On Saturday night the 12th of March 1921 members of the Davidstown Company IRA sabotaged the courthouse in Aurthurstown. Up to 20 armed and masked men with sledge-hammers wrecked the premises. All the windows and doors were smashed and thrown on the street together with the desks and benches inside while slates were torn from the roof also. After the destruction the noise of gunshots was reportedly heard. The telegraph wire near the village had been cut to slow the arrival of any police or others who might have attempted to put a halt to their activities.
Despite the damage the petty sessions court was held inside the following Monday with the rain and wind coming in through the broken roof and window. Lord Templemore, the owner of the building in which the courts were held, was later awarded £190 compensation for its destruction.
The building was still being used as a courthouse, despite the damages, in September 1921 as the New Ross Standard reported how during a petty sessions that month ‘… the petty sessions have been held in the wrecked premises, a temporary bench having been got under the portion of the roof that was not damaged.’ The destruction of the courthouse was an attempt by the IRA to cause disruption to the British administration. Sinn Fein courts were in operation at the time and such an incident like this would have been in their favour.
On Saturday night the 12th of March 1921 members of the Bridgetown company IRA attacked their local RIC barracks, situated on a staggered crossroads just south of the village. The New Ross Standard reporting on the incident stated that at around midnight many local people were awoken by the sound of gunfire, which lasted for 15 or 20 minutes. Trees had been cut down on most of the approach roads by the company to delay the arrival of any potential reinforcements. A particularly large tree was reported cut down at ‘Sleedagh’, completely blocking the road to all motor traffic.
The military and police undertook numerous raids in the week or so following the attack with some reported in the districts of Baldwinstown, Bridgetown, Kilmore and Murrintown . Two young men from Bridgetown, Joe and Moses Murphy were arrested at Oldhall while two other brothers, named Rowe, were arrested at Killinick. It was noted that the raids appeared to be undertaken in search for someone on the run.
Later that year on the 14th of May the barracks was attacked again at two in the morning. The incident lasted for fifteen minutes and the police reported no casualties.
The attack on Bridgetown RIC barracks was of a type which occurred throughout the War of Independence, consisting of a short period of concentrated gunfire. The aim of such attacks was not to necessarily capture the building but to haras it’s inhabitants. Such incidents are often reffered to as ‘sniping’. By early 1921 Bridgetown barracks was one of only a few still operational within county Wexford. Many others in similar ‘rural’ settings had been burned or sabotaged. It would most likely have been fortified with steel shutters placed on the windows and sandbags and perhaps barbed wire used also. The building today is a private residence and bullet holes are said to be still visible on the exterior walls.
On Tuesday afternoon the 15th of February 1921 five police officers, travelling in their Ford Motorcar from Bunclody to Enniscorthy, were ambushed near Ballycarney by the North Wexford Brigade Flying Column. The Irish Times, reporting on the incident, stated that the car, being driven by a sergeant Torsney, was passing through Munfin, a short distance north of Ballycarney. Suddenly Torsney heard a noise, which he assumed was a burst tyre and decided to pull over and investigate. But just as he was slowing down the sound of rifle and revolver shots rang out from behind a hedge on the left side of the road. The other officers in the car returned fire on their attackers while sergeant Torsney sped up and they made a narrow escape. The bonnet of the vehicle was reported to be riddled with bullet marks and fortunately for its occupants they escaped without injury.
First Ambush in the county
Thomas Dwyer, one of those who took part in the attack, recalled decades later in his witness statement to the bureau of military history how the north Wexford flying column didn’t have much luck in previous ambushes since its formation in late 1920. Several attempts had been undertaken but on each the enemy forces failed to show. The incident in Ballycarney was the first ambush by the column in Wexford where a shot was fired. Dwyer recalled how Phil Lennon, then the columns officer commanding, afterwards remarked, “It is the first ambush in the county and I am proud to have been in it”.
One would imagine that as this was the first somewhat successful ambush by the column it would be well recorded and documented. However the accounts relating to it vary. Thomas Dwyer stated that they were awaiting the arrival of an RIC cycle patrol that failed to show when instead a car turned up. Michael Kirwan though states the ambush was originally intended not for a cycle patrol but instead a lorry delivering supplies from Wexford town to Bunclody for the Devon Regiment stationed at the latter. The account of a Thomas Meagher also refers to the target being a lorry. James O Toole states they happened upon a police car unexpectedly while trenching the roads, with no previous plans for an ambush.
