The Drumcondra Ambush 1921

21st January 1921
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A sensational encounter, between eight young IRA Volunteers and a large body of the Black & Tans, took place at Tolka Bridge on Friday 21 January 1921. Having received a tip-off, RIC motor lorries and an armored car rushed to surprise the IRA men (who, with bombs and revolvers, had loop-holed a wall of the bridge). As they fled into the fields, they were pursued and shot at, one being mortally wounded. Two men escaped and the rest were arrested and sentenced to death. Dermott O'Sullivan (age 17) survived the hanging on account of his age.

On Friday, January 21, 1921, eight men from the 1st Battalion IRA, set out to stage an ambush at Binn's Bridge [Royal Canal] on Lower Drumcondra Road. The plan was to attack an RIC patrol (which used the road to travel from their base at Gormanstown, near Drogheda).

Led by Lieutenant Francis "Frank" Flood (age 19), Michael Francis 'Mick' Magee (age 24) Patrick Doyle (age 29), Thomas Bryan (age 24), Bernard 'Bertie' Ryan (age 21) and Dermott O'Sullivan (age 17) set off at 8.30am for Binn's Bridge.  They were to ambush RIC Auxiliaries (Black and Tans) travelling into Dublin from Gormanston. However, the Auxiliaries did not arrive. The witness statement of Harry Colley (former Adjutant, IRA Dublin Brigade 1920-21) said  “they had actually been sent to carry out the ambush at Binn’s Bridge, but for some reason of their own, when they reached the position, moved up beyond Tolka Bridge, to Clonturk Park.” According to Dermott O'Sullivan (the only survivor) when it appeared that the Black and Tans would not be coming their way, the party left the Binn's Bridge site and headed to Tolka Bridge in Drumcondra.

However, the police had received a tip-off from Sergeant Singleton of the DMP [Dublin Metropolitan Police]. It is also said, that as the British army unit was approaching the bridge over the River Tolka in Drumcondra, they were warned by a man by the name Robert Pike from Tolka Cottages (Pike was living there in 1911 census).

The ambushers had commenced an attack upon two lorry-loads of RIC constables, who returned fire until the vehicles were able to accelerate out of range. Then the Black and Tans arrived in motor lorries and an armored car, at the rear of their position to cut off their escape. Some Volunteers managed to dash across fields to safety but others were arrested as they attempted to seek refuge in houses in the vicinity. All of the prisoners were found in possession of revolvers and ammunition, and Frank Flood was also found to have a grenade in his pocket.

In an attempt to escape the Auxiliaries, Michael Magee and Séan Burke ran across a field of garden allotments in Clonturk Park. The Auxiliaries shot Magee, mortally wounding him in the legs and lower torso. Magee was captued but soon died of his wounds.

William Lorraine King's affidavit at the trial of the IRA men tried in connection with the failed ambush reads:

"I am a District Inspector in the Auxiliary Division R.I.C. stationed at Dublin Castle. At about 10:30 hours on 21st January 1921, in consequence of information received, I proceeded with a party of Cadets along the Drumcondra Road Dublin. Just before reaching the Tolka bridge, a lorry laden with R.I.C. Constables passed me going in the direction of Dublin City. One of the Constables shouted a warning to be on our guard. On reaching a low wall bordering some "Allotments" opposite St. Patrick College, I saw five men in civilian clothes running away from the main road across the Plots. Two men arose from behind the wall and ran. I heard a shot fired, and I immediately fired at the running man who was nearest to me (about 25 yards away). The man fell, but got up and ran, whereupon I again fired, as did several of my men. The man fell to the ground and remained there. ... The wounded man gave me his name as Michael Magee, and address as 20 Ostman Street, North Circular road, and stated that he was a Section Leader of "A" Company I.R.A.."

John C. Reynolds, section leader of the Auxiliaries, testified:

"One of the party [Royal Irish Constabulary, R.I.C.] fired at one and he fell; he got up again and the party fired; this time he got up and the party fired again and he fell again."

R. Dentith, Temporary Cadet R.I.C., testified:

“Two men, apart from those who went along behind the houses in Richmond Road, went across further up in the open land across some allotments. They were fired upon and one of them fell. He got up and went on again and fell again. He was wounded, and captured; he afterwards died.”

An account in The Irish Times Saturday 22 January 1921 notes:

A number of the Auxiliaries descended from the cars and rushed into Clonturk Park, through which the ambushers were fleeing. The police fired on them and one man was shot and wounded. It was found he had bombs in his possession. Five men were captured. The wounded man was removed from Clonturk Park. He was badly injured. He appeared to have been shot in the lower part of the body and in the legs and was losing much blood. He was carried by the Auxiliaries to the house at No. 9 Shamrock Villas, opposite the entrance to St. Patrick’s College, and, after being given a glass of water, was placed in the lorry with the other prisoners and removed to a destination which was not disclosed. According to a spectator the wounded man appeared to be in great pain, but was quite conscious. He seemed to be bleeding profusely before being placed in the lorry, the point at which the vehicle drew up being marked with large blood spots.

So at the end of the day, of the 8 men in the ASU involved in the action at Drumcondra, two men, Burke and Dunne, escaped the scene. The five remaining, Frank Flood (age 19), Thomas Bryan, Bernard Ryan, Patrick Doyle and Dermot O'Sullivan (age 17) were captured. And Magee died of his wounds. The captives were tried by a Court-martial that lasted two days; all of the accused were convicted of High Treason and sentenced to death.

On 14 March 1921, all of the men, save Dermot O'Sullivan, were hanged at Mountjoy Prison. Citing his age of only 17 years, the British commuted O’Sullivan’s sentence to life in prison. He was released from Portland Gaol at the end of August 1921.

22 January 1921 aged 24. Michael Francis 'Mick' Magee, died as a result of wounds
14 March 1921, aged 29 Patrick Doyle: Executed in Mountjoy Prison
14 March 1921, aged 19 Francis Flood. Executed in Mountjoy Prison
14 March 1921, aged 24. Thomas Bryan. Executed at Mountjoy Prison
14 March 1921 aged 21. Bernard 'Bertie' Ryan executed at Mountjoy Prison

The execution of Robert Pike

On June 21, 1921,  The IRA executed a Robert Pike who they believed had informed the authorities of their movements in preparing the ambush. Robert Pike appears to have been executed near Tolka Bridge. Mr Pike was found dead, leaving a widow and several children. The family remained in Dublin. His son Robert Pike Jr. (1909 -1960) married Catherine Thomas (d.1990) and they lived nearby in Whitehall until their deaths. Robert Pike Jr.  enlisted in the British Army during WWII and fought at Dunkirk, and his health deteriorated after the war and was the main factor in his untimely death aged 51.

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