Here we look at some of the men involved in the Burning as they featured in events in May 1922. Since the majority supported the Treaty, there will necessarily be more mentions of those who joined the soon-to-be named National Army than those staying with the Irish Republican Army. We will also continue with a main focus on events in Dublin, mentioning only a selection of major happenings elsewhere around the country (such as the first two items below).
Despite some violence and seizures of buildings by Republicans, the month of May was generally a hopeful time. In the military sphere there was an IRA truce and on the political front, an electoral pact. But sadly neither would last.
Republican Funding and Supplies
As Dáil funds were obviously no longer available to the IRA (who had repudiated its authority), local initiatives by commanders had seen a number of post offices being raided and provisions, supplies and vehicles being commandeered to keep them going. The general practice was to provide receipts. However, on 1 May, this policy reached a new level with many Bank of Ireland branches around the country being raided in an organised campaign fully supported by the Executive who ordered receipts to be provided in all cases. The argument was that the Minister for Defence (Mulcahy) had not honoured an agreement to meet bills incurred up to 26 March when the IRA split took place. In order to pay some of the debts owed to traders, the IRA’s plan was to get the cash from the financial agent of the Provisional Government. Significant funds, maybe £250,000, were obtained.
Tensions rose over control of The Marble City. On 2 May, approximately 300 anti-Treaty IRA men, many who came in from Waterford, Tipperary and rural Kilkenny, occupied fifteen buildings including City Hall, the Protestant Hall, St Canice’s Cathedral, the Workhouse and Ormonde Castle. The pro-Treaty garrison led by Comdt. John T. Prout controlled the military barracks, the Jail and the Bank of Ireland branch. Prout decided to act at last and attacked Republican outposts one by one. GHQ sent reinforcements from Dublin by rail. According to Calton Younger’s Ireland’s Civil War “an armoured car roared in with Tom Ennis, Tom Flood, Joe Leonard and David Moran aboard, having covered the distance from Dublin in a time that would have startled its designers“.
Fighting continued with the GHQ forces taking the initiative, while Republicans adopted a defensive stance and either surrendered or withdrew from each position they held. Further Republican forces from Tipperary were believed to be advancing towards the city. But they did not arrive and after two days all the Republican positions and many prisoners were taken by the pro-Treaty troops under. Around 20 people, including a few civilians, were wounded in the process.
In the end, an agreement thrashed out in Dublin allowed the Republicans to retain certain posts and all prisoners were released on 6 May. Senior officers from both sides – including Oscar Traynor – had travelled from Dublin to Kilkenny to ensure a peaceful outcome. The photo above shows men who had not long previously been exchanging shots shaking hands and apparently fraternising peaceably. Bitterness had not yet entered the conflict.
More Buildings Seized in Dublin
On 2 May in Dublin, armed Republicans occupied two buildings close to the city centre, the Ballast Office on the corner of Aston Quay/Westmoreland Street and Lever Brothers’s premises at the junction of Parliament Street and Essex Quay (Sunlight Chambers) as strategic outposts to defend their Four Courts HQ (Or possibly just for additional accommodation as Rory O’Connor said).
However, GHQ troops were already in occupation of Hopkins & Hopkins Jewellers, diagonally opposite the Ballast Office across O’Connell Bridge, so it was a good countering position. And the Lever Brothers site covered Grattan Bridge, not far from the Four Courts.
The Kildare Street Club, a notorious unionist institution, was also occupied by 25 to 30 IRA men and all the buildings were fortified with sandbags.
A Response of Sorts
Beggars Bush GHQ appears to have reacted only to the latter occupation. A strong detachment from Wellington Barracks under Paddy O’Daly surrounded Kildare Street, posting sentries and “courteously” searching passersby, while an armoured car patrolled the area. O’Daly, with Tom Ennis and ‘Ginger’ O’Connell held a parley with the IRA commandant, Capt. H. O’Farrell, K Coy, 3rd Battalion. He agreed to vacate the building (although denying that later) and the GHQ troops withdrew. No conflict occurred. Ennis told a Freeman’s Journal reporter “the issue was put firmly before the leaders of the invading party – either they cleared out of the building or an attack would be launched”.
