Wicklow was regarded by the British as being a relatively quiet county during the War of Independence, and it escaped the martial law that was imposed on Wexford, Kilkenny and several Munster counties at that time.1 Nonetheless, life was far from normal in Arklow and environs as the conflict moved into 1921.
On Thursday morning, 6 January 1921, a lorry load of British military personnel descended on the premises of William Wolohan, a hairdresser in Bridge Street. The party searched the house for about ten minutes and were obviously looking for someone rather than merely making a nuisance of themselves. A rumour was circulating that a young man on the run was on the premises. On exiting the premises without a fugitive, the soldiers approached a group of men who were standing on the corner of Bridge Street and took away two individuals named Fitzgerald and O’Brien. They were detained briefly before being released without charge.2
The following week, more searches for ‘two wanted men’ were carried out. The unnamed fugitives appear to have had several narrow escapes, and the fact that they were still believed to be in the town suggests that they were locals. Several houses in Lower Main Street (Weadick, Doyle, Tutty and J. New) were raided, as was Daniel New’s shop in Main Street. On 15 January, the Wicklow People carried a report of another raid:
On Wednesday evening about 6 p.m. they [the military] raided the pub of J. O’Rafferty and ordered him to close the premises until further notice. When he asked why, he was simply told that it was ordered by the competent military authority. As far as is known, Mr. O’Rafferty is not active in politics, and the only apparent reason for the closure is the fact that three young men were arrested there some weeks ago.
Prisoner at Wicklow Gaol Jem Hunt-Tyrrell smuggled this note to his wife Kitty. It’s not known if it dates from the War of Independence or the Civil War. The original note is in the possession of the Hunt-Tyrrell family. The note reads: “thursday dear kitty going to dublin now. i signed form but we have to go to dublin to confirm. 7 of us signed. we did not get word to go until this minute. excuse this. will write the minute i get time, jim, i will do my best love to all”
One night towards the end of January, the stationmaster Mr Kenny answered a knock on the door. A masked man ordered him to hand over whatever money was in the safe. Kenny denied that there was any money there as he lodged the takings in the bank every evening. At this stage, two more masked men entered. The taller of the two new arrivals told Kenny that he knew that the money had not been lodged that evening. With a revolver now pointed at him, the stationmaster accepted that he had no alternative but to open the safe. The intruders took the entire contents of about £120 (about £5,900 at today’s value)  of which only £25 belonged to the railway company, the rest being the property of Kenny and R. Hiney the station goods clerk, which they had put in the safe for better security.
Two days after the incident at the station, the police were again raiding houses and arrested Patrick O’Reilly of Upper Condren’s Lane, where five rounds of ammunition were found. He explained that his sister had found them in the street and they didn’t know what to do with them. He was freed a month later only to be re-arrested the following week without charges being brought. He was taken to Wicklow Gaol where quite a few other Arklow men were being kept. William Cleary was one of these but he was moved to Dublin and charged.
A spy uncovered and assassinated
As a prisoner in Wicklow Gaol in January, Matt Kavanagh was visited by a Wicklow member of Cumann na mBan, who gave him a description of a British agent who had posed as an organiser from GHQ. As chance would have it, a few nights later, he actually saw this agent escorting two prisoners into Wicklow Gaol where he started beating them. A couple of months later, after he had been transferred to Kilmainham, Matt Kavanagh again saw the agent.
I remembered his face distinctly later, on seeing him during my courtmartial at Kilmainham courthouse. While I was awaiting trial in one of the cells under the courthouse, I saw him walking with a military officer on a bank overhead, outside in the yard. I asked a friendly disposed British soldier, named Roper, who was guarding me and my fellow prisoners, to find out who this man was. He went away to enquire and when he returned, he informed me that he was a Sergeant Dunny of the Royal Garrison Artillery, stationed at Tallaght, Co. Dublin, and living at Inchicore. He said he never wore a uniform and he understood that he had a telephone in the house. I had the information about this man conveyed to Michael Collins direct and, to the best of my knowledge, he was found shot some time later in a field at Inchicore.