Despite these differences the vehicle fired upon in the end was most certainly a car, as that is what was reported in the contemporary newspaper accounts. One commonality the accounts do share though is that the targeted vehicle arrived later than expected, which caught the column by surprise and that there was a delay in engaging the target due to this fact. Reference is made to how they had planned to block the road by felling a tree across it. One half was cut and held by a rope, ready to drop when the order was given.
The Irish Times report on the incident is is slightly biased and somewhat exaggerates the actions of the police. For example, the police estimated at least 50 people were involved in the attack, a number which is very unlikely, especially given the fact that the column never numbered near that many people during the period. Also the promptness of the police response fire to their attackers and the quickness of Sergeant Torseney to respond and speed away are given particular focus. Additionally they believed one of the attackers was badly wounded also, when in fact no casualties on either side were recorded.
The Ambush Site
The Irish times newspaper reported that the incident took place on the main road between Bunclody and Enniscorthy at ‘Munfin’. It described the road at this point as being twelve feet wide and the attackers had taken position on the left side where they were sheltered by a high thick hedge. Thomas Meagher in his witness statement tells how it occurred about a mile outside Ballycarney, on the Bunclody road at a location known as ‘the White Woman’s Hollow.’
The location was called so as it was supposedly haunted by a lady who wore white as referenced in the ‘Schools Folklore Collection’ from Bunclody school. This collection is made up of folklore and local traditions compiled by primary school pupils from all over the country between 1937 and 1939.
‘The White Woman’s Hollow. There is a hollow in the road about four miles south of Bunclody, and near Ballycarney. It is called the White Woman’s Hollow, because a white woman is seen there riding a white horse at twelve o’clock at night. They say that a woman was killed there and that the white woman is her ghost. She is seen crossing the road from one ditch to the other. When twelve o’clock strikes she will disappear, and will not be seen until the next night. A man named Michael Byrne of Clohamon is supposed to have seen her.
The precise location of the ‘white woman’s hollow’ in Munfin is not marked on any maps and alterations to the road (now the N80) in the last 100 years have left no such hollow obvious or visible. However, local knowledge and memory places it at the point in the road where there now exists a layby, shown in the photograph below.
The flying police man
The ambush at Munfin may have been the first such experience for many of the officers, except the driver of the police car Sergeant Torsney, whom had a lucky escape previously in 1920; While cycling near Ferrycarrig with another constable both were ambushed by two men at gunpoint and ordered to stop. The two officers in fear for their life kept cycling through and were fired upon with Torsney receiving a bullet to his leg. Torsney was an active member of Waterford RIC cycling club in the 1890s winning Ireland’s one-mile bicycle championship in May 1893, earning him the nickname ‘The flying police man’. Though injured he miraculously continued to cycle until they reached the safety of the barracks in Taghmon. Later in December of that year he was in the barracks in Bunclody when constable William jones was shot only a few doors up in Kelly’s pub.
The Ambush site today
Today the stretch of road at Munfin where the ambush took place forms part of the busy N80. It has changed drastically from what it would have looked like 100 years ago and many of those who use it on a regular basis may not even realise it was the site of the first ambush by the North Wexford Flying Column. No memorial or marker exists on the site and knowledge of the incident and its location has been confined to history. Sites and landscapes like these form an important part of our more Revolutionary past and should be given the same consideration as other historical and archaeological sites within the county. But hopefully to those who have read this piece they will remember the events which took place along the roadside at Munfin 100 years ago this year.
Bureau of Military History Witness Statement, James O Toole #1084
Bureau of Military History Witness Statement, Michael Kirwan #1175
Bureau of Military History Witness Statement, Thomas Dwyer #1198
Bureau of Military History Witness Statement, Thomas Meagher #1156
The Irish Times, 16th February, p5
Schools Folklore Commission
A special thanks to Colette Bennett and others on the ‘Bunclody History and Photos Facebook Page’ for helping to identify the ambush site.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In early January 1921 county Wexford, together with Clare, Waterford and Kilkenny, were placed under Martial law. This was a response by the British military to the increase in IRA activity over the preceding year. Its imposition gave the military additional powers, imposing strict new rules with penalties for people who did not abide by them, including a potential ‘Death Sentence’ for anyone found in unlawful possession of a firearm.
