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|Witness to War 1917 –
1923: Commandant Séamus Hennessy
by Colin Hennessy
From 30th November 1921 the 4th Battalion
attended an I.R.A. training camp which took place in Kilfenora. Previously
between 11th and 26th of August, Séamus had attended an officers’
Divisional training camp in Scariff. Negotiations in London had been
ongoing and the camps were held in order to keep Volunteers motivated
and sharp. Officers did not want the men to become too relaxed during
the Truce in the event talks broke down and hostilities had to resume.
It also gave the Volunteers an opportunity to reorganise. As well as
the 4th Battalion the Kilfenora camp also contained the 5th and 6th
Battalions of the Mid Clare Brigade, while the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Battalions
held a corresponding camp at Kilnamona. With a high level of discipline
maintained throughout the camp the Volunteers were further trained in
the use of arms and in guerrilla war tactics. The Truce was marked by
numerous open military displays. The Volunteers, now recognised as an
army, could openly drill in relative safety from Crown Forces, previously
not possible under martial law. On the afternoon of the 30th November,
after reviewing the camp in Kilnamona, the Kilfenora camp was visited
and Volunteers inspected by President Éamon De Valera, Richard
Mulcahy Chief of Staff I.R.A. and Cathal Brugha Minister for Defence.
‘Again the scene was one to catch the eye. After he had reviewed
the battalions, President de Valera told them, “The one thing
that distinguishes a disciplined body from a mob, is unity of action.
A disciplined body acts in unison and becomes the instrument of the
will of the commander, whether as commander of company, battalion or
brigade. A time of stress may be before us, but we are better prepared
to meet it now than we were four years ago.” All that was necessary
for them to know was the cause for which they were fighting was just,
continued the President. That cause was that for which men and women
throughout all history had been ready to die – the cause of freedom,
the cause of their own land. They were now at a time of crisis and trail.
Now their determination was to be put to the test. He, for one, was
glad that he had come to Clare, because it showed him they were as firm
now as they were four years ago and were prepared to suffer again if
they were called on to do so. Four years ago they knew what they were
doing. With their eyes open they had entered on the course they had
taken and they were not now going to depart from it.’
A week later the Treaty was signed in London.
During the Truce period, in the lead up
to hostilities, Séamus was ordered to other duties away from
his Battalion area. In January 1922 Séamus attended an I.R.A.
Divisional officers’ special training camp at the Ordnance Survey,
College Road, Ennis. On 1st February 1922 he was back with his battalion
and present at the taking over of Ennistymon and Miltown Malbay R.I.C.
barracks from departing Crown forces officers. Terms of the Truce were
seriously breached when two mills bombs were thrown by constables from
the upper floor of Ennistymon barracks into a crowd of jeering children
from the local Christian Brothers School. ‘Up the I.R.A.’
and ‘Up Rineen’ they shouted as they were aware the I.R.A.
was taking over from the Black and Tans. Fortunately no one was killed
but there were a number of serious causalities amongst the children
and passing adults. As the evacuation continued the bitterness of the
Crown forces was highlighted as volleys of shots were fired at I.R.A.
Officers from the courthouse just missing their intended targets. That
evening battalion officers decided to seek revenge for the events of
the day. Now well armed, they took a position and lay in ambush on a
hillside by the railway station on the edge of town waiting for the
departing Crown forces as they drove to Ennis. However when the military
vehicles pulled out they took a right turn and took the long route to
Ennis. Whether they expected what was waiting for them on the Ennis
Road is unknown but further bloodshed was avoided as the Column withdrew
to the town.
I. Owing to all the disgraceful, outrageous,
serious crimes that have been committed in this town & parish &
the insecurity of life & property by a certain band of hooligans
who do not belong to any political party, I with the V. Commdt. &
Captain Glendine have arranged to pick at least six steady good men
from the different Coys & have them stationed here in Miltown.
I. You must have already heard that three of our best Officers of this Batt. A Malone, Pk Kerin & Steve Gallagher were arrested by the Free State soldiers on yesterday (Sunday) morning.
II. My own house was thoroughly raided also, but I was not there & they found nothing of importance except my Sam Brown belt.
In his application for a Military service
pension in 1935 Séamus gave a detailed account of his activities
during the Civil War period: ‘Evacuated Ennis I.R.A. barracks
(By order of Brigade O/C) and demolished Miltown Malbay I.R.A. Barracks
July 3rd ‘22. Returned to Battalion, reorganised Active Service
Unit and all other special services. Demolition of all bridges in main
roads, railways and enemy lines of communication, July 1922. Captured
enemy officer escorted him to Divisional H.Q., July 24th ’22.
Attended Brigade and Battalion councils regularly – distance often
15 miles, entire journey on foot. Active Service Unit of 4th, 5th and
6th mobilised at Moy National School (4th Battalion area) preparatory
to attack on Miltown Free State Barracks. As Miltown was a hostile district
and intelligence lacking operation was cancelled by a member of Divisional
staff and Divisional engineers, Aug. 6th ’22. A.S.U. of 4th, 5th
and 6th Battalions lay in ambush for enemy officers near enemy military
barracks Ennistymon on night of Aug. 19th 1922. Moy Ambush – one
enemy soldier killed and one enemy officer wounded on Aug. 22nd ’22.
A.S.U. of 4th, 5th and 6th Battalions march openly through 5th Battalion
area (Kilfenora and Lisdoonvarna districts) from Aug. 23rd to Aug. 29th
’22. Railways and railway bridges demolished and protected by
A.S.U Sept. ’22. Bomb thrown at enemy officers Miltown Oct. 14th
approximately ’22. A.S.U. of 2nd and 4th Battalions lay in ambush
for return of enemy lorries at Ballyea, Inagh until darkness of night
on Dec. 9th 1922. Miltown Barracks sniped Jan. ’23. Demolition
of Lahinch and Miltown Malbay Railway stations and signal cabins Feb.
15th approx 1923. Inagh and Spanish Point post offices dismantled Feb.
26th 1923. Miltown and Ennistymon enemy barracks sniped March 17th 1923.
Enemy raiding party sniped at Moy March 14th ’23. Usual activity
with A.S.U. to end of period March 31st ’23...arranged attack
on enemy military, Guards and spies at Ennistymon April 5th approx ’23.
Enemy I/O shot at Inagh April 6th approx ’23. Organised collection
in Battn. Area which realised the sum of £100 for prisoners who
were interned from battalion area. Organised special prisoners committee.
Reorganisation of Volunteers in battalion after “cease fire”
order. Company and battalion parades. Regular battalion and brigade
council meetings May, June, July and August, Sept. was “on the
run” my house continually searched by enemy military.’