1920 Burning of Blackrock RIC Barracks

 

 

 

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1920 Burning of Blackrock RIC Barracks 1922 Bombing at Dundalk Jail 1923 Hunger Strike in Dundalk Jail 1924 Shooting at Dowdallshill Graveyard Dundalk

 

 

The Dundalk Examiner and Louth Advertiser (September 1928)

 

 

BURNING OF BLACKROCK R.I.C. BARRACKS

 

AN I.R.A. EXPLOIT IN 1920

 

(As told by Joseph Mary Cotter, O.C, Blackrock I.R.A.)

 

[It must be clearly understood by readers of this memoir that I am not writing an account of the growth of Sinn Fein and Republicanism in Haggardstown. Neither am I placing on record the strength, equipment, or efficiency of the I.R.A., in Blackrock from September, 1920, onwards. I am dealing solely with the capture and burning of the Blackrock Police Barracks on the 4th August, 1920. - J.M.C.]

 

 

PREPARATION

 

On the night of August 4th, 1920, while I was attending a branch meeting of the Haggardstown Sinn Fein Club, two men interviewed me and produced an I.R.A. map of County Louth showing the areas in which were established groups of I.R.A. men. Haggardstown, they pointed out, was blank on the map, and I was asked to organise a group - even a small one - to keep the flag of Independence flying in our home area. I agreed to try it. We arranged to have elementary drill on the following night, and about fifteen young men enlisted. All these young men turned up at the appointed place and we were put through elementary drill by the organiser - Fall in! Attention! Stand-at-ease! Form fours! Attention! Dismiss!

 

On the following night we were put through our drill by the same organiser and just before the command "Dismiss!" I was authorised to take charge. with the title of O.C., Blackrock I.R.A. On the command "Dismiss!" one of my men asked me when were we going to be supplied with rifles. I enquired from the Organiser, who said, "You will be equipped later on, but for the present you must raid for arms and war material." Turning towards the company I said: "Gentlemen, we will be supplied with equipment later on, for the present, should we want anything in the way of rifles, revolvers, daggers, aeroplanes or tanks, all we have to do is take them from those who have them. No collections necessary. Turn up same time and same place tomorrow evening for drill. Deserters will be shot. Dismiss!"

 

The next night as the organiser was unable to attend, I took charge and all thoroughly enjoyed the drill. On giving the "Dismiss!" two of the patriots headed across the fields towards home. The main body, however, bore down on the village, where we were interrupted by an I.R.A. boy scout, who notified us that the police were suspected of evacuating, or being about to evacuate, the Blackrock Barracks, and that rumour said the military were coming to take possession. We looked at one another and said, "This thing shall not be. We will burn the barracks to-night." Hip, hip, hurrah! Up the rebels!

 

 

BLACKROCK I.R.A. IN ACTION

 

We arranged to meet at 11.30 p.m. at a corner of a field beside an old tree stump used as part of a wire fence, all men to keep in shadow of the bushes and maintain silence. It was not necessary for us to study out coming battleground. We knew that the barrack was a handsome two-storied brick structure, situate in a. pretty garden near the road, with a lovely tea rose bloom climbing up the southern gable.

 

We passed the time in the Sinn Fein Hall, Sandy Lane, participating in the dancing and keeping the fun going until almost 11 o'clock. Then we told the couples that English soldiers were patrolling the roads, and to quickly and quietly disperse. This was done. The I.R.A. men who had bicycles lighted their lamps, called out "Good night all," and, going in different directions, concealed their machines.

 

On coming towards the trysting place I could not see any of the boys, so I knew they were keeping under cover, but I could see the tree stump clearly. On coming closer I saw that one of the warriors was sitting on the stump. I said "Keep in cover. He still sat on the tree stump. I then asked, "Are all here?" and was told that Michael Conlon and Patrick Murphy were getting paraffin oil for the job. While waiting I said we could gather a few sticks to help the blaze. The 'Rock fellows tittered at this. You see, we had not as yet the iron discipline so marked in the Prussian Army. I intended to get my own back, so I commanded with a sibilant hiss, "Fall in!" This manoeuvre was not successful, to judge from the ejaculations, such as "D_____ your self." "There are bars and bomb netting on the windows, and most likely the door will be shut."

