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Rineen ambush centenary: Clare Champion contemporary report

THE first Clare Champion of the month of October 1920 contains fascinating reports of the Rineeen ambush and the actions of the State forces in the aftermath, as they caused devastation in the local area.

A lengthy report opens stating that, “A special representative of The Clare Champion visited Ennistymon and Lahinch on Saturday to ascertain as far as possible the nature and extent of the reprisals carried out there, following the tragic and fatal attack on the police on Black Hill, in which six policemen were shot dead.”

Describing the recent events as a “painful chapter in history”, it dealt with the ambush first. “All the police in the wagon were shot dead,and the body of one policeman was, it is stated riddled with bullets.”

While it said that obtaining all the correct information about the reprisals was not easy, “what is known is quite sufficient to bring home to all concerned the terrible realities of the present situation in this truly unhappy country.”

The report said that it seemed in Ennistymon the “Town Hall was first burned down, after which Tom Connole, despite the entreaties of his wife, was taken out of his house and shot dead, his body was subsequently found in the burning debris of his house, which was also burned down.” While it seemed his killers believed he had been involved in the attack, “the unanimous conviction of the people of the town is that he was perfectly innocent.” A 31-year-old man he left a wife and two children, three years and four months of age respectively.

Patrick Linnane was shot dead soon after and the report said he “had a bullet wound across the temple and a nasty wound in the back of the skull”. Just 21 years of age he was described as “a bright, intelligent young man and it is stated (he) took no part in politics.”

Numerous buildings, both businesses and people’s homes, were burned out by the raiders.

The State forces also did plenty of damage in nearby Lahinch. “Lahinch was visited at about 2.30pm and several houses were burned as well as some lives lost. The Town Hall, the property of the Misses Collins was completely burned down and the following houses destroyed; Miss Flanagan’s bar and grocery, Vaughan’s grocery, Miss O’Dwyer’s drapery premises, J Halpin’s public house, M Reynold’s public house, Mr Thomas Blackwell’s Premises were set fire to but he succeeded in extinguishing the flames, the hall and front room being damaged.”

Another local business had a lucky escape. “When the Marine Hotel was visited, Miss Collins made an appeal that it should be spared as it was entirely occupied by ladies and as they had already suffered enough by the loss of the Town Hall. Mr Bryant, an Excise Officer, who came on the scene supported the appeal of Miss Collins, which was granted, and the party moved away, giving permission at the same time to Miss Collins to take in a number of terrified women and children who were outside.”

However not everyone was so lucky. “An exceptionally painful tragedy was the shooting of a man named Sammon, a native of Feakle who was in Lahinch for a holiday. It is stated that having jumped from a window in a burning house he was running for safety when called on to halt; he did not do so and was shot dead. The circumstances in this case are not clear as another account states that he was shot on leaving the house.”

It added, “It is sad to record that he was in Lahinch for a holiday and had only arrived there the day before. He leaves a widow and child in sorrow.”

While the report did not name him, it refers to the discovery of the remains of Pakie Lehane, an IRA volunteer. “About five o’clock on Thursday evening the charred remains of a male human body were found in Flanagan’s house. He was interred at Killura burial ground on the following day.”

It was clear that the local population were deeply traumatised by the violence, and desperately afraid there would be more of it. “Fearing a repetition of the horrible outbreak, residents of Lahinch slept out in the sandhills for two nights, and many have left the place altogether.”

The report concludes stating, “Miltown Malbay, as reported in our last issue, suffered in a like degree, but no loss of life occurred. It is stated that police helped to extinguish some of the flames in this town.”

Other reports in the paper show that the War of Independence was being felt across the country, with details of the fatal shooting of an RIC man in East Clare. “At 9.15pm on Saturday night last, five policemen on patrol duty at Broadford separated into two parties. the part of three had proceeded only a few yards when they were confronted by 15 men who opened fire on them. Constable Brogan was shot dead, and Constable Brennan slightly wounded.”

There was also a report about the disappearance of three officers. “Though nearly all the houses along the sea, coast and coastline from Doonbeg to Ennistymon have been searched by military and police, no trace of the missing RM Captain Lendrum, has been got.” It also said that “Mr McClean, a traveller and ex officer, who with Captain Collins is missing, was on a visit to Lisdoonvarna. Both were missing since Saturday night.”

About Owen Ryan

Owen Ryan has been a journalist with the Clare Champion since 2007, having previously worked for a number of other regional titles in Limerick, Galway and Cork.