The Railway Men: 1st Battalion, Offaly No. 2 Brigade the War of Independence and the attacks on trains in the Ballycumber- Clara area. By Pat McLoughlin

We welcome Pat McLoughlin this week as a new contributor writing about attacks on trains in the Clara-Ballycumber area during the War of Independence. Pat writes: I grew up between Clara and Ballycumber in the townland of Clonshanny.  Thomas Bracken who was Adjunt Officer 1st Battalion, Offaly No. 2 Bde. is my grandfather, Brigid Bracken (née Reilly) Cumann na mBan is my Grandmother.  The Bracken family who at that time lived in Erry, Clara were all involved on the War of Independence.  My neighbours Tommy and Annie Berry (née Morris) and John Minnock were among many veterans in that community.  The War of Independence I grew up with was fought in Clara, Ballycumber, The Barney Bridge, The Island, on the Banagher line, the people who fought it were the people we lived alongside.  The people and stories were part of our lives, then came funerals with Tricolour draped coffins, Military honours for Irish War Heroes and life moved on.  100 years on the Military Archive maintained by the Irish Defence Forces gives me an opportunity to recreate some of the history of the community where I grew up.

Excerpt from Viceregal Commission on Irish Railways 1906 map.

The 1st Battalion Offaly No. 2 Bde carried out a total of 13 attacks on trains operating in the Clara – Ballycumber area during the War of Independence.  Offaly No. 2 Bde and 1st Battalion officers who were on these attacks are listed under their local Company.

Both A Coy (Company) and B Coy list attacks on trains.  There are differences in dates, but given that the pension records were created a number of years after the War of Independence discrepancies in dates are to be expected.  Where there are similarities, I have assumed both companies were involved.  The criteria I have used:-

  1. Where two descriptions are somewhat similar but the number of men on one alone appears insufficient.
  2. When both descriptions are clearly the same incident.
  3. Where combining the two companies is consistent with how the A.S.U. operated.

August 1920.  Location: Ballycumber                                                                                                         A18_2 2 Offaly Brigade. Page 54. (1) Page 65.

“Hold up of train at Ballycumber in August 1920 and the destruction of two wagons with Military supplies.”

Men involved.

Thomas Bracken, A Coy.

It is unlikely that one man carried out this operation.  B Coy have an entry Sept or Oct 1920 “Burning of hay and military supplies between Ballycumber and Clara”

B Coy Men involved.

James Fleming, Andrew Lynam.

Clara station about 1910

November 1920. Location: Clara.

A18_2 2 Offaly Brigade. Page 56. (2). Page 65 (6).

“Hold up of train at Clara station in November 1920 and the seizure of 52 bags of bread and a quantity of bacon – enemy supplies.”

A Coy men involved.

Patrick Morris, Patrick Weir, Thomas Fleming, Sean Robbins, Joseph Feery, Thomas Gavin, Michael Kelly, Philip Kenny

B Coy entry (6). “Seizure of Military Supplies at Clara December 28th. 1920.” This is possibly the same attack as the one above.

B Coy men involved.

John Minnock, Andy Lynam

A Plan from the Ist Battalion Offaly No 2 Brigade files courtesy and copyright of the Military Archives

February 1921. Location: Island Bridge, Ballycumber.

A18_2 2 Offaly Brigade. Page 57. (4). Page 65 (7).

“Hold up of train at Island Bridge, Ballycumber and destruction of a large consignment of Stout and seizure of stationery going to Hunston Military Camp.

A Coy men involved

Thomas Bracken, Joseph Feery, Patrick Morris.

B Coy describe an attack (7). Hold up of train and seizure of mails at Ballycumber December….  (This is possibly the same attack as the one above).

B Coy men involved.

James Fleming, Michael Egan, Dan Claffey, Patrick Egan, Andrew Lynam, Thomas Fleming, Patrick Boland, James Boland, Patrick Bracken, Nicholas Clavin, Robert Connolly, John Minnock

February 1921. Location: Clara Station.

A18_2 2 Offaly Brigade. Page 57. (3).

