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The War of Independence in West Clare by Rita Marrinan
 

A Campaign to Disarm Crown Forces

In response to the Bishop’s plea the area remained peaceful for some time and no further incidents were reported until the I.R.A. embarked on what appeared to be a campaign of obtaining arms and ammunition from the R.I.C. and military. The first attempt at such disarmament was well planned, and took place on July 15th in the house of Mr. Augustine O’Connor and his wife where the military and police got their laundry done. When delivering and collecting their laundry, the military always followed a set pattern of behaviour. The I.R.A. had observed this for some time and noted that four armed and two unarmed privates made the journey each time.[19] Having obtained the information, all that remained to be done was to formulate a plan to lure the men inside the house. It was decided that a dance would be the best plan because, from having observed them, the I.R.A. knew the men would not resist the invitation. While the dance was in progress, Mr. O’Connor and his wife had left the house so as to be completely innocent of any involvement. Once the men entered the house they were set upon by a group of men in a scuffle that lasted about five minutes, the I.R.A. got four rifles and a revolver and made good their escape through the back door. The driver of the lorry, on hearing the commotion fired some shots from his revolver but nobody was injured. The soldiers were, to say the least, mesmerised.[20]

On the following night, the I.R.A. had yet another success in obtaining arms from the military. At about 9.30 p.m. one of the two soldiers on guard at the bridge in Enistymon was disarmed by a civilian. The other soldier fired some shots but the man escaped. The police and military carried out a house to house search in the area and many people were questioned but the rifle was never recovered nor was the guilty man found.

Ironically, these very revolvers and rifles were used on the 17th to gain more ammunition when the West Clare train was held up at Black Hill, Rineen. As the driver was approaching the hill, he noticed that the line was blocked by a barricade of stones and so was forced to stop. Immediately a party of about twenty armed men appeared and surrounded the train. Alarmed passengers were assured no harm would be done to them if they remained calm. The men then went directly to the wagon which contained military stores such as rations, blankets etc. and removed them to two waiting cars. Meanwhile others were busy examining the contents of the mail bags and removed all R.I.C. and military correspondence. This became a regular feature from then on, mails were usually returned after being opened and marked “censored by I.R.A.”. The episode lasted about twenty minutes after which time the men removed the stones and allowed the train to proceed. As usual police and military carried out an extensive search but nobody was arrested. However, on the following Thursday night the premises of Mr. M. Vaughan and Mrs. K. Comber in Lahinch were raided. The police claimed they were looking for a young man who was “on the run” for some time but he was not found in either place.

Because of their success mentioned above, it appears that they decided to continue their campaign of “disarmament” but on their very next attempt on the evening of July 21st, tragedy struck when Michael Conway was killed on the bridge in Ennistymon. Two Privates of the Royal Scots Regiment had come to the town to make enquiries about the recent occurrences there, and as they went over the bridge they were attacked by Michael Conway and some other men who attempted to disarm them. One of the men succeeded in drawing his revolver and, firing at Conway, he shot him dead. Another man, Captain Seamus McMahon was seriously wounded and others received minor injuries. Twelve shots were fired by the two men and none of the civilians were armed. The privates succeeded in retaining their arms.

Dr. P. O’Dwyer was called to the scene and as he gave medical assistance, a messenger was sent for a priest. As he ran towards the church, the messenger met a priest to whom he related the facts. The priest hurried to where Michael Conway lay and administered the last rights. It was only then it was realised that the priest’s name was Fr. John Conway (Michael’s brother) who was on holidays at the time. The remains were taken to Ennistymon Catholic Church that evening and was buried in the Ennistymon graveyard on the following day after being draped in the tri-colour. The inscription on the breast-plate simply read “Michael Conway died 21st June, 1920. Aged 22 years R.I.P.” A floral wreath “presented with the deepest sympathy from the Ennistymon Volunteer Corps” was laid on the coffin.[21]

Michael Conway was unmarried and had worked as a baker for six years prior to his shooting in Ennistymon. He had been a very active member of the Volunteer force and was utterly fearless in his political views. He was a very respected member of the Ennistymon Community, which mourned his death for many months. Bullet marks could be seen on the bridge at Ennistymon for many years after the incident. A plaque has also been erected on the bridge to commemorate his death.

The verdict of the jury at an inquest - that had been delayed until August 2nd due to lack of evidence - was “We find that from statements made by Mr. Hickman, solicitor on behalf of the military and from private information made by the Irish Republic that the said Michael Conway in a daring attempt (he being unarmed) against two officers of the army of occupation, was shot and killed in trying to secure arms from the said officers in or near the bridge at Ennistymon on 21st of July, 1920, and we tender our sincere sympathy to his father and mother and to all the rest of his relations."[22]

Probably suffering from shock and fearing the loss of any more of its members, it appears the campaign died down until September 22nd when an ambush took place at Rineen. The final attempt of 1920 appears to have taken place on October 23rd at Breaffa, Miltown Malbay. Two corporals were attacked and one was injured. As a reprisal, shots were fired into the house of Mr. Lynch, a resident of the area, and he was killed. Quantities of hay belonging to Messer. Talty, Boland and Murray were also burned.

Speaking at Sunday Mass, Rev. J.F. Enright, C.C., after praying for Mr. Lynch, said his death was a reminder that there was little hold on life “though we take part in no political organisations. It is sad to think that this old man (he was 75 years of age) is cut off by an English bullet”. He continued “It is folly to make an attempt to overthrow the power of the British Government. There is no use in using reprisals such as left our unfortunate town almost a heap of ruins”. (This was referring to the destruction of the Crown Forces after the Rineen Ambush in September).[23]

 

Ambush at Crowe’s Bridge
and Attack on Miltown Malbay

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The Rineen Ambush