An Phoblacht

One day in November - Remembering the Past


Photo: British soldiers outside Jervis Street hospital after Bloody Sunday

On the morning of Sunday 21 November 1920, 84 years ago, the IRA carried out one of its most successful counter intelligence operations ever.

The IRA's success during the Tan War forced the British to draft in agents/assassins from England. The Cairo Gang, so-called because of their intelligence work in the Middle East, was established because of Sir Henry Wilson's demand that the IRA's Intelligence Department be eliminated. Living unobtrusively in boarding houses in Dublin, the British agents prepared a hit list of known republicans for assassination.

But the IRA's intelligence network was a step ahead. Frank Thornton obtained the names and addresses of all the senior British secret service men sent over to Dublin. An IRA agent in the DMP stationed at Donnybrook, Sergeant Mannix, was the source.

The operation had been carefully planned by many of the IRA's most senior activists, including Michael Collins, Dick McKee, Liam Tobin, Peadar Clancy, Tom Cullen, Frank Thornton and Oscar Traynor. The date picked was the day of a big GAA match between the Leinster Champions, Dublin, and Tipperary, and the large crowds in Dublin, it was felt, would afford easier movement for the Volunteers.

The operation began at 9am, when up to eight Volunteers entered 28 Pembroke Street. The first two secret service men to be shot were Major Dowling and Captain Leonard Price. Andy Coohey, Dublin Brigade, removed documents from their rooms before three more British officers in the house were executed, Captain Keenlyside, Colonel Woodcock and Colonel Montgomery.

As Keenlyside was about to be executed, a struggle ensued between his wife and Volunteer Mick O'Hanlon. The OC of the unit, Mick Flanagan, arrived, pushed Mrs Keenlyside out of the way and shot her husband.

Close by at 119 Morehampton Road, six Volunteers entered and took three men into the hallway to be shot: Lieutenant McLean, his brother-in-law John Caldow and TH Smith, the landlord and a known informer. McLean asked not to be shot in front of his wife; the Volunteers obliged and took the three to the top floor, where Volunteers Vinnie Byrne and Seán Doyle shot them. Caldow survived his injuries and soon afterwards left Ireland

At 92 Lower Baggot Street, Captain Newbury and his wife had blocked their bedroom door on hearing their front door crashing in. As Newbury tried to get out through his window he was shot dead by Volunteers Bill Stapleton and Joe Leonard.

Two of the key figures in the Cairo Gang, Colonel Peter Aimes and Captain George Bennett, were shot dead after Volunteers were given access to 38 Upper Mount Street by a sympathetic maid. After a short gun battle, both men lay dead.

Captain Fitzgerald, alias `Fitzpatrick', was shot dead at 28 Earlsfort Terrace. He was the son of a Tipperary man and had survived a previous execution attempt when the bullet only grazed his head. This time he was shot twice in the head.

Meanwhile, an IRA unit led by Tom Keogh entered 22 Lower Mount Street to execute Lieutenant Angliss, real name McMahon, and Lieutenant Peel. Angliss was shot as he reached for his gun. Peel, hearing the shots, managed to block his bedroom door and survived even though more then a dozen bullets were fired into his room. When members of Fianna Éireann on lookout reported that Auxiliaries were approaching the house, the unit of eleven Volunteers split up into two groups, the first leaving by the front door, the second leaving through the laneway at the back of the house.

In the laneway, Frank Teeling fell injured during a running gun battle with the Auxiliaries (he was the only Volunteer captured that day but was to escape later from Kilmainham Jail). Under pressure, Auxiliaries Garnin and Morris went for reinforcements. They did not get very far before being shot dead.

At 119 Baggot Street, Captain Bagally, whose involvement in military courts led to many a Volunteer's execution, was shot dead by a three-man IRA unit, one of whom was a future Fianna Fáil Taoiseach, Seán Lemass.

Captain McCormack and Captain Wilde were in the Gresham Hotel. The IRA unit gained access to these rooms by pretending to be British soldiers with important dispatches. When the officers opened their doors they were both shot.

In the Eastwood Hotel the IRA drew a blank because the target, a Colonel Jennings, had, along with Major Callaghan, spent the night in a local brothel.

Bloody Reprisals

The crown forces, having been beaten on their own ground, decided on revenge. One of the British Auxiliaries involved in this recalled that they tossed a coin over whether they would go on a killing spree in Croke Park or loot Sackville Street.

Despite the general unease in Dublin as news broke of the executions, the populace continued with its daily life. Approximately 10,000 spectators went to Croke Park to watch a friendly match between Dublin and Tipperary. However, within minutes of the start of the game, an airplane flew over the ground and a red flare was shot from the cockpit. Auxiliaries began raiding the ground while an officer on top of the wall fired a revolver shot. After a burst of gunfire, the crowd began to stampede away from the danger. Two football players, Michael Hogan and Jim Egan, were shot; Hogan died from his injuries. A young Wexford man who attempted to whisper an Act of Contrition into the dying Hogan's ear was also shot dead.

The casualties included Jeannie Boyle, who had gone to the match with her fiancé and was due to be married five days later, and John Scott, who was 14 and so mutilated that it was initially thought that he had been savagely bayoneted. The youngest victims were aged ten and 11.

Not content with this savage attack on an innocent crowd, crown forces then took their vengeance out on three men they had arrested the previous day and were holding in Dublin Castle, Dick McKee, Peadar Clancy and Conor Clune. Their bodies were released later, with the statement that they had died 'while trying to escape' from Dublin Castle. McKee and Clancy were senior officers in the Dublin IRA, Clune was an uninvolved civilian. The British version of the deaths claimed that, due to lack of accommodation, the three men had been held in a guardroom which contained arms and ammunition. When the men seized these items, they were shot while 'trying to escape'. To back up this statement, fake photographs were taken of the guardroom, with known Auxiliaries posing as civilians and the prisoners supposedly making a dash for windows with iron bars.

When the families saw the bodies of the three men they knew this to be a lie. Their bodies were covered in deep bayonet wounds and their faces were beaten to a pulp.

The execution of 13 British agents in one day decimated the crown forces' hold on the capital. The traditional British method of defeating republican revolutionaries with spies and informers had been dealt a tenacious blow and the people, horrified by the savagery of the mindless reprisals, increased their support for the IRA to rid Ireland of the colonial forces.

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