On 22nd September 1920, one of the most memorable encounters of the War of Independence took place at Dromin Hill, Rineen. The purpose of this act was to get revenge for the murder of Martin Devitt, an Irish soldier who was shot dead in an ambush in February of that year in the locality. A secondary function was to get arms for the poorly equipped volunteers in the area.
Men from several battalions took part in the ambush. The companies in question were Ennistymon, Lahinch, Inagh, Moy, Glendline, Miltown Malbay and Letterkelly. Most of these, however, were unarmed because of the lack of ammunition. The entire lot of arms consisted of sixty rounds of ammunition, eight rifles, two bombs, two revolvers and sixteen shotguns.
Dromin Hill was the perfect spot for an ambush, being 400 feet high, it was possible to see enemy lorries coming from both sides. There was good cover at one side of the road but the other side had little cover, the only retreat being to the sea. Thus it was decided that this side of the road be manned at two positions by experienced men. A boreen leading from the main road was to be the main line of attack. It had protective sod wall ditches, which provided natural cover. Branches from gorse and ferns were used to seal the entrance. These were planted for the twofold reason of extra cover and to hide the attackers from passing trains and from the road.
As the lorry was on its way along the Miltown road a wrong signal was given. The two cart loads of hay which were on the road indicated that three lorries were coming, thus the lorry was allowed to pass and the men had to wait three hours for its return. When it returned two bombs were shot at it and both landed in a field missing their target. However, the blast was sufficient to kill the driver and three others of the party of six. Two men had jumped clear, one straight in to the arms of his attackers and was shot dead, the second fleeing towards the sea. The volunteers moved in to collect their loot, which consisted of five rifles and one thousand rounds of ammunition. Two of them gave chase to the second escapee.
Just as the men were confident of their victory, three lorry loads of men were seen coming to a halt, thirty more were on bicycles. Fortunately for the volunteers, the troops were more surprised than they were. The extra rifles and ammunition were quickly distributed and the second phase of the fight began. It seemed that the volunteers had no chance against such a force. The volunteers took cover behind ditches and the fighting continued for three hours. By that time, most of the ammunition had been used but not without results. When the British got to the top of the hill, they began to use their machine guns but by this time the volunteers were deeply entrenched. A final effort was made by the Black and Tans when four of them tried to storm the volunteers, but all were shot down. The IRA had achieved the seemingly impossible, inflicting a defeat upon a vastly superior force.
This was a well-planned ambush which nearly failed when the extra forces arrived, but because of the courage and quick thinking of the volunteers they had a great victory. The pride which the local people had in this victory at this time can be seen in a line of a verse that was written in its honour: “And long will be told of the brave and the bold in the ambush of Rineen”.
Image | Monument for the attack at Rineen during the Irish War of Independence. Rineen is a small settlement near Miltown Malbay, on the road to Lahinch | Photo credit: Secret Ireland