On Tuesday night the 6th of April 1920 at about half past 10 the then excise officer, J.C McCluskey, had left the Customs and Excise Office on Court Street in Enniscorthy. While walking down Georges Street (now Rafter Street) two strangers appeared from a lane way and approached McCuskey, asking him for a match. He said yes to the strangers and while reaching into his jacket pocket to retrieve a match one of the them pulled a pistol and forced Mr McCluskey to proceed back to the Customs and Excise Office.
Upon reaching the building they found the door to be locked from the inside and forced McCluskey to knock. A woman inside the building looked out to inquire who it was at this hour of the night knocking on the door, to which he had to identify himself. The raiders, whom numbered 6 in total, then gained entry into the premises and proceeded to burn any documents related to income tax for the next half hour. Mr McCluskey was held prisoner during the ordeal. When the raiders were leaving some of the burnt documents fell from the fireplace onto the floor, setting it alight. However Mr McCluskey was luckily quick enough to extinguish the fire.
Where did the strangers come from?
The laneway from which the strangers approached was most likely that which today joins rafter Street to the old Dunnes Stores car park. At the time this was known as Maguire’s Lane, as depicted on the 1905 ordinance survey maps, and would have provided access to the stangers from Rafter Street from Parnell Street. The men were members of the Wexford I.R.A and this raid was one of many throughout the county and country at the time with the aim to deny another aspect of British rule in Ireland and make the country ungovernable.
Up until early 1920 county Wexford had remained relatively peaceful throughout the War of Independence. However, this was about to change on Sunday night the 24th of April as the Wexford I.R.A were preparing to undertake their first attack on an R.I.C Barracks in the county. Their target was the barracks at Clonroche, a small village a few miles outside of Enniscorthy on the road to New Ross.
The Barracks was described as a substantial two-storey building, standing alone and just outside the village on the enniscorthy road. It was demolished in the 1970’s and stood on the site of the current Garda Barracks. A farmer’s house stood on the same side of the road as the barracks and two workers’ houses, on the opposite side, were situated about 15 yards further down the road towards Enniscorthy. Immediately opposite the barracks there was no dwelling, so its position was more or less an isolated one. The building was adequality defended with thick walls providing protection from bullet fire while sand bags were placed inside the windows at the front. Additionally, steel shutters, with port holes, were placed on all windows and steel doors were installed. The only large window at the back had sand bags placed outside it while the windows on the ground floor in the gable end had wire entanglements around them.
The assembly point, or one of, for the attack was Darcy’s forge Moneytucker. The men on the actual attack were from Enniscorthy companies while other companies held up roads. Prior to the assault all communications (telegraph wires) between the village and Enniscorthy and Wexford and New Ross were cut as were those on both sides of Ballywilliam Barracks. Road blocks were set up on the approach roads into Clonroche with trees felled and men stationed at them, some of whom were armed with shotguns. It was shortly after one in the morning and five of the officers had gone to bed while a sixth was in the barracks day room. Suddenly he was alerted to the sound of gun fire against the front and rear of the house. The other police officers quickly woke, grabbed their weapons and took up defensive positions inside the barracks. Meanwhile outside the I.R.A had taken up positions to the front and rear of the barracks. The frontal assault consisting of only rifle fire while to the rear, a section positioned behind a five foot wall separating the barracks from the adjoining land, utilized bombs and rifle fire. The police were called on to surrender but they refused, responding with gunfire and bombs thrown through port holes in the building. The attack ceased by half 2 with the attacker leaving by 3 a.m.
During the attack the I.R.A made use of a new homemade weapon called a ‘tailer bomb’. A description of these was given by John Carroll in his military witness statment. (WS#1258) ‘The bombs were home-made and were called “Tailer Bombs”. They had a tail like a kite, so that the nose of the bomb, in which the exploding mechanism was placed, would first strike the object at which it had been thrown. We soon became very accurate at bomb throwing and could from a distance of thirty yards always hit our target.’
