Remembering IRA Volunteer Raymond McCreesh who died in Long Kesh after 61 days on Hunger Strike on 21st May 1981.

The third of the resolutely determined IRA Volunteers to join the H-Block hunger strike for political status was twenty-four-year-old Raymond McCreesh, from Camlough in South Armagh: a quiet, shy and good-humoured republican, who although captured at the early age of nineteen, along with two other Volunteers in a British army ambush, had already almost three years active republican involvement behind him.
During those years he had established himself as one of the most dedicated and invaluable republican activists in that part of the six counties to which the Brits themselves have – half-fearfully, half-respectfully – given the name ‘bandit country’ and which has become a living legend in republican circles, during the present war, for the courage and resourcefulness of its Volunteers: the border land of South Armagh.

Raymond’s resolve to hunger strike to the death, to secure the prisoners’ five demands was indicated in a smuggled-out letter written by Paddy Quinn, an H-Block blanket man – who was later to embark on hunger strike himself – who was captured along with Raymond and who received the same fourteen year sentence: “I wrote Raymie a couple of letters before he went to the prison hospital. He wrote back and according to the letter he was in great spirits and very determined. A sign of that determination was the way he finished off by saying: Ta seans ann go mbeidh me abhaile rombat a chara’ which means: There is a chance that I’ll be home before you, my friend!”

Captured in June 1976, and sentenced in March 1977, when he refused to recognise the court, Raymond would have been due for release in about two years’ time had he not embarked on his principled protest for political status, which led him, ultimately, to hunger strike.

Raymond Peter McCreesh, the seventh in a family of eight children, was born in a small semi-detached house at St. Malachy’s Park, Camlough – where the family still live – on February 25th, 1957.

The McCreeshes, a nationalist family in a staunchly nationalist area, have been rooted in South Armagh for seven generations, and both Raymond’s parents – James aged 65, a retired local council worker, and Susan (whose maiden name is Quigley), aged 60 – come from the nearby townland of Dorsey.

Raymond was a quiet but very lively person, very good-natured and – like other members of his family – extremely witty. Not the sort of person who would push himself forward if he was in a crowd, and indeed often rather a shy person in his personal relationships until he got to know a person well. Nevertheless, in his republican capacity he was known as a capable, dedicated and totally committed Volunteer who could show leadership and aggression where necessary.

Among both his family and his republican associates, Raymond was renowned for his laughter and for “always having a wee smile on him”. His sense of humour remained even during his four-year incarceration in the H-Blocks, as well as during his hunger strike where he continued to insist that he was “just fine.”

Raymond went first to Camlough primary school, and then to St. Coleman’s college in Newry. It was at St. Coleman’s that Raymond met Danny McGuinness, also from Camlough, and the two became steadfast friends. They later became republican comrades, and Danny too then a nineteen-year-old student who had just completed his ‘A’ levels was captured along with Raymond and Paddy Quinn, and is now in the H-Blocks.

At school, Raymond’s strongest interest was in Irish language and Irish history, and he read widely in those subjects. His understanding of Irish history led him to a fervently nationalist outlook, and he was regarded as a ‘hothead’ in his history classes, and as being generally “very conscious of his Irishness”.

He was also a sportsman, and played under-sixteen and Minor football for Carrickcruppin Gaelic football club as well as taking a keen interest in the local youth club where he played basketball and pool, and was regarded a good snooker player.

When he was fourteen years old, Raymond got a weekend job working on a milk round through the South Armagh border area, around Mullaghbawn and Dromintee. Later on, after leaving his job in Lisburn, he worked full-time on the milk round, where he would always stop and chat to customers. He became a great favourite amongst them and many enquired about him long after he left the round.

During the early ‘seventies, the South Armagh border area was the stamping ground of the British army’s Parachute regiment, operating out of Bessbrook camp less than two miles from Raymond’s home. Stories of their widespread brutality and harassment of local people abound, and built-up then a degree of resentment and resistance amongst most of the nationalist population that is seen to this day.

The SAS terror regiment began operating in this area in large numbers too, in a vain attempt to counter republican successes, and the high level of assassinations of local people on both sides of the South Armagh border, notably three members of the Reavey family in 1975, was believed locally to have been the work both of the SAS, and of UDR and RUC members holding dual membership with ‘illegal’ loyalist paramilitary organisations.

Given this scenario and Raymond’s understanding of Irish history, it is small wonder that he became involved in the republican struggle.

He first of all joined na Fianna Eireann early in 1973 and towards the end of that year joined the Irish Republican Army’s 1st Battalion, South Armagh.

Even before joining the IRA, and despite his very young age, Raymond – with remarkable awareness and maturity – became one of the first Volunteers in the South Armagh area to adopt a very low, security conscious, republican profile.

He rarely drank, but if occasionally in a pub he would not discuss either politics or his own activities, and he rarely attended demonstrations or indeed anything which would have brought him to the attention of the enemy.

It was because of this remarkable self-discipline and discretion that during his years of intense republican involvement Raymond was never once arrested or even held for screening in the North, and only twice held briefly in the South.

Consequently, Raymond was never obliged to go ‘on the run’, continuing to live at home until the evening of his capture, and always careful not to cause his family any concern or alarm.

Fitted in with his republican activities Raymond would relax by going to dances or by going to watch football matches at weekends.

After leaving school he spent a year at Newry technical college studying fabrication engineering, and afterwards got a job at Gambler Simms (Steel) Ltd. in Lisburn. He had a conscientious approach to his craft but was obliged to leave after a year because of a fear of assassination.