 

"Let someone enter the village and return bringing a crowbar and a sledge hammer." Very quickly I was presented with a small, light poker about a foot in length, and a mallet with a six-inch handle. Forward! March! Out through the hedge on Wallace's Road we arrived without any casualties, and at the corner halted and held another military conference. "If we had only arms," said someone. Michael White said that he had a wooden toy revolver, and who would know the difference at night? This statement caused brainwaves everywhere. The men sprung at the trees, tore down branches, stripped off the leaves and, thus armed with modern rifles, we marched determinedly to the attack.

 

Nearing our prey, in silence I said an Act of Contrition, halted and proceeded to post the men. Two men were posted to guard us against a surprise attack from the enemies coming by Wallace's Road, or Cockle Hill. Three men I ordered to push their "rifles" through the laurels over the road wall of the houses which line the side of the road near to and on opposite side to the barracks. I told each man to cover a door and an upper window with his "rifle," and to cry "Halt! Go back or Iíll fire."

 

Two of these men had their rifles pointed towards the houses, wit their heads sideways looking at me, I stepped back to the centre of the road to look for the third man. Two men twisted their heads to see what I was doing. I saw the third man crouching low under the wall, his gun pointed towards the constellation of Orion. I whispered, "Is that you?" He promptly yelled, "Halt! Go back or Iíll fire!" I said gently, "Now then, donít use any unnecessary violence." The other two men were still looking at me.

 

Having placed these desperados in position, I wended my way towards my other comrades in crime and was addressed by Michael White thus: "Are the arrangements yet complete? "

 

"The arrangements are almost complete. The barrack is surrounded on three sides. They canít escape. It will be necessary to cover the Dundalk Road. Let you patrol from here to Wallís tea rooms. Protect our flank from the rear. Hold up and disarm all military and police that come this way, and, lastly, remove women and children to safety. Go, I have spoken." White stood to attention, saluted, did a right-about turn, stamped his left foot and marched to his post.

 

 

A BLAZING SUCCESS

 

Having the strategic points well under control, I approached with extreme caution towards the gable end of the barrack, tapped the window and asked: "Is there anybody in?" The reply being in the negative, I called up Conlon to bring up the paraffin, and, taking the poker, started to prise back the bars. I almost shouted with glee, something gave way, but horror, it was the poker. In dismay I asked, "What can we do? " Murphy, being small, said he would squeeze through over the bar tops. So, with the broken poker, I smashed the window, pushed back the bolt, the window falling with a splintering noise of glass. With the mallet I attacked the bomb netting, and it ripped like a cloth. Murphy was already over the top, Conlon handing in the paraffin. I called, "See can you open the door." '''No, it is padlocked and chained." Conlon was also in. I squeezed through like the others and we went up the stairs, fire in our eyes and matches in our pockets. "Open all doors to see there is no sleeping guard." Conlon was already slashing the paraffin into a dark recess. What's there? A cell. Holy horrors, a cement floor. I screeched, "Halt Murphy, how many drops of paraffin are left?" He counted sixteen, "It must do," I said.

Our comrades outside are becoming impatient and calling, "Come out, yous are long enough in." All is over, the staircase is roaring in fames. The atmosphere is filled with smoke and bursting sparks. I ordered Conlon and Murphy to leave. Getting out was even more difficult than getting in. My overcoat caught in the bars. "Iím stuck," I cried, "I canít get out." The boys soon had me on the road again.

 

We waited until we knew the barrack was doomed, knocked up the neighbours, and parted for home, supper and happy dreams.

 

 

 

 

 

1922 The Bombing of Dundalk Jail

 

 

 

 

Dundalk Democrat, July 29th 1922

 

DUNDALK SENSATIONS

 

JAIL BOMBED AND PRISONERS RELEASED

 

Many Chased and Recaptured: National Troops Ambushed.

 

Dundalk jail was damaged by a gelignite bomb exploded (sic.) on Thursday morning, and practically every political prisoner dashed through the breach made.

 

The bomb was placed against the side wall and its explosion created much havoc, smashing every window within a wide radius.

 

Prominent Republicans were among those escaping. All day on Thursday and yesterday the escaped men were being pursued. It is announced that 50 have been recaptured.