An inspection the following morning showed the front wall was peppered with bullet holes and the centre window upstairs had been targets but not those on either side of it. The barracks only had a single window at the back which was ‘shattered to pieces’ and numerous bullet marks on the rear wall. The roof bore four marks, having been struck by bombs, only one of which seemed to have gone off, causing only minor damage with 2 or 3 slates smashed and creating a slight hole. There was no casualties on the night but a police officer, constable Connell, received a splinter from the bomb which blew a hole in the roof, causing a flesh wound to his left arm. The police suggested the attack ceased after they threw a bomb towards the back wall, injuring one of the attackers. A civilian and the police reported hearing a person screaming in agony. However the attackers accounts fail to mention any such event. The following morning the police retrieved 71 unexploded bombs, 2 unexploded mill bombs and three others exploded, all from the rear of the building. One explosive was made from the box of a cart wheel packed with gelignite and would have caused considerable damage to the barracks if used. During the attack a car arrived with a landmine that was intended to be used however as the attack had already commenced they could not get close to put it into position. On the night a young man, who had been held up by the attackers on his way to the fair in Enniscorthy, later estimated about 300 men were engaged in the attack with 11 motor cars involved and others arriving on bike. The police estimated 150 to 200 men were involved.
The reason for the failure to capture the barracks can be attributed primarily to the failure of many of the tailer bombs to explode. This denied the attackers the opportunity to cause any real destruction to the barracks; the initial plan had been to throw flaming bottles and other explosive devices through holes made in the roof by the tailer bombs. The resilience of the police to surrender also impacted the result as the attackers knew the assault was not sustainable in the long run due to a limited ammunition supply and the threat of reinforcements arriving.
An interesting twist of faith surrounds the attack on Clonroche Barracks as initially it was not originally supposed to be attacked in the first place; Patrick Ronan (WS#1157) wrote that in the summer of 1920 Ferns RIC Barracks; was the original target. However …’ just before it was to take place, one of the Volunteers told his girl he could not meet her on Sunday night as he was going to Ferns to take part in an attack on the Barracks there. So she told it to others and the attack had to be abandoned. Clonroche Barracks were attacked instead and all the bombs were used in the attack.
The Site Today
Unfortunately today there are no contemporary features associated with the attack remaining . The barracks was demolished in the 1970’s to facilitate the construction of the present day Garda station and accompanying residence. The area directly opposite, where the attackers would have sought cover, has been redeveloped.
‘A Cork Accent in Clonroche as Barracks Attacked’ by Tom McDonald in The Past: The Organ of the Uí Cinsealaigh Historical Society , No. 32 (2016), pp.126-141
Bureau of Military History Withness Statement:John Carroll #1258
On Saturday the 2nd of July 1921 Ferns police barracks was attacked by members of the North Wexford Brigade flying Column, aided by the Ferns and Kilthomas companies. The column numbered twenty five men, while the Ferns and Kithomas companies combined totaled about fifteen. They surrounded and opened fire on the building, which was occupied by a mixed garrison of both Royal Irish Constabulary (R.I.C) and Black and Tans at the time, numbering between twenty and twenty four men total.
Nothing remains of the R.I.C barracks today. It was demolished sometime in the mid to late 20th century with the area utilized for use as the new church car park. Unfortunately a single photo of the entire building could not be found, but glimpses of the barracks exist in several others. The building functioned as a police station since at least the 1830’s, being marked on the first edition ordinance survey maps from the period. In the 1911 census buildings return it is marked as being constructed of concrete, brick or stone (most likely the latter of the three) with a slate roof and having 5 to 6 rooms. Outside a single stable and a store are also recorded. The building was rented from a Richard Donovan, whom was a prominent landowner in the area.
Due to the increase in attacks on police barracks during the war of independence many were modified for better defense. Both Joseph Kileen and James O’ Toole give good descriptions of the building prior to the attack, pointing to some of the newly added defensive features. The following is a summary description of the details provided by both; The barracks was a strongly built two storey building with a valley roof which was covered by a cage of strong netting wire. (This was done to prevent the attackers from throwing bombs onto the roof, something which had been done on attacks of other barracks in Wexford. The initial explosion would create a hole in the roof, into which grenades and other bombs could be thrown, onto the garrison inside.)
It was located a short distance back from the footpath, with a low wall in front and was surrounded by a hedged in garden on both sides and to the rear. All windows had steel shutters with loopholes, allowing those inside the barracks to aim out but making it difficult for any attacker attempting to shoot in. There was a front door with windows on either side and upstairs while each gable had a ‘single small’ window. Two windows existed at the rear of the building upstairs and there was a rear entrance also. It was noted this back door was the one used by the police, possibly because the front entrance was more open and exposed to attack i.e. from a moving car or neighboring building.