Each day he travelled to work from Newry, in a bus along with four or five mates who had got jobs there too from the technical college, but the prevailing high level of sectarian assassinations, and the suspicion justifiably felt of the predominantly loyalist work-force at Gambler Simms, made Raymond, and many other nationalist workers, decide that travelling such a regular route through loyalist country side was simply too risky.

So, after leaving the Lisburn factory, Raymond began to work full-time as a milk roundsman, an occupation which would greatly have increased his knowledge of the surrounding countryside, as well as enabling him to observe the movements of British army patrols and any other untoward activity in the area.

Republican activity in that area during those years consisted largely of landmine attacks and ambushes on enemy patrols.

Raymond had the reputation of a republican who was very keen to suggest and take part in operations, almost invariably working in his own, extremely tight, active service unit, though occasionally, when requested – as he frequently was – assisting other units in neighbouring areas with specific operations. He would always carefully consider the pros and cons of any operation, and would never panic or lose his nerve.

In undertaking the hunger strike, Raymond gave the matter the same careful consideration he would have expended on a military operation, he undertook nothing either a rush, or for bluff.

The operation which led to the capture of Raymond, his boyhood friend, Danny McGuiness, and Patrick Quinn, took place on June 25th, 1976.

An active service unit comprising these three and a fourth Volunteer arrived in a commandeered car at a farmyard in the town land of Sturgan a mile from Camlough – at about 9.25 p.m.

Their objective was to ambush a covert Brit observation post which they had located opposite the Mountain House Inn, on the main Newry – Newtonhamilton Road, half-a-mile away. They were not aware, however, that another covert British observation post, on a steep hillside half-a-mile away, had already spotted the four masked, uniformed and armed Volunteers, clearly visible below them, and that radioed helicopter reinforcements were already closing in.

As the fourth Volunteer drove the commandeered car down the road to the agreed ambush point, to act as a lure for the Brits, the other three moved down the hedgeline of the fields, into position. The fourth Volunteer, however, as he returned, as arranged, to rejoin his comrades, spotted the British Paratroopers on the hillside closing in on his unsuspecting friends and, although armed only with a short range Stengun, opened fire to warn the others.

Immediately, the Brits opened fire with SLRs and light machine-guns, churning up the ground around the Volunteers with hundreds of rounds, firing indiscriminately into the nearby farmhouse and two vehicles parked outside, and killing a grazing cow!

The fourth Volunteer was struck by three bullets, in the leg, arm and chest, but managed to crawl away and to elude the massive follow up search, escaping safely – though seriously injured – the following day.

Raymond and Paddy Quinn ran zig-zag across open fields to a nearby house, under fire all this time, intending to commandeer a car. Unfortunately, the car belonging to the occupants of the house was parked at a neighbour’s house several hundred yards away. Even then the pair might have escaped but that they delayed several minutes waiting for their comrade, Danny McGuinness, who however had got separated from them and had taken cover in a disused quarry outhouse (where he was captured in a follow-up operation the next day).

The house in which Raymond and Paddy took cover was immediately besieged by berserk Paratroopers who riddled the house with bullets. Even when the two Volunteers surrendered, after the arrival of a local priest, and came out through the front door with their hands up, the Paras opened fire again and the Pair were forced to retreat back into the house.

On the arrival of the RUC, the two Volunteers again surrendered and were taken to Bessbrook barracks where they were questioned and beaten for three days before being charged.

One remarkable aspect of the British ambush concerns the role of Lance-Corporal David Jones, a member of the 3rd Battalion, the Parachute regiment. According to Brit statements at the trial it was he who first opened up on the IRA active service unit from the hillside.

Nine months later, on March 16th, 1977 two IRA Volunteers encountered two Paratroopers (at the time seconded to the SAS) in a field outside Maghera in South Derry. In the ensuing gun battle, one SAS man was shot dead, and one IRA Volunteer was captured. The Volunteer’s name was Francis Hughes, the dead Brit was Lance-Corporal David Jones of the Parachute regiment.

In the eighteen months before going on hunger strike together neither Raymond McCreesh or Francis Hughes were aware of what would seem to have been an ironic but supremely fitting example of republican solidarity!

After nine months remand in Crumlin Road jail, Raymond was tried and convicted in March 1977, of attempting to kill Brits, possession of a Garand rifle and ammunition, and IRA membership. He received a fourteen-year sentence, and lesser concurrent sentences, after refusing to recognise the court.

In the H-Blocks he immediately joined the blanket protest, and so determined was his resistance to criminalisation that he refused to take his monthly visits for four years, right up until he informed his family of his decision to go on hunger strike on February 15th, this year. He also refused to send out monthly letters, writing only smuggled ‘communications’ to his family and friends.

The only member of his family to see him at all during those four years in Long Kesh two or three times – was his brother, Fr. Brian McCreesh, who occasionally says Mass in the H-Blocks.

Like Francis Hughes, Raymond volunteered for the earlier hunger strike, and, when he was not chosen among the first seven, took part in the four-day hunger strike by thirty republicans until the hunger strike ended on December 18th, last year.

Speaking to his brother, Malachy, shortly after Bobby Sands death, Raymond said what a great loss had been felt by the other hunger strikers, but it had made them more determined than ever.

And still managing to keep his spirits up, when told of his brother, Fr. Brian, campaigning for him on rally platforms, Raymond joked: “He’ll probably get excommunicated for it.”

