Four Police constables wounded at Camolin in Wexford’s Last War of Independence Ambush

It was Tuesday the 5th of July 1921, within the closing weeks of the War of Independence and he North Wexford Flying Column were resting at Kinsella’s of Ballinamona, 5km northeast of Camolin village. Their commanding officer, Paddy Kenny, decided to send one of the men, Patrick Carton, to Camolin to purchase cigarettes. Many years later Patrick described in his witness statement to the bureau of military history how he set out armed with a 0.38 revolver and a single Mills bomb. Although he may have appeared well armed ammunition was in short supply for the IRA and this was highlighted by the fact that Patrick only had three bullets on his person.

Photo of Patrick Carton in later life (Courtesy of his granddaughter Mary Breen and kindly provided by John Kavanagh)

His destination Camolin was a small rural village in north county Wexford, situated along the Gorey to Ferns road. In 1921 it boasted a post office, church, railway station and until it had been burned by the IRA the previous year, an RIC barracks. Patrick made his way into the village along the Ballyshane road, stopping off at the home of Andrew O Brien and his wife. This was one of many friendly houses in the district where men like Patrick knew a warm welcome always awaited them. While inside, comfortably drinking a cup of tea, he was suddenly alerted to an cycle patrol of 8 RIC officers coming up the street towards the house. Being conscious of the danger Patrick warned Andrew and his wife to seek shelter out the back in case he would need to fight his way out. Fortunately though tensions eased and worries relaxed when the patrol continued past the house and onto the crossroad a short distance away. However the danger was not over yet and after pausing for a while the patrol doubled back, but to Patricks relief continued past the house once more and into a nearby residence belonging to the Gahan family. Contemporary newspaper accounts recounted how the constables had come from Ferns barracks to inspect motor car permits and pay police pensioners who were unable to travel to Ferns for their monthly pensions.

No description available.
Photo of Andrew O Brien’s house (Left) where Patrick Carton stopped off for tea. The house was demolished in in the 70s and was the site of the village’s post office until it closed in 2019 (Photo courtesy of John Kavanagh)

It was about 7 or half 7 in the evening and while the RIC were pre occupied with their duties Patrick decided it was best to make himself scarce. Rushing across the street he jumped over a wall and into a field. Using it for cover he followed the wall along until he got to a point near Valentia house. Here he climbed on top of the wall and saw that some of the patrol had passed by while the remaining four constables were coming along the road in pairs, spread equally apart. As they got nearer one of the constables spotted Pat and in an attempt to alert the others shouted ‘look out’. With that Patrick took out the mills grenade he had, flung it towards the patrol and took cover behind a 6 foot high tree stump. The newspaper account state that there were 2 bombs (grenades) thrown instead with the first failing to inflict any damage. Despite this minor difference in scenario’s a bomb did land right in the centre of the cycle patrol, injuring all 4 constables.

OSI map from 1905 with the approximate location of the ambush marked with a red circle

Upon hearing the commotion, Sergeant McNamara, who was leading at the head of the patrol with the three other constables, opened fire on Patrick’s position. The official report from Dublin Castle stated the firefight lasted nearly 15 minutes with rifle fire coming from multiple attackers. This seems unlikely however with Patrick having so little ammunition and maybe an exaggeration by the crown forces to make it appear that they put up a better fight. Following the short firefight Patrick made his way towards Ballydaniel bridge, eventually reuniting with the column and informing Paddy Kenny of what had just happened. It was then decided they would move to the safety of Murphy’s of the Bleach among the Sliabh Bhuai hill rang. They rested here for a couple of days when they were informed of the truce set for the 11th of July.

Tending to the wounded

After the fighting had seized Dr Wyse of Camolin dispensary was sent for and quickly arrived on the scene. Four ladies had their holiday to Courtown cut short when the car they were travelling in was commandeered and the 4 wounded constable taken back to Ferns barracks. Here they were attended to by a doctor Green from the Ferns dispensary.

One of the worst injured was Constable George Evans from wales who had his left thumb blown off and his index finger badly lacerated. Fortunately his thumb was recovered on the roadside after the attack. He previously served in the army and then worked as a steel hardener before joining the RIC on the 21st of May, just over a month before the ambush.