James O Toole from Clonee was in charge of the attack. A Lieutenant in the Column, he had been left in charge while the commanding officer (O.C.), Myles Breen and vice O.C. Paddy Kenny were attending a brigade council meeting. Prior to the attack the Ferns company cut telephone wires to the barracks, set up outposts on all approach roads into the village (to alert them to any enemy movement) and blocked roads . This was to have the effect of delaying or impeding the arrival of any reinforcements to the barracks. James organised his men into four sections, seven in each and positioned them to attack the barracks from the front, rear and two sides (See map with positions marked A to D.). James, together with three others, occupied the building opposite the barracks to attack it from the front (Position C: now the courtyard bar and restaurant). He placed three other men behind a ‘dead wall’ to the right of this building (Position B: now the entrance to rosemary heights between the courtyard and Garda station).
Thomas Francis Meagher, a member of the flying column, describes in his witness statement how himself and others were assigned to a section that was to attack the eastern side of the barracks from behind Haughtons Corner (Position E on map). Here they hide behind a wall 8ft high. It had been organised prior to the attack for planks to be set on barrels so the men could see over it.
There are no accounts to indicate the position of the men who attacked the rear and western gable of the barracks but by studying the available sources, combined with a site survey, likely positions can be suggested. A field boundary, possibly a ditch or field wall, is depicted to the south of the barracks on the ordinance survey map. From here (position D on map) the section would have had a clear view and line of fire on the rear of the barracks while having some cover against any responsive fire from the garrison.
The position to attack the western side of the barracks was likely from behind the schools western boundary wall (location A on map). Here the attackers had a line of sight and cover against. A position elsewhere along the street would have been too open and exposed.
It was arranged to commence the attack at 2 A.M when the church bell rang. A mine was placed to one side of the barracks and upon the sound of the bell the column opened fire. The mine failed to go off, but the attack continued. James in his witness statement states that ‘The garrison (inside the barracks) replied, but their firing was not accurate’. The darkness of the night combined with the disorientating sound of gunfire would have made it difficult to pinpoint the location of the men outside. To counteract this problem the police sent up Verey lights (Flares) continuously up the chimney, to help illuminate the darkness. Contemporary newspaper accounts of the attack state ‘The firing was very intense while it lasted and people living in the vicinity of the barracks were terrified as to the result’ (Enniscorthy Guardian, 9th of July 1921). Their are contrasting accounts as to how long the attack lasted; newspaper reports from state the firing ceased after ten minutes while James O Toole in his witness statements states they withdrew after about one hour.
Their were no casualties recorded on either side following the attack, however there was a near miss as the Enniscorthy Guardian reports how in one of the houses opposite the barracks ‘One of the bullets pierced the thatched roof of his (the owners) house and struck the wall of his bedroom.’ Little damage is reported on the barracks while some panes of glass had been broken in the houses opposite ‘as if by the firing of a hand grenade’. Thomas Meagher in his withness statement states that ‘The rank and file did not agree with the order to withdraw but, of course, we had to obey orders.’
The site today
No remains exist of the barracks today and the much of the contemporary streetscape which formed part of the attack have been removed including the ‘dead wall’ which was located at what is now the entrance to rosemary heights, as is the wall at haughtons corner, the field boundary to the south of the barracks and the western boundary wall of the school. Some extant features exist; the post office (now a Garda station), the building opposite (the courtyard) and the school house. During the survey a single bullet hole was noted in the granite sill of the most northerly window on the eastern side of the school building. This maybe a result of a shot fired, originating from inside the barracks, intended for those attacking its western gable.
Bureau of Military History Withness Statement: Thomas Francis Meagher (IRA), Enniscorthy, Co.Wexford. #1156
Bureau of Military History Withness Statement: James O’ Toole (IRA), Gorey, Co.Wexford. #1084
Enniscorthy Guardian Newspaper , 9th July 1921
The Irish Times Newspaper, 4th July 1921
Credit: Thank you to Ferns Heritage Archive Group for permission to use photographs.
