Clonfin Ambush

On the 2nd February 1921 two lorries carrying 17 Auxiliaries were driving between Granard and Ballinalee. The Longford Flying Column under Sean McEoin had prepared to ambush them at Clonfin. The IRA exploded a mine under the first lorry, wounding all the Auxiliaries in that lorry and killing the driver. The second lorry ran into the ambush and its occupants were attacked by the IRA. The Auxiliaries surrendered when their ammunition ran out. McEoin gave orders that the wounded were to be cared for and that survivors should not be executed. One of the Auxiliaries (it appears to have been Richardson) got away and managed to summon reinforcements

As is usual in ambushers, the victims always overestimate the number of attackers. In fact there were only 21 IRA men against 17 Auxiliaries. But the IRA had the advantage of surprise, the initial wounding of Auxiliaries when the mine blew up the first lorry, plus the fact that they were firing from prepared positions, while the Auxiliaries were in the ditches along the road

Four Auxiliaries are killed (DI Francis Craven, Cadet George Bush, Cadet Harold Clayton and Cadet John Houghton and eight wounded. After the Auxiliaries surrendered, MacEoin allowed the wounded to get medical treatment. 

The 21 IRA men taking part were: Sean Mac Eoin (Ballinalee), Sean Duffy (Ballinalee), James J Brady (Ballinamuck), Tom Brady (Cartronmarkey), Paddy Callaghan (Clonbroney), Seamus Conway (Clonbroney), Pat Cooke (Tubber), Seamus Farrelly (Purth), Paddy Finnegan (Molly), Larry Geraghty (Ballymore), Mick Gormley (Killoe), Hugh Hourican (Clonbroney), Jack Hughes (Scrabby), Mick Kenny (Clonbroney), Paddy Lynch (Colmcille), John McDowell (Clonbroney), Jack Moore (Streete), Mick Mulligan (Willsbrook), Michael F Reynolds (Killoe), Sean Sexton (Ballinalee) and Jim Sheeran (Killoe).

From Hansard - Sir H. GREENWOOD . Let me give a case of Auxiliary Division men. At Longford a couple of military lorries of Auxiliary men, every one wearing decorations won in the War, were ambushed. A mine was exploded under the lorries, making a crater six feet by four. Four men were killed, six seriously wounded, three wounded, and five others unwounded. District - Inspector Craven, who had charge, was hit in the leg. He fell down but got up again. He refused to take cover, and walked up and down the road encouraging the others and controlling the fire until he was killed. Who was District-Inspector Craven? He was a Lieutenant-Commander in the War. He had charge of a mine-sweeper in the Irish Sea, and saved an American transport from being sunk by submarine, thereby saving the lives of 600 American soldiers. He has been murdered, by men paid by Irish-American money, in the defence not 640 only of the honour of this country, but in the defence of, I think, the civilisation of America also. District - Inspector Taylor remained fighting until he was shot through the chest and the stomach. Temporary Cadet Wase, when his ammunition was expended, remained by the wounded, bandaging them under fire. Cadet Richardson was shot through the leg, but he volunteered to go for reinforcements, and did so successfully. Temporary Cadet Maddox—I like Maddox, and have marked him for promotion—fired his Lewis gun and all his revolver ammunition except two rounds, and these last two he fired through the breech mechanism of the Lewis gun and put the same out of action. Although wounded the men continued fighting until all their ammunition was expended. This is the type of man who won the War for this country, and he is winning the war now in Ireland, and yet the right hon. Member for Paisley made this reference in a speech given to the Liberals at Cambridge on 7th January: "After an interlude of barbarism which recalls the worst achievements both of the ancient and the modern Hun." Who are these rivals of the ancient and modern Hun? They are the forces of the Crown in Ireland. There is no question about it.

The Auxiliaries are believed to have totaled 18 or 19

T J Wilford wrote an account

On a cold, bleak day in 192l, to be exact on the 2nd day of February, I together with 16 fellow members of "M" Company Auxiliary Division of the Royal Irish Constabulary, was returning to Longford from Granard when a mine blew up under the first of the two crossley tenders. It was the battle of Clonfin!

We had had our share of the "crather" in Granard and this may have accounted for our hilarious rendering of "Swanee" which was cut short in the middle of the second stanza by this explosion in the middle of the road close to a little bridge crossing the river or stream and which, no doubt, warned the "enemy" of our approach. Nobody was injured by the explosion but it did have the effect of putting out of action our No. 1 tender. This sudden stoppage brought No. 2 tender close to the rear of tender No. 1 thereby giving our opponents a perfect target on a graceful sweep of road with nothing but open country surrounding us.

