On the 11th of August 1920 Oylegate R.I.C Barracks was burned by members of the I. R. A. The building had been vacated by the police the previous July. The ‘New Ross Standard’ newspaper reported that ‘Petrol had been used in it and bushes were put into the rooms’ while ‘Nothing remained but the bare walls’ after the fire. Oyelgate was one of many barracks burned during the period to ensure it could not be reoccupied and therefore allow the I.R.A more freedom to operate. As a reprisal a Sinn Fein Hall named ‘Seamus Rafter Hall’, located on Lower Church St. Enniscorthy, was later raided by the Devonshire Regiment; They broke into the hall armed with pickaxes and caused great damage smashing furniture, chairs, tables, and a new billiards table. Written on the hall door was found ‘This is a reprisal for Oylegate Barracks’ and ‘this is not the last’ was also written outside.
Edward Balfe, 28 shannon Hill, Enniscorthy. Bureau of Military History Witness Statement #1373
On Wednesday the 12th of May 1920 the rural police barracks at Galbally was burned. It had already been vacated by the police, like so many other rural barracks, and was one of many burnt in Wexford during the period to deny the authorities of its use and therefore allow the I.R.A more freedom to operate. The barracks had been in operation since about 1840 , being visible on the ordinance survey maps from the time. It was being rented for use by the police and the owner was awarded £500 compensation by the courts for its destruction. Later the building was repaired and today is a private residence.
The Irish Times, 14th May 1920
The Irish Times, 7th July 1920
North Wexford Brigade Activity Files
Bureau of Military History Witness Statement #1373
On Wednesday night the 12th of May 1920 the R.I.C barracks in Killanne was burned by the I.R.A. The building occupied one corner of the crossroads in Killanne and had been in use as a barracks since at least 1840, being visible on the ordinance survey maps from the period. There are conflicting accounts as to whether the police had vacated the barracks prior to it being set ablaze; Edward Balfe in his witness statement says it, together with several other barracks that were burned around that time, had been vacated and the police stationed elsewhere, while a newspaper article regarding compensation awarded for the damage states that it was occupied. Considering its rural location the barrack was likely already vacant or perhaps at the very most was only occupied intermittently. It was one of many burned during the period on orders from general headquarters in Dublin to deny the British of their use while also making a statement against British rule.
The newspaper reported that there was evidence of efforts to break in the front door, which proved unsuccessful, but entry was eventually gained by breaking in the back door instead. A constable Sullivan, who visited the site the following morning, stated that the barrack was ‘entirely destroyed’. Mr. Blacke, the proprietor, rented the building to the police for use as a barracks and was awarded £340 compensation for damages, after attempting to claim £530. The building was later repaired by a tradesman named Michael O’ Neill whom reared his family there until he was bought out by the Department of Justice and was made a Garda Station in 1925. It remained such until 1977 when it was sold and has been a private residence since.
During the 1916 rising in Wexford the R.I.C vacated the barracks and fled to Bunclody after hearing of the activity in Enniscorthy.
Edward Balfe, Enniscorthy, Bureau of Military History Witness Statement #1373
In May 1920 the barrack in Blackwater village was set on fire and burned. The building, which was later repaired and is today used as a private residence, is located on the southern end of the village. It had been in use as a police barracks since at least 1839, being visible on the ordinance survey maps from that period. It was an imposing two story building which would have been very noticeable on the approach into Blackwater. The barracks was unoccupied at the time of the burning, having being vacated earlier like so many other rural barracks with the officers assigned to others in more urban settings which were easier to defend. It was one of many barracks burned in Wexford that month with the aim of denying the British authorities of its use as a base in the area. It was reported that a number of people in the village attempted to extinguish the blaze as it was feared it was going to spread to neighboring buildings. By the time they succeeded however the barracks was totally destroyed.
North Wexford Brigade Activity Files
Wexford People, ‘Many Police Barracked Burned in the Troubles’ 29th December 1999,
In his witness statement to the Bearu of Military History Sean Whelan recalls an I.R.A ambush on police officers, cycling back from Enniscorthy towards Clonroche, at red Pat’s Cross. The event took place on Saturday the 13th of June 1920. On that morning three volunteers by the names of Joe McMahon, Tom Roche and Frank Gibbons called to number 1 Irish Street in Enniscorthy where Sean Whelan had a boot repairing shop. The three had spotted two R.I.C officers enter Ringwoods Barbers in Templeshannon on the opposite side of the town, presumably to get a haircut. They asked Sean, whom was the quartermaster of the ‘North Wexford Brigade’, to give the green light for a hold up. Sean gave the go ahead and placed Joe in charge, handing him his Colt .45 revolver.
Sean gave instructions to bring three others, Michael Kirwan, Matt Lynam and Jem Fitzharris with them. On returning to the barber shop they saw there were several other people inside and decided to call off the hold up for fear of injuring any civilians. It was decided instead to ambush the police on their way back to Clonroche at a place called Red Pat’s Cross.
