Wednesday 20 February 2019

'There was never any intention to kill them' - thousands gather in Soloheadbeg to commemorate centenary of ambush that sparked War of Independence

Minister Josepha Madigan lays a wreath at the Soloheadbeg Ambush Centenary celebration in Co. Tipperary
Photo: Tony Gavin 2
Minister Josepha Madigan lays a wreath at the Soloheadbeg Ambush Centenary celebration in Co. Tipperary Photo: Tony Gavin 2
Crowds gather at the centenary commemoration in Soloheadbeg
Guest speaker Eamon O'Cuiv TD addresses the crowd at the Soloheadbeg Ambush Centenary celebration in Co. Tipperary Photo: Tony Gavin
Relatives of RIC member James McDonnell, Vera McDonnell Gleeson, Phil Manion and Vincent McGrath at the Soloheadbeg Ambush Centenary celebration in Co. Tipperary Photo: Tony Gavin
Minister Josepha Madigan lays a wreath at the Soloheadbeg Ambush Centenary celebration in Co. Tipperary Photo: Tony Gavin

Ralph Riegel

Thousands gathered to commemorate the Soloheadbeg ambush on January 21, 1919 which sparked the War of Independence.

The first shots of the war were fired by Dan Breen, Sean Treacy, Seamus Robinson, Sean Hogan and other members of an eight-strong IRA Third Tipperary Brigade unit.

The daughter of Seamus Robinson, Dimphne Brennan (85), is to meet with relatives of the two RIC constables killed 100 years ago.

Ms Brennan said her father maintained until his dying day that the fatal shootings were accidental with the intention from the outset of disarming and capturing the two policemen.

Guest speaker Eamon O'Cuiv TD addresses the crowd at the Soloheadbeg Ambush Centenary celebration in Co. Tipperary
Photo: Tony Gavin
Guest speaker Eamon O'Cuiv TD addresses the crowd at the Soloheadbeg Ambush Centenary celebration in Co. Tipperary Photo: Tony Gavin

"He was a gentle and kind man...there was never any intention to kill them," she said.

Their ambush was planned to seize a cartload of gelignite explosives as it was transported to a local quarry from an RIC base in Tipperary town.

However, a plan to disarm and capture the RIC guard went badly wrong and two RIC Constables were killed in a hail of bullets.

Constable Jim McDonnell and Constable Paddy O'Connell, who were both Catholic, died after apparently trying to shoulder their rifles when suddenly confronted by the IRA volunteers on a stretch of road just six metres wide by the gate to Cranitch's field.

Grand Neices of Dan Breen Deirdre Myers, Saoirse McArdle and Notreen Myers at the Soloheadbeg Ambush Centenary celebration in Co. Tipperary.
Photo: Tony Gavin
Grand Neices of Dan Breen Deirdre Myers, Saoirse McArdle and Notreen Myers at the Soloheadbeg Ambush Centenary celebration in Co. Tipperary. Photo: Tony Gavin

The ambush and shootings, which were not sanctioned by IRA command in Dublin, took place on the very day the republican Dáil met for the first time and declared independence from Britain.

Accounts after the War of Independence and Civil War indicated that the two RIC officers initially thought the ambush was a hoax.

In the feverish atmosphere of Irish politics just three years after the Easter Rising, Soloheadbeg lit the spark for Ireland's War of Independence and four years of bloody violence which engulfed the entire island.

More than 2,000 people were killed by early 1922 alone.

A pipe band plays at the centenary commemoration in Soloheadbeg
A pipe band plays at the centenary commemoration in Soloheadbeg

The significance of the ambush and its implications for Irish history was marked by Solohead Parish Centenary Committee led by Oliver Coffey, Michael Ryan, Tim Hanley and Tim Ryan.

Mr Ryan said the aim was to commemorate a critical event in Irish history and to make it as inclusive and sensitive as possible.

With that in mind, military re-enactors were not allowed participate in today's events.

More than 1,000 people gathered at Solohead village for a special memorial and also at the Soloheadbeg ambush site - crowds were so large Gardaí and stewards closed local roads and implemented a park-and-ride system from Tipperary Racecourse.

Relatives from all 12 individuals involved that day were present at the ceremony.

Jack and Josephine O'Connell represented their grand-uncle, Constable O'Connell, while Constable McDonnell was represented by his descendants Vincent McGrath and Philip and James McDonnell.

Former Irish Independent news editor, Treacy Hogan, and his son Robert, were present to represent their grandfather and great-grandfather, Sean Hogan.

"It is important that today is all about inclusion. What happened 100 years ago happened. But it is very important that we remember all those involved," he said.

Séan Hogan who would later be the focus of a dramatic IRA rescue from the Tipperary-Cork train several months after Soloheadbeg.

Online Editors

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Also in this section