ON JULY 20th 1920 VOLUNTEERS SEIZE SIX RIFLES FROM BRITISH SOLDIERS IN ENNISTYMON AND ON JULY 21st MICHAEL CONWAY IS KILLED ON ENNISTYMON BRIDGE
On 20th July 1920, Seamus McMahon was one of a party who had been given the job of shooting a Black and Tan named Hoynes, whom he says had been making himself very objectionable by his truculent behavior in Ennistymon. The Company Captain, John Joe Neylon was in charge, and of the others, three all told, I can only remember one man, Pake Lehane of Lahinch. The Tan in question failed to put in an appearance in the town and we decided to call off the operation between 7.30 and 8 o’clock in the evening. We separated but I remained about the street.
Not long after, Ned Hynes and Jack Madigan who belonged to our company, met me and told me that a military lorry, containing a sergeant and six men, had gone up to Mrs. O’Connor’s house in Deerpark, on the outskirts of the town. Mrs O’Connor, who had two daughters, did the laundry for the soldiers.
Picture: Micheal Conway
hearing the news about the military going up to O’Connor’s, I tried to contact the Company Captain but failed. I was satisfied that here was a fine chance of getting six or seven rifles which I was determined not to miss. I sent word to as many Volunteers as I could rely on, to mobilise at McCarthy’s corner on the top of Church Street, where I went to wait. As soon as nine men had gathered, I outlined my plan to them, which was that two men should go into O’Connor’s and suggest to the daughters to start a dance; that if the suggestion was accepted, the rest of the party should slip into the house gradually and take part in the amusement, taking care to spread themselves through the kitchen - which was the usual place for holding country dances in those days - and three or four should remain at the door watching into the kitchen.21
Seamus McMahon goes on to say that the two men who went in to propose that a dance should be started, succeeded in their mission. The dance began and the soldiers participated, most of them leaving their rifles to one side. By degrees, all the Volunteers came into the house and edged their way around the kitchen, everyone enjoying themselves. Part of the plan was to call for a popular Clare dance, the ‘Long Caledonian’ so that at a particular point in the figure, each Volunteer should be so positioned that he could grab a soldier while the remainder would make off with the rifles. However, as Seamus McMahon relates:
Before the proceedings had arrived at that point, one of the soldiers who had kept his rifle strapped to his back, appeared to ‘smell a rat’. He had been standing at the fireplace and came to the door where he was instantly pounced on by Michael (Miko) Healy. This started a melee and in a matter of seconds, all the soldiers were overpowered and the rifles in our possession. We got six rifles, all short Lee Enfield’s. The sergeant had a revolver, which we had not seen, and as soon as we left the house he fired a few shots through one of the windows but nobody was hit.22
Seamus McMahon added that the only armed Volunteer in the raid was Pake Lehane of Lahinch and he also names the following who took part:
Michael Conway, Knocknagraga; Miko Healy, Ned Hynes, Cloncoul; Jack Madigan, Callura; Paddy Madigan, Callura; Peter Monaghan, Kilcornan; Thomas Gallagher, Cahersherkin; Seamus Murrihy, Cahersherkin.23
In his Statement to the Military Service Pensions Board, Miko Nestor, Kilcornan, says he also took part in the disarming of the soldiers at O’Connor’s house.24
The RIC County Inspector, H.J. Munro’s report, likely based on information supplied by the military, gives a totally different version of the incident.
On 20th July, in Ennistymon District 3 military rifles were stolen from a lorry. Some of the soldiers had entered a house leaving their rifles on the lorry standing outside. The men with the lorry were held up by armed men and the rifles taken.25
The circumstances under which the soldiers lost their weapons would likely have led to severe discipline, so a story may well have been concocted by the duped soldiers.
On the following day, troops poured into Ennistymon from all parts of Clare and they went through the countryside looking for the rifles. Despite widespread searches by the RIC and military, none of the rifles were recovered, according to Seamus McMahon, and not one of those who took part was arrested. He describes the scene:
About 8 or 9 o’clock in the evening, two young military officers and three soldiers, including one of the men who had been disarmed the night before - ‘he had a beauty of an eye’ - came into Ennistymon from the military barracks and went up to O’Connor’s. They were making enquiries about what had happened at the dance. The military officers returned by themselves. I was standing at Stack’s corner talking to four other volunteers, Michael Conway, Michael Morgan, Paddy Madigan and Austin Healy, when they passed. They had their hands in their trench-coat pockets and it was obvious they were carrying revolvers. Instantly it was agreed that we should try to disarm them and we followed them up the street. None of us were armed.
