On the night of Sunday morning, the 4th of April 1920, Mr. Eugene O Connor whom was an income tax collector, was awoken by three men at his window whom inquired as to if he indeed was the tax collector. He answered that he was, upon which the strangers asked him to hand over his income tax books. He refused and the men tried to gain entry through the window and front door. Mr O Connor, upon seeing that they were armed with revolvers, decided to let them in and he was held at gun point while his wife retrieved the books . A search was made of the house also by the raiders whom interestingly chose not to wear masks.
The raiders were reported to have been well mannered as after getting what they came for apologized to the couple for the late night disturbance and that they had to carryout the mission and that they hoped to ‘meet them at a later date under more favorable circumstances’. They then made their get away in a motor car waiting near the railway station. The operation was a well planned event and involved more then just the three individuals as Mr O’ Connor reported observing other men around the house and street that night, keeping watch while the raiders gained entry into the building. Newspaper reports state that some residents who went outside to see what all the noise was about were ordered back into their homes. Mr O Connor estimated there could have been 20 men involved in the operation.
The raiders were members of the Wexford I.R.A and this was one of many aimed at disrupting the British governments operations and rule in Ireland. The Street remains much the same as it did in 1920
On Tuesday night the 6th of April 1920 at about half past 10 the then excise officer, J.C McCluskey, had left the Customs and Excise Office on Court Street in Enniscorthy. While walking down Georges Street (now Rafter Street) two strangers appeared from a lane way and approached McCuskey, asking him for a match. He said yes to the strangers and while reaching into his jacket pocket to retrieve a match one of the them pulled a pistol and forced Mr McCluskey to proceed back to the Customs and Excise Office.
Upon reaching the building they found the door to be locked from the inside and forced McCluskey to knock. A woman inside the building looked out to inquire who it was at this hour of the night knocking on the door, to which he had to identify himself. The raiders, whom numbered 6 in total, then gained entry into the premises and proceeded to burn any documents related to income tax for the next half hour. Mr McCluskey was held prisoner during the ordeal. When the raiders were leaving some of the burnt documents fell from the fireplace onto the floor, setting it alight. However Mr McCluskey was luckily quick enough to extinguish the fire.
Where did the strangers come from?
The laneway from which the strangers approached was most likely that which today joins rafter Street to the old Dunnes Stores car park. At the time this was known as Maguire’s Lane, as depicted on the 1905 ordinance survey maps, and would have provided access to the stangers from Rafter Street from Parnell Street. The men were members of the Wexford I.R.A and this raid was one of many throughout the county and country at the time with the aim to deny another aspect of British rule in Ireland and make the country ungovernable.
In late April 1918 a car containing ‘several hundred pounds of gelignite explosives’ together with detonators, was travelling from Wexford town to Bunclody. The consignment was destined for Ryland quarry to be used for rock blasting operations. Four men occupied the car;
Mr. James Sinnott (Owner & Driver)
Mr. W.F. Barry (County Surveyor)
Mr. Thomas Treanor (Assistant County Surveyor)
Mr. Wm. Murphy (quarry overseer for the council)
Shortly after 12pm passing through Tombrick, the car was stopped by a group of four men, armed with revolvers and their faces partially covered by handkerchiefs. Mr. Thomas Treanor, had informed the local I.R.A HQ of the planned explosives delivery and subsequently provided them with an opportunity to obtain an important resource. The occupants of the car were ordered to dismount and proceed to Tombrick Wood, where they were kept under guard by two of the masked individuals. Meanwhile, the other two masked culprits made away in the car with the explosives, returning somtime later. Upon their arrival back the car was returned to its owner, Mr. Sinnott , who previously had expressed his concern to the raiders, as the vehicle was his livelihood. The masked men then made their escape on bicycles which had been previously placed. Accounts tell how the explosives were hidden in a tomb at Ballybrennan graveyard, 26km south of Tombrick and to the south-west of Enniscorthy Town. They would later be utilized to manufacture bombs. This is one of the earliest activities undertaken by the I.R.A in the county Wexford.
There are 3 factors to help determine the location of this event. Firstly, it took place in Tombrick. Second, that they were held in ‘Tombrick Wood’ and third that this wood ‘adjoins the road’. The most obvious location is along the road running through ‘Tombrack Wood’. However, this would not have been the primary route between Wexford and Bunclody. Instead that would have been following the route of the modern N80. Noticeably a small wood does exist in Tombrick along this primary route and could be considered the ‘Tombrick wood’ where the men were held. Whichever of the two maybe correct this event was a well planned operation where the men knew the surrounding area and utilized it to perform this ambush.
A year later in 1919 the explosives would be resurrected from the tomb, but were found to be frozen. Interestingly, the fixture for this was thawing, or cooking the gelignite on hot iron plates over an open fire! One of the cooks Joe O’ Brien, a tailor from the Duffry Gate, Enniscorthy, apparently suffered from headaches 35 years on, caused by the fumes of the nitro-glycerin. This particular catch of gelignite was found by some to be ‘undependable’ when used in later operations, perhaps because it was frozen or later ‘cooked’! The list below contains the names of the men who captured the explosives
Newspaper: The New Ross Standard, Friday 26th April 1918 ‘A Daring Act’ Page 4
Bureau of Military History Withness Statement: Sean Whelan (IRA), St. Senan’s Enniscorthy, Co.Wexford. Document #1294, P13
Bureau of Military History Withness Statement: Michael O Ciardubhain (Kirwan) (IRA), Enniscorthy, Co.Wexford. Document #1175, P8
Note: The image used in the introduction for this post shows a Dublin Metropolitan Police Officer and car not associated with the event and was used purely for illustrative purposes