 

Every road was blocked at the time of the jail attack and National troops were ambushed at Castletown Cross and Barrack Street Bridge. Two Free State soldiers were under treatment for bullet wounds received in these attacks. One of these died yesterday morning.

 

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One hundred and five prisoners were liberated from the county jail at Dundalk at a quarter past seven on Thursday morning under circumstances which made the incident the most thrilling and dramatic of all the strange occurrences which have taken place in Dundalk even within recent times. Briefly the facts were that a hole was breached in the jail wall by a bomb, the prisoners filed out through the aperture and on foot made for the surrounding country. In a chase afterwards some of them were recaptured.

 

The sensational news came just when talk of the sensational bank raid had died down. People had expended all their pet theories, given all their vivid descriptions of Saturdays happenings, when the awful crash which shook the jail walls and the houses about made them sit up and take notice. The escape from the jail was certainly one which made a big noise. Nothing like the explosion has been heard here before - it dented the stout masonry and made a big gap in the wall, smashed the glass in the windows of the Crescent dwelling houses to smithereens, did the same with  the windows of the County Infirmary, and some of those in St. Malachy's Priory, cast huge boulders into the air as if they were pebbles from a shingly beach, reduced the door of the tuberculosis hospital to matchwood and injured a warder on the knee.

 

It happened at just a quarter past seven. A big contingent of men were noticed to concentrate in the vicinity of the jail. That is not an unusual sight on a road over which hundreds of railwaymen pass every day. But these were not railwaymen. Somebody placed a bomb on the ground along the jail wall just midway between the jail gate on the Ardee Road and the end of the prison. An electric wire was taken from a pole and connected to the bomb, which had been placed in position by planks. Then the bomb went off with an awful noise. Right through the thick wall went the contents of the bomb, casting the stones and cement on one side, and leaving a big hole in the wall.

 

People who were not engaged in the operations wandered what had happened.  People living in the Crescent felt their houses shake as if an earthquake had suddenly come to life in Vincent Avenue. Immediately glass began to crash and window frames to fly, and the very foundations of their houses seemed to shiver. Over in the hospital the patients had a terrifying experience.  Windows, front and back, went bang, and the noise was deafening. Fortunately no person was injured by the flying fragments, but the experience was dreadful, the more particular for the poor patients in the hospital.

 

The prisoners must have been at large from their cells at the time, because almost immediately the explosion had died away they came trooping out through the hole which had been thoughtfully provided for their escape. It is stated that before the bursting of the bomb, hand grenades were thrown into the prison yard. Darting through the breach, the prisoners ran through the streets nearby. In all 105 had escaped.

 

For a fortnight past Dundalk jail had been reserved for political prisoners. The ordinary civilian offenders against law and order had been removed from Dundalk some time ago and their places filled by these parties, who had been despatched, most of them, by special train, from Dublin. The place had been guarded by National troops - there was, in fact, a Thompson gun, in the front main window - and the tri-colour had been floating over the prison. It was expected that the place would be in charge of a military governor, but he had not arrived up to Thursday morning, and the old staff was on duty.

 

During Thursday it was rumoured that among those escaping were several very prominent Republican leaders. No confirmation could be obtained of this, but it was learned on good authority that the majority of the prisoners were natives of the County Meath.

 

Following the extraordinary occurrence there was great military activity in the town. Troops came along on motors, and immediately a guard was placed along the breach. People passing were held up and searched. Then a chase through the country after the escaped prisoners ensued, and in this considerable energy was displayed. Shots were heard at several points round the town, but whether this had anything to do with the chase is not established.

 

There were some peculiar rumours in the town concerning the affair. One was that the bulk of the men who had been responsible for the exploding of the bomb arrived at the place on a tender and wearing uniform. Another was that there had been a trial explosion of a gelignite bomb the previous day. Certain it is that at about 8 o'clock on Wednesday afternoon a bomb was exploded very close to Dundalk.

 

Plans had been well laid for the coup, which was proved to be the biggest made by the Irregulers in Dundalk There was continual firing practically through the night. On Thursday morning too, an attempt was made to ambush troops coming from the Military Barracks. This attempt was made at the Barrack Street bridge, from which shots were discharged at National troops passing up town in a motor car. Many civilians were concerned in this attempt. It was also attempted to prevent the troops coming through Quay street. An engine was taken from the running shed and taken down the line a considerable distance, the object being to block the  Barrack street gates and so prevent troops coming in that way. The plan did not succeed. In a roundup of the district the military arrested nine youths and men in the timber yard of the GNR in St Alphonsus Road. Some of these were stated to be mere boys who are alleged to have prominent membership of the Fianna.