To Britain’s eternal shame, the sombre half-prediction made by Raymond to his friend Paddy Quinn – Ta seans ann go mbeid me abhaile rombat – became a grim reality. Bhi se. Raymond died at 2.11 a.m. on Thursday May 21st, 1981, after 61 days on hunger strike.

With many thanks to: Clan na Gael

Today marks the anniversary of 2 brave sons of Ireland.

Irish Political hostages on hunger strike,Volunteer Patsy O Hara (inla) and Volunteer Ray Mccreesh (ira) …both men went on hunger strike together,they both died on may 21st, 1981 after 61 days on hunger strike,side by side till the last breath,
We stand for the freedom of the Irish nation so that future generations will enjoy the prosperity they rightly deserve, free from foreign interference,oppression and exploitation. The real criminals are the British imperialists who have thrived on the blood and sweat of generations of Irish men. They have maintained control of Ireland through force of arms and there is only one way to end it.

I would rather die than rot in this concrete tomb for years to come – Patsy O Hara (I.N.L.A Hungerstriker) 
Both men paid the ultimate price for their dedication,courage and beliefs.We remember them as ordinary men who did extraordinary things in extraordinary times,

Gone but never forgotten Cuz,

Rest in Power,Glory to your soul ❤

With many thanks to: Brònzy Hegerty

Raymond McCreesh and Patsy O’Hara – Died on hunger strike in the H-Blocks of Long Kesh, 21st May 1981 after joining the Hunger Strike togeather.

Raymond McCreesh and Patsy O’Hara

Raymond McCreesh died at 2.11am on Thursday 21st May
Raymond McCreesh was born in a community that has always proclaimed that it is Irish, not British. When the Northern Troubles began he was barely 12, a very impressionable age at which to learn discrimination. Those who protested against it were harassed and intimidated. Then followed Burntollet, the Bogside, Bombay Street and Bloody Sunday in Derry – all before he was 15.”
The Cardinal went on to say that McCreesh would never have been in jail had it not been for the abnormal political situation.
“Who was entitled to judge him?” he asked.
The 20 May local elections in the Six Counties saw a number of H-Block candidates elected. Amongst them was Raymond McCreesh’s brother, Oliver.
International support for the Hunger Strikers soared. There were daily demonstrations in the United States. Thousands marched in protest through New York on the Saturday after the deaths of McCreesh and O’Hara. Amongst the countries that saw demonstrations, many of them large, were Australia, Norway, Greece, France and Portugal.
Ruairí Ó Brádaigh delivered the oration. Paying tribute to Raymond McCreesh, he said:
“We are gathered here to perform a last, sad but proud duty for that great Irishman and human being, Raymond McCreesh.”
He detailed McCreesh’s progression from Fianna Éireann to the IRA and his capture in 1976 after a gun battle with the British Army. He had fought imperialism, he said, which was “the enemy of mankind”.
Ó Brádaigh outlined the area’s proud history of resistance to British rule. He accused the British Government of callously murdering McCreesh and his comrades but added that British policy was now in ribbons:
“Where now is their Ulsterisation? Where now is their normalisation? Where now is their criminalisation?
“These hungry and starving men in their beds of pain, by superior moral strength, have pushed the British Government to the wall and have shamed them in the eyes of the world.”
Comparing the Hunger Strikers to Terence MacSwiney, the Lord Mayor of Cork who died on Hunger Strike in 1921, he pledged that republicans would continue their resistance to British rule.
PATSY O’HARA passed away at 11:39pm. By his bedside were his father, James, his sister, Elizabeth, and family friend James Daly.
Speaking of his final moments his sister said: “My father called, ‘Patsy!’ and he sort of, as if he recognised the voice, sort of just tried to move his head, just one last time. And then he died. And as he was dying his face just changed; he had a very, very distinct smile on his face which I will never forget. I said, ‘You’re free, Patsy. You have won your fight and you’re free.’ And he was cold then.”
Former leader of the INLA prisoners in the H-Blocks, O’Hara came from a staunchly republican family and was much respected in his native Derry. The night of his death saw sustained rioting on the streets of Derry. The RUC replied with volleys of plastic bullets, murdering 45-year-old Harry Duffy in the process. Two days earlier they had murdered 12-year-old Carol Ann Kelly in Twinbrook.
Repeating their actions with the Francis Hughes cortege, the RUC hijacked O’Hara’s remains. Long Kesh Governor Stanley Hilditch had informed the family that the remains had been taken to Omagh, where they could be collected. About 4:30am the RUC phoned Derry with a heartless message: “If you want to collect this thing you had better do it before daylight.”
They were determined to prevent a daytime cortege. In a sickening development it emerged (after the body was finally retrieved by the grieving family) that the RUC ghouls had mutilated the body.

With many thanks to: Federal Socialist Republic.

The hunger strike of 1981 was one of, if not the most defining periods in Irish history and the IRA’s long campaign to remove the British from Ireland.

Ten men, ten Irish Republican volunteers, paid the ultimate sacrifice during those summer months of 1981. Bobby Sands, Francis Hughes, Raymond McCreesh, Patsy O’Hara, Joe McDonnell, Martin Hurson, Kevin Lynch, Kieran Doherty, Tom McIlwee and Mickey Devine. Their names are written in the hearts and minds of every Irish Republican in Ireland and abroad.

With many thanks to: Federal Socialist Republic

Comdt. Vincent Byrne II Bn, Dublin Brigade, Old IRA.

Comdt. Vincent Byrne II Bn, Dublin Brigade, Old IRA.
Comdt. Vincent Byrne II Bn, Dublin Brigade, Old IRA.

