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Items filtered by date: August 2021

In early January 1921, on the banks of the River Moy, Beckett’s Sawmills was the scene of a dramatic encounter between local members of the North Mayo Brigade and the RIC and auxiliary forces.
A group of approximately 16 Ballina-based Volunteers planned to enter the Mills with the objective of retrieving shotguns taken in earlier raids that had been hidden at the premises.
An outpost was set up outside the building on Mill Street (now Barrett Street), while five men went into the building. They were Stephen Donnelly, James Nicolson, Paddy McCann, Dennis Sheerin and Patrick ‘Pappy’ Coleman.
Within minutes a lorry load of RIC and ‘Black and Tans’ arrived on the scene. Exchange of gunfire quickly ensued on Mill Street.
Inside the Mill, the five- man unit were forced to escape through the riverside exit, wading body- deep into the freezing cold waters of the Moy.
The guns were seized by the Crown Forces and Pappy Coleman was captured.
Pappy was brought to the RIC Barracks on Charles Street (now Walsh Street) and subjected to violent interrogation. When he would not reveal the names of his comrades, he was put against the wall in the barrack yard.
He heard the order ‘Present, Fire!’ and a volley was discharged. Pappy slumped to the ground. After a few moments he opened his eyes; “I looked up and saw...the chimneys of the Imperial Hotel and said to myself… This isn’t Heaven anyways because the chimneys looked more like Hell!”
Later that night, after further brutal questioning by an individual thought to be part of the notorious ‘Murder Gang’, Pappy was transported to a narrow road near Ballinahaglish Graveyard, on the outskirts of Ballina.
He was ordered from the vehicle and fire was opened upon him. He was struck in the thigh. Incredibly, he began to make his escape from certain death, fleeing across fields and ditches to safety.
He found himself at the home of John Reape of Cloonturk. By the light of a hurricane lamp on the kitchen floor, Mr. Reape bandaged the wound before hiding Pappy in a small stable, covering him in hay for fear of a raid by the ‘Tans’.
The next morning, with only a good ‘slug of brandy’ to ease the pain, Pappy was smuggled by local horseman Mr. Sweeney to the Crossmolina Road in the back of a cart. There he was met by his comrade Denis Sheerin who brought him to Ballycastle, where he was given into the care of Dr. John Crowley.
Later that year, Pappy was re-captured and spent two years imprisoned in Galway Jail. During the subsequent Civil War, he took the Republican side and was very active in the North Mayo/ West Sligo area. He was interred in Athlone & Tintown Internment Camp until Spring 1924. He returned to Ballina and lived out his years in Ferran Terrence, aptly named for his former comrade Dr. Francis Ferran, who died in Curragh Internment Camp (Tintown) in 1923.
Pappy passed away on the 8th January 1970 and is buried in Leigue Cemetery.
Denis Sheerin was born in 1898 in Callow, Foxford. In 1915, he joined the Swinford branch of the Irish Volunteers, where he was involved in training and drilling around the time of the 1916 Easter Rising. He escaped the mass ‘round-up’ of Volunteers which followed and made his way to Ballina. He was to become a highly active, trusted and prominent and member of the local Brigade, holding the rank of Brigade Quartermaster and Battalion Vice Commandant.
He was involved in all the key engagements in the town of Ballina and as a member of the No. 1 Active Service Unit of the North Mayo Brigade saw action across North Mayo and West Sligo. During the Truce period, he attended an IRA Training Camp in the Glensmole Mountains, Co. Wicklow, where he was inspected and interviewed by Michael Collins. He took the Republican side in the Civil War and was imprisoned on two occasions during that turbulent period. In the winter of 1923, he embarked upon a 42 Hunger Strike in Tintown no.2 Camp. “I underwent many severe ordeals too numerous to relate”, he told the Military Penions Service Board.
During ‘The Emergency’ of the 1940’s, Denis Sheerin was a Captain in the Local Defence Forces. He is a remembered as a modest gentleman, who served with distinction and quiet dignity.
Published in Blog
Tuesday, 24 August 2021 15:47

