Thursday, 30 July 2015

The burning of Raheny RIC barracks

Raheny Main Street pictured in the late 1940s or early 1950s (Raheny Heritage Society)
Small outlying RIC stations were a favourite target of the Irish Republican Army during the Tan War. Garrisoned by relatively few RIC men, these barracks were important for acting as a base for British forces engaged in raids and searches as well as providing vital intelligence to Dublin Castle.

The destruction of these bases not only restricted the ability of the British to operate in localities, but the collapse of local policing structures resulted in the local population overwhelmingly turning to the Irish Republican Police and republican Courts to uphold law and order – thus undermining the British state and legitimising the Dáil.

One such barracks was Raheny, a village in north Dublin on the main road to Howth Head.   According to the 1911 Census, the RIC station in the village was garrisoned by four members of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC).

The first attack on the RIC barracks came in mid-August 1919.

One night at about 8pm a unit of twenty IRA Volunteers under the command of Pat Sweeney entered Raheny village. Other units took up positions on the Howth Road to intercept any police or British military units that should stumble by.

According to Christopher Fitzsimons from North Strand, a Volunteer in 'F' Company of the Dublin Brigade's 2nd Battalion, the Volunteers "entered the local houses in the vicinity of the Barracks to collect paraffin oil."

1911 Census form from Raheny RIC Barracks
He says that he does not remember any shots being fired and that the three RIC officers inside quickly surrendered and handed it over to his commander. The three RIC stood on the opposite side of the road while the IRA went about destroying the building.

The Barracks at Raheny was apparently rebuilt and re-garrisoned shortly after the attack. The importance of destroying outlying RIC garrisons remained a key aim of the IRA leadership and in April 1920 another campaign against these barracks, along with Income Tax Offices, was ordered

It appears that the British took this threat seriously enough that on 19 May 1920 the Freeman's Journal reported that British troops were occupying the barracks in Raheny village to "reinforce local Constabulary forces".

In August 1920, the IRA mounted another attack against Raheny Barracks.

Lieutenant Joseph Lawless of the Fingal Brigade was returning home from Howth with his partner Monica 'Dot' Fleming when he was flagged down by an armed man on the Howth Road:

"When approaching Raheny village a man waved me to stop," Joseph then began to slow but as he was doing so one of the Volunteers fired a shot in order to emphasise his point.

"They constituted an intercepting party on that road while other members of the battalion burned down the evacuated RIC barracks," he recalled. The fellow Volunteer recognised them as members of Dublin's 2nd Battalion.

This particular road was held by "D" Company with one of the Volunteers, James Foley, saying they had been ordered to "hold the main road from Dublin to Howth and to prevent enemy or any other unauthorised persons or vehicles from passing while the actual destruction was in progress".

Other roads leading into the village were closed in a similar fashion, completely isolating the village.

"We sat down on the bank to wait while we chatted to the Volunteers who had held us up, and I tried to identify the man who had fired the shot. Not that I wanted to do anything about this except perhaps to tell him what a high-powered ass he was, as I had then discovered that his shot, from a .455Webley, had made a hole as big as a fist in the side panel [of my car]".

Joseph Lawless would later discover that the bullet had lodged in the seat in which Dot was sitting.

"In a short time we could see paraffin flames soaring skyward from the roof of the doomed building , and I volunteered to take as many of the Volunteers as could squeeze in the back to town, I dropped these around Fairview on my way home," he noted.

Following the attack, the RIC Inspector-General applied to North Dublin Union for compensation of £2,000 for the burning. The application was formally burned by the chairperson of the union on the night of Saturday 14 August 1920. However, in November Sgt Donoghue was awarded £50 for the destruction of furniture in the barracks. In January 1921 a claim for £3,500 was made to Dublin Corporation.

Later, Frank Henderson, a member of the 2nd Batallion, recalled that during the Truce both the IRA and Sinn Féin used the abandoned RIC station for meetings.

  • Volunteers who took part in the burning of Raheny RIC barracks were Nicholas Leonard, Christopher Fitzsimons, John Cullinane, John Maloney, Morgan Durnin,  Michael Kelly, Michael Lawless, Patrick Sweeney and Richard McGrath

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