The same paper understood similar measures would be adopted by GHQ in relation to the Ballast Office the next day.
As it happened GHQ took no further action. But the next time Ennis would give such an ultimatim, it would be carried through with main force as we shall see.
And the IRA did not leave Kildare Street. They would continue holding the Club for some time, using it to house Belfast refugees until they were transferred to Marlborough Hall, a Provisional Government establishment.
However, less than a week later the Executive forces did hand back the Ballast Office to the Port & Docks Board. Its unavailability for normal business had posed a serious threat to continued operation of the port and employment there, apart from the vital trade of imports and exports. Its occupation had caused serious problems for the docks workforce and disaffection among unions and the public. Not a PR win for the anti-Treaty forces.
Drogheda’s Night of Terror
Paddy O’Daly seems to have been a very busy man during early May. His next assignment was to protect Drogheda, Co Louth against further reprisals from RIC awaiting disbandment based in Gormanston Camp (Of course, being cynical, it may also have suited Beggars Bush to strengthen their position in the locality).
A gang of Tans had shot up the town and set fire to the local Republican Election HQ and the Black Bull pub after Const. Archibald Bentley was mortally shot on 30 April in an ambush at Stameen, Co Meath. He was the lone driver of a Ford car on the way to pick up a clergyman due to conduct a religious service in Gormanston. The policeman was left for dead on the roadside and his car seized by the attackers. The leader of the anti-Treaty party occupying Millmount Barracks in nearby Drogheda condemned the killing as foul murder “by men who acknowledged neither the Four Courts or Beggars Bush”. But he had taken over a broken down Crossley tender abandoned in the town by the rampaging Tans which they demanded be returned – or else.
The Mayor appealed to both IRA sections to defend the town and its populace. The local anti-Treaty leader felt unable to give any undertaking to do so. Through mediation with a local priest he eventually agreed to return the RIC tender in the hope this would prevent any excuse for further reprisals by the Tans. The inaction of the Executive IRA went down badly with the inhabitants who were in a high state of fear. Many actually vacated the town. There were only two Irish Republican Police men there; obviously they were powerless to protect the place.
On 3 May, Beggars Bush GHQ in Dublin dispatched to Drogheda a strong force under O’Daly, Frank Thornton and Pat McCrea by special train, with armoured vehicles. They had a stand-off with the anti-Treaty IRA occupying Millmount Barracks who refused to leave. Instead, some of O’Daly’s men occupied the White Horse Hotel and West Gate barracks while others were sent back to Dublin.
The next day the Beggars Bush men intercepted a force of Tans in armoured lorries en route to the town and ordered them to retire to Gormanston. They did and never returned to Drogheda.
But the Republicans in Millmount hung on and, after their water and gas connections were cut off, retaliated by emptying local reservoirs, badly disrupting the town’s water supply. This added to local sentiment against their cause and, during the following week, the Drogheda Independent reported 70 local young men joined up with the Beggars Bush forces and were sent to the Curragh for training.
It is interesting that, like at Kildare Street, a Beggars Bush ultimatim to quit or face an attack was not carried through. There may have been a reluctance at that stage to fight fellow IRA men. Whether this was an attitude influenced by GHQ or represented the sentiment of commanders on the ground is unclear. For example, it is hard to see O’Daly being so conciliatory if we look at his record – previously or later. But in fact a Truce between the two IRA factions was very close and this may have softened the reaction.
On 4 May, the British aerodrome southwest of Dublin was formally handed over to Capt. O’Grady representing Beggars Bush GHQ and garrisoned by troops from Clonskeagh Castle. Later several Custom House Men would serve in Baldonnel with the Irish Air Service.
The military leaders were so concerned about rising tensions and hostilities that a Truce between Executive and GHQ forces was declared, to last from 4 to 8 May. This was arranged under Dáil auspices and agreed by a committee of six (3 from each side) and signed by the respective Chiefs of Staff, Liam Lynch and Eoin O’Duffy.
Both sides were to co-operate to maintain order to protect persons and property from aggression; and all operations apart from training and ordinary military routines were to cease. The Truce was subsequently made open ended.