PJ Ruttledge

Patrick Joseph Ruttledge was born in Ardagh, Ballina, on New Year’s Day,1892. The only child of a farming family, he attended Ardagh National School and St. Muredach’s College, Ballina and was a student of law at Trinity College Dublin. He joined the Irish Volunteers as a young man in Dublin.
In 1918, Ruttledge returned to Ballina and opened a solicitor’s firm on Knox Street. He was at the centre of local military and political activities in the area. He was instrumental in establishing the ‘Dáil Courts’ across the county. Ruttledge’s legal expertise, combined with his commitment to social justice made him the perfect ‘man for the job’. These arbitration Courts were given the power to deal with civil and criminal offences, with the right to administer law in place of British courts- a peaceful yet powerful challenge to British authority.
The success of the Dáil Courts was as much a blow to the British rule as the ruthless War which raged throughout the country. Ruttledge recruited for the Volunteers and was an Intelligence Officer in the North Mayo Brigade and the 4th Western Command. In 1919, he became chairman of Ballina Urban District Council, a role he occupied until 1932. He also served as chairman of Mayo County Council form 1922-1926.
His intelligence work during the War of Independence provided information, reports and communiqué for the key operations of the local Brigade and the 4th Western Command. Operating from his offices in the heart of Ballina, his activities including sourcing arms and ammunition and planning ambushes – most notably the Moy Lane Ambush of July 1920 which resulted in the fatal shooting of RIC Sgt. Armstrong.
In 1921, he was arrested, court-martialed and detailed in Galway Jail for six months. He was so badly beaten at the time of his arrest that he was left deaf in one ear for some time afterwards. While imprisoned in Galway, he was elected TD for Mayo North. He retained his seat in thirteen general elections, spanning a thirty-one-year period until his death in 1952.
Ruttledge strongly opposed the Anglo-Irish Treaty of December 1921 and took the Republican side in the subsequent Irish Civil War of 1922-23. He was appointed Director of Administration of the IRA by General Liam Lynch. In September 1922, he was heavily involved in of the Republican capture of Ballina, which saw approx. 150 Anti-Treaty IRA swoop into the town, led by General Michael Kilroy and the armored vehicle ‘The Ballinalee’ (renamed the ‘Rose of Lough Gill’).
As one of the most high-profile anti-Treaty figures of the day, Ruttledge spent much time ‘on the run’ until late 1924. He was present at the engagement with Free State soldiers which resulted in the death of General Liam Lynch on the slopes of Knockmealdown Mountains, Tipperary, in April 1923. He was appointed IRA Adjutant General following the capture of the previous incumbent, Thomas Derrig.
He served as Vice-President of Sinn Féin from 1923 until 1926 and took the reigns as ‘President of the Republic’ for a time in 1923/4 when De Valera was imprisoned in Arbour Hill.
In 1926, Ruttledge was a founding member of Fianna Fáil, alongside Eamon De Valera and Gerry Boland, Countess Markievicz, Frank Aiken, and Sean Lemass. In 1932, he joined De Valera’s cabinet for the first time as Minister for Land and Fisheries. From 1933 to 1939 he served as Minister for Justice. His third and final ministerial portfolio was Local Government and Public Health, which he held from 1939 to 1941. Continued ill-health forced him to relinquish his duties as Minister.
Ruttledge continued to serve as TD until his death in May 1952, aged 60. A quietly dignified and humble public servant, he was held in high regard by colleagues of all political persuasions. Speaking in the Dáil after his passing, Taoiseach Eamon De Valera described Rutledge as “a brave soldier, able administrator and capable lawyer…a gentle, kind and ever-faithful friend”. Ruttledge’s funeral in Foxrock, Dublin was attended by large numbers which included President Sean T. O’ Kelly.
A guard of honour was formed by Ruttledge’s comrades and friends of old from his home county of Mayo. PJ Ruttledge was laid to rest in Glasnevin Cemetery, where he rests among the greatest patriots of our land.
Published in Blog
Tuesday, 24 August 2021 15:46

