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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or contact the facebook or twitter pages.
On Saturday night the 5th of June 1920 the Templeudigan company of the IRA set fire to the police barracks in Ballywilliam, on the same day it had been vacated by the police. This reduced the capacity of the British forces in the area, having lost one of their bases. The decision to vacate the barracks was likely done in light of recent attacks and burning of other rural barracks in the county. Its rural setting would have left it more open to an attack also. It was reduced to an empty shell by the following morning.The barracks had been used as a parish school and dispensary in the 1800s. After the fire it was later fixed and used as a Garda station. Today it is a private residence. Previously in April of the same year the telegraph wires to Ballywillam barracks were cut prior to an attack on Clonroche Barracks to disrupt communication between both and any calls for help from the Clonroche RIC.
In early June 1920 two RIC police constables named Armstrong and Torsney were cycling from Wexford to the barracks in Taghmon when they were ambushed by two men. The event took place somewhere along the road between Ferrycarrig and Ardcandrisk (see map below).
The south wexford brigade activity reports state that a William Cullimore, from Pearse St. Wexford and a Pierce Byrne, from Charlotte St. Wexford, were responsible. Upon seeing the RIC officers coming towards them both men stood in the middle of the road, calling on them to halt. The police however refused and kept on cycling. Cullimore opened fire from a ’38 Revolver’. Byrne was unarmed. One of the officers, Sergeant Torsney, was hit in the hip/leg area, but continued to cycle on and both officers managed to escape. Newspaper reports on the event state that the police were chased along the road, being fired at by the men and that Torsney was wounded in his left leg, but both officers managed to reach Taghmon Barracks safety. They did not return fire at their attackers.
The exact location where the ambush occurred is unknown but the stretch of road where it happened is well suited for such. The modern N11 road, which continues south after Ferrycarrig bridge, did not exist. Instead it followed the south side of the river Slaney along the shore and continued along where the heritage park entrance is located today. The river on the north side of the road, combined with the high ground to the south near Ferrycarrig bridge and the railway line on the same side further west would have left little choice for a quick escape. Despite this however the police did manage to do so and this event may have been a chance encounter rather then a planned one.
Conflicting accounts are noticeable in some newspaper reports. The Munster News ( 9th June 1920 ) and Irish Independent (8th June 1920) state the police reported being attacked by 4 men instead of the 2 reported in the activity reports. The Irish Times (8th June 1920) compliments the latter, also reporting 2. The increase to four men was likely an attempt by the police to bolster their escape.
On the 13th of May 1920 the R.I.C Barracks in Killurin was burned by members of the I.R.A, Glynn company. It had already been vacated by the police, like so many other rural barracks at the time as they were considered more open to attack and the police were then stationed elsewhere. Burning the building ensured it could not be reoccupied. It was a rented building and during the compensation claim brought before the court it was indicated that paraffin oil was used in the burning. Some time after it was rebuilt and is now a private residence.
On Saturday night the 16th of May 1920 Ballinaboola police barracks was burned. It had been vacated by the police for some time before this. A previous attempt was made to burn the building a few days earlier on Wednesday the 12th of May which resulted in a portion of the roof being damaged. The second attempt however was more successful with the entire structure catching fire. (The New Ross Standard, 21st May 1920). Situated at a fork in the road along the main Wexford to New Ross route it is visible on the 1905 ordinance survey map as the largest and most prominent building in the village. It had been used as a police barracks since at least circa 1839, being visible on the ordinance survey maps from then.
The building like so many other barracks in the county was rented and in July that year it was reported the owner Patrick Byrne appealed the county court decision whereby he was awarded £200 compensation for the burning of the barracks after asking for £2000. (New Ross Standard, 9th July 1920). It was one of many destroyed in 1920 by the I.R.A to ensure it could not be reoccupied and therefore limited British operations in the area. The South Wexford Brigade activity files report that the 1st Company (New Ross) were responsible for the burning. No trace of the barracks remains today
On Saturday morning the 24th of July 1920 the R.I.C barracks in Killinick was burned by the IRA. The ‘New Ross Standard’ newspaper gave the following account of the event.