But it came too late for some. According to Dorothy MacArdle’s The Irish Republic, up to 6 May, eight men had been killed and forty-nine wounded in clashes between GHQ and Executive IRA forces around the country. That tally did not include civilian casualties.
Policy on the North
One point of agreement between the opposing IRA factions was the need for action against the Six Counties administration.
The military aspect of this plan was obviously decided behind closed doors and kept out of the newspapers. Arrangements were put in place for an offensive with the approval of Michael Collins. Quantities of rifles were transferred from the pro-Treaty to the anti-Treaty IRA who in turn shifted their weapons to northern units. This was to prevent the British identifying the source through serial numbers, as the weapons had originally been supplied by them to Beggars Bush.
More overtly the Provisional Government also issued instructions to its civil service departments to carry out actions to create as much difficulty and expense as possible for the administration of the Six Counties.
Both campaigns would ultimately prove unsuccessful (Beyond our scope here).
A Raid Near the Custom House
The Custom House was back in the news on 12 May. The papers reported a GHQ statement about raid on the guardroom at the Dock at lunchtime the previous day by “a party of irregulars” in two cars. They burst into the guardroom and opened fire on the seven GHQ men inside, the sergeant being seriously wounded (but he survived). The remaining guards were disarmed and the raiders then left.
Also on 12 May many Custom House Men were out in force. Brigadier Jim Slattery led a parade of approximately 1,000 Dublin Brigade Volunteers loyal to Beggars Bush GHQ headed by the Guards’ pipe band from Beresford Place to Wellington Barracks.
Among the other officers on the march were Vice-Brigadier Jim Shiels, Comdts. Frank Bolster (1st Battalion, Tom Kilcoyne (2nd Battalion), Kennedy (3rd Battalion), Frank Coghlan (4th Battalion) and Aubrey Mayne (5th Battalion). The contingent was addressed in the barrack square by Chief of Staff O’Duffy who congratulated the men on their major part in the War of Independence, saying they were prepared to stand with any government elected by the Irish people and asked them to abide loyally by the Truce. One report said he was loudly cheered by the men who then marched back to town and dispersed (As Readers will notice, in both reports the pro-Treaty side was still calling themselves IRA. The term National Army would appear later).
The Curragh Handover
The largest British military installation, the Curragh Camp, was occupied by GHQ troops on 16 May. As the departing British had by tradition cut down the flag pole, the Tricolour was raised on a water tower in the complex by Asst. Chief of Staff ‘Ginger’ O’Connell (video here). Several of the Irish soldiers present had been interned in the Curragh during the War of Independence. O’Connell would himself be ‘interned’ by the IRA as we will see in a future article.
All British barracks in Cork were also evacuated around this time.
Another Dublin Barracks for GHQ Troops
The following day, Portobello (now Cathal Brugha) Barracks in Rathmines was handed over. At 3 pm, British Major Clarke of the Royal Worcestershire Regiment greeted GHQ officers Commandant-General Tom Ennis and Colonel-Commandant Frank Thornton who had driven from Wellington Barracks. The formal handover took place and fifty Irish military police marched in followed by the armoured car ‘Custom House’, as watching crowds cheered loudly.
GHQ Chief of Staff Eoin O’Duffy, Comdt.-Generals Sean MacMahon (QM-General) and Emmet Dalton (Evacuation Officer) soon arrived.
At 3.15 pm O’Duffy took the salute from 800 Irish troops from Wellington Barracks under Paddy O’Daly marching in behind the pipe and fife and drum bands and a second armoured car named ‘The Big Fella’.
Col. Pat McCrea, the ace driver for the old Squad, stepped down from ‘The Big Fella’. He had an amusing chat with a British officer who greeted him and asked if he had ever been in the barracks before. “Yes I was“, said McCrea, “the afternoon following my driving the captured armoured car into Mountjoy Prison [to break out Sean MacEoin on 14 May 1921]. I was stood a drink by one of your men in the sergeants’ mess while we discussed the seizure. We agreed it was a very clever feat” (see BMH.WS0413, pages 32-34). Any reply by the British officer is sadly unrecorded, but we might imagine him being lost for words!