 

At Castletown Cross also an attempted ambush of National troops took place.

In this area there was a sustained firing from both sides of the road. There were casualties here. Those among the attackers are not known. To the Louth Infirmary subsequently two National soldiers were taken in for treatment. One was Colonel Commandant Mason, who was injured by a bullet wound in the foot, and whose condition is not serious. The other is Volunteer McCaffrey, a young man who was severely wounded in the thigh, and who expired on Friday morning at 3 o'clock.

 

During the shooting at Barrack street a woman fainted.

 

The explosion of the bomb, which was probably filled with gelignite, was heard as far away as Ravensdale on the one side and Castlebellingham on the other.

Photographers anxious to get a "snap" of the hole made in the jail wall were refused permission to do so by the soldiers on guard.

 

It was learned yesterday that amongst those who had escaped from the barracks and had not been re-arrested was Mr. Ridgway, an organiser for the Transport Union, who had been arrested last Monday week. In connection with the detention of Mr. Ridgway a one-day county strike was threatened for Wednesday last, this decision having been reached at a delegate labour meeting held in Kilsaran on Sunday last. The strike was to have taken place on Wednesday, if by Tuesday mid-day word was not received that the organiser was not released or brought to trial. The strike was postponed on the papers in connection with the case having been sent to military headquarters in Dublin, with a promise of an immediate investigation of the matter.

 

Many Belfast refugees cleared out of Dundalk early this week.

 

THE LATEST

 

Inquiries went to show that up to last night about 50 prisoners had been retaken. Some of appear to have got a considerable distance from the jail, for arrests are reported from Drogheda, and other districts of South Louth. The chase continues and probably will for some days to come.

 

In all twenty arrests have been made within the past two days of people who were alleged to be concerned in the jail release or in the ambushes on the National troops. The most notable is John M'Coy, Mullabawn, who was a brigadier in the barracks here before the National troops took command. Last night some of the prisoners were taken to the jail. They include H. Johnston, a rate collector for the County Council; - Duffy, Parnell Park; - Cunningham, John street.

 

 

Dundalk Democrat, July 29th 1922 - About Town

 

As we know nothing about explosives, we don't know whether it was necessary to make so confoundly loud a noise in blowing a hole in the jail wall big enough for one prisoner at a time to make his escape through. We have seen far more damage done in a quarry with a blasting-charge that didn't frighten the young horses in the next field. This explosion shook the town. It blew in every pane of glass in the Crescent. It did far more damage to the County Infirmary than to the jail. It frightened hundreds of timid women and children to the verge of hysterics. There are other aspects of the affair that are much discussed in town: but we will not refer to these now. Let us go on to tell of one of the "ambushes", so much commended to young lads as an easy way of downing "the enemy". This one took place close to the town. There was a woman living in the house close by who was about to give birth to a baby. The nurse was in the house when the ambushers took up their posts. She told them of the circumstances and begged them to go elsewhere and not risk two innocent lives. They refused. "Acting on orders", we suppose: the usual thing! The baby was born amidst the hellish rattle of gunfire. It lived long enough to be baptised: no longer. The poor mother lies at death's door. That is a true tale. The incident occurred close to Dundalk on Thursday morning. And that is what this "war", about which so much blatherskite is talked and written by fools, means to the civilian population who are the greatest - almost the only - sufferers by it.

 

 

Dundalk Democrat, August 12th 1922

 

MIDNIGHT FIRING

 

For more than an hour on Sunday morning sleep was impossible in Dundalk owing to a resumption of the night firing which had characterised operations in the town a week previously. Just on the stroke of midnight a few rifle shots were discharged, and then came replying shots and the bringing into action of a machine gun from an armoured car which turned out and patrolled the town. This shooting lasted for an hour. It appears that on Saturday night, an attack was made on the Guard at the Anne street barracks, the shots being directed from the Demesne, which runs at the rere of the barrack premises. The firing was quickly replied to, and later the machine gun opened fire in the direction from which the attack was made. During the night, a Free State soldier, John M'Cabe, a native of Newbliss, who had been one of the guard at Anne street, was wounded in the thigh by a bullet. It is stated that the wounding of Mr. M'Cabe was accidental. He was removed to the County Infirmary where he was detained. He is progressing favourably. There were persistent rumours that one of the Irregular attackers had been wounded in the firing, but this could not be confirmed.