A Constable Stephens fractured his right arm above the elbow and sustaining injuries to his right thigh and hip. He had served in the British army from 1904-1911, re-joining when the war broke out in 1914 before being captured in France and remaining in custody for a whole year. He previously worked as a steel hardener before joining the RIC and was only two months into the job when the ambush occurred. He had a wife and 2 children.

The other two constables injured were William Jackson from Scotland, who was wounded in his right thigh and a constable Robert Johnson from England, who was wounded in his left calf. Apparently a rifle bullet went through the crown of his cap during the ambush, giving him a lucky escape. The first two mentioned, Constables Stephens and Evans, were later removed to a Dublin Hospital for further treatment.

In November of that year an article from the Irish Times newspaper reported compensation was paid out to the the victims amounting to Stephens: £2600, Evans £150 and Johnson £760.

Ambush Site

The Ambush site as it looks today looking towards Ferns with the approximate position of ambush marked by X

The site of the ambush is easily identifiable thanks to a description from the Enniscorthy Guardian. The journalist reporting on the incident described how the police patrol was ambushed when they ‘… reached a point about 15 yards (13.7m) on the Ferns side of the lodge leading to Camolin House’. It also describes how the bomb was thrown ‘…over the demense wall about 6ft high‘.

The location has changed little since 1921. The entrance lodge into Camolin House, now Valentia nursing home, remains as those the boundary wall behind which Pat Carton hid. Many of the trees that make up this wooded location would have provided Pat with cover to make his escape, following the river Bann towards the eastern end of the town before crossing the road at Ballydaniel Bridge. The ambush is reported to have occured at 7 p.m. based upon the official report of the incident.

This was the last ambush with casualties in county Wexford during the War of Independence

Sources

Bureau of Military History Witness Statement, Patrick carton, #1160

Enniscorthy Guardian, 9th July 1921, p5

Enniscorthy Guardian, 12th November 1921, p6

Irish Times, 8th July 1921, p5

Irish Times, 12th November 1921, p8

North Wexford Brigade Activity Files

Thanks to John Kavanagh for his assistance and help while compiling this article.

Wexford Courthouse Burned

Wexford Courthouse late 19th/early 20th Century

On the 18th of June 1921 the early morning silence was broken in Wexford town by the sound of a terrific explosion emanating from the Courthouse. The building was situated along the quays, opposite todays Wexford bridge and the explosion was the result of an operation planned by Francis Carty, who up until this point was dissatisfied with the success of the IRA. Subsequently he decided to destroy Wexford courthouse, which he considered ‘…the symbol of English law in Wexford town.’

On the night Francis describes how himself and Gerry O Brien, gained entry into the courthouse through it’s windows and proceeded to sprinkle petrol throughout the building. When they then exited the building other men outside flung paraffin torches through the windows. The resulting explosion was so strong that one of these men was carried from the top step of the building where he stood and lifted into the air and over the buildings 10ft iron railings. Fortunately he managed to land safetly and escape without any injuries. Francis, who lived nearby in the town did not attempt to return home following the explosion, instead opting to sleep away from home that night. Meanwhile his friend Gerry O Brien, who also lived in the town, was halted by the RIC as he made his way home, but managed to persuade them he was going to get the fire brigade!

Unbeknown to the IRA the buildings caretaker, a Mrs. McNally was sleeping inside with her 12 year old niece. Luckily upon being awoken by the explosion they managed to escape the building unharmed. The fire brigade, together with members of the public, arrived quickly on the scene and after four hours managed to extinguish the inferno. The flames had managed to engulf the entire building including the crown court, two judges chambers, council chamber, crown solicitor’s rooms, the petty and grand jury quarters and finally the prisoner’s rooms. Only the petty sessions court remained intact as well as the former county council’s offices. Despite the fire the police managed to save nearly all the records of the Clerk of Crown and Peace. The damage to the building was estimated at £15,000 which today would be somewhere in the region of €778,000.

