1920 – A bloody year in mid-Clare

1920 – Ennistymon, Lahinch and Miltown Malbay

On 4 August 1919, an RIC patrol was ambushed at Ballyvraneen, between Ennistymon and Inagh, and two officers were killed, a Constable Michael Murphy and Sergeant John O’Riordan.   Some days later, soldiers fired shots into a house in Glan, killing a 15 year old boy, Francis Murphy, a Sinn Fein Scout. At the inquest, the jury concluded that the murder was carried out by the military as revenge for the shooting of the policemen.

Over the next six months,  there were no war fatalities in this part of Clare until, on the 24 February 1920, an RIC patrol was ambushed at Crowe’s Bridge, near Connolly, by an IRA unit comprising Patrick and Martin Devitt, Ignatius O’Neill and Pakie Lehane. Martin Devitt, a leader of the Mid-Clare Brigade, was shot and killed – a large memorial cross today marks the spot where he died. Ignatius O’Neill was also wounded and was treated secretly by Dr Michael Hillery of Miltown Malbay (Dr Hillery’s son Patrick later became President of Ireland)

Memorial to Martin Devitt, near Crowe's Bridge, Connolly
Memorial to Martin Devitt, near Crowe’s Bridge, Connolly

Some two months later, on 14 April, celebrations were taking place in Miltown Malbay to mark the release of IRA hunger strikers from Kilmainham Gaol.  At about 10.45pm, a bonfire was blazing at Canada Cross and a group of adults and children were gathered around it singing nationalist songs.  The police and military arrived on the scene and without warning fired about a hundred shots at the crowd. Three men were killed: Patrick Hennessy from Church St, married with two children; Thomas O’Leary, Ballard Road, married with ten children; and John O’Loughlin, a 25-year-old tailor from the Ennistymon Road.  At the inquest in Ennis, a verdict was returned of “wilful murder without provocation”.

Memorial cross in Ballard cemetery to the three men killed at Canada Cross
Memorial cross in Ballard cemetery to the three men killed at Canada Cross

On July 21, two privates of the Royal Scots Regiment were crossing Ennistymon bridge when they were attacked by a number of unarmed men attempting to take their weapons.  The soldiers fired their revolvers and a 22-year old IRA volunteer, Michael Conway, was killed and Seamus MacMahon seriously wounded.  A priest was sent for to administer the last rights –  as it turned out, the priest was Fr John Conway, a brother of Michael, who was back in Ennistymon on holday.

Plaque on Ennistymon Bridge in memory of Michael Conway
Plaque on Ennistymon Bridge in memory of Michael Conway

Then, on 20 September 1920, an event of great national significance took place in Rineen, on the road from Miltown Malbay to Lahinch. A lorry carrying a detachment of five RIC men and one Black and Tan was ambushed by the IRA and all six were killed. As the Volunteers were collecting the rifles and ammunition, however, three more lorries appeared, each full of soldiers.  It so happened that earlier that day an IRA unit had set up a roadblock further south in the county, near Doonbeg. A local RM (resident magistrate), Alan Lendrum, was forced to stop and rather than surrender his car, he drew his pistol. He was shot and killed by the IRA and his body dumped in a nearby lake.  Lendrum’s disappearance was noticed fairly quickly and troops were sent from Ennistymon to conduct a search.

As these troops came upon the scene of the ambush at Rineen, they engaged the Volunteers and a three-hour gun battle ensued.  Although the soldiers were better armed – including several machine guns – the IRA manged to escape the scene with only a few injured.  The constables killed in the ambush were Constable Hodnett, Cork; Constable Harman, London; Constable Kell, Roscommon; Constable Maguire, Mayo; Constable Harte, Sligo; Sergeant Hynes, Athlone.

Memorial at Rineen
Memorial at Rineen

The reprisals against the civilian population began almost immediately.  On their way back to the barracks in Ennistymon, the soldiers shot dead two men, Charlie Lynch, who lived near Miltown Malbay, and Sean Keane, who happened to be passing near the scene of the ambush on his horse and cart. That night, a convoy of Black and Tans arrived in Miltown Malbay.  Houses and shops were looted and the premises of P.H. O’Neill, a hardware merchant, were set on fire; then those of Edward Roche, Michael Hayes, Messrs Collins, M. Marrinan, Michael Casey and Dr Hillery. Many of the inhabitants took shelter for several nights with friends and relatives in the surrounding countryside.

The military arrived in Lahinch about 2.30am and proceeded to set fire to houses, to the town hall, to Miss Flanagan’s Bar and grocery, Vaughan’s grocery, Miss O’Dwyers drapery shop, Halpins and Reynolds public houses, and Mr. Thomas Blackwells premises.   A visitor to Lahinch, Joe Sammon, was shot dead running from one house, while an IRA volunteer, Pakie Lehane, died in the fire in Flanagan’s Bar. Lehane’s house in Cregg, just south of Lahinch was also torched and Pakie’s father shot dead in front of his wife and daughter.  As in Miltown Malbay, many of the resident fled the town for safety and spent the following two nights in the sandhills where the present-day golf course is situated.

Ennistymon was also attacked, with the RIC and military again setting fire to houses and businesses.  The town hall was burned down first, then the home of Tom Connole, secretary of the local branch of the ITGWU. He was shot in front of his family and his body thrown into the burning building. Devitt’s drapery was next to be fired, and a youth, Patrick Linnane, was shot and killed while fetching water to try and prevent the adjoining buildings from catching fire. Whelan’s tailor shop was burned, P Clair’s grocery, Callinan’s pub, Hynes’ drapery, and the home of Joseph Conneally.

The reprisals were widely condemned, but were defended by the Chief Secretary for Ireland, Hamar Greenwood.  The houses destroyed, he said, were those of “notorious Sinn Feiners”, adding that “the people of those two villages knew of this ambush”.


“And long will be told of the brave and the bold,                                         In the ambush at Rineen”

Those who took part in the Rineen ambush were, from Ennistymon:  John Joe Neylon, Micko Nestor, Ned Hynes and Jimmy Gallagher; from Inagh: Paddy McGough, John Callinan, John Clune, John Donnellan, Jack Fitzgibbon, John Rynne, Martin Marrinan, James Meaney, Dan Callaghan and Martin Hehir; from Lahinch: Pakie Lehane, Donal Lehane, John Burke, Tom Burke, Mickey Reynolds, Mikie O’Dwyer, Marty Hynes, Paddy Queally, Paddy Foley and Mickey Hayes; from Moy:  Seamus Hennessy, Steve Gallagher, Joe Nagle, Pete Vaughan, Micklo Curtin and Tim O’Connell; from Glendine:  Anthony Malone, Pako Kerin, Dave Kennelly, Pat Frawley, Martin Frawley, Johnny Burke, Brian O’Loughlin and Dan McMahon; from Miltown Malbay: Ignatius O’Neill, Bobby O’Neill, Ned Lynch, John McMahon, Tommy Moroney, Joe D’Arcy, Michael O’Keeffe, John Fitzgerald, Thomas O’Connor and Jacko Hurley; and from Letterkelly:  John Crawford, Anthony O’Brien, Mort O’Connor, John Murray and James Ryan.