Tag Archives: Royal Irish Constabulary

Feakle ambush & reprisals: Multiple views of an event

At midmorning Oct. 7, 1920, nearly two dozen Irish Republic Army gunmen hidden in houses fired on six Royal Irish Constabulary officers outside the Feakle, Co. Clare, post office. Two policemen were killed in the ambush; another badly wounded as he escaped with the other three officers after they exchanged fire with the snipers. 

What happened next was typical of the tit-for-tat of Ireland’s revolutionary period, as described by three people involved in the events:

  • “Everybody anticipated reprisals,” a local priest wrote a week later to an Irish newspaper. He described being “thrashed” by soldiers who also set fires “to illuminate the night’s proceedings.”1  
  • “The police and military come down the street banging and shooting and throwing hand grenades in all directions,” an American visitor to Feakle testified two months later at a Washington, D.C. hearing.2
  • “I asked for reinforcements … and wanted to teach the enemy a lesson that this form of activity could be costly,” the IRA leader who instigated the ambush recalled more than three decades later for an oral history project.3

The three witness perspectives, combined with the findings of a military inquiry, press reports, and related documents provide a multidimensional snapshot of the Feakle ambush and reprisals. These sources also illustrate the dangers of reconstructing such emblematic events. In a History Ireland piece about the Bureau of Military History (BMH) witness statements of the Irish revolutionary period, Fearghal McGarry warned: 

Such a source inevitably raises a host of problematic issues, both ideological and practical: these include the subjectivity of oral history, the role of the state in the creation of a project intended to record and shape historical memory, the selective nature of the testimony collected, the reliability of the witnesses’ memories, the influence of subsequent events and knowledge, and the potential for bias …Like any historical source …  they must be evaluated carefully. They record not the events of the revolution but the witnesses’ imperfect recollections of them  … Dates, numbers and other details are often inaccurate, and some claims seem less plausible than others. 

However imperfect the individual recollections, they collectively help to form a vivid mosaic of the Feakle ambush and reprisals. This event, in turn, is another piece of the larger mosaic of the Irish War of Independence.

Prelude 

Feakle, middle right, on modern map.

Feakle village and the same-named townland and Catholic parish is located 50 miles north of Limerick city and 20 miles east of Ennis in the northeast corner of Clare. The upland topography includes the southern declivities of the Slieve Baughta mountains. People there still talk about herbalist and healer “Biddy” Early, an independent woman accused of witchcraft in the mid-19th century.   

In 1917, the young Éamon de Valera, a participant in the year-earlier Easter Rising, challenged an older establishment candidate in an historic by-election for the East Clare constituency. Feakle parish priest Father Michael Hays declared de Valera’s Sinn Féin “a party of socialism and anarchy and bloodshed which struck at the roots of society.”4 The London government at Dublin Castle reported “disaffection lurked under the surface ready to break out on very small provocation” and “turmoil increased with the approach of election day, intimidation was freely practiced, and there was growing disregard for all law and order.”5 The maverick de Valera won by more than 2 to 1 margin, and two years later declared president of Sinn Féin’s breakaway Irish republic. 

Thomas “Tomo” Tuohy, IRA captain:

Tuohy was born Nov. 23, 1898, in Laccaroe townland, neighboring Feakle, the eldest of 10 children. He joined the nationalist Irish Volunteers in 1915 and rose to leadership by October 1920, according to his 1954 BMH statement.

Volunteers in Clare attacked the Feakle RIC barracks in June 1920, and three months later attempted to capture the Scarriff RIC Barracks, about six miles to the east. Such efforts were part of the IRA’s national strategy to drive the authorities from the countryside to boost its own operational base. Shortly after the Scarriff attack, Volunteers seized mail from the postman making a delivery to the Feakle RIC barracks. Postal and railroad hold ups also were typical IRA tactics at the time. To counter this, Feakle RIC began collecting their mail at the post office. 

“I decided to attack this party and gave instructions to the Volunteers living in the Feakle village to keep the patrol under close observation, particularly as to the time on which it left the barracks and the formation in which it moved,” Tuohy said.

On the morning of Oct. 7, as six RIC officers spaced apart in three pairs began the three quarter mile walk from their barracks to the post office, a scout notified Tuohy. He quickly positioned 20 Volunteers and told them to wait for his warning shot. One man, “contrary to orders,” fired directly at a constable who had given him “a bad beating” the previous evening, Tuohy said. The other five officers scrambled for cover as the remaining Volunteers opened fire.

Military inquiry:

Constable William Stanley and Sgt. Francis Doherty were killed in the ambush. Both men were 46; each with more than 20 years of RIC service. Doherty was a bachelor from Mohill, Co. Leitrim; Stanley a Co. Cork native with a wife and four children.6

Doherty and Stanly shown in register of cases for courts of inquiry in lieu of inquest, Easter Rising & Ireland Under Martial Law 1916-1921. The National Archives, Kew, WO 35/162.