The building was originally built in 1806 to replace another courthouse on the bullring and was designed by Richard Morrison who also designed St. Mary’s Pro Cathedral in Dublin. In the decades that followed the building fell into a dilapidated state that it was decided to no longer invest money towards it’s repair. It was eventually demolished with a petrol station built on the site. This too has since been demolished and the site is now used as a car park.

Site of the former courthouse as it looks today from opposite Wexford Bridge (Credit: Google Street View)

Sources

Bureau of Military History Withness Statement: Francis Carty #1040

Enniscorthy Guardian, 25th June 1921, p3

https://wexfordhub.com/history/wexford-courthouse/

Limerick Auxie Disarmed at Campile Train Station

On the 2nd of April 1921 members of the South Wexford Brigade IRA lay in wait for a party of military, which were due to arrive at Campile station by rail. At 11 p.m. the express train to Rosslare left Waterford. However instead of a party of military only a single member of the R.I.C Auxiliaries, from Pallas Co. Limerick, was on board. The signalman at Campile station had already been ‘seized’ and when the train came to a stop it was boarded by armed men. They Auxie, who was dressed in his civilian clothes at the time, stated his identity. He was promptly taken from the train onto the platform and relieved of his revolver, ammunition and some documents he had on his person. Contemporary newspaper accounts recalled how he was ‘made swear never to return to Ireland’ and that a young lady pleaded with the men not to shoot him. The train then continued onto Rosslare and was reported as being a half hour late. One can’t hope but wonder did the Auxie miss the boat!

Campile Train Station in the 1960s (Credit: National Library of Ireland; O’ Dea Collection)

The line from Waterford to Rosslare no longer open, being closed to passenger traffic in 2010, while the station building at Campile no longer remains.

Sources

Enniscorthy Guardian, 16th April 1921, p4

South Wexford Brigade Activity Reports

Attempted ambush on police outside Bunclody Church

On Sunday morning the 5th of June 1921 the New Ross Standard reported a brief firefight that occurred outside of Bunclody’s Catholic Church when four police officers were making their way to eight o clock mass. At the same time a patrol of five other officers came across a number of men hiding in a wood behind a high wall opposite the convent gate and opened fire on them. The men in retreating returned fire upon the four officers making their way to mass who then took cover along the roadside and returned fire. The men managed to escape and no casualties were reported but the sound of gunfire terrified many mass goers. Some lay prostate on the ground while others sought shelter in nearby Newtownbarry house and its farmyard. Similarly those inside the church lay flat upon the ground and some sought shelter in the sanctuary and convent. The parish priest Rev. A Forrestal upon hearing the shots reportedly rushed outside to offer assistance. Crown forces surrounded the church and searched the congregation coming from 12 o clock mass. There was a considerable police and military activity in the district the following day.

Map showing the approximate location of the IRA men depicted on an 1905 ordinance survey map. The site of St. Mary’s church and the convent is today the FCJ secondary school.

The same incident is reported in the activity files of the north Wexford Brigade with some discrepancies regarding the number of police officers involved and also that an officer was supposedly wounded. Seven IRA men were involved in the incident, two of whom were members of the flying column. The men were named as David Grean, Patrick Furlong, Luke Burke, Nicholas Doyle, Eamon Murphy, Peter Doyle, Hugh Morrissey and Patrick Farrell.

The former Catholic Church in Bunclody (Credit: National Library of Ireland)

The location where the incident took place is situated a short distance outside Bunclody town on the north side of the river Slaney. Once the site of the towns catholic church the roadside location remains much the same with the high wall were the IRA men would have hide behind still visible. The former catholic church was demolished sometime in the 20th century, although some of the convent buildings remain. The FCJ secondary school now occupies the site.

The site of the ambush as it looks today. The church was located on the right and the high wall behind which the men hide can be seen across the road (Google Street View)

Sources

North Wexford Brigade Activity Files

The New Ross Standard, 10th June 1921, p8

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

Police officers ambushed near Clonroche

On Saturday the 28th of May 1921 the Enniscorthy Guardian reported that two RIC constables cycling from Clonroche, to the nearby railway station at Chapel, were ambushed by around 40 men armed with shotguns and rifles. The police reportedly returned fire and the attackers fled.

