Bloody and Tragic Events of July 1921 Remembered

A British Military generated map showing the flash-points of the fateful night on July 10th 1921.
A British Military generated map showing the flash-points of the fateful night on July 10th 1921.

A song composed and recorded in the mid 1960s should have more relevance now than it ever did with our world in the state it’s in.

‘What the World Needs Now’ was composed by Hal David and Burt Bacharach and it features regularly on compilations since.

Local Piper, Noel O’Mahony did his own bit in that regard in the course of leading a Sinn Féin colour party through Castleisland’s Main Street on Saturday evening.

War of Independence

The event was organised by the locally based Bonn/Doherty Sinn Féin Cumann to commemorate one of the town’s bloodiest battles in the course of the war of independence.

That evening three local volunteers, Richard Shanahan, Jack Prendiville and Jack Flynn were killed in action.

The Castleisland based British regiment also lost four of its men: Sgt. J L Davies, Pte. G Rankin, Pte. W Ross and Pte. W Kelly.

While piping his way through the town and on the very course and path of the battle, Noel O’Mahony altered his pipes and veered into ‘The Water is Wide’ and he played it as sweetly as he did the other tunes in his event repertoire.

No Personal Animosity

“Did you hear it,’ he asked later. “I played it for the British soldiers who died here that night,” Noel said.

“Do you think for a minute they wanted to be here. They had no personal animosity for Ireland or its people – but they were sent here to carry out the dirty work for their generals and the political establishment.

“They too left mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters behind them. It was out of respect for their memory that I played that tune,” said Noel.

It was a family oriented ceremony this year and Cllr. Toiréasa Ferris delivered an oration of hope for a more equal society in the Ireland of today. She also touched on the glaring issues of today such as homelessness and discrimination.

Fallen Irish Volunteers

Wreaths were laid on the plinth on the monument in honour of the fallen Irish Volunteers. Relatives of both Richard Shanahan and Jack Prendiville did the honours on the occasion.

And talking of relations, Piper, Noel O’Mahony’s father was one of those who carried Richard Shanahan to his final resting place in 1921.

Afterwards, co-organiser, Denny McSweeney hoped that the family of Volunteer Jack Flynn would make contact with the cumann so that they could be included in the memorial ceremonies in future years and at the centenery in 2021 in particular.

Castleisland Ambush Sunday, July 10th 1921

They do say that truth is always the first casualty of war. And reporting in the British Bureau of Military History on the bloody battle in Castleisland on the Sunday evening of July 10th 1921.

According to various reports on file there, a total of ten Irish Volunteers were killed and 20 wounded in the action that night while four British soldiers also lost their lives.

Thankfully though, Den Prendiville wrote a first hand account of the of the battle and the accuracy of his report is now verified in stone at the monument on Rice’s Height.

Mr. Prendiville’s account put the tole on his comrades at three – including his brother Jack and he listed the British soldier casualty list at six.

This short report is from the British army records:

“On the Night of the 10th of July 1921, the Curfew patrol sent out by Lieutenant Sheridan in command of the Militart post at Castleisland, was ambushed by rebels at the end of the village furthest from the Barracks.

This officer immediately took out a relief party.

Foreseeing that the rebels expected and were in waiting for this relief, Lieut. Sheridan took his party of 14 round the village, and found the rebels in position in a churchyard in the course of an engagement with the curfew patrol.

He sent half of his party to attack the rebels and with the other half took up a position so as to cut off their retreat.

It was largely due to his skill and initiative in handling the situation that the enemy suffered heavy defeat and severe casualties of 10 killed and twenty wounded.”

This one of from the Independent on July 12th 1921

“An encounter between military and Republicans took place after Curfew on Sunday on Castleisland.

The engagement, our correspondent states, developed into a pitched battle resulting in at least seven deaths, while several were wounded.

The report from Dublin Castle states: “A military Curfew patrol was attacket in Castleisland at 7:15pm on Sunday night bu a large number of rebels. Three soldiers were killed and three wounded. Four rebels are believed to have been killed.”

British casualties were: Sgt. J L Davies, Pte. G Rankin, Pte. W Ross and Pte. W Kelly.

The sequence of events was that the Curfew Patrol was ambushed, the Lt Sheridan took out a rescue party of 14 men.”

Curfew Patrol at Castleisland

Another Report from the British Army side draws heavily on Den Prendiville’s account and offers a few little known insights into the prevailing atmosphere at that turbulent time.

A curfew patrol at Castleisland of about 20 men of 2nd Loyal North Lancs was attacked in Upper Main Street, two severely wounded soldiers being taken into Reidy’s pub until the fighting was over.

Denis Reidy was said to have suffered great animosity from the local republicans for his humanity and his business suffered greatly for years after.

From a document by Denis Prendiville who took part in the ambush, and whose brother died in it.

Den Prendiville’s Account

In July 1921, the Brigade O/C Humphrey Murphy gave orders that an attack be carried out on a curfew patrol in Castleisland.

It was usual for a patrol to leave the Barracks at the southern of the town and parade up the Main St.

The patrol consisted of 15 to 20 soldiers.  The Brigade O/C. fixed the attack for the night of July 10th 1921.

On that night I took up position in a laneway at St. Stephen’s church with Michael O’Leary and Jack Barrett.

Other parties of our men were posted in laneways on both sides of the Main St.

The Brigade and Battalion staffs took up positions in the ruins of the Library (which we had burned the previous month).

The men in the Library ruins were Humphrey Murphy, Brigade O/C., Thomas Daly, Jerry O’Leary, David McCarthy, and Con O’Leary.

The patrol came out of the Barracks as usual and proceeded up the Main St.

When they got to the point on the Main St. where the Limerick Rd. enters, they came under fire. A general fight developed.

The party in the Library ruins opened fire down the Main St.  My party opened fire out of the laneway and brought our fire to bear on a party which had got out of the Barracks to reinforce the patrol.

While some of the British Military held us engaged the remainder returned to the Barracks and passing through left the Barracks by the rear, on both sides of the town.

My party hold the British coming in behind our position and we started retiring towards the north of the town.

We retired along the backs of the houses fighting as we went.

All our parties on the west side of the town retired while my party covered them.

My party then withdrew under heavy machine gun fire.

Our men on the west side of the town found themselves being surrounded and commenced to retreat, but they ran into difficulties when a machine gun was brought into play against them – three (my brother Jack Prendiville, Dick Shannhan and Jack Flynn) being killed before the party could finally withdraw.

The British lost six killed out of the original patrol.

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