Cover Photo: Image of Ferns Main Street looking up towards castle with barracks on the left and what would later be the courtyard pub and resturaunt on the right.
The old masonry bridge which spans the river Slaney at Scarawalsh was built in 1790 by the two Oriel brothers from Hampshire, England, who were also responsible for the construction of Enniscorthy Bridge in 1775. There had been a crossing point over the Slaney at Scarawalsh prior to the construction of the current bridge; a wooden bridge is recorded to have been swept away by floods in 1787 and a map from 1714 indicates a ferry service there. A new bridge opened in 1976 just downstream, replacing it as the main crossing point over the river Slaney at Scarawalsh.
During the war of Independence an attempt was made to blow up the bridge in the early hours of Tuesday morning the 2nd of July 1921. The Enniscorthy guardian gives the following account.
An attempt was made to blow up the bridge at Scarawalsh in the early hours of Tuesday morning. The bridge which spans the river Slaney, and is on the main road to Newtownbarry from Enniscorthy is situated about three miles from the latter place. As far as could be ascertained between the hours of one and two o’clock on Tuesday morning the people in the vicinity were awakened by the noise of a very loud explosion. The violence of it shook houses in the neighbourhood and the noise was heard in Enniscorthy. Various theories were conjectured as to its effect and the loud report of the explosion led people to believe that whatever occurred, whether by accident or design, nothing could withstand its fierceness. The cause was discovered on Tuesday morning when it was ascertained that an attempt had been made to destroy the bridge. It was however ineffectual. The only damage done as far as could be ascertained from a cursory glance was that a slight hole was caused in the crown of the bridge. Whether the arches of the bridge, which is supported by three substantial ones, remain uninjured will be for the experts to ascertain. The Ferns police were early on the scene, but no attempt was made to repair the hole in the structure. This did not prevent cars passing over the bridge, there being sufficient room on both sides of the bridge to enable its crossing. Very many cars however, those of the large type, were unable to cross it, and were complelled to return to Enniscorthy and make the journey by the Solsborough road on their way to Newtownbarry and Ferns. Mr. W. F. Barry. County Surveryor, made an examination of he bridge on Tuesday afternoon. (Enniscorhty Guardian, 2nd July 1921)
This was not the first time an attempt was made to damage Scarawalsh bridge. Previously during the 1916 rising an unsuccessful effort occured, likley to disrupt British troops from reaching Enniscorthy. However the bridge was ‘blown up and totally destroyed’ (Freemain Journal 29th Jan 1923) during the Civil War on Saturday the 27th of Janury 1923. The bridge was later repaired and still stands today as an excellent example of a ‘rural’ eighteenth century road bridge.
River Slaney: from sea to source by John Duffy, 2006
Enniscorthy Guardian, 2nd July 1921
Skibbereen Eagle, 13th May 1916
Freemans Journal, 29th January 1923
Cover photo: Scarawalsh Bridge viewed from the south side
During the 1916 Rising county Wexford was one of only several locations outside of Dublin to rise. For nearly a week the Irish Volunteers controlled Enniscorthy Town, with Ferns Village also occupied. However, this success was short lived and after the surrender of forces in Dublin, the rising in Wexford also came to an end. Arrests followed with many Wexford men imprisoned and sent to internment camps in Frongoch internment camp in Wales. Although initially the rising proved unpopular, public opinion changed after the execution of the its leaders in Dublin. Consequently, when the Wexford volunteers arrived home in 1917 they were received as heroes.
The volunteers began to organise under the Sinn Fein banner, advocating for an Independent Republic. Helped by their stance against the introduction of conscription into Ireland during the war Sinn Fein won a landslide victory in the 1918 election with 73 seats out of 105. Those new elected abstained from Westminister Parliament and set up their own named ‘Dail Eireann’. On the same day the first shots of the War of Independence were fired when two police officers were shot dead in an ambush at Soloheadbeg in Tipperary by the military wing of Dail Eireann the ‘Irish Republican Army’ (IRA). Over time attacks on the police increased to the point that their position was untenable in many location throughout the country. In early 1920 the ‘Black and Tan’s’ arrived in Ireland to support the police. They were made up of volunteers from Britain and Ireland, some of whom had previously fought in the world war. The Auxiliaries arrived later in mid 1920 and was made up of former British army officers. In January 1921 Wexford was placed under Martial Law.
