Attempt to Seize Wexford Military Barracks

Map indicating the location of Wexford Military Barracks as it is today.

In November 1920 a bold operation was planned by the south Wexford brigade IRA to seize control of Wexford Military barracks. Such an operation required help from the inside and IRA intelligence had made contact with a Corporal of the Devons, which was the British military regiment occupying the barracks. He provided the IRA with a plan of the site and gave information on the garrison and any details that were required. In return he was to receive £75 and safe passage out of the country. The money was handed over and preparations were in place for the raid, when unexpectedly a big round up took place resulting in several IRA officers being captured and the plan had to be abandoned.

The western exterior of Wexford Military Barrack visible from Barrack St. Notice the high stone walls that surround the site and which limit access both in and out. (Google Street View)

This was a bold and risky operation which the IRA had planned in Wexford town. The barracks was a well fortified location with a well armed garrison inside. The IRA, although they may have had the numbers, would have been lacking in weapons and ammunition in contrast to the Devon regiment. If the operation was successful it would have been a significant event in Wexford and the country during the period. Likewise if it had gone wrong it could have resulted in multiple prisoners or worse, casualties.

Sources

South Wexford Brigade Activity Reports

Police Held at Gunpoint at Wexford Town Railway Station

Wexford town railway station as its appears today. In 1920 this was 1 or 2 stations in the town and was known as the ‘North’ station, while another the ‘South’ Station was located on the southern end of the town. (Google Street View)

On Sunday the 12th of September 1920 the New Ross Standard reports that just before the arrival of the afternoon train from Dublin 4 masked men held up 2 police officers in Wexford town’s ‘North Station’ (Now O Hanrahan station). The masked men sought to relieve the officers, a constable Ward and Murphy, of their revolvers and ammunition. However on this particular day they were not armed and the fugitives, who were left empty handed, made their getaway in a motor car which was waiting outside the station.

Francis Carty was one of the men involved and a member of the south Wexford brigade IRA, recalls how they were armed with a Webley revolver and another called a ‘Bulldog’ revolver. Interestingly Francis describes how the incident was his first time handling a firearm.

Sources

Bureau of Military History Witness Statement: Francis Carty (IRA) #1040

New Ross Standard, 18th September 1920, p5

South Wexford Brigade Activity Reports

Raid on Mail Train at Killurin

In the early 1900s county Wexford was well served by the railways. As well as lines from Rosslare to Waterford and Dublin, a line also ran from Macmine Junction heading west to Palace East, where it branched off towards New Ross and Bagnelstown Co. Carlow via Ballywilliam. There were multiple stops along these routes, some of which are still operational, while others (where the line isn’t closed) the train now runs fast through. One of these former stations was located at Killurin on the Wexford to Dublin line, just below Macmine Junction.

1895 map showing the Wexford’s railways. NOTE the Waterford to Rosslare line was not yet included in this edition. (Credit: British Library)

On Friday the 13th of August 1920 the New Ross Standard reported that just before the 5.30 a.m. train arrived at Killurin station several armed men with revolvers held up the signal man, a Mr. J. Wheeler. The approaching train was stopped and the men enquired was there any steel shutters aboard (likely bound to be installed in a RIC barracks to boost its defense). None were found but 10 bags of ‘official mails’ was stolen instead. However, the private mails were left untouched and the raiders made their escape in a motorcar.

This was the first of about twenty similar raids on the mail trains at Killurin during the war of Independence. They were an important exercise in intelligence gathering, providing valuable information including official reports from various RIC barracks with information on their strength and activities. The home address of many Black and Tans were also obtained and then sent to G.H.Q. This was at a time when the IRA were burning houses in England as reprisals for events in Ireland. Francis Carty in his witness statement tells how the engine drivers ‘…usually stopped the train at Killurin on observing the customary gestures’ (p14), suggesting that the they were regularly cooperative in facilitating the raids. He mentions particularly how many of the letters were opened and rubber stamped with ‘censored IRA’ to give the impression of an extensive intelligence gathering operation. This certainly would have had the desired effect of limiting peoples cooperation with British forces. Especially if they thought any letters they maybe sending were being read by those who they were meant to provide information on. Privacy was respected though and it is mentioned that civilian mail was never read.

