The Auxiliaries in Galway

As the guerrilla war attacks by the Irish Volunteers on the RIC began to escalate in 1919, the British government recruited World War I veterans as a complementary force to the RIC. It advertised for men willing “to face a tough and dangerous task”. These were the Black and Tans. A further campaign was launched to recruit former army officers who were specifically formed into counter insurgency units known as the Auxiliaries or ‘The Auxies’. They wore distinctive ‘Tam O’Shanter’ caps. One of these units, D Company, was stationed in Lenaboy Castle and in ‘The Retreat’ in Salthill.

The first commander of D Company was AP Nichol, who 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 distinctly understood that we are not here to shoot people, but to restore order. We are obliged to take certain steps to do this, peaceable law-abiding citizens have nothing to fear from us.” Nichol was dismissed on November 30 1920 for excessive drinking.

The “certain steps” referred to by Nichol were articulated by a Lt Col Smyth in June 1920 as follows: “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 hands in their pockets, or are in any way suspicious looking, shoot them down. You make mistakes occasionally and innocent persons 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 will like you, and I assure you no policeman will get into any trouble for shooting anyone.”

The Black and Tans were stationed in Eglinton Street, Dominick Street, the Docks, and Salthill. The 4th Worcesters were at the Workhouse, the 17th Lancer in Earl’s Island, and the Connaught Rangers were based in Renmore Barracks, so Galway was very heavily garrisoned, which greatly restricted republican activity in the city. The Tans and the Auxiliaries were ruthless and engaged in reprisals, looting, burning buildings, torture, and stealing. Their violent tactics alienated the Irish public and eventually had the same effect on British public opinion, and ironically encouraged both sides towards a peaceful solution.

The commanders of D Company never lasted long in Galway. Nichol was followed by Lt Col FH Guard who held the post until February 19, 1921; then GFA Grubbe until May 24, 1921; Captain WH King until November 15, 1921; and finally WE Watt until January 19 1922, when the Auxiliaries left Galway.

This photograph of a group of Auxiliaries (which was kindly given to us by the Military Archives ) was taken at Lenaboy Castle. One of them, Burke, was a Scot of Irish extraction. Burke was implicated in the torture and murder of the Loughnane brothers, Pat and Harry, near Gort, part of which involved their being dragged behind a lorry. It was Burke who commandeered the rope. Another was a local man, Carr, who acted as a guide for the Auxiliaries.

The photograph is included in a new book by Cormac Ó Comhraí, published by Mercier Press, entitled Ireland and the First World War a Photographic History, which will be launched tomorrow evening in Kenny’s Bookshop in the Liosbán Estate. It is essentially an illustrated guide to the experiences of the Irish during WWI, both at home and abroad. A marvellous collection, highly recommended, and available in good bookshops at €30.

The Old Galway Society lecture which takes place this evening in the Mercy Secondary School, Newtownsmith, coincidentally, is titled “Galway soldiers in the Great War”. It will be given by William Henry and all are welcome.


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