Vincent (Vinny) Byrne Joined the Irish volunteers in 1915 at the age of 14. He fought in E Company, 2nd Battalion during the 1916 Easter Rising at Jacobs Biscuit Factory on Bishop Street, Dublin seeing for the first time a man killed by gunfire. At one point armed with a .22 rifle the 14 year old Byrne held 2 policemen prisoner. He fought here alongside men such as Thomas MacDonagh, John McBride (a veteran of the Boer War) and Mick McDonnell (later leader of the Squad). After the surrender order he escaped and was arrested in a British Army sweep on the following Saturday. A group of the younger rebels were then held in Richmond Barracks (generally treated well in comparison to those at the Rotunda). One of the DMP men who fingerprinted him at Richmond Barracks was Detective Johnny Barton (later killed by Collins Squad on 29th November 1919). During questioning he was asked “Why did I not join the British Army. I said I would be fighting for England then and not for Ireland.” Due to their age they were released the following Friday evening (the older men being deported to Stafford Jail and then Frongoch Concentration Camp in Wales). In his statement to the Bureau of Military History he noted that “It might be well to mention that, strangely enough, in later years I was officer commanding this same barracks where I was held prisoner.”
Vinny Byrne went on the fight with Michael Collins counter intelligence unit ‘The Squad’, taking part in the standard guerilla warfare activities of intelligence gathering, raids for weapons, vehicles and supplies, ambushes, attacks and assasinations all throughout the Irish War of Independence (January 1919 – Truce July 1921). Below is an incomplete timeline of some of the operations he took part in from November 1919 through to Bloody Sunday of November 1920. It may be worth reading the notes at the end as some of this information is conflictive.

Sample one year timeline of Vinny Byrne activity Irish War of Independence :
November 1919 worked with Jim Slattery at Irish Woodworkers. At a meeting of Jim Slattery, Mick McDonnell & Tom Keogh at McDonnells House 29th November 1919 the possibility of Vinny Byrne taking part in the execution of Johnny Barton was discussed. He was a member of this party but did not fire the shot.

30 November 1919 – involved in the execution of Detective Sergeant Johnny Barton executed (15 minutes after he had agreed to do ‘Political Work’). Barton had been known to extort ‘Flyboys’ British men avoiding conscription in Ireland during WWI. Paddy O’Daly, Joe Leonard, Ben Barrett, Vincent Byrne.

p 66-67 ‘The Squad: and the intelligence operations of Michael Collins’ by T. Ryle Dwyer

(This execution is ascribed to Seán Treacy in The Anglo-Irish War: The Troubles of 1913-1922 By Peter Cottrell)

19th December 1919 – Attempted assasination of Lord Lieutenant, Field Marshall Sir John French at Ashtown. This action involved men of the Squad along with the men from Soloheadbeg who had initiated the Irish war of Independence.

Mick McDonnell, Sean Treacy, Dan Breen, Seamus Robinson, J.J. Hogan, Paddy O’Daly, Martin Savage, Tom Keogh, Jim Slattery, Vincent Byrne, Joe Leonard. P 71-

21st January 1920 – Detective Inspector W.C. Forbes Redmond (from Belfast & head of G Division) Executed. Tom Keogh, Vinny Byrne, Jim slattery, Joe Leonard, Séan Doyle, Paddy O’Daly. P81 – 
5th February 1920 – Raid on Navy and Army Garage. Haul included tools, parts, motorcycles, 2x ford Trucks later used in several operations. Mick McDonnell, Jim Slattery, Vinny Byrne, Peader clancy (Dublin Brigade Vice-Brigadier). P83 – 
12 February 1920 – The hold up of Military escort in attempt to free Robert Barton. (Jim Slattery, Peadar Clancy, Mick McDonnell, Entire Squad + E Company 2nd Battalion) P83 – 
13th February 1920 – attempt on Ammunition Train (mixed reports) Squad + Dublin Brigade. P 85 
19th February 1920 – Raid on Irish Steam Packet Company – Sir John Rogersons Quay. This raid was unsuccessful as the British Military had removed all ammunition stocks the day before. Vinny Byrne, Squad & Dublin Brigade. P87
2nd March 1920 – Execution of British Agent – John Charles Byrne. Paddy O’Daly, Ben Barrett, Tom Kilcoyne, (Liam Tobin, Tom Cullen). P89 – 
3rd March 1920 – Seizure of Dublin Castle Mail. Jim Slattery, Joe Dolan, Paddy Kennedy, Charlie Dalton, Tom Keogh, Vinny Byrne, Pat McCrae. P90 – 

9th March 1920 – Vinny Byrne and Joe Slattery quit jobs to work fulltime with the Squad.

Squad formalised with twelve men : Mick McDonnell, Tom Keogh, Jimmy Slattery, Paddy O’Doyle, Joe Leonard, Ben Barrett, Vinny Byrne, Séan Doyle, Paddy Griffin, Eddie Byrne, Mick Reilly, Jimmy Conroy. Reported directly to Collins as Director of Intelligence (or his Deputy Liam Tobin). Based at 100 Seville Place, then later Oriel Street, then to a Builders Yard off Abbey street using the sign ‘Geo.Moreland, Cabinet Maker’. At this point Byrne and Slattery wore Carpenters aprons covering their guns posing as Carpenters for trade. P91 – 

March 24th 1920 – Private Fergus Brian Molloy – British agent executed. (Vinny Byrne, Mick McDonnell, Jim Slattery, Tom Keogh). P97

