, but they decided to continue with the operation. At about 7 p.m. two men entered the premises. Francis Carty identifies one of these men as ‘Davy Sears’ and how when he attempted to buy cigarettes Mr. James Walsh became suspicious of him. The Enquiry told how after a brief exchange of words a struggle broke out between Davy Sears and James Walsh. The ensuing struggle escalated from the shop to just outside the property when two shots rang out and James was wounded. The IRA decided to abandon the operation and fled the scene, heading northwards out of the village. Meanwhile, upon being awoken by the noise one of the police officers in the adjacent barracks took position upstairs and fired two shots at a wall opposite the building on the other side of the street. Having heard the commotion he likely assumed the barracks was under attack and fired where he thought any attackers may have been positioned. Francis Carty describes how he had been observing the incident nearby and upon hearing the shots from the police intended to fire back with a ‘parrabellum pistol’ he had. However, he mistakenly pressed the magazine release and it with its store of bullets fell to the ground. These were later retrieved by the police.

Following the attackers retreat James Walsh lay wounded outside his store calling for his nephew saying ‘John I’m shot’. Twenty minutes later the parish priest, a Canon Mortimer O Sullivan administered the last rites (Irish Times, 22nd Dec 1920, p5) and within a half hour of the shooting James died (New Ross Standard, 21st Dec 1920, p5), The cause of death was given as a result of two bullet wounds, both shot at close range.

The Victim

Description of Mr. James Walsh (Wicklow People Newspaper, 23rd December 1920, P5)

James, most likely becoming aware of the IRA men and their intention, attempted to interfere and halt their actions. Knowing that the police were nearby he probably anticipated that his struggle would alert them and they would then render assistance. He was aged 50 years at the time of his death and was unmarried with no children. His remains were interned in Ambrosetown Graveyard.

Aftermath

Following on from the incident those involved managed to escape before any military cordons were set up on the area. They arrived back in Wexford town, leaving the cars a distance outside from it and walking in via separate roads. The Brigade Activity Reports tell how one telegraph wire was left uncut and the police actually wired for assistance. Fortunately for the IRA though a man named ‘Aidan Cullen’, whom was on duty in Wellingtonbridge post office, intercepted this message and prevented the capture of the men returning to Wexford.

The site today

The building has changed little from the exterior. The portion which served as the barracks is now a private residence while the former shop and pub section of the building retain their commercial fronts and in 2019 was used as a takeaway. There is no marker or memorial on the site to indicate that the incident ever occurred.

Sources

Irish Times, 22nd Dec 1920, p5

New Ross Standard, 21st Dec 1920, p5

South Wexford Brigade Activity Reports

The Wicklow People, 23rd Dec 1920, p5

Cover Photo: Former RIC Barrack (Right) and commercial premises of James Walsh as it looked in 2019.

Policeman Shot in Bunclody

On Saturday the 22nd of December 1920 RIC constable William Jones was shot dead in Bunclody, (then called Newtownbarry)

Background

Shortly before 8p.m. at night constable Jones made his way towards the RIC barracks in Bunclody from the ‘Laundry House’, where his wife and child lived. The latter was located a short distance from the barracks on the opposite side of the river Slaney. Bunclody RIC barracks, were Jones was stationed, was a two story building located on the eastern side of the market square and the last building passed before crossing the bridge over the Slaney.

1905 Ordinance Survey map of Bunclody with the barracks marked. A is ‘The Laundry’ and B ‘Kellys pub’

Shortly after 8p.m. constable Jones and another officer left the barracks and made their way to the licensed premises of Maurice Kellys, located a short distance away on the street corner. A third officer, whom remained in the barracks, was feeling unwell and the others had gone to get their sick comrade a ‘stimulant’. Unusually, considering the times, Jones and the other officer both left the barracks unarmed, perhaps because they felt safe in the town of Bunclody.

