Tolka Bridge Ambush and death of Michael McGee

1921 Jan 21. 8 men from 1st Battalion IRA, hoped to ambush one of the RIC patrols which used the road to drive to and from their base at Gormanstown, near Drogheda.

According to one of the IRA men, O'Sullivan (the survivor) , the party left the Binn's Bridge site when it appeared that the Auxiliaries would not be coming their way, and they headed to the Tolka Bridge in Drumcondra. Shortly after they arrived at the Tolka bridge, the ambushing party was “given away by a Sergeant Singleton of the DMP”, and they were surrounded. The witness statement of Harry Colley (former Adjutant, IRA Dublin Brigade 1920-21) supports O’Sullivan’s, “they had actually been sent to carry out the ambush at Binn’s Bridge, but for some reason of their own, when they reached the position, moved up beyond Tolka Bridge to Clonturk Park.”

They were led by nineteen year old Lieutenant Francis "Frank" Flood, and at around 8:30 a.m. The ambush was a failure. 3 of the volunteers were shot dead in the attack, 5 more were arrested and sentenced to death. It's said, that as the British army unit was approaching the bridge over the River Tolka in Drumcondra, they were warned by a man by the name Robert Pike from Tolka Cottages (Pike was living there in 1911 census).

The ambushers had commenced an attack upon two lorry-loads of RIC constables, who returned fire until the vehicles were able to accelerate out of range. Then as the Volunteers were dispersing, that the Auxiliaries arrived at the rear of the Volunteers and cut off their escape. Some managed to dash across fields to safety but others were arrested as they attempted to seek refuge in houses in the vicinity. All of the prisoners were found in possession of revolvers and ammunition, while Frank Flood was also found to have a grenade in his pocket.

In an attempt to escape the Auxiliaries, Michael Magee and Séan Burke ran across a field of garden allotments in Clonturk Park. The Auxiliaries shot Magee, wounding him in the legs and lower torso. Magee was captured but soon died of his wounds.

An account in The Irish Times Saturday 22 January 1921 notes that a number of the Auxiliaries descended from the cars and rushed into Clonturk Park, through which the ambushers were fleeing. The police fired on them and one man was shot and wounded. It was found he had bombs in his possession....Five men were captured. The wounded man was removed from Clonturk Park. He was badly injured. He appeared to have been shot in the lower part of the body and in the legs and was losing much blood. He was carried by the Auxiliaries to the house at No. 9 Shamrock Villas, opposite the entrance to St. Patrick’s College, and, after being given a glass of water, was placed in the lorry with the other prisoners and removed to a destination which was not disclosed. According to a spectator the wounded man appeared to be in great pain, but was quite conscious. He seemed to be bleeding profusely before being placed in the lorry, the point at which the vehicle drew up being marked with large blood spots.

So at the end of the day, of the 8 men in the ASU involved in the action at Drumcondra, two men, Burke and Dunne, escaped the scene. The five remaining, Frank Flood, Thomas Bryan, Bernard Ryan, Patrick Doyle and Dermot O'Sullivan were captured. And Magee died of his wounds. A raid at Drumcondra later by the ADRIC arrested Francis Flood and Thomas Bryan and they were charged with taking part in the Ambush

The captives were tried by Court-martial. The lasted two days; all of the accused were convicted of High Treason. On 14 March 1921, all of the men, save Dermot O'Sullivan, were hanged at Mountjoy Prison. Citing his age of only 17 years, the British commuted O’Sullivan’s sentence to life in prison. He was released from Portland Gaol at the end of August 1921.

22 January 1921 aged 24. Michael Francis 'Mick' Magee, died as a result of wounds
14 March 1921, aged 29 Patrick Doyle: Executed in Mountjoy Prison
14 March 1921, aged 19 Francis X Flood..Executed in Mountjoy Prison
14 March 1921, aged 24. Thomas Bryan. Executed at Mountjoy Prison
14 March 1921 aged 21. Bernard 'Bertie' Ryan executed at Mountjoy Prison

William Lorraine King's affidavit at the trial of the IRA men tried in connection with the failed ambush reads:


John C. Reynolds, section leader of the Auxiliaries, testified:

R. Dentith, Temporary Cadet, testified: “Two men, apart from those who went along behind the houses in Richmond Road, went across further up in the open land across some allotments. They were fired upon and one of them fell. He got up and went on again and fell again. He was wounded, and captured; he afterwards died.”

1921 Jun 21. The IRA executed Robert Pike who they believed had informed the authorities of their movements in preparing the ambush. Robert Pike appears to have been executed near Tolka Bridge.