“Hold up of train at Clara Station in February, 1921, seizure and destruction of large consignment of stout for Hunston Military Camp.”

A Coy men involved.

Thomas Fleming, Thomas Bracken, Patrick Morris, Joseph Feery, Michael Kelly, Peter Judge, Philip Kenny, Peter Molloy, Thomas Feehan, Thomas Kinahan

February 1921. Location: Ballycumber Station.

A18_2 2 Offaly Brigade. Page 57. (5). Page 65

MSP34REF11307 Page 20. Page 33.

“Hold up of train at Ballycumber station February, 1921 for purpose of attacking Military Guard. Soldier’s equipment and supplies seized”

In Document MSP34REF11307 Thomas Fleming describes an attack which is most likely this incident as follows: “Train at Ballycumber station when four British soldiers were removed and their equipment taken together with supplies for enemy forces.”

Transcript of a section of the interview of Sean Robbins with pensions Referee.

Q. Hold-up of train detention of British Military seizure of supplies and equipment, Ballycumber station, March 1921?

A. Four British Military and the seizure of bread and mails and a quantity of hay which was being transported from the Curragh to Athlone in convoys.

Q. Did you burn the hay?

A. Yes over 60 tons of hay.

Q. Hold up of Ballycumber station?

A. The station house in Ballycumber there were 25 men in it altogether.

Q. You were on the run all during this period?

A. Yes.

Q. Had you a column there?

A. We had a column of 25 men.

Q. Who was in charge?

A. I was in charge although the brigade O.C. was there at the time and he appointed me in charge.

A Coy men involved.

Sean Robbins, Thomas Bracken, Michael Kelly, Patrick Morris, Philip Kenny

B Coy describe an attack (8). “Hold up of train at Ballycumber by A.S.U. Seizure of military equipment, supplies and mails. (This is possibly the same attack as the one above).

B Coy men involved.

Michael Egan, Dan Claffey, Patrick Digan, Patrick Fleming, Thomas Fleming, Martin Fleming, Andrew Lynam, Martin Doolan, James Mara, John Hanlon, Nicholas Clavin, Patrick Boland, James Boland,

John Minnock

The lines at Clara

February 1921. Location: M.G.W.R.  This is either the Mullingar – Athlone railway or the old Clara – Mullingar railway.

A18_2 2 Offaly Brigade. Page 57. (6).

“Hold up of train on M.G.W.R. and seizure of Military supplies and officers equipment.”

A Coy men involved.

Thomas Gavin, Philip Kenny, Thomas Bracken, Joseph Feery, Thomas Fleming, Patrick Minnock, Michael Kelly, Patrick Morris, Thomas Keeffe, Peter Molloy, Owen McCabe, William Weir, Thomas Berry

February 1921. Location: Clara.

A18_2 2 Offaly Brigade. Page 58. (7).

“Hold up of train at Clara station for the purpose of attacking Military Guard, seizure of 6 trunks containing Military equipment.”

A Coy men involved.

Sean Robbins, Thomas Fleming, Thomas Bracken, Patrick Morris, Philip Kenny, John Killian, Michael Kelly, Patrick Egan, Patrick Minnock, David Bracken, Owen McCabe, Peter Molloy, Thomas Kinaghan, Thomas Berry, John Weir, Thomas Keeffe, Francis Stones, Patrick Berry, Hugh Kinaghan, Thomas Feehan, Patrick Toohey, John Molloy, David McGrath, William Weir, Michael McCormack, Michael Egan, Michael Fox, James Molloy, Thomas Gavin, John Walsh, William Brown

February 1921. Location: G.S. & W.R. 

A18_2 2 Offaly Brigade. Page 59. (8).

“Hold up of train on G.S. & W.R. in February, 1921 when a Military Officer was removed and his equipment seized together with pay for troops in Athlone.”

A Coy men involved.

Thomas Bracken, Joseph Feery, Owen McCabe, John Killian, Patrick Morris, Michael McCormack, Thomas Berry, Michael Kelly, Patrick Egan, Michael Egan, Leo Handy, Patrick Toohey, John Molloy

February 1921. Location: M.G.W.R. 

