Mel Mac Giobúin, grandson of Jim Gibbons, has extracted a second instalment from his grandfather’s recently discovered and previously unpublished memoirs (see part 1).
14 November was Jim Gibbons’ birthday, though he always playfully gave his children a different date for it from one year to the next, keeping them guessing, even until this day. The year 1920 could have seen his last birthday, but instead provided a lasting, vivid memory for him.
I had found very little written by him about his involvement during the War of Independence in my searches of the Military Archives, apart from some supporting letters he wrote for his comrades to the Military Pensions Board, when those men were in desperate need. There are some mentions of him in action in Witness Statements that were made by others to the Bureau of Military History. Also, he is often quoted as a verifying witness in a considerable number of pension applications during the critical periods of the Irish War of Independence and the subsequent Civil War (Cogadh na gCarad).
Now, some of his actions and views on the period in his own words, written nearly 70 years ago, have emerged. They have remained unviewed and unread in old boxes gathering dust for over fifty years amongst many business records, personal items, photographs and correspondence.
To start, here is some context and corroboration by others, beginning with a particularly insightful account placing Jim Gibbons at the centre of many events during the War of Independence in Dublin. It was by an old comrade, George White, later with the Detective Branch, An Garda Síochána, Dublin Castle until retirement in the early 1950s. He was a former Old IRA man, who had been on Custom House ASU duty on 25 May 1921.
In White’s Witness Statement I came across in early searches, he reflected during the late 1940s on his actions with C Company, 3rd Battalion, Dublin Brigade: “…in 1920 we started armed patrols of the streets and, on the first appearance of the Black & Tans, Captain Flanagan, my brother Mick, Jim Gibbons and I attacked a tender of Auxiliaries at Liffey Street [This may combine two different events: an assault on Black & Tans at Dame Street in 1920 and attack on Auxiliaries near Liffey Street/Bachelors’s Walk in January 1921]. It was the first attack on the Black & Tans in Dublin. The bomb hopped off the lorry and back on the street where it exploded…”.
Lieutenant Colonel Harry Murphy said in his Witness Statement in 1951 “… It is with pride we recollect that C Coy, 3rd Battalion, at this time was credited by IRA Headquarters with the greatest number of street ambushes, outside the Active Service Unit, than any other Coy in the Dublin Brigade”. Many of C Coy’s volunteers would go on to become core members of that Dublin Active Service Unit by the end of 1920.
“Dublin on the surface seemed calm enough, but Dublin in 1920 seethed with tension. Incidents occurred daily. Searches, arrests, shootings, ambushes had become commonplace…“, wrote Sean Cronin in the 1960s. Cronin was the Irish Times Washington correspondent in the 1970s and a former IRA Chief of Staff during the late 1950s. He has written extensively about the Irish Republican historical struggles and the Irish War of Independence. He was a close confidant of my grandfather Jim Gibbons who uniquely spoke at length with Cronin about these times and many other related matters as I have been frequently informed by my family.
During October and early November 1920 Seán Tracey was shot dead in a Talbot Street raid; Terence MacSwiney had died on hunger strike in Brixton gaol; and Kevin Barry had been hanged in the ‘Joy.
“… Curfew emptied the street at night, except for military vehicles prowling for prey. Thousands of troops garrisoned the city; the Black & Tans were six months old; the Auxiliaries had just been formed”, wrote Cronin.
In November 1920 Jim Gibbons was caught, interrogated and severely assaulted by Dublin Castle men and then abandoned in the gutter on the North Quays in Dublin.
“Towards the end of 1920, a number of RIC men from the active areas in the country were selected to operate in the streets of Dublin and were formed into a section which later came to be known as the “Igoe Gang”.
It got its name from its leader, Eugene Igoe. Its main function was to identify prominent Volunteers from country areas who may have been ‘on the run’ in Dublin,’ said Ned Kelliher, a member of IRA GHQ Intelligence Section at that time and formerly a member of C Company, 3rd Battalion.
Joe O’Connor, a Dublin Brigade Battalion Commandant commented “… An enemy gang that was giving us a lot of worry was known as the ‘Igoe Gang’. This was a crowd of free-lance ‘British’ police I would say constituted from various centres of IRA activities. They would pick up men when they would swoop on Dublin, Cork, Limerick and such places, in the hope that someone of the gang would recognise a man from his district and if such happened there was little compunction about shooting him down…”.
Back to George White, who described what happened along one Dublin side street: “… in November 1920 a section of the company [C Coy, 3rd Battalion] held a parade at Great Strand Street. While the parade was in progress, a number of men in civilian clothes came down the street in our direction. Gibbons and I were standing together at Cahill’s Printing Works, 35-37 Great Strand Street.
The first two civilians passed us on the path. They suddenly turned and pulled guns from their pockets. They ordered us to put up our hands.
These were the special Igoe squad who were recruited from the RIC. There were twelve of them – only one was English. They were recruited at the time by General Tudor and were under Sergeant Igoe who had served through the 1914-18 war [This was not in fact true. Also Igoe was a Head Constable].
