1920-1939 | Burning villages

Irish village almost totally destroyed by crown forces

A vehicle full of Black and Tan auxiliaries – February 1921
The National Museum of Ireland. No known copyright restrictions.

19 June 1921

In the early hours of 19 June 1921, British ‘Black and Tans,’ a paramilitary force comprised mainly of former soldiers, set fire to the village of Knockcroghery in Country Roscommon in central Ireland. It was a calculated act of collective punishment, as British intelligence wrongly believed that some of the villagers were linked with the assassination of Brigadier General Thomas Lambert two days earlier. The Freeman’s Journal described how a party of armed and masked men had arrived at about 1 am and that by the following day the village presented ‘a shocking appearance, being a mass of smouldering ruins, with the former occupants homeless and destitute.’1

Even in Britain, some of the press reports must have dismayed those who believed that the forces of the crown in Ireland were upholding the rule of law. The Western Gazette related how ‘Knockcroghery, a little town in Roscommon, famed for the manufacture of Irish clay pipes, was on Monday night practically burned out by a party of armed men. Out of 50 houses only three now remain. The blaze could be seen for many miles along the River Shannon, and in the adjoining counties of West Meath and Galway.’2

The Daily Herald reported that the village had been ‘wiped out,’  adding that ‘a ‘large party of men’ had fired the houses ‘without giving the occupants time to save their furniture or even to dress.’  The Lancashire Daily Post, under the bizarre headline of ‘Irish Village Scenes,’ explained that ‘as the majority of the houses were thatched with straw the flames spread quickly.’ It noted a local report that many of the villagers, hearing shots, had ‘fled in alarm’ into the surrounding countryside ‘while others sought refuge in the house of the parish priest’ and that ‘of 50 houses only three remain.’ However, British military officials based at Dublin Castle insisted that only fifteen buildings had been destroyed.3 The Times cited only the government figure, reporting the entire incident in a single sentence buried deep in its inside pages.4


  1. Tom Kelly, Burning of Knockcroghery Recalled in New Book,’ Independent Westmeath, 5 September 2012, accessed online at url https://www.westmeathindependent.ie/news/roundup/articles/2012/09/05/4012069-burning-of-knockcroghery-recalled-in-new-book and ‘Roscommon Village in Ruins,’ The Freeman’s Journal, 22 June 1921, p. 5.
  2. ‘Town Sacked by Men in Civilian Dress: Only Three Houses of Fifty Left Intact,’ The Western Gazette, 24 June 1921, p. 12.
  3. ‘Village Wiped Out,’ The Daily Herald, 22 June 1921, p. 5 and ‘Irish Village Scenes,’ The Lancashire Daily Post, 22 June 1921, p. 4.
  4. ‘Irish Peer Kidnapped,’ The Times, 22 June 1921, p. 10.

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