TUESDAY was exactly 100 years on from the Rineen ambush and the atrocities that followed, and the events of that day were marked at the site of the ambush and in Lahinch.
Due to Covid-19, relatively few people were able to attend the commemorations of what was one of the most notable events in Clare during the War of Independence.
Mary Crawford is part of the commemoration committee, which met in Rineen and raised the Irish flag at the site where the IRA engaged with the enemy, killing six RIC men. She said they had decided at a very early stage that holding a mass ceremony wasn’t a possibility. “Last March, when it started to look like we’d have a lockdown we guessed we wouldn’t be proceeding with commemorations really, so we were ready for it. Obviously we’d have something else planned in other circumstances, but we did all we could,” she said.
Mary’s grand-uncle was involved in the ambush, sent to Miltown to observe movements there, and he reported back to the party at Rineen that the forces were likely to pass along the road.
With a large number of people in the north west Clare area having family ties to the ambush, she said there is huge interest in the events. “Ten years ago when we had the 90th anniversary, there were about 500 people in attendance at the commemoration. There were 350 sat down for lunch afterwards in the Armada and there were certainly another 100 to 150 people there. That shows the level of interest there is. Of course it was a big ambush in terms of the numbers involved. When you look at it that way you’d expect a bigger attendance than for other events.”
She said that many of those who have been involved in commemorating the ambush would have very close ties to those who carried out the attack. “Many people involved in the commemorations would have had parents involved and would have had first hand accounts of what happened in Rineen. Joe O’Neill laid the wreath this morning, he is the grandson of the commanding officer, Ignatius O’Neill.”
Going to the site of the ambush on the centenary was a poignant moment for her. “As I was going down this morning, I was thinking about all the people who came from Inagh, where I live, to Rineen and how difficult the whole thing was for everybody involved in the ambush, their families, families of the people who died as well. You couldn’t but be emotional about it. Certainly I found it to be extraordinarily emotional ten years ago at the ninetieth anniversary when our national army was there, the Minister for Defence was Tony Killeen at the time and there was a great honour. It was a great tribute to the people who were involved in the ambush.”
She says that there are plans to work with schools to broaden understanding of the years that led to Irish freedom. “We are working on a project with the schools on Cumann na mBan to try and recognise the role that women played during that time. Schools are anxious to be involved in it, at the present time we wouldn’t want to put any more work on schools, but once things settle down we’ll talk to them again. I know transition year teachers are anxious to start it and hopefully it’ll be positive and give an extra dimension to commemoration.”
A plaque in honour those who died 100 years earlier was unveiled at Flanagan’s Bar in Lahinch on the day. Brian O’Higgins was involved in organising it, and he said descendants of those who were burned out of their homes in the village were in attendance. “It was absolutely brilliant, the families of all the people whose homes were burned were all there. We had Ignatius O’Neill’s (the man who led the ambush) great grandson there, we had a grandson of Susan Flanagan (who owned Flanagan’s in 1920 when it was burned) playing the violin of his grandmother, Fionán O’Higgins played the tin whistle and it was very touching.”
He said the event had been very fitting. “Colm Hayes gave a wonderful lecture on what happened in Rineen and the burning of Ennistymon and Lahinch. The whole thing was very dignified, there was social distancing, but it wasn’t the kindest of weather. The Lehane family were absolutely bowled over because of the tributes paid to Pakie who lost his life (he died in the burning of Flanagan’s). It was very moving, we were very pleased, it was a great local event. It was a fitting tribute to a hero and to the other people in Lahinch who lost their lives on that day.”
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.