Francis recalls the benefit of these operations and of one instance of the variety of information that could be obtained.

‘Letters from Black & Tan members of the R.I.C. in Taghmon Barracks spoke of the dangerous position they were in as a result of barrack attacks. They stated that it was unsafe to venture far from their barracks by day or by night and one of these letters compared conditions to the trench warfare in France during the first World War. A number of the letters spoke of eggs which these Black & Tans were sending to English relatives. They said that there was no limit to the amount of eggs they could send provided they received a supply of egg boxes. The eggs were, of course, being stolen from the farmers. ‘ (p14-15). Similar raids took place at Campile Station and at Rathgarogue Station during the period.

Killurin Train Station Today

Close up taken from a wider photo of Killurin railway line early 1900s.. Killurin station is visible with platforms and signal cabin. (Credit; National Library of Ireland, The Lawrence Collection. Available online)

Killurin station closed to all traffic in 1964 and the train now runs fast through. The original station structure, a two-storey red bricked building built in 1872, still stands and is now a private residence. The platforms are still in place but hidden by vegetation.

Killurin train station as it looks today (Credit: Barntown Heritage Group facebook page)
View back towards station with overgrown platform visible to the right. (Credit: Barntown Heritage Group facebook page)

Throughout the period mails were raided from other stations in Wexford also including Ferns, Campile , Rathgarouge and others. It is noticeable that the more rural stations were preferred to those in the towns.

Sources

Bureau of Military History Witness Statement, Francis Carty, (IRA) #1040

New Ross Standard, Friday 20th August 1920, p4.

South Wexford Brigade Activity Reports

Thanks to ‘The Barntown Heritage Group’ for permission to use the photos of Killurin station.

Raid on Pierce’s Foundry Wexford Town

In the early 1900s Pierce’s foundry, once located at the corner of Mill Road and Distillery Road, was one of the largest employers in Wexford town. It was also one of the biggest manufacturers of engineering and agricultural machinery in Ireland, selling its products worldwide to Europe and both South and North America. During World War 1 they manufactured Brass shell cases, without caps or detonators. These were then transported from Wexford via train where they would be then filled with explosives at their next destination and sent off to the front in Europe to be used in the fighting.

Shell cases being manufactured in Pierce’s. Credit : County Wexford in the Rare Oul’ Times, p45, Vol IV by Nicholas Furlong and John Hayes

On the 19th of July 1920 members of the IRA in Wexford town raided the foundry taking between 450 and 500 empty shells. Two lorries were borrowed from outside the town for the operation and brought into the foundry yard where 12 men were waiting to load the shells. While this was ongoing men had been positioned nearby and in the vicinity of the different barracks to watch the movements of the police and military. Wexford Military barracks was situated just about 250m up the road from the foundry and armed IRA men were positioned nearby to engage them if they attempted to interfere with the operation.

Map showing former location of Pierce’s foundry and the military barracks

The shells were removed from the foundry without alerting the police or military and stored at ‘Captain Jordons’s place near adamstown’. Some of the shell cases were later used to make mines with the majorithy though sent to the 1st Southern Division, an area which comprised all of counties Waterford, Kerry, Cork and West Limerick.

Artwork located at the junction of Distillary Road and Mill Road to remember Pierce’s Foundry which once stood on the site, now occupied by Tesco’s.

Today Tesco supermarket occupies the site of the former foundry works at Pierce’s but an art piece depicting various elements of engineering stands to mark the location.