A military inquiry at Dublin Castle issued this statement:7

The police party were walking in couples 10 yards apart towards the P.O. when fire was opened on them from the upper windows of the P.O., from the adjoining house, and from a farmyard on the opposite side of the road, thus placing them in the centre of a triangle of fire. … The Court found the two men were willfully murdered by rifles, revolvers and shotguns fired at close range by persons unknown, that a large number of men took part in the shooting, which was premeditated, and that deceased were robbed after death. … The third constable named Murphy was wounded by an expanding bullet. … The police had a dog with them, and when the sergeant [Doherty] fell it ran to him and stood by him on the road. In the next volley the dog fell wounded, three of his legs being broken.

Seán Moroney, Irish Volunteer:

Moroney was 23 at the time of the Feakle attack, a year older than Tuohy. Moroney’s 1956 BMH statement8 provides several examples of McGarry’s warning about such records:

  • Moroney said the RIC officers “travelled in pairs, with about 200 yards between each pair.” This is a big difference from the 10 yards of separation mentioned in the military inquiry. He probably said 20 yards, but the transcript typist added an extra “0” keystroke.
  • One of the Volunteers “accidentally discharged a shot” at the police, Moroney said, rather than taking revenge on the constable for an earlier beating, as suggested in Tuohy’s statement. Both could be true. Either way: “This, of course, alerted the patrol and spoiled our plan,” Moroney said.
  • Moroney said the IRA captured two carbines and about 150 rounds of ammunition. Tuohy claimed they collected 4 carbines, one .45 revolver, 300 rounds .303, and 24 rounds .45 ammunition, and 1 Mills bomb [a World War I era British hand grenade].
  • Tuohy is not mentioned in Moroney’s statement. Moroney is not among the 19 attackers listed by Tuohy. 

Freeman’s Journal headline over Oct. 15, 1920, story that introduced priest’s letter.

Rev. Patrick O’Reilly, Feakle priest:

“On Thursday last, October 7th, there occurred here the tragic event in which two policemen lost their lives,” the priest began his letter to the Freeman’s Journal, published eight days later.

“I was immediately called by a courageous girl to administer the last Sacraments to them. I went at once and did so. This was about 10:30 a.m. Irish time. The doctor arrived shortly after, but could then do nothing.”

Thomas Tuohy:

He said the IRA sustained no deaths or injuries. The rebel’s search for weapons and other victims of the ambush lasted about 20 minutes “when Fr. O’Reilly, C.C., Feakle, came on the scene to administer the last rites of the church to the police. He shouted to us from the road ‘The horsemen will be on top of you in a few minutes as a messenger had gone for them before I left the village.’ ” 

Patrick J. “PJ” Guilfoil, American tourist:

Guilfoil was born in Scarriff on May 29, 1880, emigrated to America in 1900, and naturalized as a U.S. citizen at Detroit in 1906. He married a Clare woman and they had two sons. Guilfoil was working as a Pittsburgh innkeeper in March 1920 when he applied for his family’s U.S. passports.9 They sailed to Ireland two months later to visit his wife’s sister in Feakle, where they remained through October.10 

Patrick J. Guilfoil, left, and his family in 1920 passport photos.

In Dec. 10, 1920, testimony to the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland, Guilfoil said that on the morning of Oct. 7 he learned that two policemen had been shot outside the post office a quarter mile away from where he was staying. He said that he already intended to walk to the post office to wire the Thomas Cook & Sons travel firm in Dublin about his family’s return to Pittsburgh. “Being an American citizen and having my passport there, and being of good courage, I went out there after this happened,” he said.

He found the two slain policemen attended by “a young priest, Father O’Reilly,” the town physician having already left the scene.  “I asked the priest if he did not run great danger of reprisals for remaining there. But he said, what could he do? He could not leave two dead bodies by the road, because there were pigs and dogs around there, and what could he do? I told him that if he felt that way about it, I would remain with him, which I did.”

He said the military arrived about 2 p.m. “They got the priest to provide a horse and cart to carry the remains into town.”

Father O’Reilly:

“From 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. I remained alone practically all the time to take care of the remains and I could find no means of having them removed. At 2:30 the military arrived and I was peremptorily ordered to commandeer a horse and cart to remove the bodies. I did so and returned no more. I had had quite enough.”

PJ Guilfoil:

He testified that once he returned to his sister-in-law’s cottage in the village, a military officer asked to see his American passport and recorded his name and number. “And he said he was going to put me on the black list.”

Guilfoil said that at 6:30 p.m. a District Inspector and six soldiers arrived at Father O’Reilly’s house and dragged the priest outside–three at the head, three at the feet. They accused him of murdering the two policemen. “I stood directly across the street taking it all in,” Guilfoil said.

One of the officers commanded, “ ‘Let him have it.’ ” and a soldier delivered “three horrible blows across the hips” of the priest with the butt of his rifle, an attempt to coerce a confession, Guilfoil testified. An officer told the priest to get up and get back into his house, but as the cleric complied with the order, the officer kicked him and “called him some terrible names.” 

Father O’Reilly:

“An officer, a district inspector, and eight or ten soldiers knocked at 5:30 p.m. I opened the door and was ordered out. I was told I was to be ‘thrashed soundly,’ and there and then the soldiers caught hold of me by the hands and feet, knocked me down, and dragged me to the wall in front of the house, and proceeded to thrash me with a stock of a rifle. The officer struck me very violently with a stick when I protested. The District Inspector then interceded, be it said to his credit, and thereby saved me from further ill-treatment.

