Her participation in the recent ceremony to mark the 90th anniversary of the Rineen Ambush gave Maureen Connole an opportunity to reflect on the role the Ennistymon family played in the War of Independence.
Now 91 years of age, Maureen Connole can recall one of the blackest days in the history of the North Clare town. It was torched and two local people shot by the RIC and their auxiliary force, the Black and Tans, following the Rineen Ambush on September 22, 1920.
After volunteers from the Mid-Clare Battalion carried out the ambush in which six members in the RIC convoy were killed, Ennistymon Town Hall and various premises in the town were burned some hours later in reprisal. A party of RIC members also proceeded to Circular Road and the home of Maureen’s uncle, Tom Connole.
Thirty one-years-old and married with two children, he was a volunteer but was not involved in Rineen. However, he and his family were taken from their home which was then set alight. Tom was shot nearby and his body was thrown back into the burning house. His charred remains were found in his burnt-out home the following morning. Maureen was only one-year-old at the time but down the years, she learned of the events from stories told in her Parliament Street home.
Her late father, Joe, well-known in North Clare, was also a volunteer and had returned to Ennistymon after being on the run. Near the door of his own home, he met a local woman who was working in the local military barracks. Even though she could not be seen talking to Joe, she warned him to get out of town.
Maureen said that on the evening of September 22, 1920 her uncle Tom and his wife and family were in their home. He was reading the paper when the RIC knocked at the door. His wife was sitting down with the baby in her lap and they knew nothing about Rineen. Tom answered the door and the RIC asked him three times “are you Tom Connole”. He replied yes and they said they wanted him out of the house.
His wife knew there was something happening and she went down on her knees and begged the RIC not to shoot her husband. However, one member was very rough with her and she was brought down the Pound Road. On her way there, she heard three shots and then saw the blaze coming from the house. The Stack family, who had a big house overlooking Tom’s house, brought her into their home. Later that night, she and the family transferred to the Connole home in Parliament Street where they stayed for a long time. Tom’s wife was never told why her husband was shot.
Maureen’s father returned to Ennistymon the following morning and on the street, several people sympathised with him. He thought something had happened to his mother, who had a small shop in Church Street. He went to her house and was delighted to see everything seemed okay but he was told that his brother was dead.
He went straight to Tom’s house and saw three bullets on the ground but there was no sign of Tom. Searching the premises, he came across a flagstone near the door and when he lifted it, he saw some bones.
As to why Tom was shot, Maureen said it should be remembered that he was a volunteer. She said there was a rumour circulating at the time that somebody had loaned a coat from Tom or Tom got a loan of a coat from somebody. A man’s name was mentioned and it was believed that there was a letter in the coat of the the man who had been in Rineen.
Maureen said her father always denied the rumour about the letter, as did Tom’s wife claiming that he had never got an overcoat.
A memorial now stands in Circular Road to the memory of Tom Connole.
Although married to Limerick native Tony Metcalfe and living at Upper Deerpark on the ourskirts of Ennistmon, Maureen is still popularly known by her maiden name. She says letters from abroad and addressed to Maureen Connole are delivered to her door.
Her late father Joe was a court clerk in Ennistymon and Miltown Malbay for many years and Maureen remarked on the great friendships he had with former district court justices, the late Dermot Gleeson and the late Gordon Hurley, who lived in Lahinch.
On the occasion of the Rineen Ambush anniversary, Maureen was presented with a citation commemorating Joe, who died at the age of 81 years on January 13, 1968.
Joe was part of an old and respected family who ran a successful cooperage for the butter industry in Ennistymon from the mid-19th century to 1926, when the demand for wodden barrels and associated items began to decline. According to Slaters Commercial Directory of Ireland, Ennistymon had five coopers in 1881, John Clair, Patrick Connole, Michael Malone, John Nagle and Patrick O’Brien, while John Sharry carried on a similar business in Lahinch.
Eamon Waldron, who was quartermaster and later adjutant of the West Clare Brigade, in a document referring to the organisation in Ennistymon, said Joe Connole gave much of his time to the organisation of the volunteer movement in the the district and was one of those who were mobilised to await instructions at Easter 1916.
Joe took an active part in the War of Independence and following his arrest in late November 1920, he was interned at Ballykinlar prisoner of war camp in County Down for 18 months, from December 1920 until February 1922. Prior to that, he was interned in Limerick and Cork and was transported with other prisoners by ship, the Black Bird, from Cork to Belfast. On arrival in Belfast, they received a hostile reception and were pelted with stones, It was only following the intervention of the captain of the Black Bird that safe passage to the camp in Ballykinlar was arranged. Following his release, Joe maintained a life-long membership with some of his fellow prisoners, exchanging cards and letters regularly.
He opened the first district court set up under the Irish Free State in Ennistymon in 1922 and served for some four decades as clerk. A noted sportsman and fisherman, he was also appointed district court clerk in Miltown Malbay.
Maureen had one sister, Nancy, who died four years ago. Nancy was one of the best known members of Lahinch Golf Club and for 58 years, was honorary secretary of the ladies section.
Maureen said Joe liked the girls to be at home and they accompanied him on his fishing and shooting trips on their own lands. They also played cards with him and at the age of 13, Maureen became a founder member of Ennistymon Bridge Club.
Their mother was the former Mary O’Brien, whose family were involved in gardening in Deerpark.
Both Maureen and Nancy went to primary school locally, Seamount College, Kinvara and a private school in Limerick. A sister of one of teachers in Limerick was married to one of the signatories of the 1916 Proclamation, which was why their father wanted them to go to school there, Maureen said.
After school, Nancy served her apprenticeship as an accountant with chartered accountants Metcalfes and that was where Maureen met her future husband.
Staunch Fine Gael, Maureen said she was very young when Joe told his wife that Michael Collins had been shot. In later years, Maureen asked her father did he know Collins. He said he did, describing him as an honest man; the best Irish man ever. She did not know until many years later that her father was on the reserves for Easter Week.
Maureen lived in Dublin for some years when her husband was attached to the foreign exchange division of AIB. However, in retirement they have been living in Ennistymon for the past 28 years.
Over the years Maureen also kept in touch with Jack Connole,a son of the late Tom Connole, who qualified as an engineer in Cork. Later on a vacancy arose in Clare County Council for the Ennistymon area and he was successful in filling the position. While working in North Clare he stayed with the Connole family in Parliament Street. He later joined the engineering corps in the Irish army and was with the advance party of the first group of Irish soldiers to go on overseas duty. He travelled with the 39th Irish Battaltion which went to Congo. He retired with the rank of colonel.
In her youth, Maureen was also a contributor to the columns of The Clare Champion. She was only 16 years of age when she contributed local notes and short stories and also wrote articles for The Connacht Tribune.
Amomg her favourite items, Maureen refers to a photograph hanging in her home, that of an English man, Sir Thomas Harley from Chesire. It was taken by Anthony Armstrong Jones, who was married to Princess Margaret. A big cattle herd owner, Sir Thomas was a great friend of Joe Connole and when he came to a fair in the town, he bought him a present of a pedigree cow.
Fr Griffin, the volunteer from County Galway, also killed by the British forces, is also spoken of in the Connole home. The Ennistymon parish was one of his first appointments and it was he who baptised Nancy Connole on October 23, 1917. He was later transfered to Galway. A supporter of the republican movement, he disappeared in November 1920. One week later, he was found shot near Barna. Fr Griffin Road in Galway is now named after him.