Map showing route travelled by RIC (dashed red line) and the likely ambush location (dashed green line)

This same ambush is recalled in the Bureau of Military History Witness Statements, given some decades later, by men involved directly in the incident. According to their accounts the operation was a planned ambush undertaken by members of the North Wexford Flying Column. Although contemporary newspaper accounts state around 40 individuals were involved the real number was likely instead to be around half that amount, as it would have been in similar ambushes by the column. Daily a group of RIC constables cycled from their barracks in Clonroche to Chapel railway station, located about 2km south of the Clonroche village, for supplies. This was the intended target for the column who positioned themselves somewhere along the route, spread out for about half a mile. Thomas Dwyer in his statement recalled the location chosen for the ambush as a flat stretch of road with Clonroche barracks visible in the distance. A man called Johnny Maguire was placed at the head of the group and told to open fire with his parabellum pistol when the final officer passed his position. This type of pistol apparently had a distinguishable shot and would be the signal for the rest of the column to open fire on the other officers.

The exact number of RIC officers involved varies from 6 to 12 with the smaller number the most likely. As the column lay in wait two RIC constables cycled into their position along the roadside. Johnny Maguire, awaiting the arrival of the remaining police, did not open fire as ordered. However, as the two constables cycled passed it quickly became apparent that no others were coming. Then in a quick reaction the column opened fire on the officers, who at this stage had passed the ambush position. Accounts state they quickly dismounted and made their escape across the fields with the column making their own getaway after. No casualties were reported on either side.

The former railway station at chapel as it looks today from the road bridge which crossed the track (Google Streetview)

The location of the ambush site is not known but its description as a ‘flat’ stretch of road in view of the RIC barracks would place it near the village or a short diatance out.

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, Patrick Carton #1160

New Ross Standard Friday 03 June 1921 p5

Enniscorthy police barracks attacked

Late 19th/early 20th century photo of Enniscorthy taken near the Turrent Rocks with the RIC Barracks visible (Credit: National Library of Ireland Collections)

On Tuesday the 10th of May 1921 the nights silence was broken in the town of Enniscorthy by the sudden and unexpected sound of gunfire. At approximately 10:30p.m. the town’s RIC barracks located in the Abbey Square came under fire. Contemporary newspaper accounts reported that few people were on the street at the time, but those who were quickly sought refuge in premises nearest to them. Those inside their own homes were equally scared about the possibility of a stray bullet finding its way inside and many sought refuge in their back kitchens.

The gunfire was directed at the barracks from the ‘Turrent Rocks’, a high point upon a rocky eminence on the opposite side of the river Slaney. The police were inside the barracks at the time and upon hearing the sound of bullets ricocheting off the buildings wall quickly returned fire. Meanwhile, soldiers stationed in the town’s courthouse came to the aid of the police upon hearing of the attack, directing machine gun fire on their attackers position which was visible due to the fire from their guns. The entire incident lasted for about 15 minutes and ceased shortly after the machine gun fire began. Following the incident there was increased police and military activity in the area. Bullet holes were visible on neighboring buildings the following morning, as well as the wall which the attackers were supposed to have taken cover behind.

1905 ordinance Survey Map with approximate position of IRA gunners marked by dashed circle and the direction of gunfire by an arrow.

The operation was under taken by 12 members of F (Shannon) Company of the 2nd Battalion, North Wexford Brigade IRA. Incidents such as this were common during the period and were known as ‘sniping’, involving a brief or sort period of gunfire concentrated on a building, usually police barracks. The aim was not so much to capture the building but to harras it’s inhabitants, with the potential to inflict injury also.

Enniscorthy RIC Barracks

The former RIC barracks in Enniscorthy was the most easterly building on the southern side of the Abbey Square. From contemporary photos it can seen as a strong built three story structure with windows to the front and side of the building. During the time of the attack is was most likely fortified with sandbags and steel window shutters. The building was demolished sometime later in the 20th century and the site is today used as a car park.