“I was ordered in, while being told I would be shot. I closed the door and thanked God I had come off so well.”

PJ Guilfoil:

“I went across the street and knocked at the door of the priest’s house, and he let me into the house, and I said, ‘My God, are you able to stand up?’

“And he said, ‘I got some awful wallops and am suffering some great pain, but what am I going to do?’

“And I said, ‘I don’t suppose your feet can carry you very far, but as far as they can carry you, I would advise you to get out of the town. There are going to be reprisals tonight.’

“He said, ‘Well, if there are reprisals, there will be people dying and they will need a priest.’” 

Father O’Reilly:

“The kind neighbors rushed in at the back to see if I was hurt. They were terrified and expected my death at each moment. They besought me most earnestly to leave the house for the night. I refused to leave until I would see things out, and I consoled them to the best of my ability. They left.”

PJ Guilfoil:

Guilfoil said he met Dr. O’Hallaron, the village physician, on the street as he returned from treating the wounded officer at the RIC barracks. “The conditions up there are terrible. They are all wild drunk,” the doctor said.

Reprisals on the village, which Guilfoil estimated at about 300 people, began soon after. He testified that he moved his family to an upstairs room and told them to lie on the floor next to the walls. “I do not need to tell you how nervous those children were,” he said. “They were shaking so that I got to shaking myself.”

The police and military set fire to the thatched roof of the Considine house, about 50 yards away, he continued. Then they torched the cottage where the Guilfoils were staying, which was partitioned and also occupied by members of the O’Brien family. 

“We have no time to fool around here,” Guilfoil said he yelled to his wife and sons as the flames surrounded the windows. “Take what you have and get out of here. I prefer to be shot than to be burned to death.”

Thomas Tuohy:

The IRA summoned “over 40 men” to defend Feakle and “teach the enemy a lesson,” Tuohy said. As the group got within a quarter mile of the village at about about 8 p.m., “flames were seen rising from three houses – Considines, O’Brien’s and Fr. O’Reilly’s. Realising that we had been forestalled it was agreed right away to send back the reinforcements.”

The rebels abandoned the village and withdrew to the hills for the next three days.

Father O’Reilly:

“I lay in the centre of the kitchen floor, and I anticipated death at any moment. I made many an Act of Contrition, said the Rosary a few times … A bomb came through the parlour window, exploded with a deafening sound, and drove broken glass in all directions.It sprinkled the oil from the table lamp all over the room, and it is a miracle no fire resulted.”

The priest said he escaped about 3:30 a.m. to a house in the country, where he found other refugees from the town. He remained there the next evening, which was fortunate “as the [village] house was again bombed and densely riddled with bullets. The door was driven in and all my belongings piled on the village street and burned.”

PJ Guilfoil:

Some neighbors helped put out the fire at the O’Brien house as the police and military withdrew to their barracks, Guilfoil testified.

“At six o’clock in the morning I got hold of a car to convey my baggage and the children out of town, and about ten o’clock I left myself” to “a place in the country” where his wife’s family lived.

The police and troops returned in the daylight. They asked the woman who rented the house to Father O’Reilly whether any of the furniture inside belonged to her. When she said no, they pulled it into the street and set it on fire.

“And they said they were only sorry that they did not have that bloody bastard, as they called the priest, to put him on top of it,” Guilfoil testified.

A local history book published 70 years later claims the police dressed an effigy in the priest’s clothes and tied it to a chair, which was burned with the other furniture. The officers danced and sang, “The rebel padre is roasting.”11  

Press Reports:

Irish and British newspapers coverage of Feakle tended to emphasize the slain officers or the reprisals, depending on when the reports were published and the target readership. The military inquiry statement was published in papers on both sides of the Irish Sea.

Several Irish dailies carried a Press Association, Dublin, account, which corrected an Ennis correspondent’s early reporting that the Feakle RIC barracks had been attacked.12 The reprisals got more attention after the Freeman’s Journal published Father O’Reilly’s letter eight days later.

In London, The Times, an establishment paper, attributed its next day story to Dublin Castle, with nothing said about reprisals.13 A week later, The Guardian’s Dublin correspondent noted the burning of houses at the “little out-of-the-way village” of Feakle in a roundup of other reprisals in Ireland.14

The Weekly Summary, an RIC newspaper launched two months earlier to bolster force morale, published an editorial that said:

Reprisals are wrong. They are bad for the discipline of the force. They are bad for Ireland, especially if the wholly innocent suffer. Reprisals are wrong but reprisals do not happen only by accident. They are the result of the brutal, cowardly murder of police officers by assassins, who take shelter behind the screen of terrorism and intimidation they have created. Police murder produces reprisals. Stop murdering policemen.15 

This Associated Press dispatch appeared in an Oct. 24, 1920 edition of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The Oct. 23 dateline says the officers were killed “yesterday.”