Originally the entire county of Wexford was organised into a single unit but underwent re-organisation during the War of Independence. The county formed part of the Third Eastern division and was divided into two brigades; the North Wexford Brigade and South Wexford Brigade. The territory of the North Wexford Brigade took in part of South Wicklow. Each Brigade was made up of four Battalions which in turn was made up of various companies. In July 1921 the combined strength of both the North and South Brigades numbered 2, 162 including all ranks (IRA nominal rolls of Wexford, organisation and membership files, avaliable at militaryarchives.ie)
On midnight, Saturday the 17th of April 1920 the New Ross Standard newspaper reports that people living in the vicinity of Camolin barracks were awoken to the sound of ‘…what appeared to be the noise of a crowbar playing on the cast iron entrance door of the police station.’ A number of men were seen, around the barracks, attempting to gain entry. After about thirty minutes the noise stopped and then, shortly after, the building was ablaze. A ‘…plentiful supply of petroleum oil (petrol)’ had been used in the burning. The fire left the building totally demolished with only the bare walls remaining, together with a small portion of the roof adjoining the western gable. The burning was not sporadic, but instead well planned as up to 30 men are reported to have took part. Scouts kepth guard on the village and the roads leading into Camolin. The group of men is reported to have left by two in the morning. The brigade activity reports state that the camolin company of the IRA were responsible for the burning.
The burning of Camolin barracks was only one of many that were destroyed during 1920. Others, including Camolin, had been vacated the previous year with police officers transferred to more urban barracks like Gorey as many rural stations were considered vulnerable to attack. Michael Kirwan, a member of the north Wexford IRA, states in his witness statement that general headquarters had called for the burning of all abandoned barracks in the Brigade (north Wexford) area. This tactic was to deny the authorities any opportunity to reoccupy the buidings while also sending out a message of defiance at the same time. The barracks was located on the Ferns side of Camolin where there is a slight bend in the road. This location, on the bend, ensured a vantage point in both direction towards Gorey and Ferns. It was a two story, presumably stone built building whose construction would have offered some comfort in an attack. Sometime later it was repaired as it now serves as a private residence.
New Ross Standard April 23rd 1920
Michael Kirwan IRA withness statement #1175
Blog Image: This is a picture of the barracks as it looks today and is a private residence. Image taken from google street view.
Throughout the War of Independence in Ireland numerous country mansions were destroyed. These were known locally as ‘the big house’, home to the aristocracy and landed gentry. Although sometimes these buildings evoke stories of famine and evictions, they form an important part of our heritage, each having a story to tell, which is worth preserving. County Wexford saw the destruction of some of it’s big houses during the period with the first being ‘Ballyrankin House’ situated beside the river Slaney, three miles from the market town of Bunclody.
Ballyrankin house consisted of a ‘fine classical, late-Georgian, two storey over basement house with three wide bays, and a lower, northern, two bay extension backing onto an enclosed yard’. The house was constructed around 1840, then associated with the Devereux family. In 1910 it came into the possession of Walter Clarmount Skrine of Warleigh Manor, Somerset, husband of the poet Agnes Skrine, aka Marie O’ Neill. Their daughter was the famous novelist Molly Keane, whom for a period used the name MJ. Farrel. The house was situated a distance back from the Ferns to Clohamon road with two entrances, each having a gate lodge. The grounds contained many mature trees as well as a walled garden, stables and other farm outhouses.
Destruction of the house
The newspapers from the time report that on Thursday night the 8th of July 1921 a group of 20 armed and masked men entered the house and ordered it’s occupiers into a room, where they were kept under guard. Two maids who were also present in the house, were ordered to leave. Then the building and its furniture was sprinkled with petrol and set alight. Sally Phipps (Molly Keane’s daughter) in writing a biography of her mother (Molly Keane: A life) gives an account of that night
‘Molly was in her last days at the French School when Ballyrankin was burned. The insurgents came on a summer night. Her mother told her that the air smelled of clover and smoke. At first Nesta thought they had come to assassinate her English husband and she pleaded for his life. They were ordered into the study while furniture was piled up in the hall and petrol poured over it. Then they were taken outside by armed men. Walter defended his property so vigorously that one of the raiders said to him, ‘please steady yourself, Captain, or we will have to shoot you’. He replied, ‘I would rather be shot in Ireland than live in England’, an answer that was much quoted afterwards. A dry east wind fanned the flames and the house burned fast. Armchairs were politely brought for them to absorb the shock sitting down, but they preferred to lean against the newly made haycocks as they watched their home blaze. The bravado, the courage, the politeness made no difference. A beautiful eighteenth century house went up in flames.’
