#OTD in 1922 – Republicans under Michael Kilroy take Ballina, Co Mayo, in a surprise attack while the National Army troops there are at a Mass service for a comrade killed in the fighting.

In Mayo, Republicans organised themselves into Flying Columns of thirty-five men. The Columns were usually named after their Commanders such as Dr John Madden in the West, Frank Carty in the Ox Mountains or Tom Carney in East Mayo. Each Column contained an explosives specialist, machine gunners, signallers, first aiders and riflemen. The field of operations was considerably wide. This caused considerable confusion among National Army Garrisons in the main towns of Mayo. When they eventually reached the sites of ambushes, railways blown up or outposts attacked, the Republican Columns were long gone. The Republicans also undertook large-scale operations such as ‘The Storming of Ballina’ which occurred on Tuesday 12th September 1922. The Republicans attacked while the majority of the National Army Garrison was at a funeral Mass. Using a captured armoured car the Republicans fought their way through the town clearing key buildings as they went. A large mine was detonated at the town post office with the resulting shockwave throwing people through the air and shattering windows in the nearby streets. The Republicans celebrated their victory by relieving many of the shops of their goods. The Republicans then divided their forces in two. One Unit under Michael Kilroy headed west out towards Belmullet. The other Unit headed to a Republican HQ and supply dump at Lough Talt.

Brigadier-General Lawlor gathered all available National Army Forces in Co Mayo for a counter strike against the Republicans. Two separate National Army Columns set out from Ballina. The first, under Brigadier-General Lawlor pursued the Republicans heading for Lough Talt. The Republicans fought a strong rearguard action through the Ox Mountains as they withdrew from Lough Talt. The fighting, which continued throughout the day, saw Lawlor wounded twice and one of Mayo’s own heroes of the War of Independence, Commandant-General Joe Ring killed in action. Meanwhile, Brigadier-General Neary led a second National Army Column after General Kilroy’s retreating Column across north Mayo. Neary’s men ran straight into a classic IRA ambush at Glenamoy. Six National Army troops were killed and many captured along with forty-five to fifty rifles. The National Army troops were in such a dishevelled state Kilroy ordered them fed and released. It was a valuable insight into the morale of the army facing the Republicans. Uniforms including underwear, boots and food were in short supply. Many had not been paid for weeks. The Republican operations at Ballina, Lough Talt and Glenamoy boosted their morale but left the National Army Commanders bitter and out for revenge. This bitterness was soon reflected in combat. National Army troops began mixing ground glass with the gunpowder in their rifle rounds (bullets). In response the Republicans began using ‘dum-dum’ or exploding bullets.

Photo: St Muredach’s Cathedral on the River Moy, Ballina, Co Mayo

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