The first Associated Press report published in American newspapers said Stanley was killed and Doherty only wounded. An updated version saying both officers were killed “yesterday” continued to be published through late October.16

In November, the pro-Irish Gaelic American, a New York weekly, over two issues republished the Limerick Echo’s report about Father O’Reilly’s letter to the Freeman’s Journal.17 The News Letter of the Friends of Irish Freedom, Washington, D.C., included Father O’Reilly in a roundup of attacks on other priests and looting of Catholic churches. “The latest phase of the ruthless campaign against the Irish nation seems to have taken the form of ‘reprisals’ for the crime of being Irish and Catholic,” the weekly newsletter said.18

A constable’s life, 1920:

An RIC Division before the force was disbanded in 1922. Note the dog at front right. Image from Royal Irish Constabulary.com.

A day before the Feakle ambush, the Royal Irish Constabulary Office at Dublin Castle announced a pay bonus for “permanent members” of the force, veterans such as Constable Stanley and Sgt. Doherty.19 The money was intended to boost morale in the difficult circumstances of “the life of the average constable,” as described a year later by a Dublin Castle intelligence officer:

He lived in a fortified barrack, probably overcrowded owing to the concentration of the Force, and certainly never designed to resist determined assault with modern weapons. He was surrounded by a populace which, if not definitely hostile, was at all events so intimidated that the members of the civil population hardly dare be seen speaking with him. Lurking throughout the countryside were members of the Republican Army, who, instigated by their leaders, regarded him not as an enemy to be faced in the open, but to be prosecuted by every means from petty annoyance to treacherous murder. His life was spent in constant apprehension of danger. His barrack might be attacked at any hour of the day or night, but usually the latter, by overwhelming numbers of callus ruffians, who would use every weapon of brutality against him. If he would go out of the barracks, he was compelled to do so as one of a party operating in practically an enemy’s country. He could never predict the moment when a hail of bullets would burst upon him from a carefully prepared ambush, his assailants being the apparently harmless citizens who surrounded him every day.20

Stanley and Doherty’s deaths raised to 120 the toll of RIC fatalities in Ireland since Jan. 1, 1919. Another 72 officers were killed by the end of 1920.21 Stanley’s widow received “special advances” to survivors of RIC murdered on duty at least through 1922, when the force was disbanded.22

Thomas Tuohy:

“After the Feakle ambush the local parish priest, Father Hayes [Father O’Reilly’s superior, who spoke against Éamon de Valera during the 1917 election.23 ], a violent imperialist who regularly entertained members of the enemy forces, strongly denounced the IRA from the pulpit. He referred to us as a murder gang, and declared that any information which he could get would be readily passed on to the British authorities and that he would not desist until the last of the murderers was swung by the neck. This denunciation led to unpleasant consequences and for some time services at which he officiated were boycotted by most of the congregation.”

Remember that Tuohy said Father O’Reilly had warned the IRA ambushers that military “horsemen will be on top of you in a few minutes.” Tuohy also said that Father O’Reilly administered Confession and Holy Communion to about nine IRA men in December 1920. If true, the local priests were certainly at odds, and the police and soldiers seem correct in their suspicions of Father O’Reilly.

A few days after receiving the sacraments from Father O’Reilly, Tuohy was arrested by the RIC and accused of having seditious documents. He was sentenced to two years hard labor, but released from Limerick County Jail 11 months later.

Father O’Reilly

Given Tuohy’s statements, the conclusion of the priest’s letter to the Freeman’s Journal is ambiguous:

“My last sermon in the parish prior to the occasion had been solely a counsel of moderation.  … I have appealed for nothing but peace and unity amongst all Irishmen. … I most heartily forgive all who attacked me, and also those who were the deliberate and malicious cause of it. … I stand for peace, peace with honor, and though my life may now be in danger I will never be a traitor to the flag of my country. God save Ireland.”

Father O’Reilly and Father Hayes were each soon relocated from the Feakle parish.24

PJ Guilfoil:

The Guilfoil family traveled from the Clare countryside to Cork city, about 100 miles south, where they waited a week for the ship back to America. PJ and his young sons witnessed another scene of revolutionary Ireland, which concluded his commission testimony at the Lafayette Hotel, a few blocks from the U.S. capitol.  

Guilfoil testified at the Lafayette Hotel in Washington D.C. shown here between 1910 and 1926. Library of Congress.

The father and his two boys, ages eight and six, watched the funeral procession of Irish Republican Army volunteer Michael Fitzgerald, who died a few days earlier on hunger strike in jail. As the line of mourners passed the Windsor Hotel, troops plucked the mourning wreaths and Irish tricolor flags from the hearse with their bayonett tips and flicked them to the curb, Guilfoil testified.

“Anything more horrible I never want to see than an armored military body following a coffin,” Guilfoil said. “They followed that coffin with rifles and machine guns all the way out to the cemetery. … I took the boys and got away from there, for I thought there might be trouble.”