Site of the former RIC barracks as it looks today. The building was located approximately where the current car park entrance now stands. (Credit: Google Street View)

Sources

Enniscorthy Guardian, 14th May 1921, p5

North Wexford Brigade Activity Reports

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

The Formation of the North Wexford Brigade Flying Column and a near miss at Kilmichael.

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Members of the North Wexford Battalion (Credit: Michael Fitzpatrick Collection)

During the War of Independence Active Service Units (ASCU), better known as Fly Columns, were an integral component of the IRA. They were full time mobile military units who utilized guerilla warfare tactics to undertake, raids, ambushes and other operations against crown forces. Their familiarity with their areas of operation combined with a vast network of supporters and safehouses gave them an advantage over their enemy. Many of its members were men who were already on the run and sought by the authorities. The formation Wexford’s flying column took place in late 1920. Originally during the early stages of the war of independence the county was organized as a single military unit. However, towards the end of 1920, possibly in November, the county was split into two brigades; the North Wexford Brigade and the South Wexford Brigade. As this coincided with the period around which a flying column for the county was being formed and it was already comprised of men entirely from within North Wexford, it came under the command of the North Wexford Brigade. (Patrick Doyle, WS#1298 p8)

No photo description available.
Map showing the boundaries of the North and South Wexford Brigades. (Credit: Atlas of the Irish Revoloution, 2018, Cork University Press, page 546) 

Liam O Leary in his witness statement indicates the column was first formed following a meeting at a location known as the ‘Black Gates’ in Marshalstown. (Liam O Leary, WS#1276 p9). Initially a man by the name of ‘John Whelan’ was designated as the Officer Commanding (OC), but just as the organisation of the column was near its completion, he was arrested by crown forces. This led to Tom Doyle of Ballindaggin, who had been second in command, take up the position as the columns OC, with a Phil Lennon then becoming vice OC. After one or more meetings in Ballindaggin Hall the column was finally formed in November 1920.

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Ballindaggin Hall where the North Wexford Flying Column was founded.

According to the IRA Nominal Rolls, formed in 1935 to aid in the administration of pensions, its initial strength was 21 men in total with an additional 21 after its reformation in 1921. This brought its maximum total strength during the War of Independence to possibly around 40 men, although the real number of men active together at any one time was probably much smaller.

IRA Nomianl Roll, North Wexford Flying Column (Credit: Irish Military Archives)

Following on from its formation the column became noticeably active. In Christmas of that year an RIC constable Jones was shot in Bunclody and late in February 1921 their first ambush occurred on an RIC patrol at Munfin near Ballycarney. A good example of the conditions the column often had to endure was given by Thomas Dwyer following the shooting of constable Jones. The importance of the hospitality and support they received from ordinary people is also highlighted.

‘We slept in straw in Devereux’s old disused house. Conditions were appalling, for it was now in the heart of winter and we had no bed-clothes of any description. Also, we had no change of clothes for weeks and we were getting most uncomfortable. The sixteen members of the column were billeted on all the good people of the locality, from whom we received two meals a day. What we suffered in personal discomfort was made up by the splendid meals which those people provided for us. With darkness, we would all converge on the house of good old Mrs. Cowman who lived there with her husband and family. There, until late into the night, we would have a sing-song, concluding with Thomas Francis Meagher’s vigorous rendering of “The Old Side-Car”. (WS#1198 p22)

Safehouses

The column relied heavily on a system of Safehouses, scattered throughout the county, for shelter and food. Some of these were visited more often than others and served not just as places of refuge but also munitions factories and training grounds. While some were used more than others the home of nearly every volunteer would have offered a place of refuge when it was needed. For those providing such hospitality however there existed a real danger of reprisals from crown forces as described by Thomas Dwyer.

