British Army’s murderous rampage through three Irish towns
23 September 1920
In the early hours of 23 September 1920, heavily armed British auxiliary police, known as the ‘Black and Tans,’ descended on three small coastal towns in County Clare in Ireland, A report in the British press noted that ‘large parties of uniformed men attacked… Miltown, Lahinch and Ennistymon, and by burning and looting did enormous damage. In the three places 19 houses were destroyed, and shops and other buildings were gutted, including the town halls of Lahinch and Ennistymon.’1 It added that ‘two civilians had been shot dead at Ennistymon,’ though in fact at least five villagers were murdered.
The indiscriminate blitz of arson, looting and murder was an act of retribution for a nearby ambush the previous day on an army lorry by republican rebels fighting for Irish independence, killing a soldier and five Black and Tan auxiliaries. Eight houses were burned to the ground at Milltown, six at Lahinch and five at Enniystymon. Even the hayricks in the surrounding countryside were set alight. ‘Above all the din,’ recalled a witness, ‘could be heard the hellish laughter and shouts of revenge from the raiders.’2
Those inhabitants able to escape, fled to the nearby seashore sand dunes and woods but three young men and a boy of twelve, P.J. Linnane, were shot dead. The adult victims were Tom Connole of Ennistymon, who’s body was thrown into his burning house, Joe Salmon, a farmer from East Clare, who was on a seaside holiday in Lahinch and fatally shot while trying to rescue a 75 year old man from his burning home and Dan Lehane, a Lahinch resident and a father of two. Lehane was shot in his head, ‘in the presence of his poor wife,’ when he refused to reveal where his sons were. Shortly afterwards, one of Lehane’s sons, Pake, was burned alive in Tommy Flanagan’s Bar.3
A Lahinch woman, recounting to the Weekly Freeman her family’s narrow escape, described how the next morning ‘you never saw anything so sad as the sight in the sandhills – groups of men and women, some of them over 70 years, practically naked, cold, wet, worn-looking and terrified, huddled in groups on the wet grass.’ She added that ‘all I saved from the flames was a nightdress, slippers and Rosary beads. Everything else I possessed is gone, every keepsake I hold dear – my jewellery, clothes, autographs, antiques, books, music, medals and prizes, first aid outfit – everything. But I will be ever grateful to Almighty God for saving our lives.’4
- ‘Murders of Six Policemen Terribly Avenged,’ The Nottingham Journal and Express, 24 September 1920, p. 1.
- ‘Murders of Six Policemen Terribly Avenged,’ op. cit., p. 1, ‘Making Hell: Terrible Reprisals by Uniformed Hooligans,’ The Weekly Freeman, 2 October 1920, p. 5 and ‘Lahinch Lady’s Letter,’ The Weekly Freeman, 16 October 1920, p. 1.
- ‘Lahinch Lady’s Letter,’ op.cit., p. 1 and Ernie O’Malley, Raids and Rallies, Mercier Press, Cork, 2011, pp. 109-111.
- ‘Lahinch Lady’s Letter,’ op.cit., p. 1.
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