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Below is the text of the above article from The Nenagh Guardian, 5th August 1922.
Deadly Ambush in Leix.
As briefly announced in our second edition last week, a thrill of horror was felt in Nenagh and all through the district when the news became known on last Saturday morning that Austin McCurtin and John Collison – two brave chivalrous and highly popular officers, natives of this district, had been killed the previous evening in an ambush at Leix.
The following official bulletin was issued by GHQ on Saturday:-
“Some time before noon yesterday a report reached Maryborough of the location of a mine between Abbeyleix and the Curragh.
“From the information available it appears that Capt Powell, with a party of troops, left in a Lancia car for the place indicated. The location of the mine was actually two miles nearer Maryborough.
“The Lancia car was hit by the mines, Capt Powell, Brigadier Grey, and three others being wounded. Vol Grace was killed.
“On the matter being reported to headquarters at Maryborough Div, Comdt MacCurtain and Comdt Collison left for the scene of the occurrence. On the road they ran into a prepared ambush where heavy fire was opened on the party.
“Divisional Comdt MacCurtain and Comdt Collison were killed. The party of 28 irregulars who fired the volley which killed the officers then put up their hands and surrendered.
“They were taken prisoners. Many of them were found in possession of dum-dum and explosive ammunition.”
The following are the casualties:-
Killed - Col Comdt A MacCurtain, Comdt Collison and Volunteer Grace. Wounded - Brigadier Grey, Capt Powell, Driver George Green, Pte L Hennessy, Pte. George Taylor.
Describing the attack, a correspondent says a report having been received at Maryborough barracks that a mine was laid between Tundull Cross and Abbeyleix, Capt J Powell was sent out in charge of a party of riflemen in a lorry, preceded by a Lancia car bearing a Lewis gun team, with whom was Brigadier Michael Grey.
At a point nearer Portlaoighse than that indicated in the report, a mine was exploded under the Lancia car, which was then attacked with rifles and hand grenades, one man being killed and Brigadier Grey and three men wounded. Captain Powell immediately deployed his men and captured two men with arms, but the remainder of the ambushers retreated.
Immediately the word of the ambush came to Portlaoighse, reinforcements went out in command of Col Comdt Austin MacCurtain and Comdts Collison and Gantley. These forces deployed across country in the direction of Abbeyleix, Comdts MacCurtain and Collison and Captain Powell with five men were moving along rising ground near Raheen, the main body having gone another way, and Comdt Gantley with another party was some distance away moving in a circle to join Comdt MacCurtain.
Hearing a burst of fire in Col Comdt MacCurtain’s direction Comdt Gantley went thither and found eight irregulars in a field with their hands up.
Behind a ditch nearby were ten irregulars who had surrendered, and close to them Comdt Collison and Col Comdt MacCurtain and Captain Powell lay wounded.
Comdt Gantley sent for the local clergy, and Father Coyne PP, Raheen and Father Dunne promptly attended the wounded officers.
Col Comdt MacCurtain expired after receiving the Sacraments, and Comdt Collison died on arrival at Leix County Infirmary. Capt Powell, who was wounded in the left jaw, is progressing favourably, as are those wounded in the ambush, all of whom are in the infirmary.
Inquests were opened by County Coroner Dr Higgins at Leix County Infirmary, and were adjourned to Wednesday after evidence of identification and cause of death.
Shock and haemorrhage, caused by bullet wounds, was the cause of death in each case, according to the evidence of Surgeon-Lieut Comdt Doran and Dr O’Connell, Infirmary Surgeon, the wounds being all caused by expanding bullets. Col Comdt MacCurtain had an entrance wound on the left side of the chest, and an exit wound large enough to admit three fingers in the right side of the back.
The femoral artery was ruptured. Deceased died on the field. Comdt Collison had a jagged wound two inches long in front of the right thigh. Deceased died as he was being taken from the ambulance into the infirmary.
“The Elusive Collison.”
Volunteer Grace has a small entrance wound in the back of the right hip joint, and a large exit wound in the lower part of the abdomen to the right side. It would admit two or three fingers. The right pubic bone was fractured. He was dead when admitted to the infirmary.
Comdt Collison was in charge of the North Tipperary flying column during the fight for freedom, and carried out many daring and successful attacks on British forces. He was known as “the elusive Collison”.
