South Tipp 1919

I have always had an interest in the Irish War of independence (1919 to 1921) and the subsequent Civil War. This I attribute largely to my Grandmother, long deceased, who grew up in rural South Tipperary and witnessed at first hand  the events of that time. She was unequivocal in her condemnation of the “Tans” and also her support for the local “Column“. Indeed, she brought me, hand in hand around the farmland close to the old house she grew up in, pointing out sites of ambushes, betrayal and close escapes as well as mundane details such as how she brought provisions and messages to a barn here or a sheltered wood there.

Needless to say, as a young lad, I was fascinated by this intrigue and these stories of daring and adventure, as I saw them. As I grew older I read more and tried to view the period with a more mature eye.

My Grandmother held her strongest views about what she called “The Dublin Papers” however. She was not an angry or bitter woman but until the day she died, she swore that a copy of the Independent would never cross her door. I think recent years have taught me why, with that newspapers vicious anti republican agenda.

What brought me to this post is a fascinating new book due for publication soon and linked here .

For those of you with an interest and in the light of upcoming anniversaries I would recommend a read.

Below is an excerpt to give you a flavour of what to expect (Courtesy of the journal.ie);

“Tom McEllistrim was a farmer in Ballymacelligott who joined the Irish Volunteers in 1915. He led the attack on the Gortatlea RIC Barracks in April 18, and remembers it here. Later a TD, McEllistrim died in 1973.

This was the first real attack. Six of us met in a little hall in Ballymac: Jack Cronin, Maurice Reidy, Tom Mac, John Browne, Richard Laide, John Flynn. We planned to take the barracks by surprise. There were four RIC men in it. We had information that the door would not be locked. We knew that two men went out on patrol. We put one man near to the barracks, right on the railway station to watch the patrol go out; and then he told us when they had gone out.

We waited near the post. It was about 10 o’clock and it was quite dark, so we moved on to the barracks. I walked up to the door. I had a flash lamp and a revolver in my hands. Jack Cronin was behind me and Browne and the others were to follow. When I turned the door handle, I found that it was locked. I knocked and someone inside said ‘Who’s there?’ ‘’Tis me.’ ‘Who are you?’ I said, ‘’Tis alright. Come on and open,’ for the locals often knocked on the door and went in.

And he opened the door. We had masks on us for we were all well known to the police. I was at once to push past and get on in. As soon as he saw the mask, he got startled, but I pushed in past him and the other man in the kitchen made a dart for the room door but I got across into the room and he was trying to close the door against me. I stuck my foot in the door and we had a pushing match at the door for about three seconds. I pushed up the door on him and as I did, the door banged down again and we grappled. He was unarmed and he was an old man. We were tumbling about in the darkness in a very small room and I fell on top of him.

Just as it happened, Cronin burst in the door. He had a double barrelled shotgun and he put it on the RIC man. He put up his hands. I looked into the kitchen and I saw our lads below forcing the other lad to put up his hands and they had. We didn’t want to spill any blood.

Ernie O’Malley, who interviewed the survivors (Mercier Archive)

The rifles were up on a rack. I lifted down a rifle and put it on a cupboard, when all in a sudden, a shot rang out. I whipped round and I saw Browne wheel around and fall in the kitchen; and in three seconds the floor was covered with blood for he had been shot through the head.‘What was that?’ I said. Moss Carmody and I went down to the kitchen and I saw him putting up his shotgun and he fired at the door.

And as I said, ‘What’s that?’ I saw a police cap at the door but the shotgun missed. As I knocked, the 10 o’clock train steamed in. The station was only 15 yards away and we heard the noise of the engine. ‘Could there have been military on the train,’ we now thought. There were five of us inside the barracks, and what would we do. Our course then was to fight our way out and that was an awful setback for a crowd of young lads. We lifted up Browne and we brought him out with us, and also we brought out a new shotgun with us.

Before we went out, there was whispering and Cronin walked up. ‘We’ll shoot them lads now,’ he said. ‘How can we shoot them,’ I replied, “with their hands up?’ and the RIC were in terrible fear. Browne was dead, but we got out without any shots being fired at us. We got to the railway, threw off out masks and were lifting him when three or four shots were fired. We dropped him and we fired back.

They had seen us getting into the barracks and they had ambushed us from the outside. Laide made an attempt to rush in to tell us they were in the station and Sergeant Boyle shot him in the back with a revolver as he came in. Laide got away and he lived only two or three days for the bullet had gone into his stomach. So we had two dead men.

The two funerals were on the same day, but there was no raid made by the police. The police had made their report to suit themselves. They wiped up the blood from the floor inside. They said that all the shooting had been from the outside by us.”

Michael Collins (marked with a cross) leaving Dublin Castle with Kevin O’Higgins and WF Cosgrave after the surrender of anti-Treaty forces in 1922 (Tophams/Topham Picturepoint/Press Association Images)

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