More military raids
In February, the three men who had been found with the incriminating papers in O’Rafferty’s pub in December 1920 were court-martialled in Kilmainham. Andrew Kavanagh and Patrick Kelly were sentenced to two years’ imprisonment, commuted to one year, and Matt Kavanagh, probably because of his higher rank, was sentenced to five years’ penal servitude. This was later reduced to two years.
Military raids on homes continued throughout the month, most without success, but in one garden on Harbour Road, 47 sticks of gelignite were found and the owner of the house, John English, arrested. These were probably part of the haul stolen from Kynoch’s some months earlier. English’s garden and those adjacent were dug up, as were sections of Pound Road (now Rockview Terrace), which backed on to English’s premises, but nothing more was discovered. English appeared before a court martial at Kilmainham courthouse a few weeks later. He was a sailor and was able to prove that he had been away and could not have taken part in the raid. He denied all knowledge that his garden had been used as a place to hide the explosives. After fifteen minutes of consideration, the court found him not guilty.
The military also called to a house owned by the Kelly family on Tinahask around this time. One of the sons was suspected of being an IRA volunteer and his arrest had been ordered. When the soldiers arrived, they found the young man seriously ill. Afraid of causing a riot, the soldiers left. When Kelly died a few days later, his family and friends claimed that the raid had contributed to his death. Tinahask is in the heart of the Fishery area, a close-knit community. His funeral was a large one, even by Fishery standards, and it was as much a display of anger at the military intrusion into the sick man’s home as it was a demonstration of respect and support for the bereaved family. When the funeral procession reached the cemetery, a large police presence was already in place at strategic points. It is believed that they were there either to prevent a republican military display or were looking for someone they believed might attend. They did not interfere with the burial.
At the end of February, Joe O’Rafferty’s public house was raided once again. Shortly after nine on a Saturday night, the military arrived and demanded the keys from a Mr Moore, O’Rafferty’s employee, who was on duty. Moore handed over what keys he had and said that the rest were in the possession of O’Rafferty, who was in the domestic part of the premises. The soldiers went through to the back and searched the house. They later emerged with O’Rafferty in custody. He was first taken to the military camp at the Brick & Tile Works and later transferred to Wicklow Gaol and then to the Curragh. Permission was given to re-open his pub in April, but he was not released until June under an order of the Appeals Tribunal.
Fishery, Arklow. Photo: Courtesy of Jim Rees
Also in February, the army raided a premises on Lower Main Street where a man named O’Neill had his home and furniture shop. The soldiers took O’Neill’s son into custody. O’Neill junior was a British soldier who had decided that the king’s shilling was no longer adequate recompense for a dangerous life in khaki and had deserted. 
Mickey Greene of St Brigid’s Terrace in Abbey Street, an active Volunteer who would later become a very important figure in Arklow during the Civil War, was arrested in April. Someone had painted crossed flags (which flags they were was not specified in the Wicklow News-Letter report on the incident) on the parapet of the Navvy Bridge over the railway. Also painted on the stone wall was ‘an objectional inscription’ (sadly, also not specified). Military personnel on patrol a short time later met the eighteen-year-old Greene and a young companion named Somers. They were stopped and questioned at Mahon’s Lane and taken into custody. Somers was released the same evening, but Greene was detained in the military camp before being transferred to Wicklow Gaol. The flags and inscription were obliterated with smeared tar.
Starving Arklow of finance
Sixty-year-old Martin Stankard of Ferrybank was also arrested in April. His crime would appear to have been collecting rates for Arklow UDC, which was openly republican in its political complexion and resolutions. The British authorities responded by attempting to starve it of finance. Stankard had taken on the job of collecting rates just two days prior to his arrest. He was not in good health. He had survived the Kynoch explosion in 1917, but had sustained near-fatal injuries. It was generally believed that he would not survive imprisonment. Notwithstanding this, he was brought to the military camp and transferred to Wicklow with Mickey Greene.
Stankard’s job was taken by Paul Frith who was also lifted within a few days of his appointment, which put the council under further pressure.
The council are again faced with the problem of getting in money to keep the essential services going. The last six months has seen: William Butler, who held the position for years, resign owing to difficulty about commission and lodgements; Mr. D. Keogh held the position for a few days then resigned as he could get no lodgings in the town; Martin Stankard also resigned after two days owing to the reaction of the authorities and the fact that his health could not allow him to undergo prison treatment. When he was arrested last week, Mr. Hurley, though appointed, declined to act; Mr. Frith was elected. The result is that there is a balance of uncollected rates from last year of over £1,400, while the collection for the present half-year has hardly even commenced. 
