A Christmas card from Salthill, 1920

As the War of Independence hotted up, the British authorities sent the Black and Tans and the Auxiliaries to Ireland to support the RIC. D Company of the Auxiliaries was stationed at Lenaboy Castle and at The Retreat in Rockbarton.

Their first commander, AP Nichol, was quoted as saying: “We are the auxiliary force and act independently. All our men are ex-officers and, I hope, gentlemen. I wish it to be strictly understood that we are not here to shoot people, but to restore order. We are obliged to take certain steps to do this, peaceable and law abiding citizens have nothing to fear from us.” Nichol was dismissed on November 30, 1920, for excessive drinking.

Another officer, Lt Col Smyth, was on record as saying: “If a police barracks is burned, or if the barracks occupied is not suitable, then the best house in the locality is to be commandeered, the occupants thrown into the gutter. Let them die there, the more the merrier. Should the order ‘Hands up’ not be immediately obeyed – shoot, and shoot with effect. If the persons approaching a patrol carry their hand in their pockets, or are in any way suspicious, shoot them down. You make mistakes occasionally and innocent people may be shot, but that cannot be helped and you are bound to get the right parties some time. The more you shoot the better I like you and I assure you that no policemen will get into any trouble for shooting anyone.”

Mrs Geraldine Dillon, in her book All in the Blood, wrote: “They [the Tans and the Auxillaries] spent their money on drink and lived on loot, pigs, hens, and ducks stolen from country people. They drank anything, mixtures of Bovril and whiskey, gin and rum. They stole everything, down to the old lady’s red petticoat, and sent them to their friends in England as souvenirs. We heard from people in England of the wonderful things their friends were getting and did not realise they were stolen. Nine extra trainloads of parcels of poultry were sent from the Galway post office at Christmas.

“The day of the Christmas fair, the Tans got the ex-British soldiers of Galway to go through the crowd at the fair and mark the IRA men who had come to sell their cattle. I was outside the house when I saw a Crossley Tender full of prisoners coming with the Tans howling like devils. They brought them out to Barna and threw them in the river and when they crawled out, they were taken in their dripping clothes and put in the doghouse huts at the barracks at the Earl’s Island old distillery behind UCG, where the 17th Lancers were stationed. The semi-circular huts were full of prisoners, one of whom told me that when a soldier wanted to give them blankets in the cold weather, an officer stopped him saying he never heard of swine wanting blankets. At Christmas, the people thought that they at least could go to midnight Mass, but they were held up and searched and shots were fired and women panicked and ran screaming down the street.”

Our image today is of a ‘jovial Christmas card’ sent by members of D Company in Salthill to their friends and relations in England, which shows us how those men armed themselves in order to steal the poultry that eventually left the post office in Galway. It is one of the many in a recent book entitled The Fight for Irish Freedom, an Illustrated History of the War of Independence, written by Michael Barry and published by Andalus Press. Highly recommended.

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