The British troops on parade marched out and O’Duffy raised the Tricolour in the square. Again there were enthusiastic cheers from the large attendance of onlookers. The military police took up sentry duties as the crowds dispersed and the troops got down to their duties.
One press report mentioned the War of Independence exploits of Dalton and Ennis, referring to the latter’s leadership at the Burning. The paper added “it was interesting to note that almost all of the survivors from the Custom House battle were amongst the troops who took over the barracks”.
Political Agreement – A Coalition Pact
The papers reported positive news that “The Collins-de Valera Election Pact” was agreed in the Dáil on 20 May and was shortly afterwards unanimously adopted by an Árd Fheis of Sinn Féin. It provided for a Coalition Panel of pro- and anti-Treaty Sinn Féin candidates based on their existing strengths in the Dáil; and the proposed make-up of the Cabinet after the election. It was clarified that non-Sinn Féin candidates were also free to stand for election.
Many would do so – as it happened all were pro-Treaty – and go on to be elected, winning seats against both pro- and anti-Treaty Sinn Féin Panel Candidates.
The North Continues to Bleed
Other headlines dealt with the continuing slaughter in Belfast (six killed on one day, including a unionist M.P. – plus a woman who died of earlier wounds – and fourteen wounded). The Freeman’s Journal made the death toll from sectarian strife 371 with 1,551 wounded (since the progroms began in July 1920). For the week ending 21 May 1922 alone, 21 Catholics and 11 Protestants were killed and 45 and 15 respectively wounded. All the while, British troops stood idly by, in some cases when mob attacks on individuals were taking place. Catholics continued to leave Belfast for Britain and the 26 counties, mostly Dublin, with others going to Scotland.
There were cross-Border clashes between both sections of the IRA and crown forces, mostly the Specials (Ulster Special Constabulary or USC), as well as local attacks on British bases and police barracks by southern and northern-based IRA units.
IRA fought IRA in one sad occasion in north Co. Donegal. On 4 May, anti-Treaty units (mostly from Cork, sent north as part of the Northern Offensive, with some from Derry) attacked crown forces bases across the Border and withdrew to Co. Donegal. They went to Buncrana and robbed a local bank. A firefight erupted between them and the small local pro-Treaty garrison in which there were some casualties. There followed a larger conflict at Newtowncunningham where a pro-Treaty convoy of reinforcements from Drumboe Castle was ambushed.
The combined events caused the deaths of Essie Fletcher (aged 9) and Mary Ellen Kavanagh (19) and four pro-Treaty men (John McGinley from Ardsbeg; Eddie Gallagher from Burtonport; Daniel McGill from Ardara and Edward Murray from Sion Mills). About a dozen civilians and combatants on both sides were also wounded.
Later in May, on the 27th, a force of USC occupied Magherameenagh Castle in Co Fermanagh very close to Belleek which straddles the border with Co. Donegal. They were besieged by pro-Treaty IRA forces. A relieving column was attacked and suffered casualties before withdrawing (In retaliation, the USC would make another Border incursion at Pettigo, Co Donegal on 1 June – to be covered in the next article). Several other USC were killed in various actions in countryside areas and there were reprisal murders of Catholic civilians by Specials. Protestant civilians also lost their lives. Military and RIC barracks were attacked and a number of police (still RIC at that stage) fatalities occurred. Shootings and arson continued in Belfast.
The Craig administration became seriously worried. They arrested and interned about 350 IRA and Sinn Féin supporters, declared all Republican organisations illegal in the six counties and demanded further armaments for the Specials from London where Churchill was pressing for the same action.
Meanwhile, in Kildare Artillery Barracks, serious unrest among the new armed Free State police force, the Civic Guard, was reported to have been resolved. But it was only a temporary pause and worse trouble would flare up again later in the month. The initial 1,500 recruits to the new police force were made up of about 70% IRA men. Among them was a small but determined anti-Treaty group. However, the vast majority held major objections to the employment in senior posts of ex-RIC who, unknown to the Guards, had assisted the Rebel Cause in the Tan War.