 

 

£600 RETURNED

 

SEQUEL TO DUNDALK BANK RAIDS

 

It was learned in Dundalk yesterday that £600 had been returned, divided equally among the four banks robbed a fortnight ago in Dundalk. No information could be obtained as to the manner in which the return was made.

 

 

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1920 Burning of Blackrock RIC Barracks 1922 Bombing at Dundalk Jail 1923 Hunger Strike in Dundalk Jail 1924 Shooting at Dowdallshill Graveyard Dundalk

 

 

 

1923 Hunger Strike in Dundalk Jail

 

 

 

 

 

Dundalk Democrat, October 20th 1923

 

It is stated that the prisoners in Dundalk jail have, in company with the prisoners in other jails, gone on hunger strike for unconditional release. Confirmation was lent to this by the fact that on Thursday night, three hundred people, most of them women and girls, marched through some of the streets of the town, and outside the jail recited the Rosary for the benefit of those inside. The demonstration caused but little commotion.

 

It is not known if the other part of the decision of the Ard Fheis - to picket places of amusement - will be carried out locally. For the past two days no move in this direction was made in town.

 

 

Dundalk Democrat, October 27th 1923

 

PRISONERS ON HUNGER STRIKE

 

Demonstrations in Dundalk.

 

It is wonderful how history repeats itself in this country. A few years ago we had nightly demonstrations for the release of the prisoners then on hunger strike in Dundalk jail, and as a protest against their imprisonment by the then governing power - the English Government. We had protests by the Councils, the recitation of the Rosary and the singing of hymns by many of the people of the town, who used assemble outside the jail and try to cheer those outside(sic.). At the biggest of these Austin Stack was a prisoner here - was leader of the prisoners, in fact - and was one of those who came to an agreement in Dundalk jail with the representatives of the British Government as to the status and conditions of those imprisoned.

 

There has been a change in the Government, and the forces of the Free State have taken command. But there are still prisoners on hunger strike, and the old tactics, which must have annoyed the British Government considerably, are now being employed against the forces of the Free State.

 

But this hunger strike is different from the others that we have known. There are no complaints against the treatment of the prisoners, or if there are, they are not deemed of sufficient importance to mention. The Republicans say that there is now no war in this country; that their leaders have declared against force, and that there is now no reason for keeping thousands of men inside prison walls and the barbed wire of the internment camps. So they have all gone on hunger strike for unconditional release. It is the biggest strike ever known in the history of the country, involving anything between 8,000 and 12,000 prisoners, including almost one hundred women and girls.

 

In Dundalk jail at the moment there are something over 200 prisoners, and, while no official report is issued, it is learned that these went on hunger strike at midnight on Saturday. They have made the same resolution as those in the other jails - continue the strike or be released unconditionally.

 

There has been no word yet as to how the men on strike are faring, though there are scores of rumours floating about as to the illness of some of them. The great majority of the men imprisoned in Dundalk are natives of the southern end of the County Louth, of Monaghan and Cavan. About half a dozen are belonging to Dundalk. Most of the other Dundalk men who have been arrested are on the Curragh and in the Dublin jails.

 

A start was made with the demonstration last Thursday night, when a goodly crowd, principally women and girls, assembled outside the jail and recited the Rosary and sang hymns. The same was gone through on Friday night. There was excitement that night, because the soldiers made four arrests of men who were near the jail. They were names Nugent, Lennon, Quigly and Flood. All four were taken in custody and were so kept until Monday morning. No charge appears to have been made against the men.

 

There was nothing of note in the demonstrations until Thursday night, when a novel way of dispersing the crowd was taken. It appears that a hose was turned on the people assembled, and these, after many of them had been drenched, cleared off as quickly as they could. In the dispersing some girls received slight injuries. A rumour was current that one girl had been injured in the side by a bayonet stab.