Guilfoil’s testimony was exactly what the pro-Ireland commission had sought to publicize in its effort to turn U.S. opinion against Britain. The blue-ribbon panel of two U.S. senators and six other military, religious, and civic leaders held six public hearings from November 1920 through January 1921. It was not an official U.S. government enterprise. Years later, Irish politician Patrick McCartan wrote of the hearings that “only the rustle of the reporters writing broke the silence in which America strained to hear the story of British savagery withstood and defeated by the indomitable courage of the citizens of the Irish Republic.”25

Guilfoil, 1920

Guilfoil—5-foot, 8-inches, with a ruddy complexion and blue eyes under receding brown hair—seemed like an enthusiastic witness.26 “Yes, O, yes,” he answered when asked whether most Irish civilians supported the IRA. He displayed a bullet he said had pierced the cottage before his family fled from the fire. He shuffled a sheaf of “literature” and newspaper clippings about events in Ireland.

These papers may have included Father O’Reilly’s letter to the Freeman’s Journal, published in the nationally-circulated paper five days before Guilfoil sailed back to America, or the Gaelic American’s two-part reporting of it a few weeks after he returned to Pittsburgh. Father O’Reilly’s letter said he “remained alone practically all the time” outside the post office with the bodies of the two policemen. Guilfoil testified he spent over two hours with the priest at the scene. Father O’Reilly might have wanted to protect the American visitor, emphasize his own ordeal, or both. Guilfoil might have inflated his experience based on such published accounts, but it is also possible that he offered the truest version of the events. 

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Dec. 11, 1920.

How Guilfoil came to be called before the hearing was not explained during his testimony, in the commission’s report, or newspaper coverage. Alexander P. Moore, editor of the Pittsburgh Leader, was a member of the nationwide steering committee that organized and funded the commission, but his paper did not report on Guilfoil’s testimony. The city’s other dailies headlined the appearance: “Pittsburgh Witness In Irish Probe P.J. Guilfoil Tells of Raid by Military on County Clare Town’ and “Local Man Tells of Burning of Town in County Clare.”27 Guilfoil’s testimony was noted in other U.S. newspaper coverage, but it was overshadowed by the same-day appearances of three former RIC men who quit the force in protest of British “misrule” in Irland, and the sister of an Irish republican politician who had died on hunger strike.

Guilfoil died in 1946 at age 66.28 The obituaries do not mention his 1920 commission testimony, or suggest that he ever returned to Ireland.

U.S. & Irish news coverage of the ‘Templemore miracles’

Stories of the supernatural interrupted the usual war news from Ireland and headlined newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic in late summer 1920. A teenage boy reported seeing visions of the Virgin Mary; he said a spiritual font gurgled from the interior dirt floor of his rural home; statues and other religious images appeared to weep and bleed; and thousands of the sick and lame who traveled to touch these items claimed miraculous cures. The events were so astonishing that the Irish Republican Army and British police and military combatants briefly entered an informal truce.

The episode began with the Aug. 16, 1920, IRA murder of a Royal Irish Constabulary officer at Templemore, County Tipperary, about 90 miles southwest of Dublin and 50 miles east of Limerick cities. RIC and soldiers from a nearby barracks quickly responded with their own violence in the town. That’s when teen James Walsh started sharing his visions of the Virgin, which he said began weeks earlier, and relocated his fluid-oozing religious items from Curraheen townland to the Templemore front yard of newsagent Thomas Dwan.

Suddenly, “weird manifestations of healings” replaced the Irish revolution’s tit-for-tat, as the Associated Press reported in the first dispatch published in U.S. newspapers.1 Templemore was temporarily spared further violence.

The makeshift altar of religious items in the Templemore yard of Thomas Dwan.

A “special cable” published in the St. Louis Post Dispatch reported:

DUBLIN, Aug. 28–In South Ireland, where the country is terrorized by racing lorries bristling with English bayonets, the state of mind of the whole population is so nearly hysterical it has paid more than the usual attention to the supposed miraculous bleeding of the religious images in a house near Templemore, and the simple people are traveling miles to see it. … Priests retain their reserve and stories of miraculous cures are dying out. The Dublin newspapers have ignored the story as well.2

In fact, there was plenty of news coverage, in Dublin and elsewhere. The “miraculous happenings at Templemore were first published in the evening papers of Saturday the 21st August,” Rev. P. Collier wrote in the opening sentence of his first-person account, published in Ireland and America.3

Dublin’s Freeman’s Journal of Aug. 23 headlined “Templemore Sensation.” The front page of the next day’s Evening Herald reported:

The rush of pilgrims to Templemore, Co. Tipperary, continues. To-day large crowds arrived by train from North and South. From an early hour this morning the traffic was almost continuous through the town of carts and motor cars bringing people from different parts of the country. Very many of these arrivals were invalids. Without any way prejudicing the authenticity or otherwise of the extraordinary events the general public (says the ‘Irish Independent’) would be well advised to observe due caution and patience until more complete investigations have taken place and an authoritative ecclesiastical pronouncement has been made. … 4

A correspondent for the Skibbereen Eagle of County Cork cited the (Dublin) Evening Mail and (London) Daily Express in a more skeptical dispatch:5

I came to see a miracle and I saw one. It was not a miracle of bleeding statues, but of limitless, almost pathetic belief. … The local priests are not enthusiastic. Their attitude is one of reserve. They refuse to discuss the matter with Press representatives, and appear to think every man must decide for himself.