The Kilmyshall, Ballycarney and part of the Marshalstown IRA companies are reported to have been in attendance that night. Some of those involved may have been familiar with Ballyrankin previously as it was raided by the Kilmyshall company in 1919 searching for arms. After the burning of the house that night the Skrines walked the three miles into Bunclody town.
Newspaper reports tell us that sometime later Walter Skreen applied to the local district council for compensation for the loss of the house, furniture, wearing apparel, jewelry and other contents, together with the contents of the adjoining out offices, totaling £40,000. The Freemas Journal reports in October of 1921 that he was awarded the lesser sum of £14,250 for the burning of the house and £6000 for contents. No attempt was made to reconstruct Ballyrankin House and Walter and his wife purchased a neighboring residence, naming it ‘New Ballyrankin’.
The ruins of Ballyrankin house still stand to this day. Much of the plaster has fallen from the walls revealing the brick beneath. Fine ornamental work can be seen around the windows and cut stone at the front front entrance.
One feature which was noticed upon visiting the house inside was the charred black remains of the timbers protruding from the walls, physical reminders of the destructive fire. Although the house is a ruin what remains is significant enough to give the impression of a what once was a fine mansion or a ‘big house’.
Reason for its destruction
The activity reports of the North Wexford Brigade IRA state that the burning of Ballyrankin house was done ‘as a reprisal for the burning of Doyle’s of Cromogue, which occurred shortly after the shooting of the spies Skelton Brothers’. The burning of Doyle’s is reported in the Irish Times on the 19th of February 1921. It tells how on Wednesday night, the 16th of February 1921, a group of armed and masked raiders set alight the thatched home of Margaret Doyle, who lived there with her niece, who ran an Irish language school from an adjoining building. Both women and three small children were ordered out of the house and it together with the school and their contents went up in flames. Cocks of Hay were also set alight. The raiders then proceeded to the neighboring townland of Cloneybyrne, targeting the residence of a Mrs Murphy. There they broke windows and dragged furniture and other contents of the house outside before setting them alight. A haggard full with hay and straw was also torched.
Although not stated in the papers it is possible the burning of both Doyles and Murphys may have been undertaken by the ‘Black and Tans’ or people connected to the authorities. Thomas Meagher, who was a member of the North Wexford Flying Column, tells how after an attempted ambush on an enemy supply lorry himself and other members of the flying column, ‘retired to Cromogue and remained there for a few days’. This suggests there was a possible safe house (or houses) in the townland, perhaps Doyles or Murphys. Any such safe house or home lending support to the IRA would have been a target for the British authorities while the burning of an Irish Language school was probably an added bonus also.
Houses of Wexford, 2016 by David Rowe & Eithne Scallan, Ballinakella Press
North Wexford Brigade Activity Reports avaliable @ militaryarchives.ie
Molly Keane: A Life, 2016 by Sally Phipps, Virago
The Newross Standard Newspaper, Page 8, 15.08.1921
Nationalist and Leinster Times 1883-current, 16.07.1921, page 5
Freemans Journal 09/07/1921, page 5
The Irish Times 19/02/1921
Thomas Francis Meagher, Bureau of Military History witness statement #1156
Please note that the ruins of Ballyrankin House are situated on private property and permission is required to visit.
