MB recently recounted the story of the shooting of the Mayor of Limerick from almost one hundred years back, as witnessed and told by his wife. The mayor hailed from the same village as MB back home, a village called Grange. This week MB wants to tell you some more of Grange.
‘Village’ may be an exaggeration as Grange is just a rural area full of grass and greenery and does not have any streets or shops. There is no ‘village’ as such. It does have a single pub, located at a three-way road junction and there are a few street lights adjacent, maybe three or four. In years past, there was also a post-office. The post office was the gable-end room of a small farmhouse which lay no more than thirty yards from the pub front-door. The post office closed down many years back and subsequently returned to a normal dwelling house. The Bulfin family siblings who lived in the house during MBs growing-up years have long since passed away but are survived in the greater locality by various younger relatives.
The local football club (soccer) lies a few kilometers away, in the townland of Holycross (aka HX); again a very green and rural locality of no town or village. MB thinks it’s fair to say that both villageless communities consider themselves as a single entity, with only a differing postal address.
Across the river from the old Bulfin house (in new ownership for many years but forever ‘Bulfins’ to MB) lies the MB family home and farm where MB was born and reared. The farm stocked dairy cows and some beef cattle; not like a vast ranch with thousands of livestock like one might see in USA or Australia, but a far more modest farm of the Irish variety. MB’s dad, still hale and hearty at 93 years of age thank God, also dabbled in buying and selling horses for show jumping and hunting in his younger days, and was also a great dog racing enthusiast (greyhounds) with much success. MBs mom operated the farmhouse as a farm guesthouse during the Summer months for some forty years, so MB and siblings grew up getting to know and become friends with people from all over the globe during their short stays. Some of those friendships have stood the test of time and last to this day.
There are probably hundreds, or more, tales that MB could tell relating to all the aforementioned, and maybe he will come back to one or two of them at some time hence. But for now MB wants to tell you a brief tale of MBs family home, across the river from the old post office, next to the bridge at Grange which straddles the Camogue River.
It’s early morning on 08 November. The year is 1921. The time is 5.00am.
The Irish War of Independence as at its peak at this time and the British forces are suffering mounting losses. Britain is in danger of losing a strategic part of the Empire, the geographically closest part of it. Winston Churchill is British Secretary of State for War and has seen previous military action (amongst a few other locations) during the Boer War in South Africa (as a war journalist member of the British army), where a scorched earth policy and the introduction of the world’s first concentration camps (where 26,000 women and children died) had eventually crippled the Boer resistance and brought about their surrender. Churchill decided to beef up the British-controlled police force in Ireland (called the RIC) with some hardened veterans from the recently-finished WW1. He instigated the recruitment of some 10,000 men who started to arrive in Ireland from January 1920, getting farmed out to police forces around the Irish countryside. Irish school history books recount that many of the recruits were taken from prisons in England, but from what MB has read that ‘ex-con’ story appears be entirely mythical in nature.
The force of 10,000 acquired the name – The Black & Tans, after a story appeared in a Limerick newspaper in March 1920, comically comparing their dress colour (mixture of the police force green tops and army khaki trousers) with the colours of a pack of local hunting hounds from Scarteen near the village of Knocklong; that area, incidentally, being a mere 15 minutes drive from MB’s Grange/HX locality.
Regardless of where the 10,000 came from, they quickly gained a reputation for extreme violence against the local population, which of course merely turned many natives to join the Irish guerilla army (known as the Irish Republican Army or IRA) fighting for Irish independence. 1920 and 1921 would see numerous encounters between both sides resulting in many dead and injured and much destroyed property. Not having the military equipment of the ‘Brits’ the generally poorly equipped Irish resorted to guerilla warfare involving ambushes and hit-and-run tactics. The following Wikipedia extract gives a flavour of the times that were in it:
The Black and Tans were not subject to strict discipline in their first months and as a result, their deaths at the hands of the IRA in 1920 were often repaid with arbitrary reprisals against the civilian population. In the summer of 1920, the Black and Tans burned and sacked many small towns and villages in Ireland, beginning with Tuam in County Galway in July 1920 and also including Trim, Balbriggan, Knockcroghery, Thurles and Templemore amongst many others. In November 1920, the Tans “besieged” Tralee in revenge for the IRA abduction and killing of two local RIC men. They closed all the businesses in the town, let no food in for a week and shot dead three local civilians. On 14 November, the Tans were suspected of abducting and murdering a Roman Catholic priest, Father Michael Griffin, in Galway. His body was found in a bog in Barna a week later. On the night of 11 December 1920, they sacked Cork, destroying a large part of the city centre.
Which brings us to the very early morning of 08 November 1921, and to MBs home farmhouse.
The representatives of two IRA brigades had met on the previous evening at the old Bouchers Castle, next to the Ryan farmhouse by the local lake. They made plans for the following day to ambush a small convoy of British military trucks who were to pass through Grange village. O’Neills house next to the Bridge, which some forty years later would be purchased by the father of MB, was chosen as the place of ambush. The location had high stone walls on both sides of the road, and the roadside opposite the farmhouse hosted the added bonus of a small forest, which would provide additional cover for the ambushing forces.
At approximately 5.00am in the morning, both brigades arrived from their respective areas under cover of darkness and took up position. Later that day, the ambush took place, after an accidental discharge of an IRA gun at a critical moment caused the ‘Brits’ to approach the scene with a fair degree of caution.
MB will not go into any further details of the ambush for the moment. That will be the subject of some further discussion in the coming weeks. MB just wanted to introduce you some more to his home locality of Grange/HX, and the history that he is steeped in. The coming weeks will feature some more of the same, for there is more to be told.
Until next post. Go neiri an bothar leat.
The view towards Grange. Shot taken by MB from the top of Knockfennel Hill, adjacent Lough Gur lake: