The Moneygold Ambush.
The Moneygold Ambush took place on October 25th 1920.
On October 22nd, two Auxiliaries and two RIC officers raided Fr. Michael O'Flanagan's rooms in the Presbytery in Roscommon town. This raid took place three days before the Moneygold ambush, when four RIC officers from Cliffoney barracks were shot dead on the same day Lord Mayor of Cork Terence MacSwiney and his fellow Cork Volunteer Joe Murphy died after 74 days and 76 days on hunger strike.
Fr. O'Flanagan knew all these men: Terence MacSwiney since at least January of 1916, when they both had important roles in the huge Volunteer meeting, presided over by Tomás Mac Curtain, held in City Hall, Cork. They had spoken together just the previous August at a Gaelic League meeting.
Fr. Michael also knew the Cliffoney Volunteers well: he had helped to reform them after the split with Redmond's faction in 1914. He knew Sergeant Perry and his constables from his time in Cliffoney in 1914 and 1915, when he reguarly sparred with the RIC over the Cliffoney Turf Fight and other matters.
From Denis Carroll's autobiography on Fr. O'Flanagan:
The autumn of 1920 saw state terrorism at its height. The Black and Tans and that strange assortment of ex-officers, the Auxiliaries, mounted a reign of terror. When in November 1920 a young priest, Fr. Griffin, was abducted and murdered outside Galway, the bishops of Galway and Clonfert, along with the senior clergy of Galway, directly charged the British government with responsibility for the outrage:
'for months past a systematic campaign of violence, terrorism and destruction of life and property has been tolerated, connived at, helped and encouraged.' The bishops and clergy were clearly referring to state terrorism which was to cost many lives from September 1920 onwards. That campaign of terror was designed to intimidate the people as well as to prise apart the link between the populace and the republican movement.
At this time Fr. O'Flanagan came under repeated threat from Auxiliaries based in Roscommon. A secretary, Miss Vera McDonnell, was employed by him to assist in the administrative work arising from the land courts and from his vice presidency of Sinn Féin. On 22 October 1920 Miss McDonnell's rooms at Flemings Hotel in Roscommon were raided. She herself was verbally abused and ordered to leave Roscommon. Michael O’Flanagan's quarters at the presbytery were also raided:- books, papers and antiquarian maps were taken away. Threats were made to shoot him on sight.
Fortunately for himself, he was in Dublin and was apprised of the danger by Miss McDonnell when he left the train at Athlone. According to his own account he went first to the headquarters of the regular soldiers and then of the Auxiliaries. ‘I said that I‘d heard I was to be shot and that I came back to put it over me.’ Fr. O'Flanagan's direct approach seermed to have worked: 'the major said it was piffle, that he had no idea at all of shooting me or of threatening to put me out of the town.'
The same major requested Fr O'Flanagan to return the following day. Wisely, O'Flanagan did not do so. Doubtless, he suspected a trap and, in any case, was well aware of the especial ruthlessness of the Auxiliaries. Instead, he wrote to request that the embargo on Miss McDonnell be lifted and that his personal effects be returned. Vera McDonnell left Roscommon for Dublin where she then worked at Sinn Féin headquarters. Michael O'Flanagan continued his activities at Roscommon. At this stage Fr. O'Flanagan was threatened repeatedly and, it is said, carried a gun for his own protection.
They Have Fooled You Again P.126. Denis Carroll.
As the War of Independence intensified throughout 1920, a boycott of the R.I.C. was enforced and many barracks were burned and raided. By October of 1920, only eight barracks in County Sligo, including the Cliffoney station, still remained open.
The Moneygold Ambush took place on Monday 25 October 1920, the same day that Joe Murphy and Terrence MacSweeney died of hunger-strike. The ambush took place close to Ahamlish cemetery just north of the village of Grange in County Sligo. A patrol of nine R.I.C officers led by Sergeant Patrick Perry left Cliffoney Barracks at 11.00 am to investigate a case of malicious damage at a public house in Magherow. A tenth policeman, Constable Paddy Clarke was left in charge of the barracks. By 11.30 am, as the nine policemen were approaching the final hill before Grange, they cycled into a well-planned ambush laid by the North Sligo I.R.A.
The ambush party was led by Liam Pilkington, Sligo, Seamus Devins, Grange and Andrew Conway from Cliffoney. A flying-column of up to thirty-five men drawn from various companies in North Sligo took part in the operation. Only a few members of the Cliffoney Company were involved, as they were all well known to the policemen. Patrick McCannon, a secondary school student from Cliffoney had left the village just before the patrol, and alerted the ambushers that the R.I.C. were on their way.
A scout was positioned on a nearby hill and the main group of about thirty Volunteers, under the command of Liam Pilkington and Seamus Devins, were on another hill two mile away. Martin MacGowan from Ballintrillick was also in the ambush as was Eugene Gilbride. The group was drawn from Drumcliff, Rosses Point, Ballintrillick, Cliffony but members of the Grange Company were in the majority. They had already marked out ambush positions on both sides of the road at Moneygold. When they got the signal that the patrol was on its way they took up their positions. Five or six had rifles and the others had shotguns. Some of the rifles had been lent from Sligo. The ambush took place on the main Sligo - Donegal road and the ambushers were aware that troops could have been sent quickly from Finner Camp, Donegal.