Acknowledgement. Thank you to the landowner for providing me with permission to visit and photograph the ruins
In late April 1918 a car containing ‘several hundred pounds of gelignite explosives’ together with detonators, was travelling from Wexford town to Bunclody. The consignment was destined for Ryland quarry to be used for rock blasting operations. Four men occupied the car;
Mr. James Sinnott (Owner & Driver)
Mr. W.F. Barry (County Surveyor)
Mr. Thomas Treanor (Assistant County Surveyor)
Mr. Wm. Murphy (quarry overseer for the council)
Shortly after 12pm passing through Tombrick, the car was stopped by a group of four men, armed with revolvers and their faces partially covered by handkerchiefs. Mr. Thomas Treanor, had informed the local I.R.A HQ of the planned explosives delivery and subsequently provided them with an opportunity to obtain an important resource. The occupants of the car were ordered to dismount and proceed to Tombrick Wood, where they were kept under guard by two of the masked individuals. Meanwhile, the other two masked culprits made away in the car with the explosives, returning somtime later. Upon their arrival back the car was returned to its owner, Mr. Sinnott , who previously had expressed his concern to the raiders, as the vehicle was his livelihood. The masked men then made their escape on bicycles which had been previously placed. Accounts tell how the explosives were hidden in a tomb at Ballybrennan graveyard, 26km south of Tombrick and to the south-west of Enniscorthy Town. They would later be utilized to manufacture bombs. This is one of the earliest activities undertaken by the I.R.A in the county Wexford.
There are 3 factors to help determine the location of this event. Firstly, it took place in Tombrick. Second, that they were held in ‘Tombrick Wood’ and third that this wood ‘adjoins the road’. The most obvious location is along the road running through ‘Tombrack Wood’. However, this would not have been the primary route between Wexford and Bunclody. Instead that would have been following the route of the modern N80. Noticeably a small wood does exist in Tombrick along this primary route and could be considered the ‘Tombrick wood’ where the men were held. Whichever of the two maybe correct this event was a well planned operation where the men knew the surrounding area and utilized it to perform this ambush.
A year later in 1919 the explosives would be resurrected from the tomb, but were found to be frozen. Interestingly, the fixture for this was thawing, or cooking the gelignite on hot iron plates over an open fire! One of the cooks Joe O’ Brien, a tailor from the Duffry Gate, Enniscorthy, apparently suffered from headaches 35 years on, caused by the fumes of the nitro-glycerin. This particular catch of gelignite was found by some to be ‘undependable’ when used in later operations, perhaps because it was frozen or later ‘cooked’! The list below contains the names of the men who captured the explosives
Newspaper: The New Ross Standard, Friday 26th April 1918 ‘A Daring Act’ Page 4
Bureau of Military History Withness Statement: Sean Whelan (IRA), St. Senan’s Enniscorthy, Co.Wexford. Document #1294, P13
Bureau of Military History Withness Statement: Michael O Ciardubhain (Kirwan) (IRA), Enniscorthy, Co.Wexford. Document #1175, P8
Note: The image used in the introduction for this post shows a Dublin Metropolitan Police Officer and car not associated with the event and was used purely for illustrative purposes
In spring 1918, prior to the War of Independence, what maybe considered, the ‘first attempted IRA ambush in Wexford’, occurred in the townland of Dunanore, between Bree and Enniscorthy. The ambush was planned for a party of R.I.C police vacating Galbally Barracks and whom were being driven to Enniscorthy in a ‘long car’.
Twenty three men, armed with ‘shotguns and small arms’, lay in wait along a stretch of road referred to as ‘the Dungeon Road’. This was described as ‘very dark and overhung with rocks with the river Boro on the other side’. After waiting for several hours word arrived that the police had travelled another road and subsequently missed the awaiting ambush. Michael Kirwan in his witness statement was under the impression that the police may have uncovered news of their plans and decided to travel a different route.
Despite the lack of any physical engagement the ambush site is worth studying. Based on the previous given description of the ‘Dungeon road’ a stretch (of road) south of the river Boro between Ballynapierce Bridge and Victoria Bridge can be identified as the probable IRA position (See map). At this point on the map the road becomes enclosed; flanked by the rover Boro on the north and overhanging rock on the south, which would have given the ambush party the higher ground over the police. Additionally, any vehicles approaching this location coming west, from Galbally, would have had to first round a bend in the road, therefore causing a delayed view of any potential dangers ahead. It would have provided an element of surprise for the IRA. The site has changed little today and passing through, over 100 years since the time of the event, you can still get a sense of why those men chose this location.
Sources: Bureau of Military History Withness Statement,Michael Kirwan (IRA), Enniscorthy, Co.Wexford. #1175