Phelim Calleary

Thank you to Deputy Dara Calleary TD who provided us with some images of his grandfather.
Pheilim Calleary was born to parents Ellen and James in Killala in 1895. He was educated at St. Muredach’s College, Ballina and studied engineering at University College Galway.
As a young student, he joined the Irish Volunteers in 1915. He returned to Ballina in the following year, setting up a civil engineering practice in the town and joining the Ballina branch of the Volunteers. Throughout 1918, he was active with the North Mayo Brigade and was engaged in numerous activities such as organising, weapons raids, anti-British Army recruiting campaigns and intelligence gathering.
He took part in flax-burning operations which deprived the newly formed British Air Force of much sought after aeroplane linen. In May of that year, along with his comrade Dominic Molloy, he made contact with a German submarine which was believed to have deposited weapons in a cave off the North Mayo coast near Kilgalligan. Michael Collins was informed off the unusual operation, and money was sourced for the purchase of the arms. For some time, it seemed the mission had failed. Two years later in May 1920, six cases marked “Twigs” were left outside Dominic Molloy’s premises in Ballina which were found to contain 20 rifles and 8 or 9 revolvers.
Calleary acted as Sinn Féin Director of Elections in the historic General Election of 1918- a prelude to his later political career. During the subsequent ‘Tan War’, alongside his brother Vincent, he was an active member of the First Battalion, Ballina Company, North Mayo Brigade. He was appointed Intelligence and Engineering Officer.
In 1920, he was Director of the ‘Belfast Boycott’, providing information and carrying out raids, and overseeing the destruction of seized goods. In July 1920, Calleary was among the unit of Ballina Company who carried out the daring ambush of the RIC patrol at Moy Lane, which resulted in the death of RIC Sergeant Armstrong.
The following month he took part in the attack and destruction of Enniscrone Coastguard Station- a dramatic engagement which involved. upwards of 150 members of the North Mayo Brigade. In late 1920, he was sent to Cavan, where he served as Battalion Intelligence Officer, providing information which led to capture of key enemy documents and communique.
As the Truce of July 1921 approached, he returned to Ballina.
In November that year he was called upon to formally identify the remains of Volunteer Michael Tolan, brutally murdered by Crown Forces earlier that same year.
Calleary took the Republican side in the subsequent Civil War, as did his brother Vincent. Stationed in North Mayo Brigade Headquarters, he was O/C of the Active Service Unit which successfully captured Ballina form Free State hands in September 1922.
He saw action in Mayo and Sligo in those turbulent days. As a prominent figure, he evaded certain capture and imprisonment by effectively staying ‘on the run’ until 1924.
He was Engineer to Ballina Town Council for almost four decades and instrumental in new housing schemes which changed not only the face of the town, but the lives of countless of its inhabitants for generations to come.
In 1926 he joined the newly - formed Fianna Fáil party, and acted as election agent for P.J, Ruttledge. Following Ruttledge’s untimely death in 1952, the local Fianna Fáil organisation turned to his most trusted friend and former comrade-in-arms to stand in the resulting by-election.
Thus began three consecutive generations of the Calleary family in Irish political life (his son Seán (RIP) was elected TD in 1973 and grandson Dara was elected in 2007.) Phelim Calleary served in Dáil Éireann until his retirement in 1969, topping the polls in his home county in five General Elections. He died in January 1974, his funeral in Killala drawing huge crowds. Among the mourners were leader of Fianna Fáil, Jack Lynch.
Calleary is remembered for his ‘courage, resourcefulness and… idealism’, ‘a kind neighbour and generous friend …who would not spare himself to help anyone in need of his assistance.’
Published in Blog
Tuesday, 24 August 2021 15:46

