1920-1939 | Burning towns and cities



Trim town centre in 2005 -  Row17 - CC BY-SA 2.0 - via Geograph.
Trim town centre in 2005 – Row17 – CC BY-SA 2.0 – via Geograph.

[ 27 September 1920 ]

At 3 am on 27 September 1920, three lorry loads of Black and Tans ( auxiliary police constables recruited from British army veterans ) swept in to the small Irish market town of Trim.   They announced their arrival by firing off machine guns across Market Street and promptly proceeded to pillage and burn much of the centre, including the Town Hall and the mineral water factory, which was the biggest employer in County Meath.

The sacking was a reprisal for the wounding of a police officer during an attack on the town’s barracks the previous day by Irish rebels fighting for an independent state.  That same afternoon British soldiers had swept in and opened fire without warning, seriously injuring two teenagers, James Kelly (17) and George Griffin (19);  but,  after two priests talked with the commanding officer, Major Dudley, it was agreed that ‘there would be no further reprisals if peace was preserved.’1

The military left at 10 pm but five hours later the Tans descended on the town. Their first visit was to the Higgins Hotel. The owners and staff were given five minutes to leave.  Petrol was then sprinkled liberally and the building set ablaze.  Next in line were the town’s well known drapery story, J and E Smyth’s, as well as the bakery, other shops, the mineral water factory, and the Town Hall.2 The auxiliary police then targeted numerous domestic dwellings which they ransacked and marked for burning, including the home of Mrs Mooney, who’s son was wanted.  Her neighbour, Mr Tobin, was woken by the noise of breaking glass and women screaming. He opened his front door to find four rifles pointing at him. ‘You have only a few minutes to clear out. We are going to burn the house next door and your’s may go too.’  Fortunately he was a veteran of the Royal Irish Constabulary and after some discussion it was decided to spare his and his neighbour’s homes.3

Three hours later, as the sun rose, much of the town lay in ruins. Many of the inhabitants who had been lucky enough to escape the reprisals had already decided to leave for the relative safety of the countryside, hastily heaping mattresses, food and cooking utensils on to carts and prams.  A journalist however noted one small act of defiance in the burned out premises of the Allen Brothers.  The only stock to survive the conflagration were two odd boots, one black and one brown.  They were placed in the shop window attached to a label declaring ‘Black and Tan.’4


  1. ‘Trim’s Fate: Town Hall and Shops Burned by Black and Tans,’ The Freeman’s Journal, 28 September 1920 p. 3.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. ‘Black and Tan,’ The Dublin Evening Telegraph, 29 September 1920, p. 1.

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