I ducked down and made a run up Strand Street towards Jervis Street and Jim Gibbons went to the right. The two men fired about six or eight shots and I remember a whippet dog jumping out in the dark. I escaped, but Gibbons was caught by two of the party who had gone on in front of the two who fired.
Gibbons was badly treated but they let him go afterwards…”.
[PIC Strand Street]
George White would go on to be O/C of Dublin Brigade ASU, Republican Volunteers (Anti-Treaty) during the Civil War until his capture in September 1922. The two, White and Gibbons, were jailed in Mountjoy and the Curragh. George White and Jim Gibbons remained friends, comrades and political colleagues into the late 1930s.
As a child, I absorbed the sense that the mere word ‘Igoe’, like ‘Oriel House’, haunted my father (Jim’s son) and brought a sense of dread and fear at the mention. At that time I had no sense why Igoe was such a bleak omen. As I learned more about the Irish struggle and hints of my Grandpa’s role, I understood that Igoe and his men were an active and effective unit of the Crown forces in which Grandpa was in some kind of active conflict.
It still did not fully explain why it seemed so personal an issue for my father. I did not have an opportunity to explore what he knew from his father about the Tan War and Irish Civil War before he died over thirty years ago.
From reading Jim Gibbons’ account, reproduced below, I believe it gives very clear evidence as to why ‘Igoe’ was a word that drew an irrational sense of fear, very personally, to my dad and his older brother (who also passed nearly two decades ago). This passage is my Grandpa’s own recollection of that encounter with the Igoe Gang described by George White – written in the mid-1950s after White had passed away.
“Strand Street, November 1920
In November 1920 when the Igoe murder gang appeared on the streets of Dublin, the atmosphere was tense. It was just then the ASU was formed [The selection process of suitable volunteers was already underway with Paddy Flanagan, getting things moving in the set-up of the ASU, which he had been appointed to command]. Each Thursday night about 7.30 pm a half of Coy of ‘C III’ (C Company, 3rd Battalion, Dublin Brigade) paraded at and around the Metal bridge [Ha’penny Bridge at the end of Liffey Street].
This particular night was the final parade of eleven of C Coy personnel in their old Company. They had volunteered for active services and were hence forward established soldiers of the Irish Republic.
Discussing matters after the parade, George White R.I.P. [died 20 May 1954] and I were talking, leaning on a windowsill in Strand Street.
I was looking in the direction of Capel Street and White in the direction of Liffey Street. It was about 8 pm. Out of the darkness – the street was badly lit – two men in overcoats appeared first then four, then four more. I said to George, “Are these Volunteers coming up?”
He looked around and said he could not say and by that time the first two had passed by; the four passed immediately, two of them wheeled back drawing their revolvers at the same time and shouting “Hands Up!” White saw them drawing their guns and as I was looking in the opposite direction had no chance of seeing them.
We did not know that such an enemy body existed at that time.
White jumped right into ‘sixteen’ of the Gang. They fired 12 shots at him and missed. He actually jumped over one of them in a crouching position. He got clear away. His house was in Swift’s Row [runs between Great Strand Street and Lower Ormond Quay], he got in the door immediately.
Guns were stuck into my ribs. I put my hands up and was searched for guns. I was not armed. The six of them made a circle around me.
I waited, expecting a volley but none came.
Instead Igoe and Leahy, his 1st Lieutenant, walked over to me. Igoe took all my papers. I saw him taking a note of my address.
He asked me, “What are you doing here?” I said, “I was talking to a friend and was about to go home to my tea.”
He said, “Why did your friend run away?” I said, “I suppose he got frightened when he saw you with guns. I would have run away too if I saw you in time.”
Leahy had a talk with Igoe then he, Leahy and four others gripped me by the arms and using filthy expressions told me told me I was going ‘Over the Top’.
By this I thought I was going to be shot and fired into the Liffey, down at the darkest place near Swift’s Row.
Leahy told me to go down on my knees. I thought I was going to be made say ‘God Save the King’ as was happening elsewhere.
When on my knees, Leahy, who was a powerful built fellow, had a ‘45 gun in his hand; hit me on the left side of my head and knocked me back on my heels.
I recovered and as I did he hit me in the same place a second time but this time on the ear. I fell senseless in the channel and as I lay there he hit me with the top plate of his boot in the ribs. I lay moaning.
They were by this time afraid to fire more shots as they might be surrounded in the street. So they left me.”
[Simon Donnelly, a 3rd Battalion Vice-Commandant (and life-long colleague of both men White and Gibbons), has stated in detailing his initial arrest and interrogation in early February 1921, ‘My reason for explaining at length my experience in Dublin Castle Intelligence Office is to put on record the methods employed by the British. Of the thousands of I.R.A. men who passed through the enemies’ hands, hundreds of them were cruelly beaten up, in some cases tortured and in many other cases shot in cold blood, but the vile methods of the British failed.’]
Jim Gibbons continued… “After I recovered, I crawled over to the far side of the road and went into a Public House by the name of McCormack’s. I asked the bar man to give me a cap. I was all mud and I had lost my hat.