‘It would be an impossible task to mention the names of all those good people who afforded us refuge when we needed it most during this time (Late 1920) and until the Truce. They are deserving of the greatest praise, for, in sheltering us wanted men, they were taking the chance of having their homes wrecked and their houses burnt. Amongst all those names are a few outstanding people by whom we were always welcomed with open arms. If their houses were raided, we could nearly always manage to escape, but for them there was no escape. Hence the ultimate success of the war of independence was due in no small measure to such great people.’ (WS#1198, p19)

The Column Evades Capture

As it has already been stated, the column was always on the move, not just for new targets but also to evade capture. In March of 1921 an incident took place which nearly saw the North Wexford Brigade flying column captured and decimated beyond imagination. Early that month the Gorey company of the IRA were planning an ambush for the column in Gorey town. References to the exact details of the operation are scant but indicate the target was an RIC or Black and Tan patrol, possibly escorting the mails to the train station. The night before the attack the column was to stay at the home of an elderly man who lived alone named Dan Macdonald, in the townland of Kilmichael near the village of Hollyfort.

Accounts differ as to where the column started the journey from before arriving at Macdonald’s. One member, Thomas Dwyer, states they set out from Murphy’s of the Bleech, nestled in the safety of the Sliabh Bhuai Hills, roughly 35km from Kilmichael. Patrick Kenny, who was captain of the Crannford company and who would have met the men in Kilmichael, stated instead that it was ‘Byrnes of Raheen’ while another column member, Thomas Maher, says it was Coady’s of Corrageen, which was located beneath the shadow of the Blackstairs mountain. The latter of these three seems unlikely to have been the point where they set out from. Although a well known IRA safehouse, as well as a training camp and munitions factory, it was a journey of over 70km. Additionally, it was through country between Bunclody and Enniscorthy with Ferns in between, three locations which all had barracks and the likelihood of encountering patrols would have been high. ‘Byrnes of Raheen’ located near Ballyduff, roughly 15km away, seems another practical candidate, being the closest of the three. To avoid any unwanted contact with crown forces the column travelled by night and were aided along the way by scouts from the various different company areas they passed through. Eventually after setting out and travelling under the cover of darkness the column arrived at McDonalds at 6 in the morning on the 7th of March 1921

Thomas Dwyer described how when they arrived at MacDonald’s, after travelling all night, they were met with unfavorable conditions with the Gorey company having failed to organise food or accommodation for them. After waiting 12-14 hours food eventually arrived, but from the neighboring ‘Mount St. Benedict school’, which was described as being only 3 fields away. A Miss Eibhis Kehoe, the schools Matron, sent the food upon hearing of the column’s situation. She was a supporter and had previously been imprisoned. Due to the poor conditions some of the men decided to go to the local shop in Hollyfort. There had been an RIC Barracks there until late 1920 when it was burned after being vacated. It’s former garrison’s wifes and families still lived locally though and were hostile to the republican movement. The presence of strangers in the locality aroused suspicion and the RIC in Gorey were alerted to the men’s presence.

Mount Saint Benedict in the early 1900s (credit: The Lawrence Collect, National Library of Ireland)

In contrast to this Patrick Kenny, the captain of the Crannford company, whom would have been responsible for making arrangements for the columns arrival, suggests it was their own behavior that alerted the RIC; Three members of the column had apparently gone into Hollyfort, gotten drunk and said they were black and tans. Subsequently, news of this reached the RIC in Gorey, who then came to investigate. This seems an unlikely scenario though that men on the run would foolishly expose themselves in a public house in this manner. Patrick’s account may have been an attempt to divert attention from the poor conditions the column had been under, with no food or bedding prepared and because of which some men left and went to the shop in Hollyfort.  

Caught by Surprise

It was the 7th of March 1921, about 6 in the evening and the column were patiently awaiting in McDonalds for the arrival of a scout to escort them into the Gorey town. Suddenly, they were alerted by the sound of whistles blowing in the distance. In a hastened and hurried reaction members of the column rushed outside in alarm. Five members,  Johnny Maguire, Jimmy Kenny, John Furlong, Aidan Kirwan and Thomas Dwyer, found themselves in a small field at the rear of the house when suddenly they heard the sound of footsteps. They shouted ‘halt who goes there’, expecting it to be a scout from Gorey, but instead they heard ‘RIC, line the ditch’. Suddenly firing broke out and bullets whizzed in all directions. McDonald’s house had been surrounded, but after a brief exchange of fire the column managed to evade capture and escaped with no casualties.

