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Preparing for the official unveiling of a wall plaque to mark the 100th anniversary of the burning of the RIC barracks in Ruan, were; Pat Casey, committee member, Nelly Kelly, Mary Casey, Morty Kelly, Joe Keane, representing his dad Frank Keane in the Mid Clare Div, Leonard Mc Donagh, committee member, and Sean Custy representing his father Tim Custy of the Ruan Toonagh Dysert Volunteers. Photograph by John Kelly.

Clare historical group brings major war action to book

A FASCINATING aspect of the history of Ruan has been brought to life in a new booklet focusing on a critical incident during the War of Independence in North Clare. 

The taking of Ruan RIC Barracks on the morning of October 18, 1920, has been carefully researched by members of the Ruan-Dysert Historical Group, in the hope of passing a vital piece of history on to future generations. 

The Historical Group came together six to seven years ago, according to Ruan’s Leonard McDonagh, with a view to documenting the history of the Ruan-Dysert Parish. “We wanted to gather a record of the area’s history,” Leonard said.

“We were very aware that older people were passing away and homes becoming vacant. We were concerned that younger people were losing sight of their history and we set out around 2018 to start looking at the history of each townland. To be honest, we found that younger people no longer know what a townland is.”

Intensive efforts on the part of the Historical Group unearthed the taking of the local barracks in Ruan as a key part of the War of Independence in the north of the county. 

In the late Autumn of 1920, tensions were running high. The events that led to the daring early-morning raid on Ruan Barracks are outlined in great detail in the 63-page booklet.

It covers in detail the methodical planning necessary, the attack itself and the aftermath of the capture of the building. In the context of the War of Independence, it is important to understand that the prevailing atmosphere was one of great uncertainty and fear.

Just one month prior to the attack on the Ruan Barracks, the area was in the grip of the reign of terror that followed the Rineen Ambush near Miltown Malbay. 

Ruan’s geographical position had made life difficult for the IRA units to operate without the suspicions of the British forces based in Ennis and Corofin. The Crown forces, as they were sometimes referred to, maintained a vicelike grip on the movements of IRA Volunteers. 

The barracks was heavily fortified and it was said that it was next to impossible to gain access to the building without resorting to heavy artillery. The brigade was also short of rifles and guns it would have needed in order to make sporadic attacks at selected locations on the Crown forces. 

The booklet documents in detail the role of RIC member Constable William Carroll. The Roscommon native was sympathetic to the IRA cause and willing to defect. His help was critical to accessing the otherwise fortified building. 

In a foreword, Joe Keane, whose father was involved in the action, points out the difficulty of organising such a daring attack.

In an era long before mobile phones or social media, scouts who were familiar with the layout of the surrounding landscape and trustworthy, were the conduits of codes and messages.

Manning road blocks and keeping watch on the movements of Crown Forces was a continual process and many Volunteers were active in a myriad of tasks prior to the attacks and in subsequent follow up operations.

The booklet also gives prominence to the role of Cumann na mBan during this turbulent period. The contribution by the Ruan-Dysert battalions to enable Volunteers secure sanctuary while on the run from the authorities was central. Members were also able to offer first aid when necessary.

The details of those involved in the capture of the barracks are also documented and the booklet contains photos of the Ruan-Dysert Historical Group’s commemorative activities on the centenary of the event. 

“We have also included a song by Michael Kelly, a shoemaker from Ruan who was also a skilful wordsmith,” explained Leonard.

“He created an account of the incident, which was over in a matter of around a quarter of an hour. The ballad, ‘Where Did the Peelers Go?’ Is enshrined in local lore at this stage.”

“There was one fatality in the incident, a constable from Sligo. It seemed to be an accidental rather than deliberate shooting. Very significantly, there were no reprisals for the capture of the barracks and Constable Carroll went on to join a number of IRA skirmishes following the incident.”

The Ruan-Dysert Historical Group has extended its thanks to all those who contributed stories and nuggets of information handed down through family members and financial support to enable the booklet be produced.

Colm Hayes Printers also provided invaluable help to group members who patiently researched the story over the past year. The winter evenings should be all the shorter for those who purchase a copy and it is available from any member of the Ruan-Dysert Historical Group. 

The group is now continuing its historical research and looking forward to capturing more evidence of the past.

“We’re a like-minded group,” said Leonard. “We are keen that younger people would learn about their area and the history of its townlands and we’ll be keeping very active in researching it.”

About Fiona McGarry

Fiona McGarry joined The Clare Champion as a reporter after a four-year stint as producer of Morning Focus on Clare FM. Prior to that she worked for various radio, print and online titles, including Newstalk, Maximum Media and The Tuam Herald. Fiona’s media career began in her native Mayo when she joined Midwest Radio. She is the maker of a number of radio documentaries, funded by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI). She has also availed of the Simon Cumbers Media Fund to report on development issues supported by Irish Aid in Haiti. She won a Justice Media Award for a short radio series on the work of Bedford Row Project, which supports prisoners and families in the Mid-West. Fiona also teaches on the Journalism programmes at NUI Galway. If you have a story and would like to get in touch with Fiona you can email her at fmcgarry@clarechampion.ie or telephone 065 6864146.

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