Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Barrowhouse 16th May 1921

‘On Thursday 19th May 1921 the final phase of the Barrowhouse tragedy was completed when the bodies of two young men, Lacey and Connor, were interred at Barrowhouse graveyard.’ So reported the Leinster Leader a week after the Barrowhouse ambush on Monday 16th May. A subsequent military Court of Enquiry was held in Ballylinan into the deaths of James Lacey and William Connor. The evidence adduced at the enquiry showed that an R.I.C. cycle patrol, consisting of a sergeant and four men, were ambushed at Shanganamore. The patrol consisted of Sergeant John McHale, Constables Grey, Denis Griffin, James Keane and another unidentified constable. The police were cycling in single file when the sergeant saw a man with a gun in his hand running across a field towards a ditch near the road. Sergeant McHale shouted a warning to the patrol to take cover. While they were doing so a volley of shots rang out and one of the constables fell to the ground wounded. The policemen returned fire. After about an hour the attackers withdrew (subsequent reports indicated that the exchange of fire lasted for 10 or 15 minutes). Following a search the R.I.C. found a body lying in the ditch with a shotgun still held in the hand. This was the body of James Lacey in whose pockets ammunition was also found. The enquiry was told that the R.I.C. then withdrew to Athy, returning later with reinforcements. Another search of the ambush scene lead to the discovery of a second body, as well as several shotguns and some ammunition. The Court of Enquiry found that James Lacey and William Connor died from bullet wounds inflicted by crown forces in the execution of their duty. The local newspapers when reporting the incident noted that when news of the ambush reached Athy the streets cleared quickly and were empty before curfew hour. The curfew in force from 10pm to 5am was changed to commence at 9pm following the Barrowhouse ambush. Reprisals by crown forces following I.R.A. activity was a common feature of the War of Independence. Houses in the Barrowhouse area were raided by crown forces following the ambush. Patrick Lynch, a carpenter by trade who lived near the ambush site, subsequently prepared a statement of the R.I.C. raid on his house which culminated in the burning of his home and his workshop. Lynch was first approached by constable Bagley and an unidentified sergeant who questioned him about his involvement with the I.R.A. Lynch had not been involved in the ambush but after being questioned Constable Bagley said to him: ‘it’s only ten chances to one that you will be burned out tonight Lynch’. The R.I.C. search of Lynch’s house left the house contents in disarray and Lynch reported how one man wearing a dark waterproof coat threatened him with a revolver saying, ‘you thought to shoot me up the road today’. However, Constable Denis Griffin intervened and told Lynch, ‘I won’t let him shoot you.’ The following morning at 2am a threshing machine, 40 tons of hay and 20 tons of straw belonging to Martin Lyons were destroyed in an act of reprisal by the crown forces. Patrick Lynch’s home and workshop were burned to the ground, while Mary Malone’s house was also destroyed. On the 3rd of July the house which Constable Griffin rented from Mrs. Hickey at Ballylinan crossroads was burned to the ground. Local newspapers reported how a party of masked men entered at night-time the house occupied by Mrs. Griffin and her children while her husband was away. The I.R.A. burned the house with all its contents. Two days later Constable Griffin was shot and seriously injured when ambushed by a number of men as he cycled from his lodgings to the R.I.C. Barracks in Mountmellick. He was severely wounded in the left groin and was subsequently declared unfit for service in the R.I.C. He would receive the constabulary medal in July 1921 as did Constable James Kane, while Sergeant McHale and Constable Edward Gray were awarded the third-class favourable record for their involvement in the Barrowhouse ambush. The day after the Barrowhouse ambush Constable Martin Doran, formally of Cardenton, Athy was shot and killed in Kinnity, Co. Offaly. A 24 year old single man Doran had joined the R.I.C. three years previously. The R.I.C. barracks in Athy was attacked by the I.R.A. six days after the Barrowhouse ambush. The attack started at about 11pm and lasted for about thirty minutes. There were no casualties. Three days after the ambush Fr. J. Nolan C.C. Athy, assisted by Canon Mackey, P.P. Athy and six other priests celebrated High Mass in Barrowhouse church for James Lacey and William Connor. There was a large congregation in attendance and at the end of the Mass I.R.A. volunteers carried the coffins to the nearby graveyard. The two coffins were placed in the same grave. The last post was sounded by a volunteer and three volleys were fired over the grave. The ambush site at Barrowhouse is today marked by a simple memorial.

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