Early 1900s photo of Bunclody RIC Barracks (Very left building with porch). Notice the RIC crest above the pillars and the steel shutters with gun loops on the two side upstairs windows. (Credit: National Library of Ireland, Laurence Collection). Kellys corner pub is also visible further up.
The former RIC barracks Bunclody as it looks today

While walking between the barracks and Kelly’s pub the officers spotted three men passing O’ Neills corner, on the opposite end of the street from Kelly’s, heading in the direction of Enniscorthy. Being somewhat suspicious of the men Jones made a remark to the other officer, but they both continued undistracted towards Kellys. When they got inside they ordered a whiskey, to take home to their sick friend back at the barracks, and two drinks for themselves. The two officers and a barmaid were the only people in the pub at the time. They made their way to an inner room with a fire for comfort.

Early 1900s photo of Maurice Kellys licensed premised (right) where constable Jones was shot. (Credit: National Library of Ireland, Laurence Collection)
Mary Elizabeth Boutique now occupies the building that was once Maurice Kellys licensed premises.

While they were sitting comfortably at the fire the three men, which the officers had spotted earlier in the night, entered the pub. The officer accompanying Jones remarked that they looked like the men they had noticed earlier in the night. Being unfamiliar and suspicious of the three Jones decided to enquire as to who they were. He approached the men and spoke to them, when suddenly one raised his arm and fired a shot at his chest. The three men then quickly fled the pub. A Sergeant Torsney, upon hearing the shots from the barracks, arrived hastily on the scene, armed. But it was too late, as the strangers had made their escape. He found Jones lying in a pool of his own blood and the parish priest, Rev. A, Forrestal, was called and administered the last rites. A doctor arrived 15 minutes later, but by this time it was too late. The medical evidence showed Jones had been shot near the heart, rupturing a large blood vessel and would have died 60 seconds after being shot, which occurred at about 8:20p.m.

Constable Jones

Picture of constable William Jones in the Cork Examiner newspaper, 8th February 1921.

William Jones was a native of Castleconnell county Limerick and 35 years of age. He left behind a wife and three children, the youngest of which was 10 months. Newspaper reports refer to how he was known and got on well with the local community. He joined the RIC on the 1st of May 1907 and had been stationed in Enniscorthy before being transferred to Bunclody in 1918. Following the funeral he was interned in his native Castleconnell.

Circumstances surrounding the shooting.

Thomas Dwyer, in his witness statement to the bureau of military history, recalls how on the night of the incident the north Wexford brigade flying column was in Bunclody. They had no definitive plans, but were looking for a patrol of RIC within the town. After finding none they heard that Jones was drinking in Kellys pub. Two IRA men, Ned Murphy and Maurice Spillane, both armed, then went inside the premises. Jones, upon seeing the men enter the building, approached them when they opened fire and shot him dead. This suggests the shooting was opportunistic in nature, as they took the opportunity presented to them. They were looking for potential targets and Jones was in the wrong place at the wrong time. James O Toole in his witness statement states that the IRA had information that Jones had been providing intelligence to the RIC in Ballindaggin. This shows he was known to the IRA , and provides a possible motive for the killing.

The witness statement of Thomas Francis Meagher conflicts with that of Dwyer’s. He recalls how in preparation for an attack on Bunclody RIC barracks a party of men (including himself, Phil Lennon, Ned Murphy, Paddy Dwyer and Maurice Spillane) scouted the area, after which;

‘Having completed our reconnaissance, Ned Murphy went to Kelly’s public house, to see the local Intelligence Officer, who worked there, and to get information regarding the strength of the garrison, or any other information which might be of use to us. Constable Jones, R.I.C., was on the premises when Murphy entered. Jones approached Murphy, saying, “We are looking for you this long time”. Murphy fired at him and shot him dead. Phil and I heard the shooting and we ran towards the pub to see what was wrong. We met Ned coming out of the pub. He told us briefly what had happened. We made our way back to Cromogue and, with the rest of the Column, went to Tom Coady’s, Carrigeen.’ (p8)

Dwyer’s account suggests that Jones shooting was spontaneous, that they were unaware he was in Kelly’s pub and that Ned Kelly shot him in the heat of the moment.