Sources

Cover Photo: ‘Shell cases ready for delivery from Pierces’ in County Wexford in the Rare Oul’ Times, p44, Vol IV by Nicholas Furlong and John Hayes

Bureau of Military History Witness Statement: Martin Walsh (IRA), New Ross, Co.Wexford. #1495

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

New Ross Standard, 23rd July 1920, p8

Pierces Manufacture Shell Cases, in County Wexford in the Rare Oul’ Times, p44, Vol IV by Nicholas Furlong and John Hayes

South Wexford Brigade Activity Reports

Bar Of Lough Coastguard Station Raided

Map of south Wexford with location of Bar of Lough coastguard station marked by x

In the early 1900s County Wexford being a sea bordering county had several coastguard stations dotted along it’s coast. One of these was located just south west of Duncormick, at the entrance to a small inlet along the Ballyteigh burrow called Bar of Lough. A station had existed here since around 1839, being visible on the ordinance survey maps from then. At around midnight on Saturday the 19th of June 1920 members of the south Wexford brigade IRA, estimated to number about 50, surrounded the residence of the chief of the coastguards, located about 550m from the station.

1905 ordinance survey map showing Bar of Lough coastguard station and coastguardsmen’s Quarters (the chiefs house).

One of the coastguards who was leaving the Bar of Lough station was captured and brought to the chiefs house to seek entry. However, upon knocking on the door the chief became suspicious and fired several shots at those outside. The raiders replied with their own gunfire and after a firefight lasting about 20 minutes the chief was told his building had been mined and unless he surrendered it would be blown up. Meanwhile a number of coastguards from the station, upon hearing the gunfire, proceeded towards their chiefs residence, aiming to provide help. However, they were taken by surprise while on route and captured. Following this incident the raiders searched both buildings and took 5 Webley revolvers and a quantity of ammunition away with them. They were also proceeding to take several rockets which were used with the saving apparatus, but upon learning of this use they took only one.

The coastguardsmen’s quarters or chiefs house as viewed from Bar of Lough station today.

Despite the ordeal the newspaper reports compliment the raiders; ‘Private property was not interfered with and one of the raiders informed a coastguard that any man found pilfering would be shot. The raiders treated the wifes and children of the coastguards with the greatest courtesy and the chief and men at the station praised the gentlemanly manner in which the raid was carried out. They state the attacking party were most considerate’. (New Ross Standard, 25th June 1920). The operation was not sporadic but done with detailed planning. Before the raid telegraph wires were cut and outposts set up nearby in case of any unwelcomed arrivals. Several people who happened upon them were held up by armed men, questioned and then escorted back to their homes. In total an estimated 150 men were thought to have taken part in the operation. On Sunday morning after the raid men could be heard marching back through Duncormick and Carrig.

This would not be the final time Bar of Lough coastguard station gained attention during the period. It was raided again on Sunday the 8th of May 1921 with doors and windows broken. Canvass candles and bunting was reported stolen with the raid presumably undertaken to procure weapons and ammunition (New Ross Standard 18th November 1921). Two months later on the 10th of July the coastguard station along with the officers house and boathouse was destroyed by fire (Enniscorthy Guardian 16th July 1921).

The Site Today

The former ruins of Bar of Lough coastguard station (Credit: https://www.coastguardsofyesteryear.org/photogallery.php?photo_id=40)

Nothing remains of the coastguard station at Bar of Lough today. After it was burned in 1921 the stations ruins remained standing up until about 2001 when it was demolished and the stone taken away for use elsewhere. Although nothing remains of the station other elements of the site survive.

View of the site site as it looks today looking west. The coastguard station was located where the high ground is visible in the center background with the perimeter wall visible behind. The boathouse and slipway are visible to the left.

A high stone wall marking the site boundary to the south and west survives. Its height would have provided protection from the sea winds. The most notable features on site are the boathouse with its slipway. The boathouse is depicted on the ordinance survey maps from 1905 and survives today as a stone built rectangular structure with a concrete roof.

The boathouse at Bar of Lough

The slip in front of the boathouse survives with its neat cobbled surface exposed leading down to the sea shore.

The slipway at Bar of Lough
Cut stones laid along the perimeter of the site facing the sea shore. Note the high wall with the boathouse to the right.

Cut stones are laid along the southern end of the site exposed to the sea. The ground here slopes gently upwards from the shore towards the seawall with the stones laid flat on top. Both elements designed to reduce erosion of the shore line. The coastguardsmen’s quarters still survives today and is a private residence.