1920 Ireland

Remember that Ireland in 1920 was “terrorized” not only by the year-old violence between the IRA and Britain authorities, but also the accumulated death, injury, and other horrors of the just-ended Great War. Some people  still became “hysterical” at the sight of a motor vehicle or an airplane. Electric lighting would not arrive in the countryside for decades. A potent mix of Catholic beliefs and folklore illuminated the popular imagination.

Secular and sectarian press coverage of Templemore continued through September 1920. The Catholic Standard and Times of Philadelphia and other diocesan newspapers published stories from the National Catholic Welfare Council (NCWC) News Service, forerunner of today’s Catholic News Service. The Philadelphia paper published this story6 on its front page three weeks after the dateline:

DUBLIN, Aug. 27–Whatever view the Church may take of the so-called miraculous happenings at Templemore and Curraheen, after all the evidence with respect to them has been obtained and weighed, there is no doubt that these happenings have resulted in an exalted piety and an intensified fervor in the town and country. The mysterious, and as generally believed, supernatural events are regarded as an omen of great suffering combined with divine protection for Ireland in the immediate future. …

Image published in the Great Falls (Montana) Tribune on Oct. 3, 1920. Thomas Dwan’s surname is misspelled as Divan, the ‘w’ split into an ‘i’ and ‘v’.

The Irish-American press minimized the story, mostly likely to avoid embarrassing efforts to win U.S. political recognition of the fledgling Irish republic, or inflaming Catholic-Protestant divisions. The New York-based Gaelic American buried a few lines on an inside page roundup of Irish news.7 The Kentucky Irish American, Louisville, republished a New York Times account based on the testimony of a South Dakota priest, identified in the photo caption above.8 The Irish Press, Philadelphia, and the News Letter of the Friends of Irish Freedom, Washington, D.C., skipped the story. Other Irish-American papers were not immediately available for review.

Lourdes & Knock

Rev. Collier, in his first-person account “in a spirit of devotional inquiry,” reported that Templemore had been a “quiet town” until the mysterious events “brought it into startling prominence as the newest holy well or Lourdes.” Templemore, he wrote, was “strangely similar” to the 1858 apparition of the Virgin Mary to a French peasant girl, a comparison made in other reports from Ireland. What Collier’s piece and most other accounts did not mention, however, is the Marian apparition at Knock, County Mayo, about 100 miles northwest of Templemore. There, 41 years earlier almost to the day, the Virgin Mary and other religious figures were said to have appeared to 15 witnesses.

The Offaly Independent offered a thoughtful exception in a mid-September 1920 column, which framed all three events in a tone neither dismissive nor credulous:

Templemore continues to be the mecca for invalids from every part of Ireland, and will in all probability continue to be while the fine weather lasts. … There are fresh stories of fresh cures brought back every day, with the result that invalids continue to flock to it. There are many people, both lay and clerical, very skeptical. They do not believe in the thing at all and insist in asserting that it is all humbug. … There are numerous stories going the rounds in regard to the extraordinary happenings at Templemore. The stories lose nothing in the process of narration; to a great extent they are rather over-developed and enhanced and sensationalized by a little addition. … The same is true of the manifestations at Lourdes [and] the same is true of the apparition at Knock, Co. Mayo, in 1879. In time the atmosphere of skepticism which hovered around Lourdes began to melt away and … became an accredited fact. … The story of the apparition at Knock failed to obtain the same recognition, but still the people finally believed, and cures were effected.9   

Today, Lourdes and Knock remain Catholic Church-recognized Marian pilgrimage sites, drawing tens of thousands of visitors annually prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. (See my 2017 post, What you need to know about Knock’s vision visitors.) Templemore’s brush with the supernatural is conspicuously absent from the history section of the town’s website.

This image from Templemore appeared in the San Francisco Examiner on Sept. 12, 1920. Boy at right of women holding statue appears to be the same as top photo.

Violence Returns

The IRA eventually became suspicious that Walsh faked the “miracles”, or worse that he was a spy for the British, and the young man was exiled to Australia. Some pilgrims had probably been healed by faith, but the cure-seeking crowds ceased as violence returned to Templemore. The New York Tribune reported the “utter savagery” of a Black and Tan attack on the “scene of the recent bleeding statue miracles.”10

For more details about these events, see John Reynolds’ stories in History Ireland and  The Irish Times. He is the author of The Templemore Miracles, Jimmy Walsh, Ceasefires and Moving Statues.

Read more about “American Reporting of Irish Independence” in my ongoing series.

Police behavior matters: America, 2020 & Ireland, 1920

U.S. President Donald Trump caused an uproar earlier this summer by sending federal agents, indistinguishable from soldiers, to Portland, Oregon, and Seattle to quell Black Lives Matter protests against police brutality. State and local officials said the unrequested agents acted like “outside agitators” with tactics that included grabbing protesters from the streets and forcing them into unmarked vans. The images flashed instantly around the world on social media. 

“Many of those federal agents aren’t easily recognizable as law enforcement officials, nor do they act like them,” The New York Times editorialized.1 “Even the military is concerned about the public confusion sown into society when heavily armed federal agents dress like soldiers. All the more reason that the federal agents on the streets of American cities be required to wear uniforms that clearly identify themselves and their civilian agency.”

