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|The War of Independence in West Clare by Rita Marrinan|
On January 21st 1919, Dáil Éireann declared its independence and pledged itself and the Irish people “to make this declaration effective by every means at our command”. On that same day, the first shots of the War of Independence were fired at Soloheadbeg quarry in Co. Tipperary and two members of the R.I.C. [Royal Irish Constabulary] were killed.
The English, however, it appears, had anticipated trouble of this nature and had already begun preparation in 1918. On October 8th of that year the workhouse in Ennistymon was taken over as a military base. Despite the anger felt at the loss of such a vital amenity the people of the area remained calm, on the surface at least. But, beneath the surface the Mid-Clare Brigade had begun training its members. Those of the fourth battalion trained in McMahon’s fields at the “Four Crosses” about one and a half miles from Lahinch. This was an ideal location since the fields were very big and were surrounded by walls which were nine feet high.
The men who trained here played a very dedicated and active part in the War of Independence and as early as February 25th 1919 the enemy was ambushed at Curtin’s Gate just outside Ennistymon and rifles were obtained. Being successful in their first attempt the men decided to attack once more on August 4th. This time the ambush was in Derrymore and two R.I.C. men were killed. The Crown Forces decided these murders would not be allowed to go unavenged. On August 14th they murdered Francis Murphy at the fireside of his home in Glann Ennistymon and set the pattern of attack and revenge that was to become so widespread in the following two and a half years
A scarcity of arms seemed to be the biggest problem for the I.R.A. during the War of Independence. Because of this they often attacked armed police and military in an attempt to obtain arms. On February 17th a group of men were seen to act “suspiciously” near Inagh but they were not arrested. Perhaps they were viewing the area to determine its suitability for an ambush which took place at Crowe’s Bridge only five days later and which resulted in the death of Martin Devitt, one of the local I.R.A. leaders.
April 14th 1920 marked a day of celebration for Ireland when the I.R.A. prisoners were released from jails throughout the country and returned home. Miltown Malbay, which was to suffer so much during the war, was attacked by Crown Forces on that very night as it celebrated the return of its heroes and three people were killed. Having recovered from the shock attack the I.R.A. resumed their attempts to replenish their supply of arms. On July 15th as two soldiers collected their laundry from a house outside Ennistymon they were disarmed. However another such attempt on the Bridge in Ennistymon proved unsuccessful and a local man, Michael Conway, was shot dead.
On Septmeber 22nd the I.R.A. staged their first major ambush in Rineen but the destruction carried out in nearby towns and villages surpassed any losses the Crown Forces had incurred at Rineen. Yet another major ambush was staged in the area on December 18th of that same year. Monreal was the location on this occasion, but again reprisals were widespread. Activity in the area continued during 1921 with the shooting of Constable Moore in Miltown Malbay on March 31st. Orders had been issued to attack an enemy post on that date to commemorate the Easter Rising of 1916. Once again, reprisals were on the way and on April 6th Miltown Malbay was attacked once more by Crown Forces. In that year too, something in the nature of a “religious scandal” occurred when two curates from Mullagh were arrested and charged with possession of two illegal documents. The final incident in the area happened on February 1st, 1922, as the Ennistymon barrack was being evacuated. It must also be mentioned that the I.R.A. kept a regular check on the West Clare Train and often opened letters belonging to the R.I.C. These were always returned after being marked “opened by censor”.
In the following chapters these incidents are examined in detail and the reaction of various people in the community is noted.