Sergeant Thomas Armstrong and Moy Lane

We extend huge thanks to JCC volunteer Ita Jackson for her work on the story of Sergeant Thomas Armstrong.
Ballina’s first fatality in the War of Independence, Thomas Robert Armstrong, born in Cavan in February 1899. In 1920, he was serving as a policeman in Ballina, married to Mary, with eleven children and residing in Dillon Terrace.
On the evening of the July 21st 1920, as Sergeant Armstrong, accompanied by Constables Regan, Barnes and Nangle, made their way down Knox Street, now Pearse Street, en route to their barracks after a night patrol, a number of armed and masked men “dashed out of one of the lanes in the vicinity of the Moy Hotel, levelling revolvers” (Western People, July 24th 1920)
In its report the Western People stated that Constable Barnes, a Black and Tan, drew his revolver and in the exchange of fire that followed, Sergeant Armstrong was killed, Constable Regan wounded, Constable Nangle surrounded and Constable Barnes escaped. Three revolvers were taken.
With the RIC Barracks less than two hundred yards away in Charles Street, now Walsh Street, a number of constables rushed out, brought the two men inside the barracks and used aerial lights to search for the attackers.
Rev. Mr. J. Nash and Rev. D. O’Connor, CC administered the last rites to Sergeant Armstrong and Constable Regan, respectively. Members of the Sergeant’s family, who lived close by, were by his side before he died and it was reported that he said “I did not think any Ballina man would do this to me”.
The Sergeant had been shot in the chest with the bullet exiting through his back. An inquest to be held on the Thursday at Ballina Courthouse, attended by Dr. McHale, Coroner for North Mayo and RIC Head Constable Dwyer, did not proceed as a number of jurors failed to appear. However, the Coroner stated that Sergeant Armstrong was a “A diligent and inoffensive officer”.
The fatal shooting of Sergeant Armstrong resulted in an increased security presence in the town. The Freeman’s Journal, July 24th reported on the arrival of an aeroplane on July 23rd that “hovered over the town for some time” and the Irish Independent stated that on the same date armed forces and police “raided the drapery premises of Messrs Shanley, Knox Street, even searching the ladies”.
The Western People expressed the view that the fatal shooting of Sergeant Armstrong was not “a premeditated act” and that the purpose of the ambush had been to obtain weapons. Stephen Donnelly and Patrick Coleman, North Mayo Brigade, both participants in the ambush, reiterated this view, with Donnelly recalling that the ambush had been planned at a meeting attended by his O/C Tom Ruane, with P.J. Ruttledge providing intelligence on RIC patrols. He also stated that “… the sergeant made an attempt to pull his gun. I immediately fired and he fell.” (Witness Statement 1548, Bureau of Military History)
The funeral service of Sergeant Armstrong was held in St. Michael’s, Church of Ireland, with burial in the adjoining cemetery. His coffin was carried by members of the RIC with the Military marching behind. Constable Barnes was at the front of the funeral procession, carrying a wreath. There were also wreaths from his wife Mary and children: Louie, Lottie, Violet, Tommy, Jack, Elsie, Leslie, Walter, Cecil, George and Baby Mabel.
Three months after the killing of Sergeant Armstrong, his widow Mary, was awarded £4,500 with costs and expenses, to be levied on the county at large. She informed the Ballina Quarter Sessions that had her husband lived he would have retired on the 31st July, ten days after the shooting.
Published in Blog
Tuesday, 24 August 2021 15:44