The question posed from this discussion is whether the nature of Jones’ murder was opportunistic or instead spontaneous? Dwyer’s account suggests the first and James O Toole suggesting he was known to the IRA provides a possible motive. In contrast though Meagher suggests it was spontaneous in nature. The Enniscorthy Guardian in the opening few lines on the incident stated ‘The circumstances surrounding it are few and meagre. Judging by them the attack on the policeman’s life was not planned, but the act of a moments consideration.(p5). Conflicting accounts exist surrounding the exact details of that night and there is insufficient reliable evidence to ascertain the true nature of the incident. Some elements though hint that the shooting was spontaneous; the fact the shooter (or shooters) did not wear masks; that Jones was not shot until he approached them (or him); If they intended to kill Jones why not do so as he exited or approached the premises? The exact nature of the shooting of constable Jones in Bunclody 1920 may still remain unknown 100 years on from the event.

The site today

The RIC barracks in Bunclody is today a private residence but remains much the same as it did before. Maurice Kellys former premises is now a clothes shop and the building retains much of its original exterior appearance. No marker or memorial exists to commemorate the event.

Sources

Bureau of Military History Witness statement, James O Toole #1257

Bureau of Military History Witness statement, Thomas Dwyer #1198

Bureau of Military History Witness statement, Thomas Meagher # 1156

Enniscorthy Guardian, 1st January 1921, p4-5

North Wexford Brigade Activity Reports

Wexford mans Body found in Rathanna

On Wednesday morning the 22nd of September 1920 men cutting corn on the land of Mr. James Joyce in Knockroe county Carlow, just over the border from County Wexford, discovered the body of a man. He was found facedown and covered over by a ‘few sheeves of corn’. Bullet wounds were noticed on the body and a rosary beads hung around the victims neck, as well as a placard with the words ‘Spies and Informers Beware.’

Map with x showing the approximate location of ‘Joyce’s Field’, where the body was discovered. The location has been described to this author as being ‘just up from Spearpoint, half ways between the bridge and the bend in the road’.

The victim

The body was identified as that of a James Doyle, aged 34 from Tomgarrow, Ballycarney Co. Wexford. He was originally a native of Templeshambo and during the World war worked as a munitions worker in Arklow and then England. At the time of his death he was emplyed as a farm laborer for a Mrs. Whitty of Ballycarney. He left behind a wife and 7 children, the youngest 4 months and the eldest 11 years old.

Circumstances surrounding the death

Contemporary Newspaper reports tell how on the night of Saturday the 19th of September 1920 James returned to his home from the mission mass in Castledockrell church, conducted by the Redemptorist Fathers. He arrived at his house around 9 or 10 o clock at night and about 11 o clock a knock was heard at the door. The Newspaper and witness statement accounts to the Bureau of Military History vary as to the what occurred next( i.e. number of persons present, who answered the door etc.). However, they all suggest that strangers arrived at the house dressed in some sort of military uniform and that a conversation took place between them and James Doyle, after which he got his coat and left ‘willingly ‘ with the men, for what his wife understood would only be a ‘brief period’. Reference is also made that the men arrived in motorcars. James would not return that night and several days would pass until his body was identified in a field in Knockroe. At the inquest the Irish Times (2nd, Oct, 1920, pg3) reported ‘…the medical evidence went to show that two bullet holes were found in the head, with one near the heart and another in the right side.’

Sean Whelan, in his witness statement to the bureau of military history. tells how he intercepted a letter addressed to British troops stationed in Enniscorthy courthouse that provided information on the IRA. He was given the letter by a Michael Murphy whom told said it was written by James Doyle of Ballycarney. Whelan states he was unsure if the letter was signed and had forgot where Murphy had obtained it but goes on to tell how it was decided to set a trap for Doyle to investigate the matter further;

‘I decided to set a trap for Doyle, and I asked Tom Roche, saddler, Templeshannon, and my brother Jem (James) to spring it .Sometime previously, we had captured British army officer’s uniforms in raid for arms on a loyalist house. We dressed Tom and Jem (James) in the uniforms and we started off for Doyle’s house.’ (p20-21)

Sean Whelan’s account together with that of Patrick Doyle and Michael Kirwan tell how Doyle led the ‘soldiers’ around the area, telling them what he knew of IRA men in the locality. At some point in the night Thomas and James identified themselves as IRA men to Doyle and he was then taken prisoner. Where he was taken is unclear; Patrick Doyle tells how

‘He (James Doyle) brought them (IRA men disguised as British officers) to Kehoe’s of Curraduff where the soldiers let him know they were IRA men. He was then held here and after a day or two he was tried by court-martial. (p8).