I wanted to get to the Clarence Hotel. He gave me his own cap. I struggled over Capel Street Bridge and into the Clarence Hotel, down to the Billiards room at the back and collapsed. Dick Walshe (T.D. from Mayo) was in the Billiards room; he came over and then got me some brandy.
I went to bed and had to stay there for 4 days…”
[As I recall, family tradition on St. Patrick’s Day after the Parade that we watched from Westmoreland St., was to go to the Clarence Hotel for dinner with Grandpa Jim as had been done by him with his children over many years.]
“ …On the following Thursday night, Comdt. Flanagan made up his mind that he would bring part of his unit to Strand Street and Liffey Street in the hopes that Igoe and his Gang would come again in search of more volunteers on parade. He promised to blow them out of the street.
Comdt. Flanagan brought with him Paddy Morrissey, Mick White, Sean Flanagan, Joe Carroll, George White and the writer, J.G. (Jim Gibbons).
We waited around Liffey Street and Strand Street for well over an hour but ‘Igoe’ or his gang did not turn up.”
[This would not be the last time that Paddy Flanagan and the ASU would track the Igoe Gang in the coming months of 1920 and early 1921.]
“While we were watching, Mick Collins came across the Metal Bridge. He cycled through Liffey St., he saw Flanagan and the unit in and around the streets.
Next day he sent for Flanagan and asked him what he and his men were doing there the night before. Flanagan told Collins the whole thing. Collins abused him for daring to do anything without first telling him and getting permission.
I knew that my digs would be raided (as previously stated, Jim had seen Igoe ‘taking a note of my address.’)…”
There will more from Jim Gibbons’ accounts to follow soon. In the coming hectic weeks, he would be involved on the morning of Bloody Sunday, then travelling to England with his future brother–in-law Tom Kitterick, QM West Mayo Brigade to obtain and smuggle guns and ammunition from London through Dublin, Galway and back home to Mayo for the West Mayo men.
In December of 1920 Jim Gibbons along with George White others would be appointed as 3rd Battalion members of the Dublin Brigade’s Active Service Unit, led by O/C Paddy Flanagan. The operations intensified over the coming months of 1921 at a large cost of human life and spirit in the perilous conflict for the Irish Republic.
To be continued…
Mel Mac Giobúin
The policeman Leahy Jim Gibbons named above has been identified, by our pal Pete Duffy, as Constable Rody Leahy 89C, Store Street DMP. He was born a Farmer’s son at Grange, Borrisoleigh, Co. Tipperary in 1888. He was just over 6 foot tall and worked as a Blacksmith before joining the DMP in 1912 (using the first name Radolph). Leahy was posted as a Constable to C Division in January 1913 and was still there in 1920.
There is no sign of Leahy’s name in the newspapers during his career. Obviously, the incident involving Jim Gibbons was never reported in the press. But another War of Independence encounter did make the news (Freeman’s Journal, 8 December 1920). Although Leahy was a main protagonist, his name was not published.
Shortly before midnight on Tuesday 7 December 1920, Constables Leahy and Timothy Foley were on duty on North Lotts (runs parallel to Middle Abbey Street and Bachelors Walk and connects to Lower Liffey Street). Both were armed with handguns. They became suspicious of three civilians walking on Middle Abbey Street who then turned down Lower Liffey Street. As they passed, the police approached the trio. They reported that one civilian “presented a loaded revolver and shouted ‘Hands up or I’ll shoot'”. However, the police drew their own guns and demanded the civilians surrender. One did, but the armed man ran towards the quay pursued by Leahy who fired two shots, one hitting the runner in the thigh. He fell, dropped his gun and was detained by Leahy who recovered the weapon. One of the two other civilians stopped was also found armed and arrested. The third man escaped but was located after a later search on Fleet Street.
They were identified as Jeremiah ‘Jerry’ Doherty otherwise James Kennedy (22), unemployed, of 78 Lower Mount Street; Thomas McSherry (22), a Seaman from 21 East Essex Street; and William Lawlor (20), a Tailor from 40 York Street. The police took Doherty/Kennedy to Jervis Street Hospital for treatment. He was later removed by British troops to KGV Military Hospital. His companions ended up in the Bridewell police station. All three were charged with offences under the Restoration of Order in Ireland Regulations (ROIR) and held to be court-martialled. But the process was delayed. And, in March 1921, “due to some misunderstanding“, Doherty/Kennedy was actually released! The British believed he moved to Belfast but he was never recaptured. The other two, McSherry and Lawlor, were interned in the Curragh. All survived the hostilities.
And so did Const. Leahy who was pensioned from the DMP in 1924. He went back to his roots in Co. Tipperary to farm. In 1930 he got married under the name Rodger Leahy. He died in 1976, his death notice in the Sunday Independent and headstone recording his birth name – Rody Leahy (His older brother Tom, ex-RIC, died three weeks later; another brother Patrick who survived them was also ex-DMP). Rody’s widow Catherine (née Breen) passed away in 1979. They left no direct descendants.
Ironically, Jim Gibbons would also pass away just six months after his old foe from 1920.