There was a fearful incident at Galway railway station on the evening September 8 1920. A larger crowd than usual waited for the Dublin train. The big story of the day was the Terrance McSweeney hunger strike in Brixton prison. The young Sinn Fein Lord Mayor of Cork was in his second month without food. The people of Ireland, and the Irish across the world, were totally focused on this drama. McSweeney died on October 25 after 74 days. The Dublin papers that evening would have had the latest health reports.
Among the crowd were a number of IRA members, including Seán Mulvoy (20 years old ), Seán Turke, and Frank O’Dowd. It was believed that some guns were on the train. It stopped just outside the station. Some boxes were unloaded, before the train continued and stopped alongside the platform. The crowd surged forward, mingling with the disembarking passengers. Suddenly a very drunk Black and Tan officer, Edward Krumm, swayed on to the platform waving a pistol above his head. There are several different versions of what happened.* Perhaps Krumm recognised some of the IRA figures, or perhaps the movement of the crowd upset him in some way. Whatever it was he began firing his pistol into the air. Seán Mulvoy jumped on his back, and the two men fell to the ground. Krumm pointed his gun over his shoulder, and shot Mulvoy dead. Quickly another IRA man stepped forward and shot Krumm.
Consternation erupted. People ran from the station terrified. The Black and Tans at Eglinton Street, and at Lenaboy Castle were quickly on the scene. Their blood was up, they shouted for revenge. It became a night of mock executions, shootings, burnings and terror. As the historian William Henry says: ‘It was to prove a long and dangerous night in Galway.’
A political disaster
The Black and Tans and the Auxiliaries had come into existence earlier that year. As the IRA campaign against the Royal Irish Constabulary (the local police force ), became more violent and successful, the police abandoned hundreds of rural stations. Many RIC officers, who were usually local men, with strong community ties, simply deserted the force. It was a major problem for the British authorities. Although the regular British army was in barracks throughout Ireland, and supported the RIC when required, the government saw the Irish problem essentially as one which required good local police work to root out the trouble makers.
It recruited World War I veterans as a complementary force to the RIC, and dressed them in green and military khaki uniforms, giving them the Black and Tan tag. A further campaign was launched to recruit former army officers who were specifically formed as counter-insurgency units. These were the Auxiliary Division, or ‘Auxies’, who wore distinctive Tam O’Shanter caps.
The employment of the Black and Tans and the Auxies was to prove a political disaster for the British government. Whether they were told to or not, their behaviour towards the Irish was generally despicable and undisciplined, particularly if anyone was suspected of terrorist activity. William Henry’s book repeats the episodes of midnight arrests, torture, house and shop burnings, a rampage of drunken riots, stealing, public beatings, and murder; stories of which were published across the world, and are part of our psyche even today.
About 1,000 of these bizarrely dressed men were stationed in Galway alone. Apart from rural RIC stations, they were mainly accommodated at Lenaboy Castle, Taylor’s Hill, Eglinton Street barracks, Renmore barracks, and at Rockbarton.
A sometimes colourful observer of their arrival and behaviour was Mrs Geraldine Dillon* wife of the renowned Galway professor of chemistry, Tom Dillon. The professor made no secret of his detestation of the British authorities. He was imprisoned for a while for his Sinn Féin support, and spent months of his life between teaching at the college and ‘on the run’.
His wife couldn’t stand them much either. She derides the Tans and the Auxies for their loose living, drinking, wild parties, and cruelty. ‘They 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 fought among themselves, ‘sometimes with guns’. A few were actually dismissed and sent back to England for bad behaviour. The Auxies, who were supposed to be officers and gentlemen, were shunned by Galway ‘high’ society. Their behaviour disgusted even some members of the RIC, and the regular army, who frequently passed on information to the IRA.
Richard Cruise was the district inspector in charge of the Tans and the Auxies. According to Geraldine Dillon he slept in Eglinton Street barracks ‘with steel shutters round his bed’. This is unlikely, although he must have been in fear of assassination. Ms Dillon, however, does give us a sort of Mad Max picture of Cruise. He ‘lead all the raids and seemed to us to be possessed of a devil. I often saw him in the Crossly tenders full of screaming police which tore along the roads, his head always muffled in a waterproof...’
Next week: The night of terror following the railway station killings.
* Blood for Blood - The Black and Tan war in Galway, by Willian Henry, published by Mercier History on sale €12.99.
** Ms Dillon was a sister of Joseph Plunkett, a signatory of the Proclamation of the Irish republic. She met her husband while both were chemistry students in Dublin; and were married on Easter Sunday 1916.
She later gave evidence to the Bureau of Military History, which includes approximately 60 accounts relating to events in the Galway area. All of which are available on line.