26th March 1920 – Alan Bell Magistrate (former RIC) taken from tram and executed (for more context see note below). (Mick McDonnel, Jim Slattery, Vinny Byrne, Guilfoyle) P 99

20th April 1920 – Detective Constable Laurence Dalton executed.(Mick McDonnell, Tom Keogh, Jim Slattery, Joe Dolan, Vinny Byrne. P102

Sergant Revell shot – (Tom Keogh, Paddy O’Daly, vinny Byrne). P103
30th July 1920 – Frank Brooke Railroad executive & advisor to Lord Lieutenant French executed at Westland Row

(Tom Keogh, Jim Slattery, Vinny Byrne). P123

Late September 1920 – Attempt on G Division

The Squad and the men from Soloheadbeg including ; 

Paddy O’Daly, Joe Leonard, Mick McDonnell, Vinny Byrne, Charlie Dalton, Sean Treacy, Dan Breen, JJ Hogan, Seamus Robinson + Tom Cullen, Hugo McNeill, Jim Brennan. This was the planned attack on 8 to a dozen Dublin Castle political branch G division detectives. Aborted due to presence of Joe McNamara (Republican agent) among targets. 2nd failed Attempt a week later due to targets change of plans. As a result of the many roadblocks this 2nd attempt became attack on military at Binn’s bridge wounding 2 British Army soldiers. 3rd attempt following week cancelled by Michael Collins due to the Lord Mayor of Cork, Terence MacSwiney’s Hunger strike in Brixton prison. P146
11th October 1920 Dan Breen and Séan Treacy surrounded at safe house and shoot their way out, killing Major Gerald Smyth (brother of Colonel Ferguson Smyth of Listowel infamy) & Captain A.P.White. On 14th October at the funeral of White and Smyth a planned attempt on Hamar Greenwood, General Tudor and prominent officers by members of the Squad was aborted on late receipt of information that they would not after all be present. P151

Bloody Sunday 21 November 1920 – In all 19 men were shot by the IRA, 14 died, also one more later died of wounds. Cairo Gang’ agents (mostly) were executed across Dublin on this morning by multiple units typically led by Squad men and staffed by volunteers. It is said that the list originally included 50 names and was reduced to 35 by Cathal Brugha. In the event about one third were killed the rest escaped or were not present (one being saved by an overnight stay at a brothel). After this event Dublin castle was the destination of an exodus of agents from their lodgings all over Dublin fleeing to the safety of the Castle.

Executions of Captain Peter Ames of the Grenadier Guards and Lieutenant George Bennett (believed head of the Cairo Gang) at 38 Upper Mount Sreet, Dublin. Tom Keogh, Vinny Byrne, Séan Doyle, Herbie Conroy, Frank Saurin, Tom Ennis, Tom Duffy. Of this attack Vinny Byrne is quoted as saying “The Lord have mercy on your souls. I then opened fire with my Peter. They both fell dead.’ This was confirmed in later years during a Television interview which included a re-enactment when Vinny Byrne recalled these words.

Of this momentous day in Irish history Michael Collins wrote: “I have proof enough to assure myself of the atrocities which this gang of spies and informers have committed. Perjury and torture are words too easily known to them. If I had a second motive it was no more than a feeling such as I would have for a dangerous reptile. By their destruction the very air is made sweeter. That should be the future’s judgement on this particular event. For myself my conscience is clear. There is no crime in detecting in wartime the spy and the informer. They have destroyed without trial. I have paid them back in their own coin.”

Later that Sunday afternoon the black and tans/auxiliaries drove to Croke Park and fired 228 rounds into the crowd (not counting 50 rounds from an armoured car). They shot 68 people, killing 15. Including a 10 yr old boy, a 14 yr old boy and also a player for the Tipperary team. This event damaged the British intelligence gathering and operational capability in Ireland and the reprisal at Croke Park massively increased popular support for the IRA. P170 – 
Late November 1920 – Abortive attempt on the ‘Igoe Gang’. Thomas Newell, Charlie Dalton, Jim Hughes, Dan Mc Donnell, Tom Keogh, Vinny Byrne, Jim Slattery, Liam Tobin – resulted in the unarmed Newell being interrogated on the street then shot 4 times. P205
Above page numbers refer to :

‘The Squad: and the intelligence operations of Michael Collins’ by T. Ryle Dwyer

.One of the most notable later operations of the Irish War of Independence was the IRA attack on the Customs house in which Vinny Byrne took part.

Vinny Byrne on the Customs House attack :
‘However a 25 May IRA attack on the Customs House in Dublin made it clear that the advocates of continued force within the Irish Independence movement were more than content to keep the fight going. The attack, waged largely by the Dublin Brigade’s 2nd Battalion, marked the largest armed deployment by the rebel forces since the Easter Rising. With some 200 men involved in all, the attack in retrospect might be judged to have been as foolhardy for the IRA as it was dramatic in scale. While the objective of damaging the Customs House and destroying thousands of tax records was achieved, in all the attack resulted in the loss of some seventy-five members of the Dublin Brigade due to arrests at the scene and the deaths of six others. An entry in the diary of Mark Sturgis the day after the attack noted that the structure was ‘still burning this morning’. “O” is in high glee had a most successful raid tihs afternoon and cleared out Michael Colllin’s [sic] new headquarters office. Among the captured documents a letter written to M.C [Michael Collins] saying that a bloody business it was “that we lost all those galant fellows yesterday at the Customs House”. Collins’ attitude to the attack beforehand remains unclear. But given his gut reaction afterwards, the assessment offered by Dublin Brigade Commander, Oscar Traynor that ‘the objective we set out to accomplish has been achieved’ was less than a cause for celebration.