There was no demonstration outside the jail on Wednesday night, but it was stated that the Rosary had been offered up in all churches of the town for the political prisoners in Dundalk jail.

 

Inquiries made yesterday elicit that of the 200 prisoners who have been on hunger strike in Dundalk jail since midnight on Saturday last, twelve are in hospital for the past two days and that three of them are reported seriously ill. One of the latter is a native of Drogheda, and the others are not from Louth County.

 

 

 

Dundalk Democrat, November 17th 1923

 

THE PRISONERS

 

Since the majority of prisoners here went off hunger striking there has been little of note to record in connection with the recent campaign of demonstrations which kept Dundalk in a state of excitement for a little while. It is now learned that all the prisoners who were in Dundalk jail, with the exception of a dozen, have been removed.

 

Some few Dundalk prisoners who had been in Southern jails were released during the week. Friends of others believe they will be at liberty almost immediately.

 

 

Dundalk Democrat, December 12th 1923

 

DUNDALK PRISONERS HOME

 

Practically all the Dundalk men who have been in jails or internment camps for months past were released during the week. The biggest batches arrived here on Monday night and Tuesday morning. Most of the men look well, their terms of imprisonment showing little signs. Naturally they are all delighted to be at home for Christmas.

 

 

1920 Burning of Blackrock RIC Barracks 1922 Bombing at Dundalk Jail 1923 Hunger Strike in Dundalk Jail 1924 Shooting at Dowdallshill Graveyard Dundalk

 

 

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1924 Shooting at Dowdallshill Graveyard, Dundalk

 

 

DUNDALK DEMOCRAT, October 18, 1924

 

THE EXECUTED MEN

 

In yesterday's papers it was announced that the Government had decided to hand over the bodies of the men executed during the civil strife in 1922-23. The intimation to the relatives stated that if they did not notify their intention of claiming the remains before Monday next, the military authorities would have them buried in sanctified ground.

 

Almost eighty executions took place altogether, and six of these were in Dundalk. At the County Jail on the morning of January , 13th 1922 three young men, Thos. McKeown, Piedmont, Bellurgan ; John McNulty, Carromannon, Balleeks, Co. Armagh, and Thomas Murray, Kilcarn, Navan, were shot on a charge of being in possession of firearms. Little over a week later (Jan. 22nd), three more also paid the supreme penalty at the Military Barracks. They were Jas. Melia, Bridge Street, Dundalk; Thomas Lennon, Dowdallshill and Joseph Ferguson, Gyles' Quay. The two former had been captured with arms at Dowdallshill on 7th January, and Ferguson was found in possession of a revolver at Lordship Hall on the same date.

 

It is understood that application has been made for the bodies of all six.

 

It was reported yesterday that the bodies in the Military Barracks had been exhumed, but on enquiry from the military last evening it was learned that so far no move had been made locally in the matter, and it was intimated that all applications would have to go to General Headquarters in Dublin.

 

 

 

 

DUNDALK DEMOCRAT, Saturday, November 1, 1924

 

GUNFIRE!

 

EXTRAORDINARY GRAVEYARD SCENES IN DUNDALK

 

Military and Civilians "Blaze Away" Over Dead Bodies.

 

Hundreds of Shots Fired in Cemetery

 

The Burial of the Executed Louthmen

 

St. Patrick's Cemetery, Dowdallshill, was on Thursday afternoon the scene of the most extraordinary occurrence to which Dundalk was ever treated, and when we consider the many strange happenings which have taken place in this town during the last five years, that is saying much.

 

The occasion for this latest and greatest sensation was the re-internment of six young men who had been executed here in January 1922.

 

When the coffins had been laid in the graves six young men proceeded to fire three volleys from revolvers. Military, who were on duty inside and outside the cemetery, rushed in with fixed bayonets towards the men.

 

Hundreds of shots were exchanged between the soldiers and the armed civilians.

 

Many hundreds of people who were in the cemetery at the time became panic stricken at the extraordinary happening. Women and children shrieked and all made a mad rush for shelter. Lucky ones got behind tombstones, while others, heedless of the rain, stretched themselves on the wet grass. Wreaths were broken and graves trampled on in a scramble to get out of the way of the whizzing bullets.

