Burning of R.I.C. Barracks – Easter 1920

Burning of R.I.C. Barracks – Easter 1920

Image - Seamus Hennessy and Antony Malone

In early 1920 the IRA and Dáil courts had begun to take control of large parts of Clare and the country as the British administration was losing the battle of two governments to Dáil Eireann. Fearing continued attack the R.I.C. withdrew from isolated and rural stations to larger fortified barracks leaving villages and the countryside “unprotected”. Vulnerable and indefensible barracks were abandoned for central barracks which also housed the newly arrived Black and Tans enabling them to operate in larger, stronger, armed patrols.

To commemorate the 4th anniversary of the Easter Rising, GHQ issued orders to Brigades to destroy and burn all evacuated R.I.C. barracks on the night of Holy Saturday 3rd April 1920. This would be the largest coordinated attack by the IRA during the War of Independence.

Across the Mid Clare Brigade area, companies demolished barracks in Crusheen, Carrahan near Clooney, Ballyharrahan near Ruan, Carron, Fanore, and Liscannor. 5th Battalion O/C, Andy O’Donohue, led members of Kilfenora Company in destroying the local barracks in the village while Seamus McMahon, Ennistymon Company Captain brought a dozen Volunteers to Maurice’s Mills to raze the barracks.

Séamus Hennessy and Anthony Malone of the 4th Battalion led Volunteers in their respective Moy and Glendine Companies in burning Lahinch R.I.C. Barracks, but this operation was not as straight forward as the others. The local Sergeant had been previously transferred to Ennistymon, though his wife Mrs Roleston was still resident in the barracks. She was asked by the Volunteers to leave with her family and possessions to a nearby house. The Moy I.R.A. Volunteers spread hay on the floor of the barracks and after a sprinkling of petrol it was set alight. Slow to ignite Pat Murtagh and John Garrahy applied further torches. After a few seconds Seán Burke from Moybeg recalled ‘all hell was let loose’ as slate, windows and doors blew out after a massive explosion. Murtagh and Garrahy still inside were rescued unconscious and seriously burnt. Séamus Hennessy along with his brother William, Steve Gallagher and members of the Company carried the men the two mile journey to the Moy Company area to Seán Burke’s house where Dr Michael Hillery, the Miltown Malbay practitioner, was called for medical assistance. Séamus placed armed guards and scouts to protect them from R.I.C. search parties while they recovered. Dr. Hillery later had to drive Murtagh to Dublin for further treatment on his burns.

Pako Kerin from Glendine Company recalled that ‘Anthony Malone and Pat Frawley, Liscahane, Miltown Malbay were also injured and that in addition to Pat Murtagh and John Garrahy, Tom Cleary was also badly injured’.

To compound issues further following the destruction Séamus Hennessy had to go ‘on the run’ as he was recognised by the Sergeant’s wife Mrs Roleston.

Over the Easter period over 300 R.I.C Barracks were burnt and destroyed as well as 100 income tax offices and courthouses. Andy O’Donohue recounts ‘on leaving the country districts, they (R.I.C.) rarely visited then after, except in strength and when using fast transport’.

-Colin Hennessy