The Ambush

In The Shadow of the Hangman's Noose

The prisoners taken at Raheen were marched into Portlaoise Barracks where they were arrested on July 29.

Those arrested and detained were:

O/C Flying Column -Sheehy, Michael Croghan, Co Offaly;

Burke Patrick, Ballyknocken, Portlaoise;

Conroy John, Ballycarroll, Portlaoise;

Coss Peter,  Ross, Portlaoise;

Culleton James, Ballyfin;

Delaney Martin, Glendine, Clonaslee;

Donegan James, Droughill, Portarlington;

Dormer James,  Farnans, Ballickmoyler;

Duff Richard,  Ballyknocken, Portlaoise;

Dunne Nicholas,  Tinnahinch Clarahill;

Egan Simon,  Mountmellick;

Gorman Nicholas, Clonaheen;

Hurley Reginald, Wolfhill;

Kelly John,  Chapel Street, Portarlington;

King John, Chapel Street, Portarlington;

McHugh James, New Row, Abbeyleix;

McHugh Thomas, Corbally, Abbeyleix;

Moore James, Kyle, Portlaoise;

Morris James, Chapel Street, Clonaslee;

Pierce Martin, Chapel Street, Portarlington;

Pierce Patrick Chapel Street, Portarlington.

The greater part of the ammunition found on them was claimed by Free State forces to consist of explosive and expanding bullets. However, the only dum-dum ammunition was the eight or so rounds found on Michael Sheehy.

Sheehy claimed that he had collected the ammunition the previous day and that it had come originally from Crinkle barracks in Birr. The men were moved to Portlaoise prison and held in solitary confinement by order of Commandant Gantly.

Later Michael Collins who, Sheehy believed, was on his way south, questioned them. Initially Sheehy did not know who it was but only subsequently learned of his interrogator's identity.

Photo of Michael Collins  in his military uniform.
Michael Collins who was asked to stop the execution of Michael Sheehy.

Sheehy was the last man to be questioned by Collins, who asked him when he joined the Volunteers and who was in charge when he joined. It was at this stage that Sheehy discovered that he had joined the Volunteers on the same day as Collins in London in 1914.

Sheehy recalled “Collins seemed genuinely puzzled to know what made us go out active as a column” and also wanted to know why they had surrendered to five men after the shooting of two men.

Sheehy said that they had surrendered to more like one hundred and fifty men. Collins was gentle in his questioning but Diarmuid O’Hegarty was more forceful demanding that he speak up when he refused to answer questions. O’Hegarty had been pelted with tins of porridge thrown from the upper landings of the prison when he ran the gauntlet of the wings earlier. Needless to say this would not have helped O’Hegarty’s humour, but amused Collins.

Rumours were rife that Michael Sheehy was to be hanged.

According to Sheehy, Mick Conway, an IRB man from Wolfhill, who was with Free State side, pleaded his case with Collins when he met him that day. A gallows had been erected in the jail yard. The Irregulars, however, held to their position of collective responsibility for their actions at Tonduff, thus saving Sheehy from the hangman’s noose.

Eventually the men were moved from the oppressive regime of Portlaoise jail and on to the relatively relaxed routine of Tintown Internment Camp.

It was also recorded that when the ambush occurred, the leader of the Irregulars, who had been dining in a house in the vicinity, cleared out of the locality. This refers most likely to either Lar or Tom Brady who both made good their escape.

Go to next section in The Ambush: