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The War of Independence in West Clare by Rita Marrinan
 

1918-1919: The Beginning of the War in West Clare

By October 1918 the military were taking definite steps to establish a base in Ennistymon. The Clare Champion of Saturday October 12th carried a report which stated “The military authorities have decided to take over the entire workhouse of Ennistymon for winter quarters for troops”.[3] The Ennistymon guardians adopted a resolution objecting to the takeover as the removal of the hospital would mean severe hardship for people living in the surrounding area. The reasons for objecting were to be laid before the officer in command in Lahinch but it appears that this did not delay the procedure very long because on October 26th the Clare Champion again reported that the workhouse had been taken over and some of the inmates were transferred to Kilrush. It was expected that this would trigger off a series of reprisals, but this was not the case and no incidents are reported until almost a year later. By this time the fight had really begun and for the next two years atrocities were continually carried out by both the Irish Volunteers and the British police, military and Black and Tans.

Derrymore is a townland approximately four miles from Ennistymon and the same distance from Inagh. As a result of agrarian trouble some years before the war, a man named Kildare had been murdered, and consequently the R.I.C. built a hut in the area. A sergeant, a constable and a number of other police went into occupation to try to identify the murderer. Their attempts, however, were unsuccessful and because of this they lost the confidence of the local people.

Sergeant O’Riordan and Constable Murphy did their rounds of duty on bicycles and their movements were carefully watched by the local I.R.A. members in the Lavareen Company area. It had been noted that the men got off their bicycles at the bottom of the hill near “Curtin’s Gate” and it was here the ambush party, which consisted of Martin Devitt, John Joe Neylon, Jackie and Micko McGuane and Mickey and Tom Kelleher, lay in wait. After getting off their bicycles, as the party had hoped, the sergeant took the lead and his comrade followed at a distance of about one hundred yards. When the sergeant reached Curtin’s Gate he was rushed on and overpowered. This had been the signal to attack the constable, whose rifle was slung over his shoulder in the usual way. Because of his surprise the constable fell across the bicycle and his shoulder strap became entangled in the handlebars and had to be cut by the I.R.A. in order to get the rifle. The ambushing party then dispersed delighted with their success as this had been their first attempt to disarm R.I.C. in the area. The two policemen departed, shocked and swearing vengeance but glad to have escaped with their lives. A house search was carried out and locals, including some of the men who took part, were questioned but no information was given.[4]

Following the success of this ambush another one was planned for August 4th of the same year. However, this time the policemen put up a fight and both were shot dead. This ambush occurred at a place called “81 Cross” which is about three and a half miles from Ennistymon and only three quarters of a mile from the hut in Derrymore. The policemen were returning from Ennistymon to the hut at about eleven fifteen p.m. when they were fired on from behind a ditch. They were not wounded by the first volley of shots and the Sergeant drew his revolver and fired on a man he saw in the ditch. The shooting continued and Constable Michael Murphy was shot dead. Sergeant John O’Riordan was wounded and died shortly afterwards. Ten empty cases and one “live bullet” were found at the scene when it was later searched by police and military who also searched local houses and questioned locals but again were unsuccessful in obtaining information and were unable to arrest anybody.

Constable Murphy was a native of County Leitrim and aged nineteen years. He had been stationed in the area for only a few months. He had a presentiment of danger and some time before the incident he wrote to his father expressing his fear and anxiety at being stationed in Clare. His father had replied saying he need not fear because he (the father) had spent a number of years in Clare and some of his friends were Claremen. It was this letter that was found on Constable Murphy when he was shot.

Sergeant O’Riordan was a native of Macroom, Co. Cork and forty three years of age. He had been stationed in Derrymore for several years prior to the incident. He was a widower and had no family. He died in Ennistymon Union hospital on the evening after the ambush. After a post mortem the body was taken to Ennistymon Roman Catholic Church and on the following day it was conveyed to Macroom where internment took place.