A proclamation was circulated detailing the new rules and penalties for non compliance. These included the following
An ultimatum to surrender arms, ammunitions and explosives was given until the 11th of January 1921. Anyone found in possession of such after this date would be liable to conviction by a military court to suffer death
The unauthorized wearing of military or police uniform was also liable to conviction by military court to suffer death. Possession of the same would result in the person being convicted and sentenced to penal servitude.
A state of insurrection existed and anyone found taking part in such, or harboring those who had, would be liable to conviction by a military court to suffer death.
The owner, lessee or responsible occupier of every building is required to keep a list of occupants inside detailing their name, age, sex and occupation and to keep this updated.
Meetings and assemblies in public places were forbidden. This constituted a group of more than 6 people.
No unauthorized telegrams were to be sent and the use of carrier pigeons or wireless telegraphs was forbidden.
No loitering in the public streets without exception i.e. work.
Copies of the Martial Law proclamation were printed and displayed in various locations throughout the county. It was forbidden to deface these and anyone found removing or interfering with one was liable to be convicted and punished. Some were purposely placed in locations to antagonize known republicans. An example of this exists from Wexford town where a proclamation was placed in the front window of the Doyle family home in Auburn Terrace. The Doyle brothers owned Selskar Iron Works, now located were Dunnes Stores is. In 1914 they refused orders for British war production. They also sheltered many volunteers on the run and manufactured guns, bullets and hand grenade casings in their foundry. On several occasions their home and business was to be burned by crown forces but thanks to the discreet warnings of RIC constable sergeant Collopy they escaped such a faith. Their home was frequently raided by the police and military also. Knowing that they could not tamper with the Proclamation, as it would result in a possible conviction, they placed the Irish tricolour above it in the same window. A silent and symbolic defiance.
The information regarding the Doyle family and the accompanying photo was soucred from Sthe book County Wexford in the Rare Oul’ Times 1910-1924 by Nicholas Fulong and John Hayes, p127
On the 12th of May 1920 the R.I.C Barracks at Ballybrazil, outisde of New Ross, was burned by the Campile company of the South Wexford I.R.A. The Barracks had been vacated by the police previously on the 14th of November 1919 (Freemans Journal 8th July 1921) but Mrs. Flynn, the wife of Sergeant Flynn, whom was previously assigned to Ballybrazil, still resided in the barracks with their children. The Irish Times reported how on the night 40 masked men took part in the event (Irish Times, 14th May 1920). They were however courteous to Mrs. Flynn and her children and moved them to a neighboring house before setting fire to the barracks. They also removed every article of furniture from the building, to spare it from the fire. Included in this were ‘… 2 hatching hens and their eggs.’ which were ‘… in a small house near the main building and were transferred to a secure place’ (New Ross Standard 21st May 1920 p4). During a court case compensation claim for damages Mrs. Flynn recalled how 40 men were involved in the burning, arriving at 1 a.m. and had brought petrol with them (New Ross Standard25th June 1920).
There had been a barracks in Ballybrazil since 1880 with the building rented from a James Murphy for a yearly fee of £22 (Freemans Journal 8th July 1921). Following the burning James was awarded £420 compensation in the courts. In the same sitting Sergeant Flynn got £80 for damaged furniture and Mrs. Flynn £60 for damaged articles. James Murphy later sought an increase in the compensation he received to £2500, appealing the decision in court (New Ross Standard, 25th June 1920). However he would be unsuccessful in this attempt (Freemans Journal 8th July 1921).
The barracks at Ballybrazil was a two story building constructed of stone with neighboring outhouses and sheds. It would have had enough room to house several constables and possibly the sergeants family also. No attempt was made to rebuild the barracks after it was burned and its ruins can still be seen today.
On Thursday the 30th of December 1920 Cushenstown Hall was partially wrecked by fire and an explosion. The Enniscorthy Guardian reported that at about 8 o clock people in the locality heard a loud explosion. Earlier that night a motor car with 4 or 5 passengers was seen at the hall and a fire was noticed inside shortly after it left. Fortunately, it was extinguished before it could spread. The fire had already caught onto the gallery floor and stage. Afterwards it was noticed that the floor had been sprinkled with petrol and there was a hole in it caused by the bomb. The explosion shook the whole building, smashed the windows, displaced some of the doors, damaged seats and perforated the ceiling.