A18_2 2 Offaly Brigade. Page 59. (9).

“Hold up of train on the M.G.W.R. in February, 1921 (same date as No. 5) for the purpose of attacking Military guard, British Officer disarmed and his equipment seized.  While this operation was in progress the officer which had been stripped on the earlier train returned from Athlone with a large force of Military and Tans and conducted an extensive roundup in the immediate vicinity of the A.S.U.

A Coy men involved.

Sean Robbins, Thomas Fleming, Thomas Bracken, Patrick Morris, Philip Kenny, Joseph Feery, Patrick Toohey, Peter Molloy, John Molloy, John Killian, Thomas Gavin, Michael Fox, Michael Kelly, William Weir, Thomas Keeffe, Thomas Feehan, Thomas Berry, David Bracken, John Weir, Michael McCormack, Patrick Minnock, Owen McCabe

February 1921. Location: Clara Station.

A18_2 2 Offaly Brigade. Page 60. (10).

“Hold up of train at Clara Station and destruction of hay and straw – Military Supplies for Athlone. February, 1921.”   

A Coy men involved.

Thomas Bracken, John Killian, Michael McCormack, Thomas Berry, Thomas Feehan, William Weir, James Feehan, John Weir, Peter Molloy, Michael Kelly, Patrick Egan, Michael Egan, Leo Handy, Patrick Toohey, John Molloy, David Bracken, Owen McCabe, James Molloy, John Walsh, Thomas Kinahan, Thomas Keeffe, Francis Stones, Hugh Kinahan, David McGrath, Michael Fox, Peter Judge, Joseph Feery, Philip Kenny, William Brown, Patrick Minnock, James Willis, Michael McKeon, John Duffy, John Flattery, James McPhilips, Thomas Kane, Joseph Keeffe, Patrick Hiney, John Hogan, James Doolan, Michael Shanley, Michael Kelly, Daniel Rooney, Daniel Fox, Joseph Fox, John Spollen, Michael Weir, Patrick Grennan, Michael Donohoe, Patrick Doolan, Michael Molloy

February & March 1921. Location: G.S & W.R. 

A18_2 2 Offaly Brigade. Page 61. (11). Page 66 (10). Page 71 (11).

MSP34REF18576 Page 12

“Attempted derailment of troop trains on the G.S & W.R. in February and March, 1921”

B Coy and C Coy had men on the March attempt.  This attempt happened at Ballykilmurray.  I have found a number of references to this operation which I will include.

B Coy (10). C Coy (11) both describe the following “Attempt to derail & attack Troop Train at Ballykilmurray.”

Section of interview with Joseph Feery on attack (this is most likely the March attempt at Ballykilmurray).

Q. And in attempted derailment of a troop train?

A. Yes.

Q. The derailment did not come off?

A. No.

Q. How was that – was the job not done properly?

A. The job was done properly, but there happened to be an airplane circling very low around the area, with the result it was very hard to get into position.

A Coy men involved in February:-

Seann Robbins, Thomas Bracken, Patrick Morris, Thomas Fleming, James Feehan, John Killian, Owen McCabe, Michael McCormack, Philip Kenny, Thomas Gavin, Joseph Feery, Peter Molloy, John Weir, Thomas Berry, Patrick Minnock, Thomas Keeffe, Thomas Feehan, James Molloy, John Molloy, Michael Kelly, Thomas Kinahan, Michael Egan, Patrick Egan, William Brown, Patrick Doolan

A Coy men involved in March:-

Thomas Bracken, Patrick Donohoe, Michael Donohoe, Michael Kelly, Daniel Rooney, Patrick Doolan

William Brown, John Spollen, Joseph Fox

There are three more names on the record, unfortunately that part pf the document is missing.

B Coy men involved.

Michael Egan, Dan Claffey, Patrick Digan, Andrew Lynam, Joseph Flanagan, Patrick King, Thomas Fleming, Patrick Flanagan, John Minnock, Patrick Boland, James Boland, John Hanlon, Thomas Minnock, Nicholas Clavin, Thomas Fagan

C Coy men involved.

