The 17th Lancers in Earl’s Island

When World War I finished and the National Shell Factory on Earl’s Island closed down, the buildings were taken over by the 6th Dragoon Guards who had a reputation for wanton brutality. This was unusual in that most well armed British army units, with few having a role in the intelligence conflict, were rarely attacked during the War of Independence in the west of Ireland. While individual RIC men became defined as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, it was army regiments, rather than individual soldiers, that became so defined.

The Dragoons were replaced by the 17th Lancers, a large detachment of whom were garrisoned in Earl’s Island. They were a cavalry regiment (who had been involved in the Charge of the Light Brigade ) who would regularly, at low tide, drill their horses on the beach at Grattan Road. They occasionally came under attack and had pieces of military equipment, barbed wire, and feed for their horses destroyed.

On the night of August 13 1920, shots were fired in the vicinity of Earl’s Island. It was believed they came from the Railway Bridge and were aimed at the barracks. So the Lancers left their barracks in force, mounted on horseback, and began to patrol the streets. The only people they came across during the night were members of the Flintoff-Moore Opera Company who were on their way to the railway station after giving a performance in the Town Hall.

Part of the reason for the attack on the barracks was that IRA prisoners were often taken by the Black and Tans to the camp for interrogation and held for days there, without any access to the courts or the authorities. They were kept in semicircular huts in primitive conditions with no heating, and often brutalised. Michael Moran from Tuam was shot dead there.

At one point, the Lancers were forced to evacuate their quarters in Earl’s Island when Richard McNevin, bailiff for Galway and armed with a writ, evicted them. The shocked commander and his troops had just finished breakfast when the order was served. The land was formally occupied by the Green Marble Company and the landlord was owed £654. The military obeyed the law and left but regained control again shortly afterwards. It was probably the only time in our history where the army of occupation was evicted peacefully from a barracks.

The Lancers lost four personnel while they were in Galway. A Lieutenant Souchon was mortally wounded in a fracas as he was being driven in a car past the Town Hall, Quartermaster Arthur Atkins drowned in December 1920, and Captain Cornwallis and Lieutenant McCreery were killed in the Ballyturin Ambush.

Our photograph today (courtesy of the Queen’s Royal Lancers Museum ) shows a large group of Lancers outside the Earl’s Island building in May 1921. It is one of the may images included in a book just published entitled Revolution in Connacht, a Photographic History 1913-1923. It is compiled by Cormac Ó Comhrai and published by Mercier Press. Many of the photographs are previously unpublished and record incidents, people, and places in the west associated with those revolutionary years. A fascinating insight into what life was like in those days. Highly recommended.

Our thanks to Willie Henry for his help with the above information. More about this building next week.

An Taisce will hold its AGM in The Ardilaun hotel on Wednesday November 20 at 8pm. And all are welcome. The annual An Taisce lunch takes place the following Sunday in The Ardilaun at 2pm. It will be followed by a slideshow given by Peadar O’Dowd. Booking is essential.

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