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
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.