Capt. Patk. Corcoran, Joseph Grennan, John Finlay, Anthony Molloy, Patk. Grennan, Patk. Carty

May 1921. Location: Clara Station.

A18_2 2 Offaly Brigade. Page 62 (12).

MSP34REF18576 Page 15 (K).

“A.S.U. who participated in the hold up of train at Clara Station for the purpose of attacking Military Guard, seizure of one gun-carriage consigned to Athlone”

On Joseph Feery’s file Thomas Fleming states “Participated in hold up and destruction of Gun Carriage”.

A Coy men involved.

Thomas Bracken, Patrick Morris, Thomas Fleming, Philip Kenny, Owen McCabe, Thomas Berry, Patrick Minnock, Thomas Keffe, Thomas Feehan, James Molloy, James Feehan, John Molloy, Joseph Feery, Michael Fox, Michael Egan, John Killian, Michael McCormack, Thomas Kinahan, David Bracken

John Weir, Peter Molloy, Joseph Keeffe, William Brown, Michael Kelly, Francis Stones, Patrick Weir

May 1921. Location: Between Clara and Horseleap.

 A18_2 2 Offaly Brigade. Page 63. (14).

MSP34REF11307 Page 21 (14). Page 34.

A.S.U. who participated in attack on R.I.C. who were travelling by train from Clara to Mullingar.”

Thomas Fleming writing about Sean Robbins describes the following “He was in charge of Attack on R.I.C. patrol travelling on train between Clara and Horseleap.”

Transcript of a section of the interview of Sean Robbins by pensions Referee.

Q. Attack on train conveying R.I.C. to Mullingar, That was April ’21?

A. Yes.

Q. You had a fight there?

A. Unfortunately the derailing of the train did not take place. We had a short scrap.

Q. Seizure and detention of British Military officer travelling to Mullingar – that was the same thing?

A. It was the seizure of a British Military officer. Shot-gun and cartridges were taken from him.

Q. You held up the train for him: Did you hold him?

A. We held up the train and let him go on information received from headquarters.

A Coy men involved.

Sean Robbins, Thomas Bracken, Hugh Kinahan, James Feehan, Philip Kenny, Michael Kelly, John Killian

Intelligence source.

MSP34REF18576 Page 11. Page 15 (O) (V).

The file of Joseph Feery, Fair Green, Clara gives an insight into the source of this information.

In his interview with the pensions referee Joseph states “In regard to that, I received information from the employees of the G.S.R. who were friends of mine. I communicated with my superior officer regarding the military supplies, etc. We would deal with it, take it off, such stuff as stout, etc.”

  Thomas Fleming states “Was directly in touch with an employee of the G.S.W.R. who supplied me with information regarding the time of arrival of enemy consignments and supplies. Acting on said information the A.S.U. destroyed all material consigned to Athlone     Curragh Kildare etc.”

“Any information that I received from the employee of the G.S.W.R. mentioned before I forwarded on to the A.S.U. operating in the Batt. Area.

MSP34REF11307 Sean Robbins. Page 34.

Early 1921. Location: Clara, Ballycumber.

Q = Referee.

A= Sean Robbins.

Q. Destruction of military supplies at Clara, Ballycumber?

A. There were a number of convoys with British stuff destroyed at that time; the British military received supplies from the Curragh.  On different dates there was hay straw and other stuff including porter taken.

Q. Did you stop that arrangement?

A. We destroyed lots of these.

Q. They had to alter that arrangement?

A. It hampered them very much at one time they had to take the food that was coming to prisoners in Athlone.

The station at Banagher

Closing Comment.

The striking thing about the Railway men is their success rate.  Of the 13 attacks only two yielded no result, the February and March 1921 attempted derailments.  The attacks on the trains are only one part of the overall campaign of the 1st Battallion,  I have looked at them in isolation because the accuracy of the intelligence and efficiency of the attacks is remarkable for the War of Independence.  Despite a number of significant military operations in the area the British Forces do not appear to have been able to deal with the attacks. 

Source: Military Service Pensions Archive.