The men of the column became separated throughout the surrounding countryside following the incident and in what was for many, unfamiliar territory. After 6 hours of wandering the 5 previously named found themselves in Crannford, 2 and a half miles from McDonalds. Johnny Maguire knew the area and went into a shop owned by a Buckstown Doyle, a brother of Captain Seamus Doyle, where they got biscuits and Lemonade. Afterwards they continued on their Journey towards the safety of ‘Murphys of the Bleech’, eventually becoming so fed up trawling through rivers, bogs and uneven ground they decided to travel along the main Gorey to Carnew road instead. Along the way they were forced to hide behind a ditch when 2 lorries of RIC and Black and Tans passed by. At about 1 a.m they reached Knockbrandon Creamery and turned right up a long lane at the end of which was a farmer’s house and sheltered for the night in a cowhouse with straw. The men were soaking wet and tired from their journey. One of them, Jimmy Kennedy, said he would milk one of the cows if he could find some sort of vessel, but as there was nothing at hand he instead lay under the cow and decided to help himself. The following morning they made themselves known to the occupants of the farmhouse and they were given a good breakfast. Wanting to make contact with the Askamore company the men travelled over Ballycronan hill and into the companies area. They surmised the rest of the column would attempt the same. After hiding in wait for several hours’ members of the Askamore company, who had been keeping a watchful eye out, found and took the men to a safehouse overlooking Askamore church. (The home may have belonged to a John Mcgrath but this has not been confirmed.)

Askamore Church (Google Street View)

The rest of the column had reached Askamore the night before and were already in the house. Some members were still missing, including Thomas Doyle of the piers, but who later showed up. After their long journey they were given food and thankful for the companies care. The column was disbanded either following this or shortly after. They split into groups and went to their designated locations.

Newspaper Reports

The Enniscorthy Guardian Newspaper later reported on the incident. It like many other newspapers was under censorship at the time and the article attempts to portray the column as raiders who disturbed and annoyed the people of the area. It stated that the RIC got reports of men ‘visiting houses and demanding food and money’. Police from Gorey set out and at about dusk spotted 20 men at the foot of ‘Buttles Hill’ where there was a brief exchange of fire before ‘the raiders’ retreated. It was claimed that some of them remained in the area for a while afterwards in farmers houses, ‘especially those where they were refused money’ and that they demanded food and took belongings and money from some.

A lucky Escape

On this night the North Wexford Brigade Flying Column came very close to being captured and the incident highlights the dangers and threats which they were constantly exposed to. A month later on the 19th of April the neighboring Carlow Flying Column was caught off guard by Crown Forces near Ballymurphy, on the Carlow side of the Blackstairs mountain, resulting in their capture with 4 people dead, 3 of whom were civilians. The Wexford Brigade had started a training camp at Cody’s Carrigeen, on the opposite Wexford side of the Mountain and on that day while the Column was training they reported hearing shots coming from the Carlow side. As a precaution the Column stayed on during a further week of training for company officers and acted as guards in an attempt to avoid a repeat of what had happened to their comrades just over the Blackstairs. One of the civilians killed was a 62 year old man named Michael Ryan, who was caught up in the conflict and shot while getting a bucket of water. His nephew, Patrick Doyle, who was quartermaster of the North Wexford Brigade, recalled some years later in his witness statement to the Bureau of Military History how they heard the shooting from the other side of the mountain on that day while training in Carrigeen.

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Blackstairs Mountain as viewed from the Wexford side.

Sources

Bureau of Military History Witness statement, Thomas Maher #1156

Bureau of Military History Witness statement, Patrick Kenny #1174

Bureau of Military History Witness statement, Thomas Dwyer #1198

Bureau of Military History Witness statement, James Daly #1257

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

Bureau of Military History Witness statement, Patrick Doyle #1298

North Wexford Brigade Activity Reports

Enniscorthy Guardian 12th March 1921, p4

*The primary source on the formation of the North Wexford Flying Column is the Bureau of Military History witness statements. While a useful resource contrasting accounts do exist and this author has attempted to decipher these to present as accurate an account as possible.

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