In contrast to this though Sean Whelan told how ‘Doyle told all he knew about the area and the volunteers, as he walked along the road in the moonlight towards Ballyhamilton‘ (p21). After Doyle had revealed all he knew the IRA men identified themselves to him and he collapsed after which they had difficulty in ‘…getting him along the road to Ballindaggin where we imprisoned him in an out house on a farm of – I have forgotten the name’.

Both accounts differ in the location as to where the men revealed themselves and where subsequently Doyle was kept. Ballyhamilton, near Ballindaggin, is several miles away from Curraduff. However, location near Ballindaggin would seem most likely, being within closer proximity to knockroe. Sean Whelan goes on to tell how James Doyle was court-martialed and sentenced to death. Phil lennon the brigade O/C presided at the court-martial. A Fr. Aidan McCormack from Kiltealy came to hear James Doyles confession before his execution.

The stretch of road where the body of James Doyle was found, looking east back towards spearpoint bridge with Knockroe visible in the left background. Joyce’s field would have been somewhere on the left.

The Execution

Sometime between his disappearance on the 19th of September and the discovery of his body on the 22nd he was taken and shot. The exact location of his execution is unknown but the witness statements refer to how it took place just over the Carlow border in the Knockroe. Patrick Doyle states: ‘Doyle’ was executed in county Carlow just across the Wexford border’ (p9). The townland of Knockroe takes in the northern part of the Scullogue gap, a well travelled pass between the Blackstairs mountains, connecting Carlow and Wexford. A large portion of the townland is made up of rural isolated mountain side, which would have been suitable for an execution. It is not known who carried it out but in the recently published book ‘The Dead of the Irish Revoloution’ James Whelan told the Irish Pensions board tat he ‘was on the execution’ (p180). James Doyle’s body was then found in the same townland nearer the roadside, probably not too far from where he was shot. His remains were later interned in the Old graveyard in Templeshambo, on the opposite side of the river from the Church of Ireland. While a headstone belonging to a James Doyle exists in the graveyard it is from an earlier date. The final resting place of James Doyle is therefore most likely unmarked somewhere within the graveyard walls.

A headstone belonging to another James Doyle (Tall stone on the left) in Templeshambo old graveyard.

Additional information

Newspaper accounts mention how on the same night that Doyle was taken from his home men dressed as British Soldiers, (likely the same that would later visited James Doyles), visited the homes of a Patrick Doyle of Ballinakill (James Doyle’s father in law). They asked if he had a son in the army, to which he replied yes but that he did not live there. The men took away a photo his son and then continued onto James Doyles, which was only a mile away.

Seamus Whelan in his statement describes an event the morning after Doyle’s execution which highlights the cruel nature of such an operation.

‘When I arrived home on the following morning I found Doyle’s wife seated in the kitchen, talking to my mother. She had come to ask me to help her find her husband who, she said, had been taken from his home two days previously by officers of the courthouse garrison. She had been to the courthouse and they denied all knowledge of her husband.(p22)

The family of James Doyle today maintain his innocence and that he was illiterate and therefore could not have written the letter supposedly from him to the British soldiers in Enniscorthy. Instead the letter is said to have been written by someone else, a woman, who forged it in his name.

Sources

Bureau of Military History Witness Statement: Michael Kirwan (IRA) #1175

Bureau of Military History Witness Statement: Sean Whelan (IRA) #1294

Bureau of Military History Witness Statement: Patrick Doyle (IRA) #1298

Irish Times, 2nd October 1920. p3

New Ross Standard, 24th September 1920. p5

New Ross Standard, 18th February 1921. p3

The Dead of the Irish Revoloution by Eunan O ‘Halpin and Daithi O Corrain, Yale University Press 2020

Wicklow People 2nd October 1920. p4

A special thanks is due to Patrick Quigley for helping to identify the location of ‘Joyce’s field’ near Knockroe.