Col Comdt MacCurtain was a son of the late Mr WF MacCurtain, hardware merchant, Caste Street, Nenagh and his brother, John, is doing 10 years’ imprisonment in Peterhead prison, a sentence passed on him in Belfast for having arms in his possession. The deceased young officer was quartermaster of the column, and took a distinguished part in all its operations. He was also Brigade Information Officer for North Tipperary, and was loved by his comrades.
Capt Powell served in the European war. On leaving the British army he joined the IRA, took part in the first big fight in Clare, and also served in the North Tipperary column.
Volunteer Grace fought in the European war.
Brigadier Grey took part in the 1916 rising, was twice in prison, and has recently rendered valuable service in the national army. The other wounded men have good records of service in the IRA
The remains of Comdts MacCurtain and Collison passed through Roscrea on Saturday night for Nenagh and Moneygall, respectively, amidst manifestations of deepest regret. The cortege was met outside the town by numbers of people. Blinds were drawn and troops lined the streets.
Comdt Collison was officer commanding Roscrea area during the war with the British and was loved by everyone, especially by his men.
Staff Captain Powell, wounded in the same ambush, is progressing favourably. He is a son of Mrs Powell, proprietress, “Midland Tribune, Birr.
The remains of the late Col Comdt MacCurtain arrived in Nenagh at 2 o’clock on Sunday morning, and they were conveyed to St. Mary’s of the Rosary Church. The funeral took place to Lisboney cemetery at 2 o’clock on Monday.
Removal of Remains.
On Saturday night, the remains of both the dead soldiers were removed from Portlaoighse. Owing to unavoidable delay in having the necessary arrangements completed, the funeral procession was unable to start till a late hour. It came through Mountrath, Roscrea, Moneygall, and Toomevara to Nenagh. A turreted armoured car led the procession, followed by Crossley tenders, Lancia cars, a Crossley tender with the remains and a large line of motors with relatives, military and friends.
At Roscrea an immense crowd met the funeral. The road for fully a mile outside the town was thronged with people, the population of the entire town and district being present to pay a deep tribute of respect. The procession passed through all the principal streets of the town at slow pace; soldiers with rifles at the present were drawn up on the square; outside the Tuberculosis Dispensary (now the Military Headquarters), and on the road outside the town leading to Nenagh. The utmost sympathy was expressed on all sides and on every lip was a word of sincere regret, or the recollection of some brave adventure or manly deed by those whose souls had passed to the Great Beyond.
Moneygall was reached at a late hour, but the little town was thronged with sympathisers and friends. Comdt Collison’s remains were taken to the little Parish Church where the Rosary was recited. Full and sincere were the responses from the crowded Church. It was a sad last homecoming, and that Church scene at the midnight hour with the flickering tapers and the solemn prayer emphasised the sadness and sorrow of the occasion.
The bodies so closely associated in life and borne side by side across the plains of Leix and Tipperary, were now to separate, and the remains of Col Comdt Austin McCurtin were borne in their last stage homeward in the silence of the night to Nenagh. How many thoughts crossed the mind along that last lonely stretch of road. In the days of the terror how often had both risked liberty and life along the range of Tipperary hills and through the level smiling plains. And such an end to it all!
It was nearly two o’clock on Sunday morning when Nenagh was reached. A strong party of military met the remains on the outskirts of the town, and the procession from that point proceeded slowly to St. Mary’s of the Rosary. Here they were received by Rev P O’Halloran CC and Rev T O’Donohue CC, who had travelled to meet the funeral to Borris-in-Ossory. Father O’Donohue recited the Rosary after the placing of the remains in the mortuary chapel. Earlier in the night an immense throng of people remained for hours awaiting the arrival of the funeral on the outskirts of the town.
A guard remained on duty around the remains all night. On Sunday all day large numbers visited the church and prayed fervently for the dead officer. On Monday morning at 11 am, Office and High Mass for the repose of his soul were offered up. All business houses were closed by order of the Urban Council until 4 p.m. on Monday evening. There was an immense congregation at the High Mass which was celebrated by Rev. J Roche CC, Nenagh.