We will not go into the full story here, but In the not-too-distant future the unhappy force would be scrapped and replaced by an unarmed police renamed as An Garda Síochána. Several Custom House Men would go on to become members.
In the meantime the beseiged and hated remnants of the RIC, the small and scattered force of Irish Republican Police and the Dublin Metropolitan Police in the capital were the only powers available to maintain law and order. The country was in a lawless state affected by agrarian agitation in some rural areas, while criminals took advantage of the unsettled situation to carry out killings, arson and robberies – sometimes under a false republican flag. Labour unrest was widespread. There were also old scores being settled around the country against ex-RIC and former British servicemen as well as an outbreak of sectarian murders around Bandon in Co Cork.
First Anniversary of the Custom House Burning
In the midst of all that was going on, the newspapers of 25 May announced the planned commemorations to take place that day, involving “detachments of the IRA” attending masses at the Pro-Cathedral and St. Agatha’s Church. Space was reserved for relatives and friends of the deceased at the Pro. Further masses in memory of Edward Dorins were to be held in St. Joseph’s Church, East Wall and St. Laurence O’Toole’s Church.
The Roll of Honour was published, listing Paddy and Stephen O’Reilly, Sean Doyle, Edward Dorins and Dan Head. The next day’s papers carried good coverage in print and pictures of the impressive events, with St. Agatha’s filled with uniformed IRA (National Army) and at the the Pro-Cathedral the attendance overflowed into the yard.
The troops involved marched past the Custom House on their return to barracks. Undoubtedly some of them had taken part in the battle there or been captured in the aftermath, only a year before. To such Tan War veterans it may have seemed a lifetime ago, since so much had changed in the meantime.
In addition to the church ceremonies listed above, a party of Dan Head‘s old comrades from D Coy, 2nd Battalion marched from Beggars Bush – possibly led by Dan’s buddy and Section Leader Richard McGrath – to his grave in Kilbarrack Cemetery. There may also have been a visit there the same day by his old pals now aligned with the Four Courts Executive.
In Memoriam notices for the five Custom House Men lost in action were published in the press by the families and their old comrades, in the case of his old D Coy, 2nd Battalion calling themselves “Regular IRA” and “Executive IRA”. At least they were united in their remembrance of a fallen comrade on that day.
Also on 25 May, a nightly Curfew was imposed throughout the Six Counties, echoes of the draconian regime in force in Dublin when the Custom House was burned. And a law was passed to set up the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) to replace the disbanded RIC in the six counties.
With good timing, the burned-out Custom House featured in press photos showing British troops passing the ruins on 26 May en route to evacuation ships down-river.
“The Parliament of Ireland”
An official notice dated 27 May was published by the Provisional Government to convene a Provisional Parliament on 1 July 1922. It would replace the Southern Ireland Parliament, as demanded by the Treaty. It meant the forthcoming general election – set for 16 June – would be for seats in this new institution and the Third Dáil. That this unloved and unwanted Parliament was yet another British imposition; the continued existence of the Second Dáil; and its election was not called in the name of the Third Dáil may make it look from our modern perspective a highly controversial topic at the time.
But for whom exactly back then is hard to guess. The IRA Executive had already repudiated Dáil control and totally opposed “all pretend governments in Ireland”, so probably couldn’t have cared less. Dev’s grouping were preoccupied at the time on other issues such as preventing possible Civil War. No doubt Pro-Treaty politicians and groupings accepted it as a necessary evil – and GHQ IRA abided by that. Politically savvy folks probably paid some attention to the notice. But the majority of the electorate were probably pretty confused (and who can blame them).
Killings Continue on Dublin’s Streets
That weekend also produced two echoes of the War of Independence. On Saturday two British R.A.S.C. soldiers were shot outside a bank on College Green, Lance-Corporal Emery killed and Private Deane wounded seriously. A little girl was also hurt. In an illustration of the changing times, a Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP) man and an Irish Republican Police (IRP) man co-operated in the aftermath to recover evidence. Beggars Bush and the Four Courts IRA strongly condemned the attack as an outrage and pure and simple murder, promising to trace and punish the culprits who were probably common criminals.
