Attack on Col. Tottenham’s estate, Mount Callan


21st November 1919

4th Battalion Mid. Clare Brigade


Steve Gallagher the Moy Company Captain was promoted to the Officer Staff of the 4th Battalion Mid Clare Brigade 15th September 1919 serving as Battalion Quartermaster and later as the fearless and daring Commandant of the Battalion’s ‘Flying Column’ which was formed in early 1920. Séamus Hennessy his close neighbour and friend succeeded him as Captain. A constant severe lack of useful firearms and ammunition was the first issue the new Captain had to deal with, a common problem throughout the Volunteers. To address this 21st November 1919 Hennessy led Moy Company on the 4th Battalion’s raid for arms on Mount Callan House the centre of landlord Colonel Frederick St. Leger Tottenham’s estate. Tottenham was continually the target of agrarian attacks as a leading diehard in the Clare Unionist movement joined with his vehement opposition to Irish Land Bill’s and the prospect of Home rule. Bridges on his lands were ‘smashed’ up, trees felled and roads to and from his estate blocked. Cattle were driven off his grazing and when returned or replaced his livestock would again, sometimes the following morning, be cleared from the fields by large groups of men. Tenant farmers, many Volunteers wanted to make life uncomfortable and difficult for their landlord in order to get better terms in purchasing their tenancy under the Wyndham Land Act. They dug up fields, threw stones in meadows, damaged machinery and knocked stone walls.

Tottenham did not seem to heed the advice of his friend and fellow landlord Colonel George O’Callaghan – Westropp who advised in his ‘Notes on the Defence of Irish Country Houses’ that Protestants should prepare for raids by gangs of perhaps fifty land hungry Nationalists. ‘Shotguns, rifles and a telescope were taken from Mount Callan after Volunteers had knocked down and knelt on the elder Colonel Tottenham, who is said by one raider to have ‘put up a fierce resistance’. A maid fainted, giving another raider a ‘terrible job to raise her’. Pako Kerin, Glendine Company was in the raiding party: ‘The Colonel was a bitter imperialist and we expected plenty of opposition. We were armed for that job. After making entry into the house through the kitchen in the basement, we found the Colonel in his bedroom who, on seeing us, lifted a table-lamp and hit Stephen Gallagher with it on top of the head. My brother, Joe, and Gallagher rushed him. He grabbed Gallagher’s revolver and had almost secured possession of it when my brother wrenched it from both of them. He handed the revolver back to Stephen Gallagher who hit the Colonel over the eye with it. The Colonel was then overpowered. He refused to disclose where the guns were kept in his house. In view of his obstinacy and of our determination not to leave without getting the guns, we tried a bit of bluff. His legs were bound and we laid him on a sofa. After dressing the wound we tried to entice him to tell us where the guns were hidden. It was of no avail until eventually we threatened to shoot him and forced open locked presses in the room, destroying the furniture in the process. At this stage he asked for one of the maids and requested her to give us the keys and show where the guns were. In this raid we secured altogether six shotguns, one .45 revolver and one .32 revolver, with ammunition for these guns.’

‘Over the next fifteen months the house was twice further raided when the Tottenham’s were at church, though the booty was of less military value, in the second case a watch, two daggers, a compass, £5 and a pair of gaiters.’  

The following week in Westminster the raid on Colonel Tottenham’s house was raised in the House of Commons. Mr. Donald M.P. asked the Chief Secretary for Ireland ‘if his attention has been called to a raid by Sinn Féiners on the house of Colonel Tottenham, at Mount Callan, West Clare; whether this gentleman was knocked down and received serious injuries, whilst two shot guns and two revolvers were taken from his house; what is the present condition of Colonel Tottenham; and if any arrests were made?’ Mr. MacPherson M.P. replied ‘I regret to say the facts are substantially as stated in the question. The condition of Colonel Tottenham, who showed great courage, is I am glad to say, improving. So far no-arrests have been made.’ In December the question was followed up in the Commons by Colonel Newman M.P. who asked the Chief Secretary for Ireland ‘whether he has received information of an outrage committed on the 21st November on Colonel Tottenham, Mount Callan, County Clare, a gentleman advanced in years; whether his house was entered by a party of twenty-two men of the Irish Republican party who knocked him down, tied his hands, and compelled him to give up all he had in his house, and, in an attempt at resistance, Colonel Tottenham was repeatedly struck in the face with bludgeons and severely injured; and if the authorities have been able to ascertain the names of his assailants?’ Mr. Henry M.P. replied ‘I would refer my hon. and gallant Friend to the reply given to the question asked on this subject by my hon. Friend the Member for the Victoria Division of Belfast on Thursday last, and to which I have nothing at present to add.’ Though he later confirmed that Tottenham’s condition had improved further. After the raid Colonel Tottenham was so shaken that he had to employ a young Scot to help with the farm and home, where he had acted as his own steward since the 1890’s. In mid-1923 as the Civil War ended, after thirty one years at Mount Callan, Colonel Tottenham moved out. ‘Many of the old neighbours came to wish me ‘farewell’ – one said ‘Sure! You came among us, and we made you our own’, and another said, ‘Sure! You were our father’. I like to leave it at that, hoping there may even be a grain of truth in it.’

(Witness to War 1917-1923 PP 9 - 10. Colin Hennessy, Clare County Library 2011)