There were also present the following priests:- Rev Father McCurtin SJ, Rathfarnham, Dublin (uncle); Rev. P O’Halloran CC,Nenagh; Rev J Roche CC, do.; Rev T O’Donohue CC, Nenagh; Rev J O’Donohoe CC, Tulla; Rev P Canon O’Meara PP, Puckane; Rev J Canon Cunningham PP, Templederry; Rev M Gleeson PP, Knock; Rev P Scanlan PP, Portroe; Rev Dean Ryan (USA); Rev A Sammon, CC, Cloughjordan; Rev J Fogarty CC,Puckane; Rev J Barry CC, Ballywilliam; Rev M Fanning CC, Toomevara; Rev W Gleeson CC, Knock; Rev J O’Houlihan CC, Kinnity; Rev M O’Rahilly CC, Roscrea; Rev P Gaynor CC, Birr; Rev T Power CC, Foxrock, Dublin; Rev A Ryan, Rev R Ryan, New Zealand; Rev Father Treacy CSSR, Athenry; Rev. Father McCarthy CSSR.
At two o’clock the funeral; procession started for Lisboney Churchyard. Long prior to that the church grounds and adjoining streets presented a thronged appearance. Lines of military with rifles at “the present” were placed in the Church grounds and along St Flannan’s Street. The coffin, “wrapped in the Tricolour” was borne on the shoulders of the deceased’s comrades to a waiting Crossley tender. Soldiers with arms reversed marched at funeral pace beside the remains. A pipers’ band, specially brought from the Curragh preceded the remains playing appropriate and beautiful music.
Lt Gen JJ O’Connell, Asst Chief of Staff GHQ; Brigadier Hoolan, Comt O’Leary, Col Cusack and the officers of the Divisional and local staffs followed the remains. The local Volunteer corps, the members of the Nenagh Urban Council, long lines of military and hosts of friends and sympathisers made up one of the impressive funeral corteges ever seen in Nenagh.
On reaching Lisboney Churchyard, the remains were removed to the graveside on the shoulders of the deceased’s comrades. The final impressive prayers were said and the last earthly remains of the brave young soldier placed in the grave.
The grave being closed, three volleys were fired and the Last Post sounded by three trumpeters.
Before the remains were covered in the grave, Lieutenant General O’Connell briefly addressed the gathering, bearing testimony to the many good qualities of the late Comdt McCurtin. As his superior officer some time ago, he had the pleasure of being intimately acquainted with him and he could say he was one of the best and truest young Irishmen it had been his privilege to meet. He came into the Army because he considered it was his duty to his country to do so. He had worked in the interest of his country, and they could see that day how he had been rewarded by a section of his countrymen. He had been murdered at their hands - he could not say otherwise, because it was murder. He appealed to the priests and the people of the country to help the Army in tracking down men who were guilty of such deeds - cruel deeds which deprived Ireland of such men as the late Cmdts McCurtin and Collison. In the name of God let them combine and do all in their power to put an end to it. He would not detain them further, as they had to get to Moneygall to attend the funeral of another true and good Irishman (hear, hear).
The priests who assisted at Mass were present at the graveside.
The chief mourners were Mrs McCurtin (mother), Misses Maureen and Nora McCurtin (sisters), Rev J McCurtin SJ and Mr C McCurtin, Crogue, Tipperary (uncles); Miss O’Shea and Miss L O’Shea, London (cousins).
The following is the list of wreaths - From mother, Jack, Maureen and Norah; officers and men Nenagh Garrison; officers and men 1st Battalion IRA; men 1st Battalion; three wreaths from officers and men 3rd Southern Division Portlaoighse; NCOs 1st Battalion IRA; officers 1st Battalion Regular Garrison; Cumann na mBan, Nenagh; he staff McCurtin’s; Sue, Frank and Willie Flannery, Sisters of Mercy, St Joseph’s, Nenagh; Paul and Mrs Dempsey; McDonagh Sinn Feinn Club Nenagh; A Clerihan; Mr and Mrs John Flannery and family (McDonagh St); Maimie Normoyle and Maura Gantley, Roscrea; Moneygall Cumann; Sue Harvey; Mrs Ryan and Julianne; friends, Moneygall; Tennis Club; Portlaoighse; RP and Mrs Gill.
A wreath of laurels was carried on the coffin and buried in the grave.
After the last sad tribute of respect to Div Comdt McCurtin had been paid the large party of military of military with staff and pipers’ band, accompanied by Lancia cars, Crossleys and a long array of motors, proceeded to Moneygall to fulfil another duty - equally sad and sorrowful.