A century ago, the irregular uniforms and heavy-handed tactics of hastily-trained Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) recruits caused in uproar in revolutionary Ireland. Though press coverage wasn’t nearly as fast as today, the “Black and Tans” soon became notorious.

The nickname is attributed to Christopher O’Sullivan, a reporter for the Limerick Echo, who encountered an early group of the recruits at a local train station. In a March 25, 1920, story, he applied the nickname of a local hunt club’s pack of foxhounds to describe their mismatched dark green and khaki uniforms.

The Limerick Echo is not included in the Irish Newspaper Archive of nearly 90 titles. The earliest use of the name that I found in the database (besides adverts for shoes and other leather goods) was a July 1, 1920, story in the Freeman’s Journal. It mentioned the train boarding of “armed soldiers and khaki policemen now-known in the country as ‘Black and Tans.’”2

Within two months, however, the name was in wide circulation. It became notorious after the Sept. 21, 1920, sack of Balbriggan, when Black and Tans rampaged in revenge for the Irish Republican Army murder of RIC officers (and brothers) Peter and William Burke. A week later, the Belfast Newsletter published a statement from the Irish Office in London responding to press inquiries about the “exact relationship” between the Black and Tans and the RIC. It said:

The Black and Tans, so-called because of their hybrid uniform of dark green and khaki, were recruited solely on account of the shortage of men in Ireland. They are, it is stated, genuine recruits to the Royal Irish Constabulary, and it is due only to the lack of Royal Irish Constabulary uniforms that they appear in their present dress. The suggestion that these men are in any way connected with the military was denied at the Irish Office yesterday. The auxiliary division of the Royal Irish Constabulary, also named Black and Tans on account of their uniforms, were recruited for the purpose of instructing the existing men of the Royal Irish Constabulary in the defense of their barracks.3

Black and Tans in Dublin.

The term Black and Tans began to appear in U.S. newspaper reporting of Ireland by mid-August 1920. The source appears to be an Associated Press story datelined from Dublin, July 30: “The recruits from across the Channel and soldiers specially detached for police duty are nicknamed ‘Black and Tans.’”4

As in Ireland, press use of the name became frequent after Balbriggan. The New York Times, no supporter of Irish independence, editorialized:

Violence, arson, murder by Sinn Feiners have of late been not repressed, but provoked and imitated by a series of reprisals. To private tumultuary lawlessness a sort of official tumultuary lawlessness has responded. The police have been driven into a natural but none the less unpardonable frenzy. Apparently some English recruits and demobilized army officers, hastily and unnecessarily impressed of enlisted for purposes of defense, have had a hand in the series of ‘Black and Tan’ raids. Private war prevails.5

Earlier this year the Irish government planned to recognize the RIC and Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP), most of whom were Irish-born men who carried out their duties with honor at a troublesome time, as part of the country’s “Decade of Centenaries.” The event was cancelled, however, after days of protest that it would honor the still-notorious Black and Tans.

An American reporter in 1920 Ireland: Introduction

“The Irish revolution became an international media event … The way in which visiting correspondents wrote up the Irish revolution was crucial to its outcome, both in the sense that they affected perceptions of the war and that they connected Ireland to the world.” –Maurice Walsh, The News From Ireland: Foreign Correspondents and the Irish Revolution

***

On Dec. 30, 1919, American journalist Harry Frazier Guest sailed to Ireland “for the purpose of gathering news and making observations for the New York Globe,” his editor assured the U.S. government.1 Guest later told his readers that he intended to describe conditions in Ireland “as seen through unbiased American eyes.”2 During January and February 1920 he toured many sections of the island, urban and rural. “I had never visited Ireland or England before and had taken no interest in the so-called Irish question,” Guest wrote in the first of two dozen articles published after he returned to America.3I went with an open mind, free from racial or religious prejudice.”

Over the next few weeks I will explore Guest’s dispatches, which the Globe syndicated to U.S. and Canadian newspapers through May 1920. This is part of my ongoing series about American reporting of Irish independence, which includes my earlier series about Ruth Russell of the Chicago Daily News, who reported from Ireland from March through July 1919. Here, I will provide headlines, highlight key details and historical points, and quote compelling or controversial passages from Guest’s stories as they appeared in The Baltimore Sun and Akron (Ohio) Evening Times, which are available through digital archives. Because of the COVID-19 crisis, I am unable at this time to read his series on microfilm as published in the New York Globe and Commercial Advertiser, or do other library and archival research.

Harry F. Guest, December 1919 passport photo.