The Saltmills Disaster

Throughout the War of Independence in Wexford there were many casualties on both sides. But the largest single loss of life took place on Tuesday night the 12th of October 1920, in an old unoccupied house just off a small road which runs by sea shore, near Saltmills in South Wexford. Here members of the I.R.A were making bombs and Joseph McCarthy of New Ross describes the operation in his witness statement:

‘The local I.R.A. had selected this old house, and had been using it for some time now, for making bombs, filling cartridge cases and storing all kinds of ammunition. Raids on the Hook lighthouse and supplies from other places brought large quantities of explosives. They were kept in boxes, and brought each night from hidden dumps near the neighboring farms. The manufactured bombs were burled in ground close to the unoccupied house, before dispatch to their various destinations.’ (pages 1-2)

On the night 14 men were present in the house making explosives. Joseph goes on to describe the event which would lead to 9 of them men being injured and the other 5 men dead.

Buckets of explosive material, emptied out of the sacks and boxes, were all over the room. Candles and cart-lamps gave them light, and sacking was placed against the windows, so as to have no light visible from outside. Tom Gleeson and Michael Conway were cutting detonator wires. Michael Conway was using a pliers. Tom Gleeson struck the detonator with a penknife he was using, causing a spark. In a second or two, a blue flame filled the room. John Timmons and Edward Kelly shouted, “Run, run, lads! The Lord have mercy on us!”, and, as they finished those words, a quick, short, loud explosion had blown the old house to pieces. The explosion was so powerful that it had blown the roof to the far end of a four-acre field. Three men Martin Roche, Robert Walsh and Michael Fitzgerald were killed instantly. James Gleeson lived about half an hour, and James Byrne died in Kelly’s, Saltmills, the following morning. Of the remaining men, some were found shortly afterwards, grievously injured, naked and bleeding, trying to creep along the ground. The others were stunned, going aimlessly around and suffering from shock. Michael Conway recalls that, a moment after he saw the spark, a blue glow filled the house with a choking gas, and, in another moment, the explosion had left him bereft of any memory till he found himself outside, numbed from shock and bleeding.’ (Pages 3-4)

The Freemans Journal Newspaper on the 23rd of October reported that on the night the explosion could be heard up to 10 miles away and it goes on to describe the gruesome and harrowing scene which greeted the earliest arrivals after the explosion.

…’Passing through the debris the searchers came upon quivering masses of human flesh and blood soaked garments torn from the bodies of the unfortunate victims, and hurled to a distance by the force of the explosion. On the site of the house hurled underneath what was left of the ruins were discovered the frightfully mutilated remains and charred bodies of 10 young men, resident of the district.’

At first it was thought all were dead but closer examination showed thus was not so, although half the number were in their last hour and the air was filled with agonising moans. The remains of some of the men were almost unrecognisable and one required a strong nerve to look, even for a moment, upon the awful sight. Bodies stripped naked, were twisted and broken; legs, arms, and heads were fractured. Four died during the night and the fifth lingered on until 5 o clock on Wednesday morning. Fragments of men’s wearing appearl were to be seen strewn on all sides around the ruins, whilst some were to be seen on neighboring high trees. From the position in which the bodies of the dead and injured were found it would appear that they were lifted bodily in the concussion caused by the explosions and fell on the strewn mass of the broken walls.

The Rev., Isaac Scallan C.C, who ministered to the dying and wounded, gave a Freeman reporter a vivid description of the appalling horrors of the scene. Men groaning in their death agony were found lying in different parts of an adjoining field, into which they had been hurled, or whether they had crawled for saftey. Groping in the darkness he came upon Robert Walsh amongst the debris lying on his side his face buried in a pool of blood. Martin Roche found half slaked and frightfully scorched, partially hidden under a heap of stones. Michael Fitzgerald was lying on his face with blood oozing from his mouth. ‘Although he was my next door neighbor’ said Father Scallan, ‘I failed to recognize him’. James Byrne was found lying in a ditch , his leg fractured in two places (Freemans Journal, 23rd October 1920, Page 5)

The Freemans journal listed those dead and wounded.

