The British raid on Inis Mór, December 1920

1920 in Galway comes to an end with further intimidation, looting, and state sponsored murder

The notorious Black and Tans extended their reign of terror onto the Aran Islands in December 1920.

The notorious Black and Tans extended their reign of terror onto the Aran Islands in December 1920.

November 1920 was a bloody month in Galway with the killing of Eileen Quinn, Fr Michael Griffin, Michael Moran, and Harry and Patrick Loughnane. D Company Auxiliaries had made their presence felt.

D Company consisted of 150 men supported by Black and Tans, and various elements of regiments of the British Army, such as the 17th Lancers, 4th Battalion Worcester Regiment, Sherwood Foresters, and a mix of military support from the Depot of the Connaught Rangers in Renmore, roughly 2,000 men in all.

D Company was living up to its statement of intent published in the Connacht Tribune of October 2 1920: “We the Auxiliary Force, we act restore order. We are obliged to take certain steps to do this.”

Galwaymen in the Black and Tans

December began with another mother grieving for her son when IRA man Joseph Howley [pictured below] from Oranmore was shot dead in Broadstone Train Station, Dublin on the 4th. He had been on the run for some time but was identified when he arrived at the station. Like his comrade, Michael Moran, he was shot in the head at close range.

This event demonstrates how D company had constructed a highly complex network of intelligence. Informers and ex-servicemen were feeding information to the RIC who in turn shared it with the Auxiliaries, especially in Howley’s case. At the heart of this network was D Company’s Intelligence Officer Lt Cecil Maurice Kaufmann, formally of the Norfolk Regiment.

Joe Howley

On December 8 1920 an additional six ex-servicemen, most of whom were former Connaught Rangers from Galway, joined as Black and Tans in Renmore Barracks. These men were vouched for by their former commanding officers. They brought with them valuable background information relating to IRA members, their activities, and sympathisers. This was not in any way unique to Galway; records indicate many Irishmen who had served across the Crown Forces joined the Black and Tans.

'A local man named Owen was dragged from his bed at gunpoint. Thomas Fleming managed to evade capture when several Black and Tans smashed into his house'

Meanwhile, as Cork lay smouldering, the Galway Christmas Fair was held on December 15 bringing people from the four corners of Connacht into Galway town. Several of these new Black and Tans were seen with members of D Company strolling through the market and patrolling the streets in army vehicles. It is believed they were identifying and arresting suspected members of the IRA.

The raid on Inis Mór

After the interrogation of these men, Lt Kaufmann drew the conclusion that Inis Mór would be a place of interest. Information suggested that several well known IRA men, who were on the run, were living there, and reports of volunteers openly drilling outraged D Company. By December 1920 many Galway IRA men had gone on the run - some joined flying columns while others had to leave the country. Inis Mór offered an alternative. The RIC Barracks on the island had been abandoned in July 1920 and ships left the west coast regularly, heading to the islands with supplies and offering easy passage.

An elaborate plan was drawn up to land a raiding party, consisting of Black and Tans, RIC, Army, and members of D Company on two sites on Inis Mór with the objective of rounding up the ‘on the runs’ and “to restore order”.

Dun Aengus Kilronan 1920s

The Dun Aengus at Kilronan Pier, Inis Mór, during the 1920s. The Dun Aengus was essential in helping IRA volunteers evade capture by the British.

On Saturday December 18 at 22.00hrs a Royal Navy ship sailed from Galway Docks carrying around 300 men, first landing at Cill Mhuirbhigh Bay where 50 men disembarked, before proceeding to Cill Rónáin where the remainder landed. They made their way to various locations based on good intelligence, supplemented by local knowledge of the area from RIC members of the party who had been stationed there.

A local man named Owen was dragged from his bed at gunpoint. Thomas Fleming’s house was raided. Fleming, a Volunteer, managed to escape out a back window and evade capture when several Black and Tans smashed into his house at 04.00hrs. Máirtín Breathnach, who had been openly drilling the local Volunteers, was arrested. A total of 10 men were taken prisoner and later held at the temporary internment camp in Galway Town Hall (now the Town Hall Theatre ). The Freemans Journal of December 22 named them: Joseph Doyle, Michael J Gill, Edward Gill, James H Quinn, John Quinn, Joseph Mullins, Anthony O’Kelly, Martin Walsh, Thomas Hernon, and Pat Fitzpatrick.

The killing of Lawrence McDonagh

Inis Mor 2

On the morning of December 19, a local fisherman who fished on the Western Star was making his way across the island on the low road, it is believed he was on his way to early Mass. A soldier from the 17th Lancers saw and fired at him, hitting him in the right lung. Lawrence McDonagh was mortally wounded. He was taken to his family home and died at 18.00hrs on December 23.

In the Military Court of Inquiry which followed, the officer in command of the 17th Lancers, Lieutenant WW Honeywood, stated that a group of men had advanced his line so he and his men fired warning shots to disperse them. Honeywood believed McDonagh was part of the crowd, and the court found, “that no blame could be attached to the armed forces of the Crown and [brought] in a verdict of Justifiable Homicide.”

'At Christmas, the people thought they at least could go to midnight Mass, but they were held up and searched and shots were fired'

Compensation of £50 was later paid to McDonagh’s family by the Crown. Before returning back to Galway the Raiding Party spent the rest of its time looting and wrecking property on the island. The three Galway Volunteers who were on the run, and had been hiding at several islanders’ homes over a period of time, managed to avoid arrest, and were smuggled soon after aboard the Dun Aengus back to Galway.

Galway in 1920 was defined by intimidation, looting, state sponsored murder, reprisals, and the silencing of The Galway Express newspaper. D Company was relentless even “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,” stated Mrs Geraldine Dillon.

However, RIC Deputy Inspector General Charles A Walsh’s view of Galway was that, “The firm manner in which the Crown Forces are performing their duties has subdued the disloyal spirit of the people”. In time Walsh would be proven wrong. The war in the West was far from over.

Damien Quinn is a military historian specialising in Irishmen in the service of the British Crown Forces. He studied politics and history as an undergraduate, and gained a Masters of Literature in History from NUI Galway.


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