The area had obviously been cleared in advance to give a clear field of firing. I was in tender No. 1 and swiftly took shelter under the chassis, a manoeuvre which was very short-lived for a burst of fire came Perilously near. Looking around for better cover I crawled to a tree stump from behind which I fired at the puffs of smoke coming from a hill on the right-hand side of the road looking towards Granard. But I was soon spotted and when the bullets began to come uncomfortably close from the other side as well I crawled down the ditch towards the bridge and, finding no other kind of cover, eased myself into the stream which came up breast level thus enabling me to fire over the bank of the river. Because of the intense cold I'm afraid my marksmanship was hampered by shivering not because of fright (save the mark!) but rather from chill by immersion in an Irish river in month of February.

Richardson (T. Richardson D.C.M.), took refuge in the river on the other side of the bridge. He waded under the bridge in my direction and said: "carry on, old boy, I'm off to get help from Ballinalee". With great daring he cut-across the open country and although injured in the leg (or foot I managed to get out of range without further injury. He commandeered a vehicle at the point of his revolver and ordered the driver to take him to Ballinalee from whence came reinforcements of the Black and Tans. As a lot of confusion existed, and I believe still does, as to the difference between the Black and Tans and the Auxiliaries I would like to state here that the Auxiliary Division of he Royal Irish Constabulary was only open to ex-commissioned officers of the Royal Navy, the British Army or the Royal Air Force. So far as I can remember, only two members of our contingent myself and A.W. Keeble, M.M. - went uninjured.

District Inspector Taylor and Commander Craven (R.N.) were amongst those killed on that memorable day not only for the Irish but for the English too. Craven, who had been through the l9l4-l8 war and served with great distinction, was hit by one of the first shots after his tender stopped. He would not take shelter, as did the rest of us, and was shot in the neck. He died brandishing a revolver in each hand shouting: "where are the bastards?" I should not think that the whole engagement lasted for more than 20 minutes.

When our entire contingent through deaths, wounds or exhausted ammunition became ineffective and activity ceased our opponents descended upon us. I was ordered out of the river, searched and relieved of my wallet. I had dropped my rifle but, unfortunately, the muzzle was protruding out of the water and I was commanded to return to the icy stream and retrieve it! I had also dropped my revolver in the stream where it probably is to this day. Should any souvenir hunter ever find it I should be grateful for its return, nor would I look askance at the return of my wallet! I I was marched up the road where a rather unruly fellow by the name of Red (was it Donoghue?) roared: "shoot the bastard" but Sean McEoin (obviously. the leader of the ambush) said: "don't touch him, it has been a fair fight". It was at this stage that firing was heard behind us and I knew that the Black and Tans summoned by Richardson were close at hand.

Here I might state that after all those years I cannot recall whether or no Ballinalee Police Barracks was out of action but I do know that help came from either Ballinalee or Longford. In this same year, Sean McEoin with a price on his head was captured in Mullingar by a unit of the East Yorkshire Regiment (?). He evaded capture was wounded and re-captured and finally sent to Mountjoy Jail with the sentence of death hanging over him. It fell to the lot of the writer and A.W. Keeble to identify him as rebel. As we were considered highly important witnesses we were ordered to travel to Dublin in civilian clothes under escort. In the course of my evidence I brought out the chivalrous conduct extended to me by McEoin at the time of the ambush and I hope this was a contributing factor to his being given a sentence of 15 Years:

When "peace" came in 1922 Sean McEoin and his fellow rebels were released. I left Ireland after great carousels with my former opponents, their ringing voices saying: "who are we going to fight now?" How right they were! Civil war broke out shortly afterwards and at least one leader lost his life at the hands of his own countrymen. I refer to Michael Collins whose nephew is now a prominent member of the Dail. In the summer of 1954, together with my Irish wife, I returned to the scene of the Clonfin Ambush to find that Mr. Duffy was still living on the spot. In 1921 his then house was burnt down by "unknown forces" the day after the ambush but I found him very happy in the new house subsequently built by him by an appreciative Government. We spent a long time in each other's company going over the scene of action and I might add that the landscape has changed very little indeed in the course of the past 34 years. Ireland, Holy Ireland, Good Luck to you and may you continue to prosper under able leadership of men like General Sean McEoin.
Sgd. T.J. Wilford
Thomas Jocelyn Wilford, M.C., R.F.A. 1916-1918.
Temporary Cadet "M" Company Auxiliary Division
R.I.C. 1920-1922.
Now resident at: Tara Hill, Salisbury, Southern
Rhodesia, S. Africa.

An inquest on Clayton was held. With witness from T J Wilford, A.W. Keeble and W F P Williamson

And a separate one on Craven, Bush and Houghton as they died immediately. Witness from J S Wharrie Smith, C H Maddox , T J Wilford.