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The War of Independence in West Clare by Rita Marrinan

Monreal Ambush and Reprisals

An ambush had been planned for Monreal on December the 18th, 1920. On the bitter cold night of December 17th, the Active Service Unit of the Mid-Clare Brigade under the command of Joseph Barrett, Column Commander, with Peadar O’Loughlin and Ignatius O’Neill, made their way along the dreary four mile journey from O’Donoghues in Kilfenora to Monreal, which is between Ennistymon and Ennis and about five mile from Ennistymon. There were fifty-six men, twenty-five of whom carried Lee Enfield rifles, the remainder carried shotguns. Many also carried Mills Hand Grenades, which had been taken from the Barrack at Ruan at an earlier stage.

The objective of this ambush was to destroy two large lorries of British military and police, which had been noted to make daily routine trips between Ennis and Ennistymon, and to capture their arms and ammunition. It had been observed that each of the lorries carried about thirty officers and men, and also that the patrol left Ennistymon between nine and ten a.m. each morning.

Plan of Monreal Ambush
Plan of Monreal Ambush

Needless to say, Monreal was chosen because it was deemed the most suitable position along the route. Here the road from Ennistymon faces rising ground before turning sharply to the south-east. There was a plentiful supply of heather and moss to give natural cover and there were stone walls on either side of the road which provided further cover, and allowed the enemy to be attacked at close range. This position of firing led to heavy losses on the English side at the beginning of the encounter. To the west of the decided location there was a sharp slope towards a long valley through which the Inagh river flows.

The approach of the lorries was signalled at 9.16 a.m. The I.R.A. were, to say the least, shocked to find out that there were three, instead of the two for which they had planned and prepared to meet. The lorries were travelling about four hundred yards apart. Because of the preparations made this meant that the third lorry would be outside the ambush position when the leading one was engaged. The troops aboard the third truck would then be free to engage the I.R.A. in a flanking action, which would put the position of the ambushers in extreme danger. This situation presented a dilema for the I.R.A. officers. The enemy had now thirty more men available which gave them a decided numerical advantage over the I.R.A. However, this was a risk that attended most I.R.A. actions and had to be accepted.

Commander Barrett divided his unit into sections one and two. The number one section, under his own personal command, was deployed to the left of the road. The number two section, under the command of Ignatius O’Neill, was sent to the right hand side of the road, and nearest to Ennistymon from which side the patrol was approaching. The number one section opened fire on the leading lorry of the patrol as it passed their position, killing and wounding all the men except the driver, who continued on his journey as fast as his lorry could go. As the second lorry approached the fire position of number two section the men quickly jumped off and opened fire, but O’Neill soon withdrew his men and the English turned on the number one section. The men from the lorry had also, by this time, opened fire on the men.

Meanwhile, the survivors of the second lorry and those of third regrouped and a machine gun crew reached a cabin and breached a wall of the cabin before training the machine gun on the Column Commander and two of his companions. Fortunately for the men, the number one machine gunner was just about ready to fire when he was shot dead, as was the number two gunner. The Crown Forces again regrouped and found a higher place for the machine gun so as obtain a more effective field of fire. This position was exposed and soon the five members of the new gun crew were killed by the number one section of the I.R.A. That was the last attempt at machine gun fire for that day.[36]

The I.R.A. then retreated by the river to a hill on the other side. A roll call revealed that two men, Jack Hassett and Jim Kearse were not present. The Commander then asked for six volunteers to help the escape, since they were caught under the bridge on which was a large number of “Black and Tans”. Every man in the party volunteered despite the fact that they had just withdrawn with some difficulty from a machine gun attack. The “Tans” had intended capturing and, failing that, killing the men but when the I.R.A., who had just returned, opened fire they quickly retreated and the men were rescued. Jim Keane, Paddy O’Loughlin and Bill McNamara were injured as was Bill Carroll, a former R.I.C. man who had been captured at an earlier attack on the Ruan Barrack and volunteered to join the I.R.A. It might be mentioned here that he never broke his promise and was a dedicated fighter for the cause to the very end. The injured were treated by Dr. Hillery of Miltown Malbay, Dr. Peterson of Lisdoonvarna and Dr. Hayes of Kilmaley. Forty British Officers and men were killed in the ambush.

Reprisals for Monreal

A campaign of widespread reprisal was launched after the Monreal Ambush. Unlike the aftermath of Rineen, however, nobody was killed and few were injured, but like Rineen much property was damaged. By January 24th, 1921 the following claims had been lodged against Clare County Council:

For hay burned at Monreal:
T. O’Loughlin £400
Thomas Hogan £260
J. Mullins £410
John Mee £240
T. McGuire £400
J. Kennelly £190
Mary Mullins £360
J. Looney £160

Other claims included:
P. Torpey, hay house and furniture burned at Clogher : £1,645
M. O’Loughlin, hay house and furniture burned at Tullagha: £1,550
P. Rynne, hay house and furniture burned at Cullinagh: £160
J. Garvey, hay house and furniture burned at Lisdeen: £210
M. Brennan, hay house and furniture burned at Cullinagh: £1,200
P. Duff house burned at Ennistymon : £300
T. O’Brien house burned at Legard: £80
M. Eustace house burned at Furoor: £2,000
Margaret Brennan, hay burned at Ballyea: £136
Anthony Barry, hay burned at Ballyea: £104
D. Browne, hay burned at Tanovoher: £400
Mary Daly, hay burned at Lislanard: £100
W. McDonnell, attacked at Kielty: £50
J. Mullins, attacked at Monreal South: £30
P. O’Donnell sheep killed at Coor: £10
P. Cullinan furniture burned at Monreal: £50 [37]

In early January, 1921, Martial Law was imposed in Clare as a result of recent happenings. Needless to say, people disliked it and general opinion towards it was unfavourable because it was felt that it would ruin both Ireland and England and would never allow a peaceful settlement to take place. The only thing that could do that was the application of the principle of justice to the Irish situation.[38]

In no way was Monreal as gruesome as Rineen but the destruction was equally as bad.


Reprisals and Reaction to Rineen


1921: The final months of the Wars