The objective for attacking the Customs House in fact dated back to the end of 1918, when the Irish Volunteers devised a plan for the building’s destruction if and when the British Government imposed conscription on Ireland. Vincent Byrne, a member of the execution gang attached to Michael Collins Intelligence Department, recalled his role in the attack and subsequent escape.

I got a tin of petrol and proceeded to the second floor. I opened the door and sitting inside there were a lady and a gentleman, civil servants having tea. I requested them to leave, stating that I was going to set fire to the office. The gentleman stood up and said ‘Oh, you can’t do that.’ I showed him my gun and told him I was serious. . . The lady then asked me if she could get her coat, and I replied: ‘Miss, you’ll be lucky if you get out with your life.’
Byrne, like other Brigade members, was able to escape in the confusion caused by the smoke that engulfed the building and the mayhem that prevailed outside, as harried British Auxiliaries sought to round up suspects, who were indistinguishable from the rest of the population. Byrne, in fact, relied on his wits to escape from a situation in which he had been detained by joining a crowd that was being questioned by an officer.

Now it came my turn to come before the officer. I humbly asked him:’Could I go home now? He looked at me and said, ‘What are you doing here?’ I replied:’Sir, I was on my way to Brook Thomas to buy some timber.’ He ran his hand all over me and out of my back pocket he pulled a carpenters rule and a few pieces of paper. The paper showed different sizes of timber which I usually carried as a decoy. Handing me back my rule and papers he said’Get to Hell out of this.’ I said, ‘Thank you, sir.’ I was once more clear.
Byrne was much luckier than several IRA men in Cork one month earlier, who were executed by the British authorities in Cork City.’

The Irish Revolution and its Aftermath 1916-1923 – Years of Revolt Francis Costello


Activity of Vinny Byrne during the Irish Civil War (June 1922 – May 1923) which followed the signing of the treaty is less well documented. It is said that some former members of the squad were involved in executions of Anti-Treaty IRA men however this would not be indicative of their overall Civil War era activity as is outlined throughout the Scrapbook cuttings & documents with plentiful reference to large scale engagements.

Other miscellaneous references :

Vinny Byrne at the outbreak of the Irish Civil War:
When the soldiers guarding the Bank of Ireland Building in the centre of Dublin mutinied, shortly after the Army Convention of 26th March, the quick thinking of Vinny Byrne, who was in command of them, prevented a complete collapse by insisting, gun at the ready, that only those stating definite loyalty to the government could remain. He was rescued at the last moment by Beggars’ Bush reinforcements. While the mutiny was in process Oscar Traynor was outside the building ready to occupy it with a force from his Dublin no.1 Brigade. According to J.J O’Connell only 6 of the 50 men there had been prepared to declare their loyalty to GHQ, and a new guard had to be enlisted. After that the anti-Treaty IRA plans to storm Beggars’ Bush, by means of collusion from within, proved stillborn.

Green Against Green – The Irish Civil War Michael Hopkinson


On Michael Collins & joining the Squad:

The first members of the squad were Joe Leonard, Sean Doyle, Jim Slattery, Bill Stapleton, Pat McCrae, James Conroy, Ben Barrett and Daly. Then in January 1920 Collins added Tom Keogh, Mick O’Reilly and Vincent Byrne. The expanded squad became known as the ‘Twelve Apostles’.

Vinny Byrne told me:

we were all young, twenty, twenty-one. We never thought we’d win or lose. We just wanted to have a go. We’d go out in pairs, walk up to the target, do it, then split. You wouldn’t be nervous while you’d be waiting to plug him, but you’d imagine everyone was looking into your face. On a typical job we’d use about eight, including the back-up. Nobody got in our way. One of us would knock him over with the first shot, and the other would finish him off with a shot to the head.

Collins was a marvel. If he hadn’t done the work he did, we’d still be under Britain. Informers and drink would have taken care of us. But our movement was temperate. Collins would meet us from time to time and say, ‘You’re doing great work, lads.’ There was no formality about him. I remember after the Irish Government was set up I was on guard duty at Government Buildings, and he was Commander-in-Chief. He saw me and came over to me and put his arm around me and said, ‘How are you going on, Vinny?’

You got your orders. He was your target. That was your job and it was up to you to see that it was done however you went about it.

14th January 1988 interview Tim Pat Coogan and Vincent Byrne for ‘Michael Collins’ a biography by Tim Pat Coogan


Notes on Alan Bell execution :
Following the near miss of the IRA’s attempt to assasinate Lord French in December 1919, and the shooting of Redmond, the British authorities at last gave priority to reforming intelligence. A small, secret committee, including Alan Bell, a veteran of detective work in the land league days, was forced to consider the consequences of what G.C. Duggan described as the virtual extermination of the Intelligence system. Bell has generally been depicted at this time as leading an investigation into the location of Sinn Féin bank accounts but it is clear from his personal papers that he was involved in detective work relating to the French and Redmond shootings. While the committee was still sitting, Bell was shot dead by Collins’ men: the fact that he was unarmed and unprotected and travelling on his regular route by public transport between Monkstown and the city of Dublin says little for his idea of sensible precautions.

Michael Hopkinson – The Irish War of Independence p55
The Irish Times reported on March 9, 1920 :

Irish Banks and Sinn Fein – Opening of Inquiry

The inquiry authorised by the attorney-General for Ireland under the Crimes Act, for the purpose of ascertaining the relations alleged to exsist between certain Irish banks and Sinn Fein, was opened before Mr Alan Bell, R.M., in a room in the Dublin Police Court Buildings yesterday morning. The proceedings were conducted in private, no persons being present but an official shorthand writer and the witness who for the time being was under examination.