From studying newspaper reports of the ambush and the account given by Sean Whelan in his statement the location was likely along a stretch of road just after the cross. Here there is a ‘high ditch’, to the left which the attackers hide behind. The New Ross Standard describes how at about 4.30 p.m. three officers were cycling from Enniscorthy back towards Clonroche; Constable Sullivan and Creighton were stationed at Clonroche and making their way back from the station in Enniscorthy while the third, a constable Molloy, decided to join them part of the way. Molloy was unarmed but the others carried revolvers. Accounts differ as to what happened next. The New Ross standard reports that the police were confronted from behind the ditch and told ‘hands up’. They ignored this believing it to be a joke, until they were fired upon in which they case they quickly dismounted their bikes and made for the safety of the ditch opposite to that of the attackers. In contrast Sean Whelan’s statement describes how as the volunteers were moving into position one of their revolvers accidentally went off as the police were approaching and upon hearing they went for cover.
Following whatever the circumstances which began the event a firefight broke out between the police and I.R.A volunteers with only the road separating them. They took cover behind the ditches and newspaper reported that the police ‘discharged all the chambers of their revolvers’ in the direction of the attackers. After dispelling all of their ammunition the volunteers decided to retreat back and the police reported mounting the ditch and seeing several men making their escape. The police reported that at least 20 shots were fired at them while witnesses at the nearby golf links reported hearing only 13 shots.
Following the attack there was a large police and military presence that evening. During a search of the area they recovered a lot of webley revolver bullets, likely belonging to the volunteers. They also recovered a new bicycle, again probably belonging to one of the volunteers. Although there were no civilians caught up in the ambush it was reported that a car travelling to New Ross from Enniscorthy heard the gunshots and decided to turn back. Two cyclists travelling the opposite direction did the same also. Sean Whelan says how they were disappointed with the outcome of the attack.
The lack of any rifles or shotguns used in the attack can be attributed to two things. First the sudden nature of the ambush, which allowed for little if any preparation. Second, the fact that in the early stages of the war of independence in Wexford such weapons were in short supply and those which they had were well hidden and could not be got at a moments notice. The site remains much the same as it did in 1920. The location was once quiet rural but this has changed with the construction of houses along the route and at nearby Red Pat’s Cross through the years.
New Ross Standard June 18th 1920.
North Wexford Brigade Activity Files # 10
Sean Whelan, Enniscorthy, Bureau of Military History Witness Statement #1294
During the War of Independence Hook Lighthouse was raided on two separate occasions. The lighthouse was of interest to the I.R.A as it contained large quantities of detonators and an explosive called Tonite which was used to warn ships during fog. It was a white chalk like substance that came in 6 inch lengths with a 5 inch circumference.
The first raid took place on Monday night the 31st of May 1920 with a large quantity of detonators and explosives taken. The lighthouse keepers were said to have offered little resistance and to transport the explosives a car belonging to a priest from coolfancy, Fr. Walsh was used. Interesting it was ‘on lend’ to them for the night. The phone was dismantled before the raiders left and the lighthouse keepers told not to move for two hours. Conscious that the tonite was used for to warn ships the raiders left enough for a 12 hour fog horn. The explosives were then brought back to Antwerp in Enniscorthy for storage. Some of the Tonite was later taken and stored in an unoccupied house at Saltmills used for bomb making. Later in October several men would be killed and injured after an accidental explosion in this house.
The second raid took place on the Friday morning the 24th of September that year. Thirteen men raided the lightouse with 821 ounce charges of guncotton, 2165 detonators and 2 telescopes taken. The I.R.A knew of the existence of the explosives through intelligence gathered. Edward Balde in his witness statement describes the event however there are differences in the accuracy of what was taken compared to that reported in newspapers from above.
‘One Sunday in the afternoon I was spending a few hours on Rosslare Strand and happenedto meet Dr. Ryan with another gentleman named O’Sullivan who, I understand, afterwards was qualified in the same profession. They gave me information concerning Hook Head Lighthouse and the kind of material that would be found there. I passed on the information and the following night, the boys, having secured two lorries, were off to the lighthouse where they took away about 15 cwt. of Tonite and 5000 electric detonators. A large box of this Tonite was sent by rail to Waterford. The box was damaged in transit and the consignee had to gather some of the contents which had fallen out at the Railway Goods Store.(pages 9 & 10)
Belfast News Letter – Monday 27th September 1920
Edward Balfe, Enniscorthy, Bureau of Military History Witness Statement #1373
New Ross Standard – Friday st October 1920
North Wexford Brigade Activity Files
Stewart Whelan, Enniscorthy, Bureau of Military History Witness Statement #1294
The New Ross Standard reported that on midnight, Wednesday the 26th of May 1920, a wealthy protestant farmer named Joseph Y Jeffares and his eldest son aged 20 were taken away from their home in Rochestown Co. Kilkenny (About 4 miles from New Ross) by unknown men . Mr Jeffares had been awoken by a number of men banging on his door and upon asking who was there he was told to get up and open it. He and he son were ordered to get dressed and they were blindfolded and led outside to a waiting motorcar. During the ordeal a younger son of Mr. Jeffares attempted to leave via the rear door but was stopped from doing so. It was reported the intruders wore no masks and others kept guard outside the home.
