Crimes on all sides

J. Anthony Gaughan

This is an account of the revolutionary years in County Mayo from 1917 to the petering out of the Civil War in 1924.  The applications for pensions by veterans of the War of Independence are a key source for a study of this kind and the author makes good use of them.  In addition he conducts his research in a wide variety of other sources which enables him to cast a light on the darkest and most shameful incidents in the county during those years.

Most publications of this kind stress the actions and influence of the national leaders, here the emphasis is on the local leaders.  One such leader was Dick Walsh of Balla.  Elected to represent Connacht on the Executive of the Irish Volunteers in 1917, he was adjutant of the Mayo Brigade of the Volunteers in 1920 when he organised courses on guerrilla war for the officers of the Brigade. 

As the tempo of the Anglo-War quickened he was given the task of acquiring arms for the Mayo activists.  Initially he did this with the co-operation of the IRA’s GHQ but after two consignments which he had successfully organised and paid for were intercepted by Michael Collins and sent to Tom Barry’s column in West Cork he acted on his own.  Mainly with the connivance of Mayo men in the North of England he succeeded in smuggling over 400 rifles, automatics and revolvers from Liverpool to the IRA in Mayo. Later when GHQ issued a ruthless command that all members of the RIC were to be shot on sight he was given the unpalatable task of travelling around Mayo and showing this written command to the IRA officers in each area.


The RIC were the ‘eyes and ears’ of the British administration in Ireland. In Mayo they lived up to their sobriquet.  From 1917 onwards their intelligence on the activities and membership of ‘illegal and subversive organisations’ was comprehensive. Thus in the opening phase of the struggle for independence they were particularly successful in meeting the challenge of the Mayo activists. As the struggle with the IRA intensified they were associated with atrocities committed by other members of the crown forces for which they subsequently paid a heavy price.

After the Anglo-Irish Truce hundreds of young men joined the IRA in Mayo, as elsewhere. Veterans of the War of Independence referred to them contemptuously as the ‘Trucileers’.  Many of them were most active on the Anti-Treaty side in the Civil War. Some set out on a killing spree of unarmed members of the RIC, who they murdered in their homes and even in their hospital beds! The IRA disavowed responsibility for their actions and dismissed them as ‘a rogue element’. While one reason given for their atrocities was the unsettled conditions of the country at that time which provided the opportunity to exact revenge, it was also suggested that the miscreants involved feared that the RIC was about to disclose the names of those who supplied them with information during the War of Independence!

End to violence

Throughout the revolutionary years Archbishop Thomas Gilmartin and the priests of the Archdiocese of Tuam urged an end to violence. They were particularly active in that regard after the Irish people voted to accept the Anglo-Irish Treaty. In face-to-face meetings influential priests made strenuous efforts to persuade the IRA leaders in the county not to actively oppose the Treaty.  Some went even further. At the beginning of the Civil War one priest and a mob of his parishioners prevented armed Anti-Treatyites from burning down their local post office and chased them out of town. 

This is a well-researched account of the ‘war in Mayo 1919-1924’.  Not the least of its merits is the obvious determination of the author not to minimise the crimes of those on both sides of the War of Independence and the Civil War.