Clifden, Galway - IRA Attack and British Burnings, 16 Mar 1921

1921 Mar 16. The IRA in Galway ambushed a 4 man RIC patrol in Clifden. Two RIC constables were killed. The IRA flying column of the West Galway (Connemara) Brigade was led by Peter (Petie) Joe McDonnell.

The ambush took place between E J Kings Pub in the centre of the town and The Railway Hotel (now Foyles Hotel) on the opposite side of the street - The Railway Hotel is the double fronted building in the centre of the above photograph. The ambush appears to have been part of a cycle of violence, common to many such incidents in Ireland at that time. Thomas Whelan from Clifden had been executed on 14 Mar 1921 for the murder of Captain G. T. Baggally on Bloody Sunday (and Baggally had been shot because ..). The ambush of the RIC patrol and the death of the 2 RIC men appears to have been reprisal for Whelan's death. The death of the 2 constables in Clifden on 16th March then led to Crown Forces reprisals and the death of 2 more men, and the burning of 16 houses in Clifden. And no doubt this led to further retaliations against Crown Forces.

Grainy newspaper photo of McDonnells Hotel and of Lydons, after the burnings

At the end of the day there were 3 men dead and 1 badly wounded

Again these facts appear not to be in dispute. How the buildings came to be burned and how the two casualties has differing tales, but it appears to me that McDonnell was taken outside and shot and that Clancy was put up against a wall and shot. Both by the RIC

1921 Mar 26. The damage caused was enormous. At this stage put at £70,000

1921 Mar 22. A group of Auxiliaries took over part of the Railway Hotel (now Foyles). Two notices were posted

1921 Apr 7. Questions are asked in Westminster

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY asked the Chief Secretary whether, following the assassination of two police-constables at Clifden, in Connemara, on 16th March last, nine houses, including the house of the father of ex-Sergeant-major M'Donnell, were burnt by the Crown forces; whether ex-Sergeant-major M'Donnell was shot while trying to extinguish the flames in his father's house; whether this was an official or unofficial reprisal; and whether Connemara is in the martial-law area?

Mr. HENRY The facts of the case are as follow. At 10 p.m. on 16th March two policemen, Constable Reynolds and Constable Sweeney, on patrol with others at Clifden were shot down in cold blood at point-blank range by a party of civilians, some of whom were masked. Reynolds, who had been living with his wife and young family in Clifden for some years and bore an excellent character, was instantly killed. Sweeney, who was also an Irishman and had served with distinction in the Irish Guards, was severely wounded in three places and did not survive 48 hours. News of this abominable outrage was conveyed to Galway 50 miles away by wireless, the telegraph wires having been cut. A party of Royal Irish Constabulary under three experienced officers was at once dispatched by special train to the scene of the outrage in the hope of apprehending the murderers. This party, which included men who knew the locality well, arrived in Clifden between 3 a.m. and 4 a.m. on the morning of the 17th. As they approached certain houses which they intended to search fire was immediately opened from the houses on them. In the course of the encounter which ensued, twelve houses were burned and four others damaged. A man named John McDonnell, who escaped from one of the houses, was shot dead after running some distance. Another man named Peter Clancy, pensioner from the Royal Irish Constabulary, was wounded by a stray bullet. The statement that McDonnell was shot while endeavouring to extinguish the flames is untrue. As will be clear from what I have said this was not a case of reprisal. The district is not in the martial-law area.

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the inhabitants of Clifden, who are not Sinn Feiners, deny the statement that any fire was opened, and state further that Clancy the ex-constable was put up against a wall, and shot?

Mr. HENRY No one is so likely to know whether fire is opened or not as the men who sustain it.

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY Is it not the usual excuse for acts of arson by Crown forces that they are fired on, and will the right hon. Gentleman have inquiries made into this case, as there seems to be a conflict of evidence?

Mr. MacVEAGH If these houses were not burnt as reprisals, how does it happen that they were burnt accidentally?

Mr. HENRY I have already dealt with that in my answer. You cannot have an encounter of that kind without something of this sort.

Mr. MacVEAGH Will the right hon. Gentleman explain to the House how the firing of rifles could possibly set nine houses on fire?

There were a number of arrests. Schley that's mentioned in the newspaper report escaped from the Curragh during the Truce.

1921 Nov 12. Local paper reports on the inquest

1923 Jun 17. An odd legal case unfolded, in which his cousin claimed that he had willed her all his money, but that the will have been destroyed by the British in a raid.. The court did not believe her, and the money went to his father.

1924 Jul 15. The compensation case has still not been settled according to questions asked in Dáil Éireann -

TOMAS O CONAILL asked the Minister for Finance whether compensation has yet been paid to Mr. Alex. McDonnell, of Clifden, Co. Galway, on account of his premises, “McDonnell's Hotel,” which were burned down by British Forces on March 17th, 1921, as well as for furniture and personal effects destroyed on the same occasion; further, whether he will say if any decision has been taken in the matter of Mr. McDonnell's claim for compensation for the loss of his only son, John Joe McDonnell, who was killed by British Forces during the Anglo-Irish struggle.

The PRESIDENT: The claim of the person named by the Deputy for compensation in respect of damage to property has not yet been the subject of an award by the Compensation (Ireland) Commission. It is understood, however, that the case is at present under consideration by that tribunal. Mr. McDonnell's application for compensation in respect of the death of his son will be listed for hearing by the Compensation (Personal Injuries) Committee during the course of their next sittings at Galway.