Sources

Enniscorthy Guardian 16th July 1921

New Ross Standard, 25th June 1920

New Ross Standard 18th November 1921

South Wexford Brigade Activity Reports

Cover Photo: Bar of Lough coastguard stations boathouse and slipway

Hay for British Army Set Ablaze

As well as undertaking ambushes and attacks on British forces the IRA conducted intelligence operations and sabotaged infrastructure and supplies to disrupt their ability to operate. One such incident of sabotage was reported in June 1920 when large quantities of hay baled for the British Army was destroyed in a single day on Tuesday the 15th. The IRA brigade activity reports state the south Wexford Brigade of the IRA was responsible.

Report of Hay set on fire in New Ross Standard, 18th June 1920, p4

Identifying Farms

Part of this project involves the identification of the locations and mapping of the various events that took place in the county. If anybody could offer help as to the possible locations of these farms please contact the page at wexfordwarofindependence@gmail.com or contact the facebook or twitter pages.

Explosives taken from Hook Lighthouse

Hook Lighthouse located on the hook peninsula Co. Wexford

During the War of Independence Hook Lighthouse was raided on two separate occasions. The lighthouse was of interest to the I.R.A as it contained large quantities of detonators and an explosive called Tonite which was used to warn ships during fog. It was a white chalk like substance that came in 6 inch lengths with a 5 inch circumference.

The first raid took place on Monday night the 31st of May 1920 with a large quantity of detonators and explosives taken. The lighthouse keepers were said to have offered little resistance and to transport the explosives a car belonging to a priest from coolfancy, Fr. Walsh was used. Interesting it was ‘on lend’ to them for the night. The phone was dismantled before the raiders left and the lighthouse keepers told not to move for two hours. Conscious that the tonite was used for to warn ships the raiders left enough for a 12 hour fog horn. The explosives were then brought back to Antwerp in Enniscorthy for storage. Some of the Tonite was later taken and stored in an unoccupied house at Saltmills used for bomb making. Later in October several men would be killed and injured after an accidental explosion in this house.

The second raid took place on the Friday morning the 24th of September that year. Thirteen men raided the lightouse with 821 ounce charges of guncotton, 2165 detonators and 2 telescopes taken. The I.R.A knew of the existence of the explosives through intelligence gathered. Edward Balde in his witness statement describes the event however there are differences in the accuracy of what was taken compared to that reported in newspapers from above.

‘One Sunday in the afternoon I was spending a few hours on Rosslare Strand and happenedto meet Dr. Ryan with another gentleman named O’Sullivan who, I understand, afterwards was qualified in the same profession. They gave me information concerning Hook Head Lighthouse and the kind of material that would be found there. I passed on the information and the following night, the boys, having secured two lorries, were off to the lighthouse where they took away about 15 cwt. of Tonite and 5000 electric detonators. A large box of this Tonite was sent by rail to Waterford. The box was damaged in transit and the consignee had to gather some of the contents which had fallen out at the Railway Goods Store.(pages 9 & 10)

Sources

Belfast News Letter – Monday 27th September 1920

Edward Balfe, Enniscorthy, Bureau of Military History Witness Statement #1373

New Ross Standard – Friday st October 1920

North Wexford Brigade Activity Files

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

A Kilkenny Kidnapping

The New Ross Standard reported that on midnight, Wednesday the 26th of May 1920, a wealthy protestant farmer named Joseph Y Jeffares and his eldest son aged 20 were taken away from their home in Rochestown Co. Kilkenny (About 4 miles from New Ross) by unknown men . Mr Jeffares had been awoken by a number of men banging on his door and upon asking who was there he was told to get up and open it. He and he son were ordered to get dressed and they were blindfolded and led outside to a waiting motorcar. During the ordeal a younger son of Mr. Jeffares attempted to leave via the rear door but was stopped from doing so. It was reported the intruders wore no masks and others kept guard outside the home.