‘The police left Killinick , some on pensions some transferred to other stations, on Friday evening, (the 23rd of July). They vacated the barrack about 8 p.m. At about 2 a.m. on Saturday morning it was noticed that the barrack was in a blaze and when the people passed to their several business nothing but the smoking ruins were to be seen. On Saturday evening the burning of all inside woodwork was carried out. It was believed that the military were going to take up quarters in the barrack immediatly on its evacuation by the police. Strong colour was lent to this belief when it was found out that the military had comandeered quarters at the residence of Mrs. Burke, Bennertsbridge, not far from Killinick, on Saturday.‘ (New Ross Standard, 30th July 1920)
The Irish Examiner later in November of that same year reported on an incident where a ‘John Sinnott’ of Wexford was being tried by court-martial in Cork after a document ‘purporting to emanate from an officer of an unlawful association.’ was found in his home. This document described the activities of an I.R.A company, one of which included the burning of Killinick barracks. It also gave a good description of the barracks before it was burned which details how well fortified the building was.
‘An inspection of Killinick Barrack gave very useful information. Besides being fortified with steel shutters, sandbags etc. there were various bombing holes prepared, the wall being excavated from inside and just a shell of mortar left on outside. These holes were about two and a half feet by one. This particular barrack was especially strong and there were wire entanglements on the surrounding grounds.’ (Irish Examine, 4th November 1920, page 7)
These ‘bombing holes’ mentioned were to allow those inside to throw grenades and other explosive devices from inside the building at potential attackers on the outside. By July 1920 many barracks in the county had been burned while others, such as Clonroche barracks, had been attacked. Consequently it is no surprise that a rural barrack such as Killinick had become so fortified given the faith of other such buildings. It may also had been done in preparation for the military to occupy it. The barracks was one of many sabotaged by the I.R.A to ensure they could not be reoccupied and therefore reduced the British authorities’ capacity to operate in those areas. The South Wexford Brigade activity reports record that companies A (Murrinstown), B (Bridgetown) and C (Broadway) of the 3rd Battalion were responsible for the burning. Little trace remains today of the former barracks, hidden behind dense overgrowth. A service building is the most noticeable feature today which stands on the site.
Throughout the War of Independence in Wexford there were many casualties on both sides. But the largest single loss of life took place on Tuesday night the 12th of October 1920, in an old unoccupied house just off a small road which runs by sea shore, near Saltmills in South Wexford. Here members of the I.R.A were making bombs and Joseph McCarthy of New Ross describes the operation in his witness statement:
‘The local I.R.A. had selected this old house, and had been using it for some time now, for making bombs, filling cartridge cases and storing all kinds of ammunition. Raids on the Hook lighthouse and supplies from other places brought large quantities of explosives. They were kept in boxes, and brought each night from hidden dumps near the neighboring farms. The manufactured bombs were burled in ground close to the unoccupied house, before dispatch to their various destinations.’ (pages 1-2)
On the night 14 men were present in the house making explosives. Joseph goes on to describe the event which would lead to 9 of them men being injured and the other 5 men dead.
‘Buckets of explosive material, emptied out of the sacks and boxes, were all over the room. Candles and cart-lamps gave them light, and sacking was placed against the windows, so as to have no light visible from outside. Tom Gleeson and Michael Conway were cutting detonator wires. Michael Conway was using a pliers. Tom Gleeson struck the detonator with a penknife he was using, causing a spark. In a second or two, a blue flame filled the room. John Timmons and Edward Kelly shouted, “Run, run, lads! The Lord have mercy on us!”, and, as they finished those words, a quick, short, loud explosion had blown the old house to pieces. The explosion was so powerful that it had blown the roof to the far end of a four-acre field. Three men Martin Roche, Robert Walsh and Michael Fitzgerald were killed instantly. James Gleeson lived about half an hour, and James Byrne died in Kelly’s, Saltmills, the following morning. Of the remaining men, some were found shortly afterwards, grievously injured, naked and bleeding, trying to creep along the ground. The others were stunned, going aimlessly around and suffering from shock. Michael Conway recalls that, a moment after he saw the spark, a blue glow filled the house with a choking gas, and, in another moment, the explosion had left him bereft of any memory till he found himself outside, numbed from shock and bleeding.’ (Pages 3-4)
The Freemans Journal Newspaper on the 23rd of October reported that on the night the explosion could be heard up to 10 miles away and it goes on to describe the gruesome and harrowing scene which greeted the earliest arrivals after the explosion.