Cushenstown hall was one of the largest of its kind built in Ireland at the time and one of the first six co-operative halls built in Ireland in 1909. This was done under a grant given by the Irish Agricultural Organisation Society for the six parishes that had done the most work. The Cushenstown Co-operative society had given use of the hall for a school since the areas National School was burned several years before. It was still used as a school at the time of this incident and the school books inside were saved from the fire.
Circumstances surrounding the event.
This incident was reported in the Enniscorthy Guardian and although the article doesn’t mention who may have been responsible it does say that the hall had been raided by the military on a couple of occasions during the last few months. This indicates that it was targeted by the British authorities before, likely as it may have been associated with republican activity in some form or another. It would be unlikely that the damage was caused by any republican element as it was a focal point for the local community and was also being used as a school. Therefore it was most likely an incidence of sabotage secretively undertaken by the Black and Tans or Auxiliaries, perhaps as a reprisal for something done to them or the police.
The Site Today
Nothing survives of Cushenstown Hall today except the concrete foundations of the building. The stone wall and piers which are visible at the front of the building in the photo from 1921 still survive.
On New Years morning, Saturday the 1st of January 1921, the police and army surrounded Ballindaggin church during morning mass. The Enniscorthy Guardian reporting on the incident described how young men were held up as they left the church and anyone from the Coolree and Monbeg area was detained. Houses at these locations were searched that morning also, but no arrests were made and the detained men from the church were then released.
This was a planned operation targeting IRA members in the area. The police and army were most likely acting on intelligence, while the shooting of an RIC constable in Bunclody several weeks before may have been a contributor to the raids. The occasion of New Years morning mass perhaps attracted a larger congregation than usual and so why it was chosen to carry out the raid then.
One IRA member from the locality, Patrick Doyle of the Piers, Coolree, describes how he was one of those caught up unexpectedly that morning while leaving mass. He humorously describes how despite the best efforts of the authorities they left empty handed and yet the IRA had hidden a large quantity of explosives within a within a tomb of the church’s adjoining graveyard! He also describes the lucky escape of one innocent parishioner who was shot at for sport as he was made run away, after getting a beating.
‘My brother Tom, a few other Volunteers and I decided to go to the 8 o’clock Mass and receive Holy Communion at Ballindaggin Church on New Year’s morning, 1921, as we thought it would be quite safe to do so. However, during the Mass the Church was surrounded by British Forces and, with seven other boys including Tom, I was held prisoner. They searched the whole parish but got nothing although a tomb in the graveyard was filled with gelignite. They ‘beat up’ one boy and then told him to run, and as he ran they fired shots at him but they failed to hit him. He dodged them and got into the priest’s house. Upstairs the priest was entertaining the officers. The district was searched all day for him but they did not get him. We were held prisoners until evening when we were released through the Parish Priest’s influence.‘ (p11)
Bureau of Military History Witness Statement, Patrick Doyle #1298
On Sunday the 5th of June 1920 members of the IRA undertook a raid for petrol on the railway stores in Enniscorthy. Two days earlier on a Friday up to 800 gallons of petrol was delivered there by Rail. Due to its flammable nature however it was left stored on the railway wagon and not in the goods store. The petrol was stored in Tins and in total the delivery weighed around 5 tons. This meant it would require a large party to move and it was reported that 90 to 100 men were involved in the operation which started at 11p.m. and lasted into the early hours of the morning. The petrol was transported in two lorries belonging to MJ Whelan Enniscorthy and taken to Ballingale Mill, the home of a Mary O Neill, where it was stored safely. The operation was a success that they were not detected considering the number of people involved and its location near the Town itself. The petrol would later be used in other operations such as the assassination of Inspector Lee Wilson in Gorey.
New Ross Standard, 11th June 1920, p8
Bureau of Military History Witness statement, Thomas Dwyer #1198
Bureau of Military History Witness statement, Sean Whelan #1294
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.
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.
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’.
Dunbar’s pub where the incident took place still operates as a pub in Ferns to this day.