 

Many people were injured in the panic. One young man was brought to hospital seriously wounded by a bullet wound in his abdomen.

 

Last Thursday was the occasion of an remarkable public funeral in Dundalk, when the bodies of six young men who were executed here were laid to rest in the Republican Plot in St. Patrick's cemetery. Though the afternoon was wet and unpleasant, there was a remarkable assemblage of people to pay a last tribute to the young lads whose executions caused such widespread sorrow in the town and the surrounding districts. perhaps the most poignant feature of the executions at the time was that three of the lads were barely out of their teens. Besides, all of them had been extremely popular and their deaths under such circumstances, saddened everybody no matter what their political views were.

 

Recently the Government came to the decision to hand over the remains to the relatives of the deceased, and on Tuesday the formal handing over of the six executed here took place. At the Military Barracks three bodies were handed over - these being the remains of the men executed here on Saturday, January 13th. 1923. An hour later the remains of the other three men were taken from the jail. The men executed were:

John McNulty, Carrowmanon.

Thomas McKeown, Piedmont.

Thomas Murray, Navan.

James Melia, Bridge Street.

Thomas Lennon, Dowdallshill.

Joseph Ferguson, Gyles' Quay.

 

The last three had been shot in Dundalk barracks on Jan. 22, 1923. Melia and Lennon were very young lads, both of them very pleasant and popular with their companions. the other - Jim Ferguson - was a very popular Cooley footballer.

 

The remains of Murray were taken on Thursday to Navan. On Wednesday the body of Sylvester Heany, Dillonstown was conveyed to Dundalk, and the young man was amongst the number accorded a public funeral on Thursday.

 

A fine tribute was paid to the memory of the men in town this week. Hardly ever has there been such a throng as that which assembled in St. Patrick's Church on Thursday to meet the remains and to escort them to St. Patrick's cemetery. The bodies had been placed in the Labourers' Hall on Tuesday afternoon and from then until Thursday constant streams of people had visited there to pray for the souls of the lads. On Thursday morning  Mass was offered up in St. Patrick's and there was a very large congregation.

 

In the afternoon the procession took half an hour to pass a given point. In addition to the thousands who took part in the procession - and one noticed people from all parts of Ireland marching behind the remains - thousands more were on the footpaths.

 

The Emmet Band followed a small company of volunteers in marching order. Then came a Drogheda Pipers' Band, the pipers being in uniform. On a float there reposed the bodies of three of the men. The coffins were adorned with a mourning tri-colour and many floral tributes were laid on the flag.  Relatives marched next . Then came another float bearing the other three deceased. Their coffins were similarly draped and wreaths in profusion were placed on the coffins. Another conveyance followed and it was filled with wreaths.

 

Six motor cars carried the female relatives of the executed men, and after them came long lines of marching men. Most of these represented various football clubs in the town, the marchers sporting rosettes of their club colours. A big contingent of Quay workers also marched and a company of members of the Cumann na mBan also took part in the procession.

 

Thousands of people lined the side-walks of the town, and as the remains passed through Dundalk the bells of the Chapels tolled. There were many priests walking in the procession.

 

AT THE GRAVEYARD THE EXTRAORDINARY HAPPENING

 

Scenes that will never be forgotten by those who were present took place in the cemetery just as the graves of the six young men were about to be closed in.

 

The procession reached the cemetery at 3.30 and before it came to Dowdallshill a large number of young men fell out from the ranks and marched in military formation to the cemetery gate, where, after going through a few evolutions, formed cordons across the road so as to prevent the people rushing into the cemetery . A short distance up the Newry Road two Crossley tenders were pulled up, and a number of armed soldiers paced up and down beside them. They did not, however, interfere with those who were drilling.

 

The six coffins were then carried from the lorries to the Republican Plot, which is situate in the centre of the cemetery. The coffin containing the remains of Joseph Ferguson came first, the n the coffins of James Melia, Thomas Lennon, Syl. Heany, John Mc Nulty and Thomas McKeown. As they were being borne to the graves the Emmet Band played in the cemetery. Two large graves had been opened and in each were placed three coffins.

 

Despite the cordon of young men at the gate a large crowd burst into the cemetery before the remains were taken in, but were prevented from getting near the graves, as there was another cord on formed round the entire Republican Plot. Only relatives and the clergy, of whom there were several, were at first allowed into this enclosure. When the coffins were laid in the grave, there must have been a thousand people in the cemetery.