Lethal ambush at Inch
May saw an escalation of republican activity, with another hold-up of the mail train at Woodenbridge. When the train pulled into the station at about midnight, two armed men entered the guard’s van and carried off a couple of mail bags. The bags were found the following day in Ballyarthur Wood with a message in blue pencil that the letters had been ‘censored’ by the IRA.
By far the most serious event in May was the ambush of a military patrol just south of Inch, when an auxiliary constable was shot dead and a sergeant badly wounded. They had left their barracks at Coolgreaney on bikes at 11 o’clock that Saturday morning to do their weekly shopping, the sergeant leading, Constable Dupris12 behind and two other constables a little further back. When they reached the gorge-like section of the road just past Inch, they were fired on from the high embankment on the right-hand side. Dupris, a 24-year-old from Margate in Kent, was fatally hit through the right lung, while his sergeant was hit in the left arm and right leg just above the knee. The embankment runs for about 150 yards and is about 60 feet high, with ample vegetation to conceal the estimated 30 ambushers who had rifles and shotguns. The two RIC men who had lagged behind turned back to Inch post office, from where they telephoned Gorey RIC barracks. Two cars and an armoured car were immediately dispatched. A Dr Nolan and nurse Kimber also rushed to the scene. While they were on the way, the attackers made their escape.
Although the attack was carried out by the Johnstown company, it was the people of Gorey who bore the brunt of the reaction. Dupris’s body was brought to Gorey, where the shopkeepers were ordered by the RIC to close their businesses while the body was brought through the town and the order was given that one person from each house was to attend the funeral. As a reprisal, all markets and fairs in the vicinity were cancelled until further notice and riding bicycles was also forbidden, day or night.
One of the attackers later told his story to the Bureau of Military History:
At day-break, the Column moved into the ambush position at the Cuttings, about three hundred yards on the Gorey side of the village of Inch. The Cuttings was situated on the main Dublin-Wexford road, about five miles north of Gorey and a corresponding distance south of Arklow. Because of trees and the twisting nature of the road, we could not be seen from Inch village. In Inch there was a telephone exchange. The Column lay in a high bank overlooking the road. Information had been received by the Column that a lorry load of R.I.C. and Tans would be coming to Gorey on this particular Saturday morning. However, this lorry did not come through Inch but, as we learned later, it by-passed Inch. By 11 a.m. the lorry had not arrived. As this was the first Saturday in May, there was a fair in Gorey and a cycle patrol of six R.I.C. men and Tans were sent from Coolgreaney to Gorey via Inch. Fears of being ambushed forced the enemy police patrols to travel in extended formation at this time and, for that reason, they were usually in groups of two stretched out at intervals of about a quarter of a mile. When this cycle patrol passed through the Cuttings, the order was given by the O.C. to fire. One policeman, named Duprey, was killed and another was wounded. The other four escaped. This position was most suitable for an attack on a lorry, but not for an ambush on a cycle patrol because the police were too far apart. Also, the road was too twisting with numerous corners very close together. Some of the men wanted to go down to the road and collect the guns off the dead and wounded men, but the O.C. was against it and for a very good reason, because our position was extremely dangerous. The O.C. pointed out that we could easily be surrounded because three roads enclosed us in a triangle whose longest side would be only about one mile. Accordingly, we pulled out and hid for the rest of the day in Ballinstreagh Woods. As a reprisal against the killing and shooting of the R.I.C. at Inch, Gorey fair was dispersed and the house of Mrs. Margaret Veney an ardent Republican supporter was burnt to the ground by the enemy. 
Hoyne’s Hotel raided
On 8 June, one-time hunger-striker in Mountjoy, Andrew Holt, was arrested. The military had called to his house but he wasn’t there. As they widened their search around the town, they met him on the bridge and took him into custody without giving him a reason. A few hours later, the military raided Hoyne’s Hotel and caused such disturbance as to attract a large crowd. They were searching for someone in particular and all the guests were interrogated, but no one was arrested.
