Home » Regional » East Clare » Remembering the Glenwood Ambush of 1921
Minister for Defence and Clare native, Tony Killeen, laying a wreath at the site on the Glenwood Ambush as the 90th anniversary was marked in 2011. Also pictured are Fr Harry Bohan and members of the Glenwood Ambush Memorial Committee.

Remembering the Glenwood Ambush of 1921

PLANS to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Glenwood ambush on Wednesday next, January 20, have now been deferred to later in the year in compliance with Covid-19 Level 5 restrictions.

A very scaled down commemorative event will take place on the anniversary, however, with the lighting of a memorial lamp and the flying of a tricolour.

The mounting of a commemoration plaque aptly named ‘An Teach Sábháilte,’ the Safe House, will go ahead as planned, but the unveiling has deferred to a future date. The wall plaque is being sculptured and fitted by Michael McTigue, and will take the shape of a 1920-style house. It will include revolutionary figures, facilitated by the bravery of women including members of Cumann na mBan. They provided support including food and shelter to the volunteers while on the run during the War of Independence. Other items on the plaque will include the rising sun and a semi-completed harp to signify the dawn of freedom, while the silhouette of a Black and Tan silhouette will evoke the enemy Irish volunteers faced.

The local memorial committee headed up by its chairman Patsy Neville, secretary Michael McNamara Sixmilebridge and treasurer John Lenihan are now accepting donations to cover the costs related to the plaque and a re-enactment of the ambush, which will hopefully take place later this year

The ambush

THE following account of the ambush describes the event in detail from the Republican side and is based on interviews with the participants and their written accounts.

In mid-January 1921, orders were sent to all six battalions of the East Clare Brigade asking all available IRA volunteers to assemble at a local house at Castlelake on the morning of January 20. The officers of the brigade had decided to attempt to ambush the regular RIC patrol travelling from Sixmilebridge to Broadford.

In response to the order, 37 IRA volunteers reported for duty. Half of them carried rifles while the remainder were armed with shotguns and revolvers. A number of the Republicans who had arrived unarmed, volunteered as scouts. Joseph Clancy of Kilkishen, a local and a former soldier in the British Army, was now an active volunteer. He suggested a suitable location for the attack at the rear entrance to Glenwood House. Commander Michael Brennan accepted his advice and divided up the men into different sections and explained the plan of attack.

At Glenwood, the Republican scouts were posted along the road a short distance in both directions from the IRA’s new position. The 30 or so remaining IRA volunteers were divided into three sections under the command of Michael Brennan, his brother Austin of Meelick and Tom McGrath of O’Callaghan’s Mills. The men in Michael Brennan’s section were all armed with rifles and positioned along a high stone wall just north of the gate to Glenwood House. The stone wall would give then a good cover from enemy fire and a direct line of fire for about 50 or 60 yards. Michael Brennan himself was armed with a revolver and stood a few yards behind the men in his group positioned along this wall.

Joseph Clancy was hidden behind a large holly bush on top of the wall, keeping watch along the road as the other volunteers remained hidden. Austin Brennan’s group, equipped with rifles and shotguns, was placed 50 yards further north behind another stone wall. The remaining men, under Tom McGrath’s command, were located along the edge of a field 100 yards to the south of the gate, armed with revolvers. The ambushers were to hold their fire, until riflemen under Michael Brennan’s command attacked the lorry.

The intelligence gathered by Jack Egan of Pollough, showed that the RIC patrol was due to travel through the area at 11am. When there was no sign of the ambush by 11.30am, Mick Neville was dispatched to Kilkishen to see if he could get any news of the RIC patrol’s location. He returned with refreshments and to report that the patrol had not passed through the village.

By 3.30pm, the IRA officers at Glenwood came to the conclusion that the RIC patrol had travelled by a different route. They had begun to recall their scouts when they reported that a lorry was approaching the ambush position. A few moments later, the volunteers heard the roar of the vehicle’s engine. With a number of the scouts already withdrawn, the IRA still did not know whether it was the RIC patrol or not, as a number of civilian lorries had passed during the day.