 

Rev. father Hurson, Adm. recited the prayers, assisted by the other clergy present and they were just about to withdraw from the gravesides when terrible scenes were enacted. A number of young men took up positions near the graves, and producing revolvers fired three volleys. Just as the last volley rang out a number of men in civilian attire, Free State soldiers, whipped out revolvers and rushed towards the graves. A number of uniformed and fully-equipped soldiers who had been in positions further out in the cemetery and in adjoining fields, also rushed up, with fixed bayonets. Soon the cemetery was the scene of indescribable confusion. The civilians who fired the first volleys appeared to have continued the firing as the military advanced and the soldiers replied with rifles and revolvers from different parts of the cemetery, and shots were also fired in the direction of the road. But this was only the beginning of a terrible five minutes. When the first shots between the civilians and the military were fired, the people fled terror stricken towards the road . They ran helter skelter, tripping over railings, breaking wreaths and tripping one another down in an endeavour to get from the danger zone. A big part of the crowd was composed of women and children and several of the former fainted and all shrieked hysterically. Several men raised cries of "Lie down" and "Keep down", and soon nearly everybody obeyed the command and stretched themselves on the wet graves or crouched behind tombstones. A torrential downpour of rain was falling and several had to be in muddy pools on the pathways. After a few minutes the firing grew more intense. The sharp crack of the revolver, and the louder report of the Lee Enfield was deafening, and for five minutes that seemed like so many hours, and while women and children cried and prayed, the rifles and revolvers blazed away. Then as suddenly as it commenced it ceased. The frightened people breathed a sigh of relief and rising from their places of safety among the tombstones, rushed frantically for the gate, and the soldiers followed one section with fixed bayonets urging them on. When the firing had stopped  nearly everybody had asked " How many are shot?" thinking that many of the bullets had found billets . The casualties, however,  were, fortunately, not heavy, but one young man was badly shot.  It appears that he was running in the direction of the Protestant cemetery as the firing was at its height, when he was noticed to stagger and fall. father Johnston, P.P. Dromiskin and other clergy and civilians rushed to his aid, and it was found that he had been caught by a bullet which entered his abdomen. He appeared to be suffering great pain, and after a short time was removed  by motor to the Louth Infirmary. It was stated that his condition was very serious. The victim is a young man named Joseph Hughes from Scotland, who was spending a holiday with some friends who reside at Seatown. Another young girl named Roddy from Barrack Street, was also injured, but not from bullets. While no other serious casualties could be traced, several other people, especially women and children, must have received minor injuries from falling against headstones and railings in the wild stampede.

 

Among those in the cemetery at the time of the shooting were some Civic Guards, who were also obliged to seek shelter from flying bullets. In a few minutes after the cessation of the shooting the graveyard was practically cleared. The rush to the gates was almost as "panicky" as the stampede when the shooting began. Many who were unable to get through flung themselves over the walls and railings and fled as quickly as they could from Dowdallshill.

 

The military, after the greater majority of the people had left, rounded up a number of young men and women and searched them. It was stated that two young men were found in possession of revolvers. Several young men were taken into custody and removed in Crossleys to the military barracks. Amongst them were Ivor Monaghan, Tom Rogers, John Toal, and others names Clifford, Bailie, Goodfellow etc. All were released on Thursday night except Monaghan and Goodfellow.

 

The dreadful occurrence was the sole topic of discussion in the town during the evening, and the action of the military in visiting the cemetery was generally condemned. many people had marvellous escapes from being shot. A bullet smashed a wreath near where a young man was lying, and several declared that they could hear the bullets whizzing above them where they lay. It is, however, apparent that the greater number of shots were fired into the air, for had this not been so, the casuality (sic) list would undoubtedly be heavy owing to the people being crowded so closely together.

 

There was considerable military activity in Dundalk in the afternoon, and Crossley tenders on the streets were much in evidence.

 

 

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1920 Burning of Blackrock RIC Barracks 1922 Bombing at Dundalk Jail 1923 Hunger Strike in Dundalk Jail 1924 Shooting at Dowdallshill Graveyard Dundalk

 

 

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25 January 2010

 

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