#OTD in 1919 – Official founding of ‘The Squad’, an IRA counter-intelligence and assassination squad.

The Squad was officially established at 46 Rutland Square on the 19 September 1919. Although at the time it had been in operation for two months and had already carried out two killings.

Members were paid £4.10s per week. Officially the unit was a part of the Dublin Brigade under Dick McKee from Finglas, but they were separate from the Battalion structure and directly under the command of Collins, McKee and Mulcahy. They developed a vast network of sympathisers who ranged from Dublin Castle detectives to women working in lodging houses, which enabled them to identify British agents. The first commander was Michael McDonnell, and later Paddy Daly O’Donnell was in command on Bloody Sunday, but soon afterwards his health collapsed and Collins sent him to USWA to recuperate.

The Squad or the Twelve Apostles was an IRA unit founded by Michael Collins to counter the British intelligence efforts during the Irish War of Independence, mainly by means of assassination.

On 10 April 1919, the First Dáil announced a policy of ostracism of RIC men. At the time Sinn Féin official policy was against acts of violence. Boycotting, persuasion and mild intimidation succeeded against many officers. However others escalated their activities against republicans and Collins asked Dick McKee to select a small group to form an assassination unit.

The founder members were Paddy Daly (leader), Patrick Buckley, Mick McDonnell, Ben Barrett, James Conroy, Sean Doyle, Joe Leonard, Pat McCrea, Jim Slattery, and Bill Stapleton. They were employed full time and received a weekly wage.

On 30 July 1919, the first assassination authorised by Michael Collins was carried out when Detective Sergeant “the Dog” Smith was shot near Drumcondra, Dublin. The Squad would continue targeting plainclothes police, members of the G Division of the Dublin Metropolitan Police, and—occasionally—problematic civil servants. Organisationally it operated as a subsection of Collins’ Intelligence Headquarters. Two of the executions by The Squad” were the killing on 21 January 1920 of RIC Inspector William Redmond of the DMP “G” Division and on 2 March 1920 a British double agent John Charles Byrnes.

Further members included Mick Love, Gearoid O’Sullivan, Patrick Caldwell, Charlie Dalton, Mick O’Reilly, Vincent Byrne, Sean Healy, James Ronan, Tom Keogh, Tom Cullen, Paddy Lawson, John Dunne and Johnny Wilson. Seán Lemass and Stephen Behan (the father of Brendan and Dominic Behan) have also been put forward as members of the Apostles. Understandably, there is no hard evidence to support many of these names; however, those that subsequently served in the IRA have their active service recorded in their service records held in the Military Archives Department in Cathal Brugha Barracks, Rathmines. Dr Andy Cooney is also reported to have been associated with “The Squad”.

One of the Apostles’ particular targets was the Cairo Gang, a deep cover British intelligence group, so-called since it had either been largely assembled from intelligence officers serving in Cairo or from the Dublin restaurant called the Cairo, frequented by the gang. The Cairo Gang was brought in during the middle of 1920 by Sir Henry Wilson explicitly to deal with Michael Collins and his organisation. Given carte blanche in its operations by Wilson, the strategy adopted by the Cairo Gang was to assassinate members of Sinn Féin unconnected with the military struggle, assuming that this would cause the IRA to respond and bring its leaders into the open.

The most well-known operation executed by the Apostles occurred on ‘Bloody Sunday’, 21 November 1920, when British MI5 officers, linked to the Cairo Gang significantly involved in spying, were shot at various locations in Dublin (14 were killed, six were wounded). In addition to the “Twelve Apostles”, a larger number of IRA personnel were involved in this operation. The only IRA man captured during the operation was Frank Teeling. In response to the killings, the Black and Tans retaliated by shooting up a Gaelic football match between Dublin and Tipperary at Croke Park, killing 14 civilians including one of the players, Michael Hogan, and wounding 68. The Hogan stand in Croke Park is named after him.

Bloody Sunday had a crippling effect on British intelligence in Ireland. One of Collins’ agents wrote:

“The effect was paralysing. It can be said that the enemy never recovered from the blow.”

Collins himself wrote:

“My own intention was the destruction of the undesirables who continued to make miserable the lives of ordinary decent citizens… If I had another motive, it was no more than a feeling such as I would have for a dangerous reptile… There is no crime in detecting and destroying in war-time, the spy and the informer. They have destroyed without trial. I have paid them back in their own coin.”

A week after Bloody Sunday, seventeen Auxiliaries were killed in an ambush by the IRA in Kilmichael, Co Cork. That same day, partly through Collins’ organising, the British-based IRA fire-bombed more than a dozen warehouses in the Liverpool docks area, causing millions of pounds worth of damage. The British government, whether it would admit it publicly or not, knew that the IRA were far from surrendering.

In May 1921, after the IRA’s Dublin Brigade took heavy casualties during the burning of the Custom House, the Squad and the Brigade’s “Active Service Unit” were amalgamated into the Dublin Guard, under Paddy Daly. Under the influence of Daly and Michael Collins, most of the Guard took the Free State side and joined the Irish Army in the Irish Civil War of 1922-23. During this conflict some of them were attached to the Criminal Investigation Department and were accused of multiple assassination of Anti-Treaty fighters.

Photo: Left to right: Michael McDonnell, Tim Keogh, Vinny Byrne, Paddy Daly and Jim Slattery

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