Thomas Howley and Bunree

We continue with our exhibition Cogadh na Saoirse - War of Independence - The Ballina Perspective with the story of Thomas Howley. We extend sincere thanks to Jackie Clarke Collection volunteer Frank Fagan who has put huge research into this story along with many other topics from the Decade of Centenaries.
Tom Howley was born ten miles from Ballina in Enniscrone Co. Sligo in 1903. He was one of seven children born to Annie and Edward Howley and grew up on tales of the Land War during the 1880s. Aged only fifteen years, Tom joined the Volunteers in 1918, a year before the outbreak of the Irish War of Independence on 21st of January 1919.
In Enniscrone on the 26th of August 1920, one of the largest operations carried out by the North Mayo Brigade of the IRA during the War of Independence took place. Upwards of one hundred and fifty men and women captured and destroyed the Coastguard Station which had a garrison of Crown Forces. All the arms, ammunition, and explosives stored within the station were safely removed before the building’s destruction. There were no casualties on either side.
In 1921 Tom and several comrades from the North Mayo Brigade were ordered to kill Royal Irish Constabulary District Inspector William Eugene White. District Inspector White, a Catholic from Strokestown Co. Roscommon, had enlisted in the Royal Field Artillery on 1st Jan 1916 in Athlone and served in WW1. He joined the RIC in 1920 and was assigned to Ballina.
District Inspector White was a regular visitor to the house of George O’Malley Ormsby who was a Justice of the Peace and High Sheriff of County Mayo. On the 24th of May 1921, District Inspector White accompanied by his wife visited the Ormsby home in Ballina. The local Volunteers, including Tom, set up for attack. The car exited and faced Tom’s group. They opened fire on White, who returned fire and managed to escape with minor injuries, as did his wife.
In a witness statement submitted in 1956 to the Irish Bureau of Military History by Stephen Donnelly, who took part in the attack, notes:
“We cleared away across the fields to Quignashee, it was then after curfew time and as Howley and Byrnon couldn’t return to Ballina, we decided to go to Quinn’s of Bunree and remain there for the night. In the early hours of the morning, the house was surrounded by the RIC. They hammered the front door and ordered us to come out with our hands up. We burst out the back door firing. When we were nearly on the Ballina road, Howley was shot. I took his gun and Healy and I continued to fire until we got around the corner at Bunree bridge.”
Extracts from a report in the Western People of the 4th of June 1921 contain the following: Tom had been taken to Athlone Military Barracks by Crown Forces and died of his wounds the on the 28th of May.
The train to Ballina carrying his body arrived after the 10pm curfew.
Only a few immediate relatives and his employer Mr. T. Kearney were permitted by the British military to remain on the platform to receive his remains.
His coffin was immediately taken by car to Enniscrone church, where even though the hour was late, a large crowd had gathered.
A Volunteer guard of honour stayed with his coffin during the night. There was a large congregation present for the mass at 11am. Immediately after the mass the funeral took place to Kilglass graveyard. The coffin draped in the Sinn Fein colours was carried to the cemetery by the Volunteers. Immediately following was a large company of Cumann na mBan.
Tom Howley was laid to rest in a quiet corner of the graveyard beside his father Edward who had died some years before.
A century on from his death Tom Howley is remembered in both Enniscrone and Ballina. In Enniscrone, a large decorative headstone was erected in the local cemetery, and in Ballina a street was named in his honour. Tom’s name is also included on the monument in the Republican Plot in Leigue cemetery Ballina.
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National Heritage Week, running from August 14th to 22nd, an initiative by the Heritage Council, celebrates all things heritage! In conjunction with this important week on the heritage calendar, the Jackie Clarke Collection is proud to present an exhibition on the Irish War of Independence; Cogadh na Saoirse - The War of Independence - The Ballina Perspective. The panel exhibition will be on display in the Jackie Clarke Collection from next week but for those unable to visit the Collection at this time we will be releasing content from the exhibition all this week online to celebrate National Heritage Week. The exhibition focuses on a selection of some of the local people and incidents that occurred in Ballina and its environs from 1919 to 1921. The project, including extensive research and content writing, was a collaboration between the Jackie Clarke Collection and its Volunteer and Education programmes. We begin the online release of the exhibition with the list of local casualties. 

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