Glenart Castle burned
On 9 July, a length of rail was lifted from the line and a telephone pole was cut down about a quarter of a mile from Woodenbridge. On 10 July, Glenart Castle was targeted. The only occupants at the time were the caretakers, Mr. & Mrs. Ralph Prestage. At the inquest in October, Prestage stated that he locked up as usual on Saturday night and discovered the blaze at 6.30 the following morning and raised the alarm.
… a fire in the central hall burnt itself out, but another fire under the grand staircase was unfortunately more successful and practically all the new portion of the castle was burnt out … The 5th Earl spent enormous sums on the castle, practically rebuilding it and it was one of the finest houses in Ireland … There had been the most beautiful and valuable furniture … 
Some of the furniture was ‘saved by superhuman efforts of police [and] military’. Fortunately, many of the paintings, some of which were ‘of national importance’, had been removed before the fire to the main Proby estate at Elton near Peterborough in England for safekeeping. In September, Colonel Proby claimed damages of £51,000 and the following month a judgement for £37,000 for damage to the house and £9,000 for the furniture was made at Wicklow Quarter Sessions.
Glenart Castle flying the union flag,1903.
Photo: By kind permission of the National Library of Ireland
Truce and Treaty
The day after Glenart Castle was set on fire, a truce between the IRA and the British came into effect. The truce was a hiatus in which hope for a negotiated settlement was real, but both the British and the IRA continued to plan for extended war in the event that agreement could not be reached. According to Frank O’Connor, Michael Collins ordered his men to strengthen their numbers and to train harder than ever before. He also organised ‘bigger and better gun running, and during August the first shipload of arms reached Arklow.’ 15
After the truce, IRA men could now walk around in uniform without fear of arrest. One encounter reported by the Wicklow People in September sums up that rather strange time:
An exchange of compliments took place at Woodenbridge a few evenings ago. Some of the Arklow police who were travelling in the vicinity met an officer of the IRA who was accompanied by a lady. The police saluted the officer which was very becomingly returned. He was in uniform. 
Despite this, some things were still forbidden. Robert Tyrrell of Mahon’s Lane was arrested by the RIC for putting up posters calling for the continued boycotting of a local trader who persisted in dealing in goods from Belfast. While he was in custody, the RIC tore down the posters. 
In November, to mark the fifty-fourth anniversary of the execution of the Manchester Martyrs,18 a procession ‘much larger and far more striking than anything that has been seen in the town was held in Arklow’.19 The newspaper report told of ‘hundreds’ of members of the IRA from Arklow and the outlying districts. A large number of men and women joined the procession making it increasingly bigger. In front was a memorial banner followed by the Ancient Order of Hibernians brass band, accompanied by torch bearers. The colourful turnout marched through Main Street to the ‘Dead March’ and to the ‘Soldier’s Song’ on the return journey. The event took place ‘without the slightest hitch and with the greatest order and decorum’.
December 1921 saw the signing of the Treaty in London, bringing an end to the War of Independence. Prisoners-of-war were now allowed to return home. Andrew Kavanagh was among those released from Mountjoy on 19 December.
1 Wicklow News-Letter, 8 Jan 1921
2 Wicklow People, 8 Jan 1921
3 Wicklow People, 15 Jan 1921
4 CPI inflation calculator.
5 Wicklow News-Letter, 29 Jan 1921
6 Wicklow News-Letter, 29 Jan 1921; 19 Mar 1921; 26 Mar 1921
7 Matt Kavanagh, BMH.WS1472, 9
8 Wicklow News-Letter, 26 Feb, 1921
9 Wicklow News-Letter, 30 Apr 1921, 4 June 1921
10 Wicklow News-Letter, 12 Feb 1921
11 Wicklow News-Letter, 30 Apr, 1921
12 Various sources use the alternatives Dupree and Duprey.
13 Thomas Dwyer, BMH.WS1198, 31-2
14 Wicklow People, 16 July, 1921
15 O’Connor, F., The Big Fellow, 155. O’Connor does not specify where he got this
16 Wicklow People, 3 Sept, 1921
17 Wicklow People, 24 Sept 1921
18 Three men executed in Manchester on 23 November 1867 for killing a police sergeant guard as they tried to rescue captured Fenians from a prison van.
19 Wicklow People, 26 Nov, 1921