…’Passing through the debris the searchers came upon quivering masses of human flesh and blood soaked garments torn from the bodies of the unfortunate victims, and hurled to a distance by the force of the explosion. On the site of the house hurled underneath what was left of the ruins were discovered the frightfully mutilated remains and charred bodies of 10 young men, resident of the district.’
At first it was thought all were dead but closer examination showed thus was not so, although half the number were in their last hour and the air was filled with agonising moans. The remains of some of the men were almost unrecognisable and one required a strong nerve to look, even for a moment, upon the awful sight. Bodies stripped naked, were twisted and broken; legs, arms, and heads were fractured. Four died during the night and the fifth lingered on until 5 o clock on Wednesday morning. Fragments of men’s wearing appearl were to be seen strewn on all sides around the ruins, whilst some were to be seen on neighboring high trees. From the position in which the bodies of the dead and injured were found it would appear that they were lifted bodily in the concussion caused by the explosions and fell on the strewn mass of the broken walls.
The Rev., Isaac Scallan C.C, who ministered to the dying and wounded, gave a Freeman reporter a vivid description of the appalling horrors of the scene. Men groaning in their death agony were found lying in different parts of an adjoining field, into which they had been hurled, or whether they had crawled for saftey. Groping in the darkness he came upon Robert Walsh amongst the debris lying on his side his face buried in a pool of blood. Martin Roche found half slaked and frightfully scorched, partially hidden under a heap of stones. Michael Fitzgerald was lying on his face with blood oozing from his mouth. ‘Although he was my next door neighbor’ said Father Scallan, ‘I failed to recognize him’. James Byrne was found lying in a ditch , his leg fractured in two places (Freemans Journal, 23rd October 1920, Page 5)
The Freemans journal listed those dead and wounded.
Following on from the events of that night the army and police arrived in the area the following morning. Patrick O Grady, Patrick Kelly and Patrick Reville managed to go on the run while the other 6 survivors were rounded up and imprisoned. Of those 6 Michael Conway, Edward Kelly and Stephen Barron were taken and imprisoned in Cork Military Barracks. During this period in they were brought along as hostages when the black and tans travelled over wide areas of Cork and Tipperary. The officer in charge always warned his party before they set out on their journey’s that in case they met any hostilities the three prisoners were to be shot.
Eventually all 6 men ended up in Waterford prison and were then later transferred to Mountjoy prison in Dublin, were they awaited deportation to Portland prision in England. In March 1921, the night before they were due to be shipped out, an incident occurred involving several black and tans. The 6 men were gathered in the yard with all the other prisoners having their names checked for deportation. Several black and tans entered the prison drunk, cursing, shouting and pushing the military escort in charge of the prisoners. They were looking for one prisoner named ‘Joe Murphy’ whom they intended to shoot. The prison Governor tried to remove them but was powerless and knowing Joe’s faith declined to read out his name. However, the black and tans had some idea of Murphy’s description. Joe was standing beside Edward Kelly, one of the Saltmill survivors and as they were somewhat similar in appearance Edward swapped hats with Joe to confuse the black and tans. Upon seeing Edward kelly and thinking him to be Joe Murphy they grabbed him and placed him up against a wall with revolvers at the ready. Just before they were about to shoot another survivor, John Timmins, shouted out that they had a Wexford man and not who they wanted. The Governor and military guard then intervened and Kelly escaped with his life.
The black and tans remained all night in the yard and the following morning when the lorries arrived to take prisoners to the ships they were still there. A final name check was to take place with the prisoners in the lorries. At this point the military were getting hostile towards the black and tans. Soldiers stated they were never ambushed in Dublin except when accompanied by them and that if they (the black and tans) shot Joe murphy they would shoot some tans. The military formed a shield around Joe Murphy’s lorry, and in frustration the black and tans climbed a wall at the entrance and pointed their revolvers at the lorry with Joe murphy inside as it approached the exit. Fortunately some soldiers took their rifles and swung the butts of them at the tans, knocking them senseless and preventing a slaughter.
Later in July 1921 the Saltmills prisoners were moved to Dartmoor prison were they remained through the truce until their release on the 3rd of February 1922.
