Ballyaliban ambush 3rd Jan 1920

On this Day in History 100 - 3rd January 1920.


100 years ago today the 6th Battalion Mid Clare Brigade attacks R.I.C Patrol at Ballyaliban, Ballyvaughan.


The first armed clash with British forces in which I was engaged and, for that matter, the first engagement in the district between Lisdoonvarna and the Galway border, occurred on 3rd January, 1920. The R.I.C. had. Been affording protection to a man caned Devoren in Ballyaliban who had become unpopular over land trouble. A patrol of four men were usually sent out to his place each

night from Ballyvaughan R.I.C. Barracks. I decided to attack this patrol with the assistance of the local Volunteers. A carbine and about 50 rounds of ammunition was loaned to me by Andy O'Donoghue, O/C 5th Battalion. I used the carbine myself, while in the party were eight other men all armed with shotguns and having five or six cartridges apiece. These men were: Conor and Matty O'Donoghue, Mick O'Loughlin, Nicholas Healy, Joe McNamara, Martin Keane, Michael Mullins, Michael Burns, and two scouts - Jimmy and Michael Keane. The former was placed on the Lisdoonvarna road about ¼ mile from the cross from which the by-road leading to Ballyaliban branches off. The second scout was posted just at this cross.


The attacking party were placed behind the walls of the Ballyaliban by-road at a distance of about quarter of mile from the crossroads and approximately one and a half miles; from Ballyvaughan.


The positions were the men were:


Left-hand side facing Ballyaliban:

First - Nicholas Healy

Second - Conor O'Donohue

Third - Michael O'Loughlin

Fourth - Matt. O'Donohue

Fifth - Seán McNamara (myself).


Right-hand side of road:

First - Michael Burns

Second - Michael Mullins

Third - Austin McNamara.

Fourth - Martin Keane.


The patrol, as I said, generally consisted of four men armed with carbines, and they came on foot in two pairs separated by a distance of about forty yards between each pair. Of course, from our point of view, the big attraction was the rifles. To meet this formation I divided the attacking party so that we were in two groups, the first, second and third man on the left-hand side and the first and second man on the right-hand comprising one group and the remainder the second group. It was intended that each group would have to deal with two policemen and the men nearest one another in each group were roughly thirty-five yards apart. The shooting was to begin when I opened. fire.


It so happened that the police came along marching in pairs in close formation and instead of four there were five and a "special" called Flattery who had resigned from the R.I.C. sometime before and re-joined or at least had volunteered to perform police work in the Ballyvaughan district. He was armed with a rifle, too, but wore civilian attire.


When the leading policemen were opposite me I fired and the attack began. It was around half-past ten Owing to the darkness, perhaps, and due to the fact that all my men were having their first experience in an ambush, most of the police survived the initial outburst of fire and they replied vigorously. At the outset they threw two hand grenades which exploded fairly close to myself but did no damage. Mixed through their rifle fire they used verey lights, which were entirely new to us and very upsetting too. In a short time the engagement became almost a hand to hand encounter. So close did we come to one another that one policeman struck the barrel of his rifle against mine, and in the exchange of shots which followed my cap was blown off and I damaged the uniform of that particular policeman by putting a bullet through it.


As far as I can now remember I would say that we kept up the attack for about ten minutes - when the supply of cartridges which we had become exhausted. I ordered a retirement. The verey lights and the rough bushy country through which we had to retreat made this a tough job for inexperienced men, but it was managed without any casualties other than scratches from blackthorn bushes and torn clothes. We all got out to a safe position and then dispersed to our homes. The enemy had two men wounded, including "Mr." Flattery who got badly wounded and that night finished his activities as a "special" in the area.


Next day there was a lot of enemy activity, the R.I.C. having been reinforced by military from Ennistymon. Widespread searches were made, but they found nothing and there were no arrests. Some of the Volunteers mixed through a group of R.I.C. who were examining the scene of the attack and got into conversation with them. The police spoke a lot about all the narrow escapes which their colleagues had, and could not understand how the attacker whose brains were blown out and whose cap they had found had got away.


Incidentally, the police must have been as excited as we were during the ambush and afterwards they fired in all directions at anything which came in sight. Dr. Keane of Ennistymon, who was returning from a sick call, after we had retreated, came along towards the police driving a Buick car. The police fired at the car as it came near and wounded the doctor. He did not spare them in comments, which appeared in the press in connection with the incident, describing the police as cowardly, reckless and irresponsible.


Comdt. Sean McNamara O/C 6th Battalion Mid Clare Brigade (BMH WS 1072).


The Mid Clare Brigade activity report (MA/MSPC/A/23) also confirms the same armed participants as Comdt. McNamara outlines in his witness statement. The report also lists on armed outpost duty, Patrick Flanagan, Patrick Hurley, Tom Connole and Joe McNamara with Paddy O’Donohue, Michael Keane and James Keane acting as scouts.