The officers [members of the Highland Light Infantry, stationed at Ennistymon Workhouse] continued their way towards the military barracks and crossed the bridge on the right-hand side, while we took the opposite side. As the officers were at the middle of the bridge, a man came towards them leading a white horse. We decided to take advantage of the cover provided by the horse, and to cross the bridge so that we would be at rushing distance of them before they would realise it. We were at the horse’s flanks just as the officers passed and about four or five feet from the footpath. I headed the rush and grappled with the bigger man of the two. He still had his hand in his pocket and though I had him firmly gripped round the arms, he managed to bring his right forearm to the front of my body and through his trench-coat fired a number of shots from a revolver. One of the bullets passed between my second and third rib, pierced my stomach and emerged close to the spine. Other bullets went through my waistcoat and trousers. I felt the blood running down along my leg and decided to make one determined effort to overpower my opponent before loss of blood had weakened me. I flung him to the ground and made a desperate effort to pull the gun from him. I had not seen before this, that the revolver was secured by a chain to his wrist, and this prevented me from securing the revolver. As soon as he was knocked down, he began to shout to his comrade for help. By then my brother, Andrew, and John Curtin, Lavareen, arrived and they too, tried to drag away the gun but the chain prevented them.26
Meanwhile, Michael Conway had rushed the other officer and attempted to disarm him. In the ensuing struggle, the soldier managed to draw his revolver and Michael Conway was shot in the head and body and was mortally wounded.27
Having failed to disarm the first officer and realising that Michael Conway had been shot, Seamus McMahon describes how he
saw the other officer approaching with his revolver pointed at us. I called to my brother and Curtin, ‘Come on; we’ll all be shot’ .28
With the help of his companions, the wounded Seamus McMahon managed to get to the railway station, half a mile away. Having managed to retain their revolvers, the soldiers made their escape along the Lahinch Road, as a crowd gathered.
The Saturday Record reported on the incident and said that the circumstances of the tragic affair were freely spoken of about the town:
Two officers of the Highland Light Infantry, who were in town making enquiries about the taking of rifles from some men of their detachment the night previous, were returning to their quarters at the workhouse, a mile distance, when at the bridge leading to the town, they stated that about a dozen young fellows got into grips with them. One officer was knocked down, but managed to get up, and both officers fired at the party. One man, afterwards found to be Michael Conway, was shot through the head and killed instantly. Another man, whose name was spoken of as McMahon, was, it is said, shot through the body but had been taken away by friends, and others were wounded. About twelve shots were fired, all by the officers, the other party not appearing to have any arms; and some people living in the neighborhood appear to have had narrow escapes. One bullet went into the licensed premises of Mr. Barry, close by the bridge, and smashed a bottle, and another grazed the hand of a girl in an adjoining house. A pathetic incident is that when Dr Peter O’Dwyer, who was on the scene in a few moments, sent for a clergyman, his messenger summoned a young priest, who was in the neighborhood, who transpired to be an Oblate Father [Fr. John Conway], brother to poor Conway, who happened to be home on his holidays, and who was horrified to discover his brother to be the victim of this latest Clare tragedy.29
In a statement to the Military Service Pensions Board, Miko Nestor says that he
took part in removing the body of Michael Conway when shot on the Bridge, Ennistymon by British Officers when attempting to disarm them. I took the body from where Volunteers left it to a better place of safety. Just had it removed when military arrived. Stayed all night with the body by myself until 4.30 in the morning. At that hour when looking for help to remove body to a safer place, I held up a motor car in which Father Moran was travelling to Lisdoonvarna. Fr. Moran took the body in his motor car a distance of 3 miles from the town to a house of a man named Harvey.30
P.J. Clancy, in an article in Ennistymon Parish Magazine 2002, confirms that Michael Conway’s body was taken to a cabin in Moananagh at the time owned by John Harvey, Knockroe, and adds that one of the women who laid Conway out was his mother, Marie Conneally, then Captain of Lavareen Company, Cumann na mBan.31
Meanwhile, Seamus McMahon had made it as far as the railway station but only then realised how serious his wound was:
At the station I became weak and had to be assisted from the road to a field on top of the hill above the station where it was safer. My brother went off for a priest and doctor. First came Father Conway whose brother was with me in the attack, and he heard my confession. Later Father Ruane CC and Dr. Curran, Ennistymon, arrived and I received the last sacraments and was given medical attention. They removed me into an outhouse near at hand where I remained for three or four hours until Tom Shalloo, Carhuclough, landed in an outside car driven by Andrew McDonagh. The door was removed from the outhouse and on it I was hoisted to the dickie of the outside car and then driven to Joe Maloney’s, Ballagh, where I remained eight or nine days.32
In his witness statement, Thomas McDonagh relates how he and Dr. Curran fished in Lickeen Lake at the time, so under pretext of going fishing, they was able to drive to the lake, row across it in a boat and go to Maloney’s house where the doctor dressed Seamus McMahon’s wounds.33
Seamus McMahon was then taken from Maloney’s to Lynch’s, Ballybreen, where I was kept until I was restored to health. “During my term in bed, I was attended by three different doctors, who were all most concerned about my recovery - Dr. Curran, Ennistymon; Dr Hillery, Miltown Malbay and Dr. Pearson, Lisdoonvarna.
Picture: Seamus McMahon
In September 1920 on medical advice, I was brought to Dublin by Tom Shalloo, where I was examined by Dr. Kathleen Lynn who sent me home after a week. By the middle of October, though not fully restored to health, I was back taking my place as 1st Lieutenant of Ennistymon Company.34
The day after the shooting, Thursday, 22nd July, Michael Conway’s body was brought to Ennistymon Church and the following day an inquest into his death began at the Courthouse. The inquest was told that Michael Conway was 22 years old and up to recently had worked as a baker at Daly’s Bakery in Ennistymon. He was planning to go to America and had his passage and passport arranged.
Dr. Peter O’Dwyer, Ennistymon said that he made an examination of the deceased. He found a wound in the head which was caused by a bullet. Death was due to shock and haemorrhage.There was no representatives of the military present, and the jury handed a statement to the Coroner requesting an adjournment of the inquest in anticipation of evidence being given by the author