The incident reported on that night was later retold by Liam O Leary in his witness statement. He says how the operation was undertaken on orders from GHQ in Dublin who were acting on information that the R.I.C officers, who murdered the republican Lord Mayor of Cork Tomas MacCurtain earlier in March of that year, were being harbored there. The murder of MacCurtain sparked an international outcry as he was an elected official and was shot in front of his wife and kids by the R.I.C. Liam says three officers were sent down from Dublin IRA HQ to help in the operation. In contrast Michael Kirwan in his witness statement says there were instead just two, but names them as Frank Thornton and Eamon Fleming. Frank Thornton is known to have been a member of Michael Collin’s intelligence staff.

Frank Thornton in 1965 during an interview for RTE on his work as an intelligence officer

On the night of the operation Liam describes how between 24 to 30 men set off from Enniscorthy on bicycles in three groups. They cycled to designated meeting points where they met local scouts who knew the area. Liam’s group made their way to a place called Dysart and proceeded to head to the Jeffares home. Once Mr Jeffares and his son were in the car they were then taken to the home of Martin Kelly of Tombrick, Ballycarney and kept there for several days. The Ballycarney Company of the I.R.A kept guard and watch throughout this. The Dublin officers interrogated Mr Jeffares and his son before eventually releasing them on a back road near Camolin.

Two cars were used on the night. The first was obtained from a Dr Kelly, a dispensary doctor in Killanne who when asked is said to have ‘cheerfully’ obliged. Dr kelly provided medical assistance to the I.R.A in wexford on many occasions throughout the war of independence. The second car was got from a Ms M. O’ Neill of Ballingale, who offered to even drive it herself ‘no matter to where’ such was her enthusiasm, but her offer had to be declined and just the car taken instead. Liam mentions that they raided another house and took two people called Sullivan also but no account of this could be found elsewhere.

This operation is a good example of the intelligence gathering capabilities of the I.R.A who were aware that they needed to know their enemy just as well as they knew them. Intelligence played an important role in the war of independence and was crucial in undertaking operations to understand the enemies strength and weaknesses to help keep ahead of them as much as they could.

References

Liam O Leary, Bureau of Military History witness statement #1276

Michael Kirwan, Bureau of Military History witness statement #1175

New Ross Standard May 28th 1920

North Wexford Brigade Activity Files

Raid for Income Tax Documents at School Street Wexford

Between 10 and 11 o clock on the night of Saturday the 2nd of April 1920 masked men entered the home of Mr. Thomas Parle on School Street in Wexford town. Mr Parle was an income tax collector for the Wexford district at the time. He answered a loud knock on the front door and four men entered the premises and made their intentions clear. Mr Parle, together with his wife, Mrs Maggie Parle and his father Patrick, who was in the house at the time, were told to go into the kitchen. Meanwhile the house and a workshop to the rear of the premises was searched for documents relating to income tax, but nothing was retrieved. Three other men remained outside on lookout during the raid, an indicator that this was a planned event. It was one of many such raids for income tax documents in the county during the period with the intention to cause disruption to British rule in Ireland.

School Street in Wexford town as it looks today. (Google Street View 2019)

Sources

New Ross Standard, April 9th 1920

Attempted Raid for income Tax Documents in Enniscorthy

On Saturday night the 2nd of April 1920 the Income Tax Collector Mr. Robert Owen answered the front door to his residence, located on Mill Park Road beside the post office after hearing a knock. Upon opening the door three men attempted to gain entry into the house and a struggle took place between both parties. Three of Mr Owen’s sisters where in the house and were successful in helping to expel the intruders who then fled the scene. A police patrol was approaching the post office at the time and just missed the raiders as they were making their getaway. The only reported damage during the event was a broken pane of glass on the front door. This was one of many raids by the I.R.A in Wexford at the time to destroy income tax records and to cause disruption and deny British rule in the country. This attempt though was unsuccessful.

Former residence of Mr. Owen located beside the post office. The house remains the same as it did on the night of the raid. Notice the panes of glass in the front door, one of which was smashed during the attempted raid. (Google street view 2019)

The residence still exists beside the post office today and has remained much the same since the night of the incident.

Sources

North Wexford Brigade Activity Files

New Ross Standard, April 9th 1920