The Site Today
The location of the incident is remote today, as it would have been back in the 1920s. The house was situated uphill from a small narrow road which runs beside the seaside, just east of the village of Saltmills. Two houses are visible on the 1905 ordinance survey map (see below picture) and one of these was likely that which was blown up on the night. Today there is no evidence of a former structure on the site and the location is marked on the roadside below by a memorial baring the names of those who were killed and wounded on the night.
Freemans Journal 15th October 1920
Freemans Journal, 23rd October 1920, Page 5
Joseph McCarthy, Bureau of Military History witness statement #1507
On Wednesday night the 12th of May 1920 the R.I.C barracks in Tintern was set afire and burned. Previously in November 1919 orders had been issued to close the barracks and the acting Sergeant, Edmond Larissy, reassigned elsewhere. However, the building was not completely vacated as his wife, Julia Agnes Larrissy, still resided there with their two children. On the night it was burned she and the children were ordered to leave the building and interestingly the families furniture was removed for them by those who set out to burn the barracks. It can be seen on the front lawn of the house in the above photo. The South Wexford Brigade activity files report that A company (Gusserrane) and G company (St. Leonards) of the 2nd Battalion were responsible for the burning.
The barracks was located at a crossroads known as ‘Poundtown’, beside the entrance into Tintern abbey, the home of the Couclough family who were large landowners in the area and also owned the building used for the barracks, which was rented from them. A barracks had stood on the site since around 1839, as one is depicted on the ordinance survey maps from the period. The photo shows it was a large structure, possibly built of stone and with a slated roof. In the 1911 census buildings return it is shown to contain between 7-9 rooms, further indicating its large size. Sergeant Edmond is listed in Tintern with his family also on the 1911 census, therefore by 1920 they had lived in the area for quiet a long time. The courtesy shown to them by the removal of their furniture might suggest they were respected locally and perhaps in good standing within the community. This was not the first instance of an attack on the barracks in its lifetime as an newspaper article from 1833 reports how 3 men were arrested for taking arms and planning to attack it (Belfast Newsletter 1738-1938, 12.03.1833, page 2). No trace of Tintern Barracks remains today and the site is grass covered with some trees planted.
The New Ross Standard newspaper reported that in the early hours of Friday morning the 4th of April 1920 the police hut in Rosbercon, located across the river from New Ross town, was burned. The hut was a simple structure made built of brick and stone with a sheet iron roof. Locals in the area were awoken in the night by the sound of the hut’s roof falling in and by sunrise nothing was left of the building but what was described as ‘… a heap of ashes and charred brick and iron.’ It was also reported there was no furniture in the building at the time and that the blaze could be seen for miles around. According to the I.R.A brigade activity files A company, which was the New Ross company, was responsible for its destruction. Today the site where the hut would have stood is a private residence with likley no trace of the former hut remaining.
New Ross Standard 9th April 1920, p4
South Wexford Brigade Activity Files
A special thanks to Myles Courtney and Richard McElwee for their help and providing information for this article.
The Freemans Journal on the 19th of May 1918 reported that the rural R.I.C Barracks in Clonevan , south of Ballygarret village, had closed. The police had vacated the building and were reassigned to other barracks elsewhere in the county. It lay vacant and undisturbed until Thurdsay night the 13th of May 1920 when it was burned by the I.R.A. A newspaper description stated of the damage that ‘nothing remains but bare walls’ (Freemans Journal 20th May 1920). Patrick Ronan from Ferns, a member of the I.R.A in North Wexford, in his Military Withness statement (#1157), stated that the Ferns Company of the I.R.A were responsible. Clonevan was one of several empty barracks in rural Wexford burned around this time, to ensure they could not be re-occupied by the police or the newly arrived black and tans. This tactic confined the authorities to barracks in more urban settings such as towns and villages and left large areas of countryside for the I.R.A to roam freely. £450 in compensation was later paid for damages to the barracks (Irish Times July 20th 1920) and in 1924 tenders were invited by the Commissioners of Public Works for restoration works (Irish Times Dec 18th 1924). It later served as a Garda station for a number of years until 1972 when it was advertised for sale. Today it is a private residence and is the only barracks in Wexford with a known photograph of after it was burned.
Freemans Journal 20th May 1920
Irish Times 7th July 1920
irish Times 18th December 1924
Irish Times 14th May 1920
Irish Times 22nd September 1923
Patrick Ronan, Ferns, Bureau of Military History Witness Statement #1157