Roscommon was not one of the more violent areas of Ireland during the conflict. The local IRA argued to their GHQ that it was very difficult to conduct guerrilla warfare in the flat open countryside there. Prior to the action at Scramogue, the biggest previous incident had been in October 1920, when four RIC policemen were killed in an ambush near Ballinderry.
Sean Connolly had been sent by IRA GHQ from Longford to reorganise the Roscommon Volunteers and had selected the ambush site at Scramogue. However he was killed twelve days before the action at the Selton Hill ambush in neighbouring Co Leitrim.
Both the North and South Roscommon IRA Brigades took part, and were commanded by Patrick Madden. There were 39 volunteers in the column, but only 14 took part in the actual attack, the remainder were tasked with blocking roads to keep the IRA’s line of retreat open. The IRA party was armed with 13 rifles (11 Lee–Enfields, 1 Winchester and 1 sporting rifle), 20 shotguns (though some of them in bad condition) and 2 or 3 Webley revolvers. This was the largest collection of arms that was assembled in Roscommon during the war and some of them had been borrowed from IRA units Longford.
Among the volunteers who took part were Martin Fallon, ‘Cushy’ Hughes, Frank Simons, Luke Duffy, Peter Casey, Peter Collins and Tom Compton. Several of the IRA men, including Hughes, had served in the Irish Guards in the First World War, but had been persuaded by Pat Madden to join the IRA on their return.
The ambush site was carefully prepared. It was located at a sharp bend on the Longford–Strokestown road. A farmhouse and barn at the bend had been taken over and loopholed, and a trench was dug behind a hedge alongside the road. Only a mile from the IRA’s position, the Ninth Lancers regiment was garrisoned in Strokestown House.
The IRA waited in their position all day for British forces to come from Strokestown. Just as a troop lorry finally appeared, two civilians came up the road in a pony and trap and had to be frantically waved out-of-the-way.
The lorry carried a nine-man British Army and RIC patrol travelling on the Strokestown–Longford road. The British inquiry into the incident was to question why the lorry was unescorted, as their practice was not to travel in lone vehicles.
The IRA opened fire from very close range, killing the driver and halting the lorry in its tracks. Several of the soldiers and policemen were hit and they scrambled for cover behind a wall along the road. The lorry had a Hotchkiss machine gun, bolted onto it, but its gunner got off only one burst before being badly wounded and the gun put out of action. The commander of the patrol, Captain Roger Grenville Peek, was hit in the lorry but tried to run to safety, only to be hit again 400 yards down the road and killed. The other officer with the party, Lieutenant Tennant, was also killed by a shotgun blast. After the death of the two officers, the surviving British, several of whom were wounded, surrendered.
Just as the firing was dying-down, another lorry, an RIC/Black and Tan patrol, approached the ambush site but turned back after coming under fire.
Four of the British forces were killed, including two British Army officers: Roger Grenville Peek and John Harold Anthony Tennant, an RASC driver, and one RIC man, Constable Edward Leslie.
Two men in civilian clothes were also found in the lorry. They turned out to be Black and Tans who had been placed under arrest by the soldiers (Constable Buchanan and Constable Evans) – they were made prisoners by the IRA. The ambush party, after taking the British arms, including the Hotchkiss gun, and burning the lorry, made their escape over the hill of Slieve Bawn.
The IRA leaders: Pat Madden, Luke Duffy and Frank Simons, decided to kill the two Black and Tans, despite their offering to show the IRA how to use the captured machine gun. The IRA officer’s reasoning was that if the prisoners identified the IRA men who had taken part in the ambush, the Volunteers would be at risk of being executed if captured. The two were taken to remote locations and shot over the next two days.
The British garrison in Roscommon town mounted a sweep directly after the ambush with eight lorries and one Whippet Tank. Three volunteers who had taken part were arrested afterward. Pat Mullooly and Brian Nagle, both from the North Roscommon Brigade were arrested, as they tried to get away from the scene of the ambush, as was “Cushy” Hughes, who was picked up when he was drawing his soldier’s pension in Roscommon. Pat Mullooly and Nagle were badly beaten by their captors on the road to Roscommon. The next day, another Volunteer, Michael Mullooly (brother of Pat) was shot dead in his home by the RIC.
Image: Scramogue cemetery, source: revolvy.com