ON September 18, 1920, during the War of Independence, there was an attack on the Scariff RIC Barracks.
Communications were cut with the other barracks in East Clare and the attack began at 10 pm. Shots were exchanged but the IRA failed to capture the building. Two policemen received slight injuries and at 3am, the attack was called off.
Severe raids by the Black and Tans and the Auxiliaries followed and many of the volunteers had to leave their homes and go on the run. They had a series of safe houses where they could rest and had developed a system of early warnings of possible raids by the authorities. One of the safe houses used was the caretaker’s quarters attached to Williamstown House on the shores of Lough Derg near Whitegate.
On November 16, the Board of Works streamer, The Shannon, sailed into Williamstown Harbour. No particular notice was taken of it, as the harbour was due for dredging. However, there was a force of Auxiliaries hidden below deck and they came ashore and surrounded Williamstown House. They arrested the caretaker, Michael Egan, and in his quarters captured Brud Mac Mahon, Alfie Rogers and Martin Gildea. They were officers of the Fourth Battalion, East Clare Brigade of the IRA and had been on the run since the attack on Scariff barracks and the reprisal raids. The four of them were brought by the steamer down the lake to Killaloe.
They were severely tortured, taken out onto the bridge at Killaloe and shot. Even the local clergy were denied admission to the barracks. On November 18, their families were sent telegrams informing them that the four had been shot while trying to escape. That was also the Government’s attitude and the chief secretary told the House of Commons that the crown forces were entitled to fire on people who were trying to escape and who refused to halt when challenged. Eventually the families were allowed claim the bodies and they were brought in four hearses to Scariff Church.
There was a strict 7pm to 7am curfew in force but in spite of that, the local council were determined to hold an inquiry. The coroner for East Clare, Patrick Culloo from Tulla evaded the curfew and convened an inquest in Scariff Church. They ordered a doctor to examine the bodies and he found that each had at least 17 bullet wounds, all fired from close range. The inquest jury returned a verdict of wilful murder by members of the crown forces.
On the Saturday, over 50 priests celebrated solemn requiem mass for the deceased in Scariff Church and they were buried together in the church grounds. Four lorries of Black and Tans and Auxiliaries surrounded the church and graveyard and mourners were forced to pass through a cordon leaving the church. The church itself was searched while the burial was taking place.
The capture and killing of the four men is remembered in the ballad The Scariff Martyrs, well known in East Clare, which has been recorded by Christy Moore in recent years.
The four Scariff Martyrs, Michael Egan, Brud McMahon, Alfie Rogers and Martin Gildea were shot by crown forces on the Bridge at Killaloe on November 17, 1920 – 90 years ago this week.