The remains of Col Comdt Collison, which had been lying in Moneygall Church since Saturday evening, were removed at 4 o’clock on Monday evening for internment at the family burial ground at Castletown. The spacious streets were packed. People came from Birr, Nenagh, Toomevara, Borrisokane and all over the district. Roscrea especially seemed to have been present en masse. The shops there were all closed and business suspended for the day. Motors, lorries, cars, and every mode of conveyance had been used and the spacious street was crammed with vehicles of all description.
Col Comdt Collison was accorded full military honours. Led by the Guards Pipers’ Band, the funeral arrangements were carried out on the same lines as those of Divisional Commandant McCurtain’s funeral Nenagh. Practically all the priests at the latter’s funeral in Nenagh were present; in addition to the clergy from Roscrea, Shinrone, Dunkerrin, etc.
A strong contingent of his old Volunteer comrades and of the Cumann na mBan marched in the funeral procession. Every business house in Moneygall was closed and shuttered, and blinds drawn in all houses.
At the graveside three volleys were fired and the Last Post sounded by three trumpeters.
When the grave had been covered, Lieut-General O’Connell, Assistant Chief of Staff delivered a short oration.
Items of the Funeral
The late Col Comdt Collison was well-known and extremely popular in GAA circles in North Tipperary and Offaly. He was an excellent hurler.
Div Comdt McCurtin was also a keen Gael, and played both hurling and football; many a Sunday or long summer evening he was to be seen in the Show Grounds wielding the caman, his body lithe and active with the pluck and manliness that never failed to his dying breath.
One of the Lancia cars which he commanded and its machine gun were draped in crepe at the funeral.
The Rev Father McCurtin, his uncle, has had a distinguished career as a Jesuit, and has only returned from Australia a short time.He feels the tragedy deeply, especially that such an act should be done by fellow Irishman.
Mr F Flannery who, accompanied by Mr Joseph Meara in the latter’s motor, brought news of the tragic occurrence to his uncle, Mr C McCurtin, who lives near Tipperary town, had an exciting journey as intense fighting had started in Tipperary on the day of his arrival.
Newspaper correspondents, who had to travel considerably through Roscrea during the Limerick operations, have expressed deep regret at the death of Comdt Collison. He facilitated and obliged them in many ways.
At the funeral in Moneygall on the Monday one of the armoured cars present was named “Moneygall”
It is difficult to realise the intensity of the love felt for both the dead officers by the men under their charge, and by the people in the towns with which they were associated.
In Roscrea and Moneygall churches on Sunday, prayers were asked of the repose of the soul of Comdt Collison, and touching tributes were paid to his memory.
Solemn Requiem Office and Mass were celebrated at Templemore for the late Comdt. Collison, who was well known and very popular in the district.
Nenagh Urban Council’s Sympathy
At a specially convened meeting of the Nenagh Urban Council on Sunday night, presided over by Mr Ml. Gleeson, chairman, the following vote of condolence was, on the proposition of the chairman, seconded by Mr. P. McLoughlin, passed to the family the late Div Comdt A McCurtin -Resolved, “ That we, the members of Nenagh Urban District Council in meeting assembled this 30th day of July, 1922, place on record an expression of our very deep sense of sorrow occasioned by the lamentable death of a distinguished young towns man-the late Div Comdt Austin McCurtin. We have known Comdt McCurtin as a noble and patriotic Irishman, a gallant soldier, a citizen of the best type and who rendered signal service to his country in the Anglo-Irish war, and we now desire to bear testimony to his memory as such. To his bereaved mother, sisters, and brother we beg to tender our sincere sympathy in this great hour of trial - a trial rendered so heavy by its circumstances and in voting our condolences, we as the elected representatives of the people of Nenagh, voice their sorrow also, and extend to the McCurtin family and its relatives their sympathy as a whole. As a mark of respect we order:
That the shops and other places of business within the township of Nenagh remain closed on tomorrow (Monday) until four o’clock the afternoon, and that the Council attend the funeral of Commandant McCurtin officially and in processional order.”
Graphic Story of the Ambush by Comdt Powell
A graphic story of the Leix ambush on Saturday last was given to a press representative by Comdt Joubert Powell, who was wounded on the occasion.
Comdt Powell, who is in a Dublin hospital, stated that on Saturday he was one of a party who went to investigate a report that a mine had been laid at Tunduff on the road from Abbeyleix to the Curragh. The party travelled in a Lancia car and two lorries.