On March 27, 1920 The Irish Times reported :

The murder of Mr. Alan Bell establishes a link between the two most dreadful chapters in the modern history of Ireland. He served the Irish Government loyally in the worst days of the Land League, and helped to defeat that conspiracy of crime.

On March 29, 1920 The Irish Times reported :

Mr Bell had recently been engaged on what he (the Coroner) might describe as quasi-political work in connection with his office, and this, apparently, was sufficient to mark him down for destruction.

On the conflicting information around the official formation of the Squad :

In a written account of the formation of the Squad Major-General Paddy Daly has stated that eight men – Daly himself, Joe Leonard, Ben Barrett, Sean Doyle, Tom Keogh, Jim Slattery, Vincent Byrne, and Mick McDonnell – were called to a meeting early in September 1919 by Collins and Mulcahy, at which the Squad was formed, only the first four being then selected. Comdt Vincent Byrne, in a statement to the author, can recall atending no such meeting, and points out that it would have been strange to announce what was afoot to eight men and then select only four of them. His impression is that Smith was shot by ordinary Volunteers chosen in the main from 2nd Battn, Dublin Brigade, and that two ‘unofficial’ squads of four men each, under Daly and McDonnell respectively, carried out the shoooting of the G-man,Barton in November under authority of Collins, the Squad proper being formed in March 1920, when Comdt Byrne himself and Jim Slattery left their civil employment to join it in a full time capacity.

With many thanks to: All that is Irish past and present.

Remembering IRA Volunteers Seamus Mc Evilly, Thomas O’Donnell, Patrick Staunton, Paddy Jordan and Sean Collins who were killed during an ambush on British Forces at Kilmeena, Co. Mayo on the 18th May 1921.

On 18 May 1921, the IRA decided to attack an RIC/Black and Tan convoy at Kilmeena. Two small-unit attacks were made on the RIC barracks in Newport and Westport to try to draw the police out of their well-defended barracks. One RIC man died in these attacks.
At 3am the next day, 19 May, the column of 41 IRA men took up position close to Knocknabola Bridge. The British convoy, travelling from Newport to Westport, consisted of two Crossley lorries and one Ford touring car—a total of about 50 men. The convoy did not arrive until 3pm and its arrival sparked a two-hour fire-fight. In the battle, one RIC man, Beckett, was wounded and later died. The British regrouped around the house of the parish priest, Father Conroy, and launched a counterattack.

Four IRA volunteers were killed. They were Seamus Mc Evilly, Thomas O’Donnell, Patrick Staunton and Sean Collins. Paddy Jordan of the Castlebar battalion was injured and died later at Bricens Hospital in Dublin. action. Seven more IRA men were wounded.

The remainder of the column, carrying their wounded, fled over the mountains to Skerdagh, where they had safe houses. However, the British tracked them there and, in another exchange of fire, another IRA man was killed, Jim Brown from Newport.
The British forces threw the dead and wounded IRA men on to the street outside the RIC barracks in nearby Westport, causing widespread revulsion among the local people. The Marquis of Sligo, no friend of the republican guerrillas, visited the barracks to complain of their treatment of enemy dead. At the funerals of those killed, in Castlebar, the British allowed only close family to attend and forbade the draping of the Irish tricolour over the coffins.
The local IRA blamed their defeat in the ambush on the failure of an IRA unit from Westport to show up in time.
Kilroy’s column managed to get some revenge for the setback at Kilmeena the following month (3 June) in an action at Carrowkennedy, where they killed seven policemen and captured 16.In May, 1921, the War of Independence was raging across the country, particularly in the south, but not much was happening in Mayo. The Black and Tans/RIC were terrorising the county. The West Mayo Flying Column had been formed on the previous St Patrick’s Day and General Michael Kilroy had waited in ambush on several occasions but the enemy never obliged. Kilroy was under pressure to have some event in Mayo which would take the heat off other counties.

Sergeant Francis Butler was shot by a sniper in Newport on the evening of the May 18 and Kilroy reckoned there would be movement on the road between Newport and Westport. He took up an ambush position in Kilmeena early on the morning of Thursday, May 19.
The casualties

There were 41 men in the ambush party. Four IRA men died in the ambush; Pat Staunton, Kilmeena; Seamus McEvilly, Thomas St, Castlebar; Thomas O’Donnell, Rossanrubble, Newport and John Collins, Westport. Paddy Jordan, Islandeady, died three weeks later of his wounds.

Four other men were wounded and captured, Paddy Mulloy, Knockbreaga Newport; Paddy O’Malley, Rossanrubble, Newport; John Cannon, Drummindoo, Westport and Thomas Nolan, Thomas St, Castlebar and three other wounded men escaped, Michael Hughes, Castlebar; James Swift, Castlebar, and John Chambers, Castlebar.

In addition, another Pat Staunton from Carrowbeg, Kilmeena, who was not related to Pat from Derrygarve, was hit in the leg with a bullet while he was moulding potatoes. He was brought to Castlebar Infirmary and recovered.

