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The War of Independence in West Clare by Rita Marrinan
 

A Review of the War

The most noticeable feature of this War, and probably that which distinguished it from previous risings, rebellions and wars is that the men first established a Republic and a Government and then fought for its preservation rather than for the freedom to establish such a Republic. In Rineen as Commandant Ignatius O’Neill gave his final talk with the men before the ambush, he addressed them as “soldiers of the Republic”. Again at the inquest on the death of Martin Devitt killed in an ambush at Crowe’s Bridge, the jury - composed of local residents - passed the verdict that he died from a bullet wound received while “fighting for the freedom of his country”,[47] he being a member of the I.R.A. The determination of the men in proving that it was “their” country can be seen once more in mid-September, 1920, when, during a South of Ireland Golf Championship [at Lahinch], a group of them removed the existing flag – which was that of the Black Watch, from the staff, stamped on it and burned it and replaced it with the Tri-colour which had been made by Miss O’Dwyer who owned a drapery shop in Main Street, Lahinch. This was the first time the national Flag was hoisted over the club which was established since 1892. However, the military promptly removed it, hoisted another Black Watch Flag and returned to the barrack confident that this was the end of the problem. But they were wrong, because the I.R.A. soon returned and hoisted another Tri-colour. The military returned once more but this time took a saw with them to cut the Flag Staff because they realised it was the only way of preventing the Tri-colour from being flown over the Club. Needless to say, all attention was not directed towards the final of the “South of Ireland” on that day. Further proof of the men’s determination in protecting “their” country can be found in the authority they exerted with regard to censoring mail. On many occasions they raided the West Clare train, removed the mail, read it and if nothing suspicious was found they returned it some days later having marked the letters “censored”.

Another noticeable feature of the War in West Clare is that most of the men appear to have been aged between twenty and thirty and were very temperate in their drinking habits. Very few of the men took alcoholic drink and even in Rineen before the ambush it was minerals the men drank. Martin Devitt died in the ambush at Crowe’s Bridge at the age of thirty one while Pake Lehane who died in Lahinch in the Rineen aftermath was twenty nine. All Pake’s younger brothers also fought in the war. Michael Conway who was killed on the Ennistymon Bridge was only twenty one. There were, of course, many younger boys who joined the Sinn Fein Boy Scouts. One was Francis Murphy of Glann who was shot by the fireside in his home, at the young age of fourteen, by Crown Forces simply because he was a member of that organisation. Whatever of the age of those involved one thing certain is that they had very limited supply of arms and those they had were in very poor repair. At the beginning of the Rineen ambush, they had only sixteen shotguns, “In these the ejectors were defective and the vast majority were without centre pieces, with the result that the stocks were held on to the barrels by pieces of strong cord."[48] By the time the second phase of the ambush began, they had only eleven rifles, all of which had been obtained in the first phase. This shortage of arms was probably a major factor in deciding on the frequent attacks on Crown Forces both on R.I.C. and Barracks and Black and Tan lorries.

The Crown Forces and in particular the Black and Tans have often been accused of being very cruel and this was true in very many cases. For instance Mr. Connole was murdered in Ennistymon in front of his wife and children and then burned in his home. They did, however, show mercy at times. If the burning of Lahinch after the Rineen ambush is an example of their ferocity it is also an example of an occasion when they showed that they were human. They did not burn the Marine Hotel after Miss Collins pleaded with them that it was entirely occupied by women and children. It is also probably true that the Crown Forces had little regard for religion. On one occasion they fired shots into the congregation as it was leaving the Moymore Church. Also, during the trial of the two Mullagh priests, it transpired that the church had been attacked on many occasions and the tabernacle destroyed during one such attack.

Clergy, for the most part, appear to have been impartial and all murders were condemned in the strongest possible terms. Condemning the Illaunbawn [Derrymore] murders of August 4th 1919, Rev. Fr. Nestor, P.P. Ennistymon said, “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 Almighty God and crime against our dear country."[49] Similarly Fr. Mullins, condemning the murder of Franics Murphy by the military ten days later said “it was a crime which cried to heaven for vengeance” and described it as “a most brutal and savage murder."[50] However we are led to doubt the innocence of all clergy when in 1921, two Mullagh priests are abducted and tried by Court-martial in Limerick. Whether of not they were guilty will probably never be known but they were each sentenced to six months imprisonment.

On July 16th, 1921 the Clare Champion reported that a truce was called and that the leaders were confident that the Irish people would observe it. They certainly did in West Clare and were greatly annoyed when the Crown Forces broke it during the evacuation of Ennistymon barracks in 1922. However, once it had been broken, the I.R.A. were willing to fight back and planned an ambush for the same night. Fortunately, this never took place as the Crown forces left by a back road and so further bloodshed was avoided.

It is true that many lives were lost on both sides but from the nationalist point of view, it was a necessary war and a definite victory.

 


1921: The Final Months of the War


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Notes, Bibliography, Acknowledgements