The incident reported on that night was later retold by Liam O Leary in his witness statement. He says how the operation was undertaken on orders from GHQ in Dublin who were acting on information that the R.I.C officers, who murdered the republican Lord Mayor of Cork Tomas MacCurtain earlier in March of that year, were being harbored there. The murder of MacCurtain sparked an international outcry as he was an elected official and was shot in front of his wife and kids by the R.I.C. Liam says three officers were sent down from Dublin IRA HQ to help in the operation. In contrast Michael Kirwan in his witness statement says there were instead just two, but names them as Frank Thornton and Eamon Fleming. Frank Thornton is known to have been a member of Michael Collin’s intelligence staff.
On the night of the operation Liam describes how between 24 to 30 men set off from Enniscorthy on bicycles in three groups. They cycled to designated meeting points where they met local scouts who knew the area. Liam’s group made their way to a place called Dysart and proceeded to head to the Jeffares home. Once Mr Jeffares and his son were in the car they were then taken to the home of Martin Kelly of Tombrick, Ballycarney and kept there for several days. The Ballycarney Company of the I.R.A kept guard and watch throughout this. The Dublin officers interrogated Mr Jeffares and his son before eventually releasing them on a back road near Camolin.
Two cars were used on the night. The first was obtained from a Dr Kelly, a dispensary doctor in Killanne who when asked is said to have ‘cheerfully’ obliged. Dr kelly provided medical assistance to the I.R.A in wexford on many occasions throughout the war of independence. The second car was got from a Ms M. O’ Neill of Ballingale, who offered to even drive it herself ‘no matter to where’ such was her enthusiasm, but her offer had to be declined and just the car taken instead. Liam mentions that they raided another house and took two people called Sullivan also but no account of this could be found elsewhere.
This operation is a good example of the intelligence gathering capabilities of the I.R.A who were aware that they needed to know their enemy just as well as they knew them. Intelligence played an important role in the war of independence and was crucial in undertaking operations to understand the enemies strength and weaknesses to help keep ahead of them as much as they could.
Liam O Leary, Bureau of Military History witness statement #1276
Michael Kirwan, Bureau of Military History witness statement #1175
Between 10 and 11 o clock on the night of Saturday the 2nd of April 1920 masked men entered the home of Mr. Thomas Parle on School Street in Wexford town. Mr Parle was an income tax collector for the Wexford district at the time. He answered a loud knock on the front door and four men entered the premises and made their intentions clear. Mr Parle, together with his wife, Mrs Maggie Parle and his father Patrick, who was in the house at the time, were told to go into the kitchen. Meanwhile the house and a workshop to the rear of the premises was searched for documents relating to income tax, but nothing was retrieved. Three other men remained outside on lookout during the raid, an indicator that this was a planned event. It was one of many such raids for income tax documents in the county during the period with the intention to cause disruption to British rule in Ireland.
On Saturday night the 2nd of April 1920 the Income Tax Collector Mr. Robert Owen answered the front door to his residence, located on Mill Park Road beside the post office after hearing a knock. Upon opening the door three men attempted to gain entry into the house and a struggle took place between both parties. Three of Mr Owen’s sisters where in the house and were successful in helping to expel the intruders who then fled the scene. A police patrol was approaching the post office at the time and just missed the raiders as they were making their getaway. The only reported damage during the event was a broken pane of glass on the front door. This was one of many raids by the I.R.A in Wexford at the time to destroy income tax records and to cause disruption and deny British rule in the country. This attempt though was unsuccessful.
The residence still exists beside the post office today and has remained much the same since the night of the incident.
On the night of Sunday morning, the 4th of April 1920, Mr. Eugene O Connor whom was an income tax collector, was awoken by three men at his window whom inquired as to if he indeed was the tax collector. He answered that he was, upon which the strangers asked him to hand over his income tax books. He refused and the men tried to gain entry through the window and front door. Mr O Connor, upon seeing that they were armed with revolvers, decided to let them in and he was held at gun point while his wife retrieved the books . A search was made of the house also by the raiders whom interestingly chose not to wear masks.
The raiders were reported to have been well mannered as after getting what they came for apologized to the couple for the late night disturbance and that they had to carryout the mission and that they hoped to ‘meet them at a later date under more favorable circumstances’. They then made their get away in a motor car waiting near the railway station. The operation was a well planned event and involved more then just the three individuals as Mr O’ Connor reported observing other men around the house and street that night, keeping watch while the raiders gained entry into the building. Newspaper reports state that some residents who went outside to see what all the noise was about were ordered back into their homes. Mr O Connor estimated there could have been 20 men involved in the operation.
The raiders were members of the Wexford I.R.A and this was one of many aimed at disrupting the British governments operations and rule in Ireland. The Street remains much the same as it did in 1920