At a point two miles nearer Marlboro’ than that indicated, a mine exploded under the Lancia. The wheels were blown off the car, which turned over, with its 8 occupants, on to a hedge.
Had it turned to the other side, they would have been smashed against a stone wall. The Lorry drew up 10 or 15 yards away, and from behind the wall fire was opened with rifles, revolvers and hand grenades by a party of about 40 men.
The First Victim
Lieut Tierney was the first hit as the troops descended from the lorries and spread out to repel the attack. Vols MacShane and Lawler, of the medical corps approached the Lancia car to attend the wounded, but they were fired on and compelled to take cover. Corporal O’Connor, who was in charge go the gun team on the wrecked car, though dazed, drew his revolver and replied the fire of the attackers.
Volunteer Grace, one of the Lancia team, was shot, and died within 20 minutes, and Brigadier Grey was wounded.
One of the lorries was cleared and sent back to Maryboro’ for reinforcements. Two of the attackers were captured by a party under Comdt. Berry in a house within 10 yards of the explosion, while the rest of the attackers fled.
Meanwhile before the call for reinforcements had reached Maryboro’ a party had left there under Comdts A Mc Curtin, Collison, and Gantly and on their arrival, the pursuit of the attackers was followed up across the fields and by road. Comdts Collison, McCurtin, and Comdt Powell having delayed to straighten things out at the point of the ambush followed southwards towards Raheen. With them were Vol Price and Corpls. Kane and McGrath. Whilst together in a corner of a field, fire was opened on them by about 20 men. Comdt McCurtin had time to say “take cover” when he and Comdt Powell fell together.
Comdt Powell recovered to find Comdt McCurtin crawling towards him. He said “ I am done for.” Blood was flowing from his mouth. He survived to receive the ministration of a priest, who also attended Comdts Collison and Powell. Comdt Collison was taken Leix Infirmary where he died on arrival.
He acted with great gallantry, and though mortally wounded continued discharge his revolver at the attackers. Comdt Powell, who was wounded in the face and thigh, was carried out of action by Corporal Price. The men pressed the pursuit. Four men surrendered near the road, and 18 to 20 in a field. All were armed with rifles and revolvers, and some had bombs. Lieut Tierney discovered in a lane a Ford car and two bicycles.
Amongst the equipment of the men captured were “dum dum” bullets.
Comdt Powell is awaiting X-ray examination to ascertain the extent of his injuries.
To the People of Offaly and North Tipperary
The following order issued by the late Col Comdt Collison, a short time ago, on taking over Roscrea Barracks has a sad significance.
We, the Soldiers of the Irish Nation come amongst you, not as enemies, but as friends; not as despoilers, but as protectors of your lives and properties; not as tyrants, but as guardians of your liberties. We come with the assurance that in your ancient territory we are welcome - welcome because we are the symbols of that freedom which, after seven centuries of effort and strife, has been won by the blood and sacrifice of the young manhood of the country. We have passed through the broad lands , and by the ruined homes of O’Moore and O’Carroll, and we have not passed with stony hearts and frozen feelings; we have been touched as we looked upon these ruins, and we feel proud that it has fallen to our lot to be able to announce to you, the descendants of these clans and chieftains, that you are again free; and that you can resurrect your ancient culture and enjoy to the full the peace and blessings of a distinct national life.
J. COLLISON, Comdt.
O/Commanding Ist Battalion Regular Garrison Headquarters, Roscrea Military Barracks.
July 20th, 1922.
Mrs McCurtin and family desire to convey through our columns their sincere thanks for the kind expressions of sympathy received in their recent sad bereavement, and wish to apologise for their inability to reply individually to their numerous friends for such messages of condolence and respectfully ask them to accept this general acknowledgement.
Michael Long obtained an injunction from the Masters of the Rolls restraining Martin Long, his brother, from trespassing on a farm of 25 acres near Thurles. Mr Devitt ( Messrs LJ Ryan and Son) for plaintiff.
ARREST AT DURROW
Members of the National Army at Durrow arrested James Daly DC, Rathdowney, one of the local irregulars.
“We ask in the Litany to be protected from sudden and unprovided death. Of all the misfortunes that can fall on anyone, there is nothing to compare with a sudden and unprovided death. People should be extremely cautious about the taking of their neighbour’s life. It is terrible in any circumstances, but especially when he is unprepared. For those who take human life not only may destroy the life of the body, but that of the soul also for eternity.”