Harry F. Guest was 41 when he traveled to Ireland. He had been at the Globe for six years, according to his editor’s letter. A 1917 story in the Times Union of Brooklyn, N.Y., described him as “prominent in newspaper circles for many years, serving as reporter and editor on the Brooklyn and Manhattan dailies,” including correspondent from the state capital in Albany.4 His 1918 draft registration for World War I listed his work as “Asst. Direct. Pub.” for the U.S. Food Administration, likely a temporary “publicity” or “publications” job.5

After the war, Guest spent part of 1919 reporting for the Globe from Texas for a series of articles about the state’s booming oil industry:

I came to Texas an unbeliever prepared to see much overrated oil development. But after having an opportunity to see what has been done and what conservative eastern capital is planning for the future, backing its judgement with millions, I can say that the Texas oil industry is building on a solid business foundation.6

Before he boarded Cunard’s RMS Mauretania for Ireland, Guest said goodbye to Blanche, his wife of 16 years, though the couple had no children. He was 5-foot, 8 ½-inches tall, with green-gray eyes, and brown-gray hair, according to his passport application. He had survived broken ribs and internal injuries after being hit by a car less then three years earlier. He wore glasses and had an artificial right eye.7

Guest returned to New York on March 1 aboard the RMS Carmania.8 His first story about revolutionary Ireland appeared in newspapers a week later.

A March 1920 promotional notice in The Baltimore Sun for Harry Guest’s upcoming series on Ireland.

Ireland By Day Land of Peace, And Business Hums In Its Cities9

Guest told readers that his first two stories would be scene setters, Ireland by day, and Ireland by night, “for the two are very different.” He described heightened security at the Kingstown docks and Dublin rail stations. “Somehow, all the time I was in Ireland I never quite got over the feeling that I was under the eyes of policemen and soldiers.”

He referenced a newspaper story of the Jan. 3, 1920, raid on Carrightwohill barracks, in County Cork, shortly before his arrival. It was among the earliest in the rapidly escalating attacks on Royal Irish Constabulary posts by the Irish Republican Army. Guest also mentioned the midday Feb. 7 holdup in Dublin of a motor lorrie with two police officers and two soldiers, all unarmed, by 20 men with weapons, “but such exhibitions during the daytime are rare.”

Inside Carrigtwohill barracks after the attack. Photo, Illustrated London News

In Dublin’s Grafton Street, “the windows of many shops were covered with steel shutters which extended down to the sidewalk,” Guest wrote. “The faces of the men and women walking by … looked just as dour and serious as the police. It was only the young–the boys and girls in their teens–who smiled.”

He wrote that most Irish people at first were reluctant to talk with him, wary that he might work for the authorities. “They would not even commit themselves to admitting that conditions were bad, but when they learned I was a newspaper man from the United States they talked freely.”

Setting of Sun Signal for Irish Terror Reign10

“It is between midnight and dawn that most of the blood is spilled in Ireland,” Guest reported in his followup Ireland at night story. “The popular hour for attacks on police barracks and the round up of Sinn Féinners is 2 a.m. At that hour, if one is in the right place, it is possible to see armored motorcars, with rapid-fire guns poking through their turrets, and motor lorries filled with steel-helmeted, fully armored soldiers speeding through deserted city streets, and over dark country roads, bound on mysterious missions, the object of which will not be disclosed until a day or two later at military headquarters.”

Guest referenced the Jan. 31 roundup of 100 Sinn Féin members across the country after the installation of local officers in eight cities, “but half of them were released within a few hours of their arrests.”

NEXT: Sinn Féin in Name of Patriotism Commits Shocking Outrages

Cancellation of police force remembrance stirs debate

The Irish government has cancelled plans to recognize British police forces–many of them born in Ireland–who fought against pro-independence rebels a century ago. The commemoration of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) and Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP), was set for Jan. 17 at Dublin Castle, former seat of British administration in Ireland and now a historical site used for state events.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s center-right government noted that not only were many members of the police forces Irish, but also some were sympathetic to the cause of independence. Others suggested the ceremony was part an effort to understand pro-British unionists in Northern Ireland, which remains part of the United Kingdom and is now convulsed by Brexit.

Opposition party members and the mayors of several Irish cities said they would boycott the event. One suggested that no other state would commemorate those who facilitated the suppression of national freedom, especially the brutalities of the Auxiliaries and Black and Tans, the RIC’s special reserve and paramilitary units.

Commemorating Ireland’s bloody War of Independence (1919-1921) “will prove delicate for the Irish state for many reasons,” John Dorney, editor of The Irish Story, writes in The perils of reconciliation. “One being the potentially antagonistic result of evoking the political violence of the era. But another is that the suggestion that the commemoration of such a bloody and polarizing time can be about ‘reconciliation’, like the 2016 commemoration of the Easter Rising, is probably wishful thinking.”

At The Irish Times, columnist Fintan O’Toole wonders, Why do we fear the ghosts of dead policemen?:

Is it obscene merely to remember such men? Must there be a hierarchy of victims in which they remain, not just at the bottom but even lower down, in the underground darkness of oblivion?

We have, supposedly, been trying to rise above such mentalities, to accept that history, when it turns violent, sweeps all sorts of human lives into the gutter. A society that has moved beyond violence does not leave them there.

Dorney, however, concludes that “value-free commemorations” of the War of Independence, partition of the island, and Civil War (1922-1923) “in general are not possible. It is not ‘mature’ to impose a false consensus but rather to understand the political differences that led to bloody strife in Ireland 100 years ago and how they shaped the Ireland of today.”

Historian Diarmaid Ferriter suggested “an academic event – a conference or seminar – that would look at the issue of policing in Ireland during the revolutionary period” was more appropriate than a state commemoration.

Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) inspection.