The four bodies were first brought to Westport and then to Castlebar jail, then occupied by the RIC, and thrown outside. The wounded in Westport were at first thrown on the street by the RIC/Black and Tans and were later taken to Castlebar and then to hospital in Dublin for treatment.
Pat Staunton

The days of the week in 1921 were the same as they are this year. On Sunday, May 22, 1921, 95 years ago, the Republican grave was opened for the first time. The first man buried here was Pat Staunton, 23, Derrygarve, Carraholly, at the southern end of the parish of Kilmeena, who was killed in the ambush. His body was claimed by his relatives on the Saturday and brought to Kilmeena church. There was a huge attendance at the funeral Mass on Sunday, which was unrestricted, but only 12 people were allowed to the graveyard on that day; all the funerals were restricted at bayonet point.

Pat was one of five children of John and Bridget Staunton. On the Saturday following the funeral his house was raided by the RIC and his younger brother John was put up against a wall and fired at to get information from him without success. John inherited the farm and he later married Bessie Staunton of Knockboy, a member of Cumann na mBan.
Jim Browne

On Monday morning, May 23, the day after the burial, the Flying Column was surprised at daylight in Skerdagh by a party of RIC and Black and Tans. Early in that fight Red Jim Browne, a neighbour of Pat Staunton’s, also from Drumgarve, was wounded and he died the following day. Jim had been in the Kilmeena ambush and escaped unharmed. He was buried on Thursday, May 26, his funeral was again restricted. Jim was 20 years old and one of 14 children of William Browne and Mary Chambers, a native of Derrybrock, Srahmore. Jim Browne was called ‘Red Jim’ to distinguish him from his cousin, also Jim Browne of Derrygarve and a member of the Flying Column, who was called Black Jim.

Paddy Jordan

Paddy Jordan of Derrycreeve, Islandeady, was 25 years old. He was wounded in the head late in the Kilmeena ambush while fighting a rear guard action with Michael Kilroy to allow his comrades escape. He died in a military hospital in Dublin on June 15. He was buried in Kilmeena on Sunday, June 19. Paddy Jordan’s father was teaching on Inishlyre when he married Julia Rice from Kilmaclasser in 1886 in Kilmeena church. Paddy Jordan was probably a first cousin of Willie Rice who in May 1921 was Captain of the Brockagh IRA Coy. Paddy’s father taught in Leitir school but lost his job because of his son’s republican activities. 

Paddy himself was also a trained teacher but when he left the training college he went on the run; he had already been jailed in 1919 for possession of seditious literature. His sister Mary B was married to Irwin, the draper from Castlebar. His brother was migrated to a new farm by the Land Commission in Cloghans Hill between Kilmaine and Tuam in 1941. On the same Sunday there were three funerals to the republican plot in Castlebar.
John Collins

John Collins who was a tailor with Kerrigan’s of the Fairgreen, Westport, was another of the men killed. John was a native of Belfast, and was an orphan. He had spent some time in Artane Industrial School and he probably learned tailoring there. We have not yet made any connections with his family. His body was claimed by the Kerrigans and he was buried by them. His was the first funeral to the Republican plot in Castlebar and he was buried in the forenoon. The Castlebar funerals to graveyard were also restricted to just 12 people.
Seamus McEvilly

Seamus McEvilly of Thomas St, Castlebar, was, according to reports, the first man killed in Kilmeena. His remains were carried from the jail on Saturday night to the Church of the Holy Rosary, Castlebar. There was a huge crowd at the removal of the remains. Last Mass on Sunday had been said by his brother Michael, who was curate in Connemara at the time. At 3pm, Seamus McEvilly’s funeral to Castlebar republican plot took place. A very big crowd had gathered for the burial. The removal of the tricolour from the coffin caused a disturbance outside the church.

Paddy Horkan, who was Captain of the Castlebar IRA Coy, assisted the undertaker at the funeral, obviously he was not known to the authorities.

Seamus’s father Michael was born on Inishturk, his mother was Mary Gibbons from Cloonlara, beside Killeen church, west of Louisburgh. The McEvilly family were very republican and lived in Thomas St, Castlebar. Seamus had spent three months in jail in 1918 for illegal drilling. Two of his brothers Jerimiah and Tom were also active in the IRA and they took the republican side in the civil war.
Thomas O’Donnell

Thomas O’Donnell 21, Rossanrubble, Newport, was the last man to be buried that day, his funeral was fifteen minutes behind Seamus McEvilly’s. Patrick was the son of Patrick and Ellen O’Donnell of Rossanrubble. Patrick Senior was a herd for Judge Pim who had a large grazing farm. 

The family were in a difficult position, if Pim knew some of the family were involved in IRA activities it was likely Patrick would be sacked as herd and be evicted from his house. His sister Annie later married Pat O’ Donnell ,Main St, Newport, who was a very well-known local historian.
The wounded

Four men were wounded and captured. Paddy Molloy, Knockbreaga, Newport, had a bullet in his leg which was never removed, he was in jail in England until Christmas. Paddy O’Malley of Rossanrubble, Newport, was wounded in the foot and lost his leg a few years later. John Cannon of Drimmindoo, Westport, was in jail until February 1922 and he died in 1932, but he seems to have made a good recovery as he spent time on hunger strike. Thomas Nolan, Thomas St, Castlebar appears to have made a good recovery as he was in Dublin in 1935 but there is no further information on him.

Three people were wounded but escaped. Michael Hughes of Gallows Hill, Castlebar; Seamus Swift of Davitts Terrace, Castlebar; and John Chambers, New Antrim St, Castlebar. 

They all recovered and lived long lives.

With many thanks to: Clan na Geal

The proud family of Óglach Francis Hughes.

The proud family of  Volunteer Francis Hughes
The man from Tamlaghduff
A fighter until his lifes end.

With many thanks to: Gearóid Domhnall Ó Dúda.