Sean Broderick and the Black and Tans

Seán in the Oglaigh na h-Eireann uniform

Seán in the Oglaigh na h-Eireann uniform

During the Black and Tan era, it was difficult for the IRA to be overtly active in Galway City because it was so heavily garrisoned. Renmore Barracks which was the headquarters of the Connaught Rangers, was occupied by the Sherwood Foresters, more of whom were based in Oranmore: There was a large detachment of the 17th lancers at Earl’s Island: The Auxiliaries had a Company in Lenaboy Castle: And, between the barracks in Eglinton St., two more barracks in Dominick St and many private houses which had been commandeered, there were some 500 men. In addition there were, at varying times, a number of troops camped near Galway.

Seán Broderick from Prospect Hill was OC, 4th Battalion, Galway Brigade of the IRA, and all that he and his men could do was to mount limited operations in the city, which would hopefully distract the British from the real activity taking place in the country. At the end of 1919, they attacked Lough George RIC barracks, later they burnt various RIC barracks which had been evacuated, laid ambushes, burnt British documents etc.

When a Black and Tan named Krumm was shot dead during an altercation at the railway station, Broderick was arrested by the Tans. “They pulled me down the stairs in my shirt and trousers, without boots, and brought me towards the station, poking me with their rifles and revolvers and accompanied by choice language. I saw several patrols of military on our way and when we got to the station, I shouted to a British Army officer that, as an officer of the IRA, I demanded a fair trial.

The reply from several was ‘You bloody b.....s did not give much trial to the policeman last night.’ I was brought further up and put against a wooden railway door and a party of about seven or eight RIC and Tans took up a position as a firing party some short distance away. I heard the words of command: ‘Present’, ‘Fire’, closed my eyes and prayed to the Blessed Virgin, who undoubtedly saved my life. I felt a sharp sensation on the top of my head and fell to the ground”.

In fact he had only been grazed by the bullet but there was a lot of blood and he feigned death. When the Tans moved away, he got up and ‘The wall opened up for him so as to make his way across Mahon’s Field to the back door of Mrs Browne’s house at Number 1, Magdalen Terrace’. He sent word to his home in Prospect Hill which was raided by the Tans the following day.

On the run

They attempted to set fire to it while his mother was inside, and they dragged his sister Margaret out and shaved her hair off. They gave the same treatment to Gertie Madden and Margaret Turke. The Broderick family got word to John Spellman in Fermoyle Lodge in Conamara that Seán was ‘on the run’. John’s father Pat was the caretaker of the lodge which was owned by a British army general named Kincaid who was not in residence at the time.

The Spellmans lived in the gate lodge of Fermoyle. One of them, Bridie, cycled the 30 miles to Galway with a despatch hidden in the handlebars of her bike which said that if Seán could be brought to Derroe Cross, arrangements would be made for a safe hiding place. Bridie was questioned by the Tans en route, but managed to deliver her message, and then cycled home again (probably with another despatch ). As a result, a bike was left in an old house near Derroe Cross, along with two carbide lamps (in case Seán Broderick put too much water in one ).

Meanwhile, Seán was smuggled into the GPO where Joe Togher put him in one of the long canvas mailbags. It was placed in a mail van which delivered the post and newspapers all along the coast to Carraroe. It being Christmastime, there was a lot of mail. The Tans searched the van at Spiddal but let it through. Seán got out at Derroe Cross, found the bike and had trouble with one of the lamps. He got the second one working and cycled the six miles to Fermoyle, but some watchful person noted the odd activity of a lighted bicycle going into Fermoyle Lodge at unusual hours, and reported it. Seán was put into one of the bedrooms in the main house and John Spellman slept in the room next to him. The carpet was removed from the stairs so that anyone coming upstairs could be heard, and the ground floor windows were shuttered every night.

Raid by Black and Tans

On the night of January 6, the Spellman family were woken out of their sleep in the Gate Lodge by soldiers prodding them with revolvers. They had not heard them entering the house. It seems the Tans had turned off their engines and let the trucks glide silently downhill to the house. The Spellmans were interrogated but said that being isolated in Conamara, they knew nothing of a Galway man on the run.

The frustrated Tans smashed all the breakables in the house before they left. In the big house, John Spellman heard the breaking glass and roused Seán who ran, in his night attire, to a rope ladder that was hanging from the attic door at the top of the main staircase. He climbed up, pulled the ladder after him, folded it away and hid in the water tank. John quickly took all the clothes off Seán’s bed and put them on his own. He turned Sean’s mattress upside down and got back into his own bed. He listened as the Tans broke down the door and he heard their heavy steps on the stairs. They burst into his room and interrogated him. They tested Sean’s mattress to see if it was warm, and found some of Sean’s underwear in a drawer which John told them belonged to the general’s chauffeur.

They put a revolver in John’s mouth and told him they would blow his brains out if he did not tell him where ‘The Shinner’ was. They beat him up and left him. They did no further damage to the house and left. All went quiet. John got up and went into Seán’s room to see if they had found anything incriminating, when suddenly one of the Tans stepped out from behind the door. He had waited to see what John would do after they had supposedly left.

A second Tan appeared, but John started talking gibberish and acting strangely, so they decided he was a bit deranged after the beating and left. John went back to bed and stayed there until daybreak. In the morning he went to the kennels and let out all the hunting dogs for their morning constitutional, as it were, but instead of going up the mountain for their run, he let them roam around the grounds, about 12 acres. When he was satisfied the place was clear of Tans, he rescued Seán from the attic.


In the event of a raid, alternative accommodation had been arranged for Seán in a big cave not far from Fermoyle village. It was not accessible by road, had a wooden floor, an oil heater, a bed of sorts and various other necessities.

The locals, most of whom were in the employ of the general, supplied him with food and kept the secret. Eventually, he was safely able to visit some of their houses, further up the mountain. The dogs in the village would have barked at any approaching stranger. Our first photograph today is a posed one taken in a studio of Seán in the Oglaigh na h-Eireann uniform. The second was taken in February and shows him leading a group of Irish Volunteers into Renmore Barracks on the day the British left. In August 1934, Seán married Kathleen O’Connor from Abbeygate Street and they had three children, Pat, Michael, and Valerie. He died in September 1967 and was buried with full military honours.

The Old Galway Society is hosting a lecture in the Mercy Convent, Newtownsmyth this evening at 8.30pm. it will be given by Kathleen Villiers Tuthill under the title “Alexander Nimmo, his work in the west of Ireland”. All are welcome.

Tomorrow evening (17 ) in the Anno Santo Hotel at 8pm, Birdwatch Galway are hosting an illustrated presentation by Sinéad Cummins entitled “The Changing Fortunes of Red Grouse in Ireland – what does the future hold?” All are welcome but contributions will be appreciated. Finally, on Monday next (April 20 ) at 8pm in the Harbour Hotel, the Galway Archeological & Historical Society will host a lecture by Tim Collins entitled “Dick Dowling; Galway’s Hero of Confederate Texas” and as usual, all are welcome.



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