The following evening at about 10.25 pm RIC Sergeant William Leech, walking with his girlfriend on Great Brunswick (now Pearse) Street, Dublin was shot in the head (He was believed to be working for British intelligence). The shooter was seen to calmly pocket his gun and then make off down a laneway. Again, the investigation was jointly conducted by Oriel House IRP and the local DMP.
Neither killing was ever solved.
Hopeful Signs or False Hopes?
On 29 May, the Freeman’s Journal wrote, under a headline “Hopeful Signs”, it was expected that the Executive IRA would be evacuating over the following week all but one of the buildings they still occupied in Dublin – The Masonic Hall, Lever Brothers/Sunlight Chambers and the Kildare Street Club.
The Freemasons’ building was duly vacated that same day. Republican C.S. ‘Todd’ Andrews featured in a famous press photo as he hauled down the Tricolour in advance of leaving. The IRA also moved out of Kilmainham Gaol and most of the Lever site on the quays. One paper reported a lorry there transporting away sandbags had the slogans “Up, De Valera!” and “Up, the Mutineers!” painted on its sides (sadly no photo).
The Fowler Orange Memorial Hall was being retained for refugees from Belfast and the north. As mentioned above, the Kildare Street Club would also be used temporarily for the same purpose.
But, ominously as it would turn out, the Four Courts was retained as Executive IRA HQ.
Tragic Accident in the Four Courts
Sadly far too many, mostly young, soldiers died from accidental gunshot wounds during 1922/23. One involved a young lad in the Four Courts.
On 30 May, Custom House Man Joe Griffin, now Director of Intelligence in the Executive IRA, had the sad duty of attending an inquest into the death of a fellow garrison member. Vol. Thomas O’Brien (20) from Fownes Street died after a comrade’s rifle went off while they were changing guard. All the evidence pointed to an accident. The Jury agreed and the other Volunteer involved, Patrick Byrne, was exonerated of all blame. The Coroner commented it was very sad, a pure accident. He was sorry to say he had heard a good number of these cases in the past few months. Griffin joined in the expressions of sympathy to the bereaved family from the Coroner and Jury. Vol. O’Brien was buried in Glasnevin with full military honours from a large contingent of the officers and men of the Four Courts garrison.
Funerals to Glasnevin and too many other graveyards around the country would become all too regular as fatalities among the IRA and Free State forces and civilians mounted during the year which was to follow.
An Older Republican Passes Away
But death did not always strike through violence. Another activist with far more experience than young Thomas O’Brien would not live to see the horrors of Civil War in Ireland.
Joseph McGuinness T.D., a 1916 veteran, had been the man featured in the election slogan “Put him in to get him out”. While in Maidstone Prison over his part in the Easter Rising, he was nominated by Sinn Féin to contest the South Longford bye-election in 1917.
McGuinness was a reluctant candidate but he defeated the sitting Irish Parliamentary Party (‘Home Rule’) M.P. by 37 votes, becoming the second ever Sinn Féin member elected. He greatly increased his margin in the 1918 General Election and was an unassuming, hardworking and active member of the First and Second Dáil. He voted for the Treaty and was subsequently on the Dáil Peace Committee of Ten attempting to mend the resulting rift.
Deputy McGuinness died from pneumonia at his home in Gardiner Street, Dublin during the night of 31 May. His funeral was attended by politicians from across the board.
Buried in Glasnevin’s Republican Plot, his name is inscribed on the same plaque as Sean Doyle, mortally wounded at the Burning.
There is another Custom House connection to the last name in the photo above which will be revealed in a future post on Jim Goggins.
To end off this article, it is worth mentioning that in late May, senior Irish politicians led by Arthur Griffith were over in London in prolonged discussions about the Election Pact and the draft Irish Constitution. The British were initially outraged, accusing the Irish of breaching the Treaty. The evacuation of British troops was paused as were military supplies to the Provisional Government. Both reactions were shortly cancelled but the baleful eye of the British continued to focus on happenings in the 26 Counties rather than the savagery they tolerated and tacitly supported by inaction in the north east of Ireland.
To be continued…