Commandant Martin Devitt. Vice O/C Mid Clare Brigade.
“We are getting ready to fight against the foreigner and finish the job the Fenians set out to do” – Vice Commandant Martin Devitt
Martin Devitt was born in Cahersherkin, Ennistymon, on 3rd November 1894 to Michael and Anne Devitt, along with his four siblings Paddy, James, Mary and Lizzie. Martin worked at Devitt’s drapery in Ennistymon and from a young age, along with his brother Paddy, became involved in the Clouna Company of the Irish Volunteers. Martin quickly rose through the ranks to become Vice-Commandant.
In his witness statement to the Bureau of Military History, Paddy Devitt outlined Martin’s role in the fight for independence; ‘Probably every Sunday my brother, Martin, would stress on this particular subject -”We are getting ready to fight against the foreigners and finish the job the Fenians set out to do”. From 1914 onwards, the Clouna Company trained for ‘armed insurrection against British rule’. In preparation for the Easter Rising of 1916, the company ‘mobilised at Ardmore House’ later to be called Liberty Hall in Clouna and waited on orders which ‘never arrived’. Despite the 1916 Rising being confined mainly to Dublin, the company continued to prepare for further insurrection. Under Martin’s supervision, as Paddy recalls, the Clouna Company started making homemade bombs in my father’s place at Caherskerin. The casings for these bombs were large sized treacle boxes and disused metal pots. The finished article varied in weight from one to five pounds.
Martin Devitt was a fearless leader highlighted by the role he played at the funeral of Tomás O’Loughlin, veteran I.R.B man in Carron in 1918. ‘There was a big parade of Volunteers at the funeral under command of my brother, Martin. Two or three R.I.C entered the graveyard in Carron to keep an eye on proceedings. My brother detailed a party of about half a dozen Volunteers, including myself, to remove the police from the scene. We requested them to leave the graveyard, which they did, and conveyed them to the road where they were detained by us until the burial services had concluded and then told them they could go. There was no reaction by the police authorities”.
Devitt was involved in several engagements both in Clare and in the surrounding counties. He travelled the area by bicycle, attending Sinn Fein dances and other events. Martin was involved in an incident in Lavereen where he sustained injuries. He also led a company of 30-40 Volunteers to Connolly to disarm an Independent Brigade and retrieve their weapons in January, 1920. On their way home, they encountered Colonel Cotton, the O/C of the British Military for Clare at Crowe’s Bridge, Inagh who was on a tour of inspections with some R.I.C members. As the Volunteers were caught by surprise, the British took some of their weapons. This event led to the subsequent death of Martin Devitt who vowed that he would “recover at least as many guns from the enemy”.
Martin Devitt lost his life in the Formoyle Ambush, Crowe’s Bridge Inagh, on February 24th 1920. Together with his brother Paddy, Ignatius O’Neill O/C 4th Battalion and Pake Lehane they planned to ambush an R.I.C patrol. After assigning his brother and Lehane to a position covering their retreat, Devitt and O’Neill occupied a position convenient to the road. As the patrol approached, both opened fire, forcing the Police to take cover immediately. Due to the presence of civilians who accidentally got in the line of fire, the attackers were placed at a disadvantage. but in the ensuing exchange of fire Martin Devitt was shot in the head and fatally wounded and died at the scene. His comrade, O’Neill, was severely wounded while removing him from the area. It was the greatest defeat the 4th Battalion would suffer during the war of independence.
As Martin Devitt was one of the most senior volunteers in the Mid Clare Brigade area, his body was hidden by his comrades in Russa Bog to divert R.I.C attention. However on the 2nd March, his body was recovered by the R.I.C and was brought to the workhouse in Ennistymon where it was identified by his brother, Paddy. An inquest followed which confirmed Martin Devitt’s death in the Coroner’s report, “Martin Devitt of Cahersherkin, Ennistymon, Co. Clare died on the 24th Feb. 1920 from a bullet wound received while fighting for the freedom of his country, which freedom is prevented by mis-government”.
There is no doubt that the death of Martin was a severe blow as recounted by his brother, Paddy:
“He stood out among the men of that unit for his bravery and resource. He was quicker than any other person that I knew to see and seize opportunity for hitting at the forces of occupation and he had a way of getting men to do what he wanted without being obtrusive or dictatorial”. Martin was buried with full military honours in Clouna graveyard. His grave is marked by a fitting memorial.
A monument was erected on the spot where Martin lost his life at Formoyle in April, 1954 and was unveiled by General Tom Barry, O/C 3rd (West) Cork Brigade ASU. The monument was damaged by a storm in December 1997 and was later re-erected with a memorial ceremony and unveiling by Dr Paddy Hillery, former President of Ireland on Sunday, 11th April 1999.