(Freemans Journal 15th October 1920 Page 5)
Photo of Martin Roche who was killed in the explosion

Following on from the events of that night the army and police arrived in the area the following morning. Patrick O Grady, Patrick Kelly and Patrick Reville managed to go on the run while the other 6 survivors were rounded up and imprisoned. Of those 6 Michael Conway, Edward Kelly and Stephen Barron were taken and imprisoned in Cork Military Barracks. During this period in they were brought along as hostages when the black and tans travelled over wide areas of Cork and Tipperary. The officer in charge always warned his party before they set out on their journey’s that in case they met any hostilities the three prisoners were to be shot.

Eventually all 6 men ended up in Waterford prison and were then later transferred to Mountjoy prison in Dublin, were they awaited deportation to Portland prision in England. In March 1921, the night before they were due to be shipped out, an incident occurred involving several black and tans. The 6 men were gathered in the yard with all the other prisoners having their names checked for deportation. Several black and tans entered the prison drunk, cursing, shouting and pushing the military escort in charge of the prisoners. They were looking for one prisoner named ‘Joe Murphy’ whom they intended to shoot. The prison Governor tried to remove them but was powerless and knowing Joe’s faith declined to read out his name. However, the black and tans had some idea of Murphy’s description. Joe was standing beside Edward Kelly, one of the Saltmill survivors and as they were somewhat similar in appearance Edward swapped hats with Joe to confuse the black and tans. Upon seeing Edward kelly and thinking him to be Joe Murphy they grabbed him and placed him up against a wall with revolvers at the ready. Just before they were about to shoot another survivor, John Timmins, shouted out that they had a Wexford man and not who they wanted. The Governor and military guard then intervened and Kelly escaped with his life.

The black and tans remained all night in the yard and the following morning when the lorries arrived to take prisoners to the ships they were still there. A final name check was to take place with the prisoners in the lorries. At this point the military were getting hostile towards the black and tans. Soldiers stated they were never ambushed in Dublin except when accompanied by them and that if they (the black and tans) shot Joe murphy they would shoot some tans. The military formed a shield around Joe Murphy’s lorry, and in frustration the black and tans climbed a wall at the entrance and pointed their revolvers at the lorry with Joe murphy inside as it approached the exit. Fortunately some soldiers took their rifles and swung the butts of them at the tans, knocking them senseless and preventing a slaughter.

Later in July 1921 the Saltmills prisoners were moved to Dartmoor prison were they remained through the truce until their release on the 3rd of February 1922.

Six survivors of the Saltmills disaster pictured in February 1922 on their release from Dartmoor prison. Backrow:Thomas Gleeson, John Timmins, Michael Conway, Edward Kelly. Front Row: Patrick Kinsella, Stephen Barron. Thanks to Mairead Timmins for the photo and names.

The Site Today

The location of the incident is remote today, as it would have been back in the 1920s. The house was situated uphill from a small narrow road which runs beside the seaside, just east of the village of Saltmills. Two houses are visible on the 1905 ordinance survey map (see below picture) and one of these was likely that which was blown up on the night. Today there is no evidence of a former structure on the site and the location is marked on the roadside below by a memorial baring the names of those who were killed and wounded on the night.

1905 25 Inch Ordinance Survey Map (depicting 2 houses) overlaying a modern aerial photo with the roadside memorial visible. One of these two houses was very likely that which was used by the volunteers and which was blown up in the explosion.
The roadside memorial located below the site of the explosion. This image is taken from Google Street View 2009 and with the exception of a 1916 proclamation added remains much the same to this day,

Sources

Freemans Journal 15th October 1920

Freemans Journal, 23rd October 1920, Page 5

Joseph McCarthy, Bureau of Military History witness statement #1507