On Tuesday 5th an inquest was held on the body of Constable Murphy at Derrymore police hut. Residents of the district formed the jury. The verdict returned was as follows:- “Constable Michael John Murphy was murdered at Ballyvraneen (“81 Cross”) on the night of August 4th 1919 by rifle shots fired by some person or persons unknown.” The jury also found that Sergeant John O’Riordan died at Ennistymon hospital on August 5th, “according to medical evidence, from the effects of bullet wounds inflicted by some person or persons unknown”.[5]

The Chief Secretary at that time telephoned the acting County Inspector. His message was as follows:- “The deepest sympathy of the Irish Government with the relatives of Constable Murphy who was brutally murdered in the loyal and courageous discharge of his duty.” He also sent a message of sympathy to Sergeant O’Riordan’s friends. As a punishment, fairs and markets were prohibited in the area for some time after the shootings.

Locals were shocked at the tragedy and clergy from all surrounding areas deplored them. At Lahinch Mass on the following Sunday, Reverend Fr. Mullins asked the congregation did it not make them hang their heads in shame to think that “in the most Catholic county in Ireland such a brutal deed could be committed”.[6] He appealed to the young men of the area not to bind themselves in any way that might lead them to such sinful crime.

At Ennistymon Mass on the same day, Reverend Fr. Nestor V.G. having read a letter from the Bishop of Galway, Bishop O’Dea, condemning the murders said “I wish on your behalf and my own to add the expression of our horror at this shocking crime which has cast such gloom over our parish. As Christians and Irishmen we denounce this awful deed for we know that even the mere whisper of approval of murder would be a grave sin against the Almighty God and a crime against our dear country”.[7] The Ennistymon Petty Sessions were held on August 13th and Mr. G.H. Mercer R.M. as chairman adjourned as a mark of respect after passing the following resolution. “We the magistrates assembled at Ennistymon Petty Sessions desire to place on record, our abhorrence…and we desire to convey……our respectful and heart-felt sympathy…..and we also desire to express our admiration of the steadfastness and courage displayed by the R.I.C…..at the present time in this country”.[8]

If the people of Ennistymon were shocked by the tragedy of the two policemen, an even bigger tragedy was to occur in the area only ten days later when a fifteen year old Sinn Fein Boy Scout was shot dead while reading a book by the fireside at his home in Glann on August 14th, 1919. At an inquest his father told of how the family had retired to bed on the night of the 14th at about 10.20 p.m. while Francis remained in the kitchen reading a book. At about 12.30 a.m. he was awakened by the sound of shots and falling of mortar in his own room. Another shot was fired and then he saw a flash going through the partition. As he went into the kitchen, he found his son lying in a pool of blood but he could see nobody about. After receiving evidence of some locals including Pete Connole, a night watchman for the West Clare Railway, the jury concluded that the murder was carried out by the military as revenge for the shooting of the two policemen and passed the following verdict: “Francis Murphy, of Glann, Ennistymon was unlawfully and wilfully murdered…..by a bullet unlawfully and wilfully fired by members of the military…….which caused immediate death".[9]

Again there was widespread condemnation of the murder from all sides - not least of which was the English paper the Daily Mail which read as follows: “Such a use of troops is of course evidence against Dublin Castle, or whatever force controls it, rather than against the local command of the army of occupation”.[10] Referring to the verdict of the jury which found the military guilty it continued: “The conduct of the army on that occasion was certainly so unintelligent as to cast grave doubt on the general competence of the command”.

At Ennistymon Mass on the following Friday, Rev. M. Mullins C.C. referred to “the brutal and savage murder” which took place in the parish and said it was a murder that “cried to heaven for vengeance”. He appealed to people to organise and strengthen themselves and “turning to the women in the church he urged them to pray on that the feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary that the hearts of those men responsible for such a fearful deed might be softened”.[11] Rev. Fr. Nestor, P.P. V.G. also strongly condemned the murder at a later Mass that day. The Ennistymon Board of Guardians also expressed their shock and horror at the murder and extended a message of sympathy to the deceased boy’s family and the meeting adjourned as a mark of respect.

 

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Attack on Miltown Malbay