The ambush site had been chosen with care. A series of four trenches had been dug on the west side of the road, hidden behind the stone walls which had been loop-holed to provide firing positions. Another trench was dug on the east side of the road, and a further emplacement back towards Grange. A lookout position was placed in the cashel on the top of the hill, and a second small company was stationed in a wooded area just to the north to prevent reinforcements arriving from Finner camp. Two nurses from Cumann na mBan, Linda Kearns and Kate McGloin, were present to tend the wounded.
The I.R.A. leader, probably Pilkington, called on the R.I.C. to surrender, but Sergeant Perry ordered his men to open fire, and the policemen were shot from three sides. Sergeant Perry, Constables Laffey and Keown were killed instantly. Constables Lynch, Clarke and O'Rourke were badly wounded, with Lynch dying of his injuries two days later. Constables Spratt, McCormack and Joyce were uninjured and surrendered. The policemen were relieved of eight carbines and two revolvers plus ammunition, then the flying-column dispersed.
The ambush was over by midday, and one of the men involved was back in Grange in time to ring the Angelas bell. McCormack and Joyce went in to Grange to seek help, and returned with Doctor Martin and the parish priest Fr. Brian Creehan. The wife of Constable Lynch, who lived close by, arrived at the scene to attend her dying husband. "Fr. Crehan later told a reporter that it was all so horrible that the sight which he witnessed on the roadway would never leave his memory."
This proved to be the most successful I.R.A. ambush in Co. Sligo during the War of Independence and the reaction of the authorities to the ambush was predicable. The R.I.C. and the Auxiliaries immediately launched an operation to find the men responsible and reacquire the weapons taken from the ambush site by the I.R.A.
Crown forces with lorries quickly arrived from Sligo and the bodies of the dead policemen were taken back to Cliffoney Barracks while Constable Lynch was removed to the County Infirmary. The local I.R.A., expecting reprisals, watched the roads leading to Cliffoney, but nothing happened for 24 hours, so they dispersed.
At Moneygold eight miles from Sligo (between Grange and Cliffony in Co. Sligo), the IRA ambushed a nine-man RIC patrol, killing four. The IRA was led by Sligo Brigade O/C William Pilkington. Auxiliaries, who were stationed at the residence of The McDermott in Coolavin, traveled to north Sligo some time after the ambush and searched the countryside for the ambushers. The County Inspector reported. "The houses of some leading suspects were burned as well as the Father O'Flanagan Sinn Féin Hall at Cliffony". The Crown forces threw a cordon around the Grange area and spent two nights searching for the ambushers. Many houses were burned.
Troops surrounded Grange on Tuesday morning and began to interrogate the locals. A series of reprisals began, which extended for the next few nights. E Company of the Auxiliary R.I.C. arrived in North Sligo. They set fire to several cottages in Grange, including the home of Seamus Devins. The Temperance Hall, which housed the village library was also destroyed.
In Cliffoney village, seven cottages belonging to local Sinn Féin supporters, including the Conway, McCannon and Gilmartin homes were burned. The village hall, named after the Vice-president of Sinn Féin, Fr. Michael O'Flanagan was burned and the words "Vacated Home of Murder Gang" were painted on the walls. Gillespie's tailor shop was ransacked, the contents were taken outside and burned on the street. The Co-operative Creamery in Ballintrillick was also destroyed.
The bodies of Sergeant Perry and Constable Laffey were removed to Boyle along with the families of the dead policemen, who were warned to get out of Sligo. A slogan was painted on the leading vehicle: "A Sinn Féin Victory: three widows and seventeen orphans."
Sergeant Perry, aged 51, left a family of ten children, and his wife was expecting her eleventh child at the time. Constable Laffey, was forty-one, married with five children and came from County Galway. He had nineteen year's police service having previously been a farmer.
"Constable Patrick Lynch was removed to the County Infirmary where he died from his wounds on 27th October 1920. A thirty-three year old married man with two children from Co., Cavan; he had twelve years' police service, having been a farmer prior to joining the RIC. "
To draw the attention of Crown forces away from Grange and Cliffoney an operation was planned in the south of the county. Weapons were being transported in a car belonging to Linda Kearns, who was driving. With her in the car were Seamus Devins, Andrew Conway and Eugene Gilbride. "They loaded the car with the six rifles, some revolvers and about 100 rounds of ammunition." They were stopped at a checkpoint between Lough Gill and Ballisodare, and when the car was searched, the weapons taken in the Moneygold ambush were recognised.
On 21 November 1920 the R.I.C. accompanied by a detachment of Auxiliaries recovered the weapons captured by the I.R.A. at the Moneygold ambush. The arms were recovered at a police checkpoint near Ballisodare in south Co. Sligo. The loss of these weapons and ammunition was a serious blow to any future I.R.A. operations in the county.
The four were arrested. "The captured men were badly beaten as they were being arrested, Gilbride was unconscious in the lorry as they were being taken in to Sligo. In the Barracks they were again badly beaten, Seamus Devins getting the worst beating." After two days imprisonment in Sligo, the four were transferred by boat to Buncrana, then to Derry for three days, before finally being moved to Belfast for trial. The three men each got fifteen years hard labour, and Linda Kearns got ten years.
"The arrest of such senior members of the IRA all from the same area together with much of the arms of that area was a serious blow. "These events paralysed the IRA in north Sligo for a time," said Daniel Waters who was a member of Cliffony company."
Constable Patrick Clarke, who remained behind in Cliffoney Barracks on the day of the ambush, was shot dead eight months later at Creevykeel, just north of Cliffoney village.