The Moananagh Ambush

The Moananagh ambush 6th July 1921 was the final engagement by the 4th Battalion Mid Clare Brigade before the Truce ending the War of Independence was called the following week 11th July. The site chosen was Conneally’s Hill, three and a half miles from Ennistymon just off the main Ennis to Ennistymon Road. The site though at a distance had a clear view in both directions of Crown Forces movements along the road.  

This was the second time the Flying Column of the 4th Battalion had been in position at this location. Anthony Malone the 4th Battalion’s Vice Commandant recalls the first occasion: “The last time in which I was concerned in an attempt to attack the enemy prior to the truce was at Moananagh about the beginning of July 1921. This was to be a sniping operation and our party comprised eight or nine riflemen again under the control of the Battalion O/C. Moananagh is three or four miles from Ennistymon on the main road to Ennis. At this time a convoy of from 12 to 20 Lorries accompanied by an armed car was going between these places a couple of times a week. Owing to its strength and the absence of any ground along the route which would be large enough to enable the I.R.A. to occupy positions favourable for attacking purposes, the Brigade O/C., with the approval of an officer from G.H.Q. who had come in person to the Mid Clare area to see things for himself, gave orders to snip this convoy as often as possible. On the day in question our party took up positions about 4 o’clock in the morning and we remained until around 1 o’clock in the evening.

Patrick Kerin Captain of Glendine Company was also in position on the first visit: “Under Seamus Hennessy the unit occupied positions in Moananagh to attack Tans and military who travelled in Lorries from Ennis to Ennistymon...I was lying in a meadow all night in which the grass was very wet. From this I contracted lumbago which prevented me from taking part in the big attack in the same position, which occurred a week or so later. The enemy did not put in an appearance on the first occasion.”

In his series of Connacht Tribune articles recounting the War of Independence with the 4th Battalion Sean Burke recounts: “Our intelligence service had come to the conclusion, after a long and careful study, that the British Military system worked on definite set patterns, and come what may it seldom changed...Communications were disrupted to such an extent that two or three lorry loads of fully armed men were deemed necessary to deliver a confidential, complicated or simple message from one barracks to another...Something out of the ordinary must have happened to put our column to the inconvenience of a second journey.” Anthony Malone concludes: “The rain came down in torrents and when we withdrew it was a question of absolute necessity as the entire party was exhausted from the long spell of waiting under the heavy downpour. In any event, the enemy always passed before noon and on that occasion did not actually travel. Our party marched back to Tuttle’s of Moughna where a good meal put us all in better form. As the day dried up and the sun came out we decided to warm ourselves by having some drill.”

The Flying Column under the command of Commandant Steve Gallagher and Battalion Commandant Seamus Hennessy moved into the same position again in the early morning of Wednesday 6th July. Some of the attacking party were directed to police the main road and divert locals to use a side road so they wouldn’t get caught in any crossfire. The column was not long in position when Maria Conneally arrived with welcomed tea and bread for the men to sustain them as they waited.

Sean Burke recalls all was going well...”until a well dressed, middle sized man wearing spectacles appeared on a bicycle. He was coming from the Ennis direction, and wore long stockings and plus fours. This was something out of the ordinary. He needed looking into – who or what was he? He was mannerly and spoke with a refined accent, definitely not Irish. He had no objection to being searched. There was a medium sized suitcase on the carrier of the bicycle, into which was inserted a smaller case with some instruments. He said he was going to Ennistymon on business, stated what it was and gave an address. Later this was checked and proved correct. Any thoughts of his being a spy were dispelled, but the precautions were necessary. A short while later, he took up permanent residence in Parliament St., in the name of George B. Stradling, Dentist!”.

As noon approached final orders were given by Flying Column Commandant Steve Gallagher. From three different positions approximately three hundred yards away sights were set by the riflemen. The positions held were a long distance to have any degree of accuracy on a moving target. On time two military lorries came into the riflemen’s view from the Ennis direction. The men fired their first volley at the vehicles. Instead of engaging the Volunteers as had been the norm the Crown forces lorries accelerated and sped away. They now relied on the ability of their military drivers to get them out of an attack or dangerous situation as quickly as possible. There were no reported British causalities. As the convoy sped to Ennistymon the column was ordered to cease fire and they withdrew into the countryside.

The Volunteers handed up their rifles for safe storage in the Battalion area. Some would see and use them again after the Truce others would not. Many of these comrades in the 4th Battalion, Mid Clare Brigade, who had fought in Rineen, Monreal and other raids and attacks during the fight for freedom would not fight side by side again.


Colin Hennessy

- May 2011