After their long wait, the IRA officers were anxious that the men would not fire an accidental shot. As the lorry approached, Joseph Clancy climbed on top of the wall which Michael Brennan’s section were positioned behind, and kept watch to see if the approaching lorry was the expected RIC patrol. Clancy made repeated appeals to the riflemen to hold their fire until the lorry came into view and entered the ambush position. He recognised the lorry as a police vehicle and then shouted ‘Police’ and dropped down into his position. As the RIC patrol entered the ambush position the IRA members still did not know the strength of the enemy patrol and whether there was a second, or possibly even a third, Crossley Tender lorry following.

Because of this uncertainty, Michael Brennan did not give the order to fire until the tender had almost drawn level with his sections position. “There was no time to get the out posts posted, but as it sounded like there was only one lorry, it seemed to be a fair chance,” he said. “The whistle brought a burst of fire from front and side. Many aimed at the driver, but though they knocked off his cap and hit nearly everyone else on the lorry, he was unscathed. His steering column was broken though and the lorry went out of control rolling in against the wall where we were standing.”

While the RIC lorry was slowing to a halt, Dan Lenihan threw a hand grenade into the back, but it failed to explode. As the IRA continued firing on the lorry, its driver jumped clear across the bonnet of the vehicle and ran for cover. He managed to leave the roadway and disappeared into nearby woods throwing aside his belt, revolver, ammunition and coat in an bid to escape. A second RIC man. who had been seriously wounded, got out of the back of the lorry and escaped, while the Republicans had turned their attention from the lorry onto its fleeing driver.

Within two minutes, the ambush ended and Michael Brennan ordered a ceasefire. The IRA’s initial attack had been so effective that the entire RIC patrol had not been able to return fire. Five men were killed instantly, one was mortally wounded but was not yet dead. Four escaped, two with injuries. The dead and injured were carried to the roadside and one member of the flying column was sent to Sixmilebridge to summon spiritual aid for them from Fr Daly and Fr O’Dea. The IRA Volunteers searched the dead and wounded and recovered eight rifles, seven .45 revolvers, almost a 1,000 rounds of ammunition. Knowing that the sound of gunfire would have been heard and reported to the British forces, the IRA withdrew eastwards toward Oatfield, after setting fire to the Crossley Tender.

Reprisals

FOR those who lived in the region of Glenwood, the days following the ambush became a living nightmare as RIC, Black and Tans and Auxiliaries converged on the district for the inevitable reprisals. Michael Brennan records, in his memoirs, counting over 30 fires burning into the night, as he stood on top of the hills overlooking the region. Crown forces swept down upon the area with a vengeance, leaving a line of burning houses stretching from Feakle to Sixmilebridge.

The Clancy family home in Kilkishen was burned down. So too was Jimmy Neville’s and Martin ‘The Neighbbour’ McNamara family home. Also torched were Fitzgerald’s at Belvoir Cross, Duggan’s at Athclare, Savage’s at Lissane and McDonald’s in Bodyke. There were many searches and beatings as the British forces attempted to find the whereabouts of the column. The day after the ambush, the sun rose to reveal the sight of charred houses and gutted sheds. What remained of the Crossely Tender and the bodies were removed from the ambush site. The district continued to experience the struggles of guerrilla warfare in the months ahead. A week after the ambush, a despatch rider was arrested at Glenwood and executed by the IRA, when he refused to reveal what message he was carrying. His body lay in a shallow grave for a number of weeks before being exhumed and given a proper burial.

Sometime later, Martin McNamara, Paddy Clancy and Jack Curley all of whom were on the run, went into Kilkishen for a day. They were in Boyle’s Bar, later known as Eva’s, when unknown to them, two lorry loads of Black and Tans arrived in the village.

It appears that one lorry stopped neat the Protestant church, while the other drove through the street and stopped near the forge. The two parties of Tans then dismounted and proceeded to converge on the street from either end. At this point, the men in the bar were informed of what was happening and attempted to escape through the fields to the back of the street, only to be met by the bullets from both sides.

In the running battle that followed, McNamara was wounded in the leg and had to be carried by his comrades across the fields in the direction of Belvoir. Having crossed the O’Garney River, the wounded man hid for the rest of the day in the woods near Belvoir. He was later removed to a safe house that night by Stevie Heffernan and Paddy Hassett of Ballyvourgal.

 

About Fiona McGarry

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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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