Ruan Barracks

Ruan Barracks 17th October 1920

As the East Clare Brigade was busy trying to break the British spy network in Feackle the Mid Clare Brigade of the I.R.A. had found a republican sympathiser inside the R.I.C. garrison at Ruan who was willing to defect. Sean Casey, the Adjutant of the Mid Clare Brigade’s 2nd Battalion, had been approached by R.I.C. Constable Bill Caroll from Roscommon who was stationed at Ruan R.I.C barracks. Caroll claimed that he wanted to defect to the I.R.A. and could get the I.R.A. inside the barracks. The I.R.A. had to be careful in their dealings with Caroll as the possibility remained that his approach was part of a planned British ambush to trap the I.R.A.
Sean O Keefe and a number of other I.R.A. officers were detailed to interview Caroll and assess if he was a genuine defector: “Early in October, 1920, I went to Ennis to meet Joe Barrett by appointment. Sean Casey, a national teacher in Ruan, then Adjutant of 2nd Battalion, was also present. Casey had come to report that he was in touch with one of the R.I.C. stationed in Ruan Constable Bill Caroll who appeared to be very much in sympathy with the I.R.A and willing to cooperate with us in the capture of the R.I.C. station to which he was attached. After a long discussion it was agreed that Casey should again sound Caroll and ascertain definitely from him if he would be agreeable to assist us in case we decided to try and capture the station. A week or so later a further meeting took place in the Clare Hotel, Ennis, and this time Constable Caroll, in plain clothes was present, as were Frank and Joe Barrett, Sean Casey and Myself. Caroll impressed us as being a sincere type of young man who was sorry for having found himself in the R.I.C. at that stage. He declared himself in sympathy and said he attempted to resign from the police force. He was then asked to describe the internal lay out of the Ruan R.I.C. station, how the garrison at night time and give details of the military equipment of the station. He also mentioned that he would be on night duty on the third week of October along with an elderly R.I.C. man named Wilmot, and that Wilmot would be leaving the station every morning about half past seven to get milk from a neighbouring house owned by people named Callanan. There was a general discussion at the meeting on the information supplied by Constable Caroll and it was decided there to attempt the capture of the barracks. …Constable Caroll was most anxious that none of the police would be shot during the course of the raid. He was assured on this point and special instructions were given to the men chosen to enter the barracks that shooting should only be resorted to only when it was absolutely unavoidable. No definite date was settled on at the meeting for the attack. Caroll was told that he would be notified of this date later on.”
Following the meeting with Constable Caroll, Frank Barrett carried out a night time examination of the Ruan R.I.C. barracks and the surrounding area with Sean Casey. Though they moved cautiously around the outside of the barracks their presence disturbed the Callanan’s dogs which barked incessantly. The dogs would certainly make a much louder din if a large force of I.R.A. Volunteers moved into their positions to attack the barracks and this might alert the R.I.C. Barrett decided to poison the Callan’s dogs a few nights before the attack, as an added precaution the I.R.A.’s raiding party would remove their boots and approach the rear of the barracks in their stockings. On the 15th of October Frank Barrett had completed his arrangements for the attack and sent word to Constable Caroll, through Sean Casey, that the attack would take place three nights later.
The R.I.C. barracks at Ruan had been a thorn in the Mid Clare Brigade’s side for some time. It was an important part of the British forces system of defences, situated six miles from Ennis, it controlled one of the main approaches to the town and was a great hindrance to the movement of the I.R.A. arms, ammunition and supplies through the area. The barracks also served as a clearing house, for gathering and processing intelligence information. Ruan barracks was a two storey solid stone building stationed by an R.I.C. sergeant and thirteen R.I.C. constables. The building was surrounded by a stone wall and an almost impenetrable barrier of barbed wire entanglements which reaching seven feet high in some places. Barbed wire screens also sloped down from the upper storey of the building and all the barrack windows were covered by bullet proof steel shutters and were sandbagged as an extra precaution.
Constable Caroll had told Frank Barrett at the meeting in the Clare Hotel that every morning when Constable Wilmot left the rear of the barracks to collect milk from Callanan’s home a hundred yards behind the barracks, he pushed aside part of the barbed wire entanglements which stretched from the outer barbed wire defences to the block of out offices containing a fuel shed and toilet. This section of barbed wire was left open until Constable Wilmot returned a few moments later. The I.R.A.’s plan was to capture Constable Wilmot when he left the barracks at half past seven and enter the barracks compound through the gap he had left open behind him. Once inside the barbed wire defences Constable Caroll would open the barracks door and thirty I.R.A. Volunteers armed with revolvers would enter the barracks and capture the sleeping R.I.C. men and destroy the building. The Sergeant slept downstairs while the remaining eleven R.I.C. constables slept upstairs in two rooms. The village of Ruan is about four miles from Corrofin which was garrisoned by a force of R.I.C. and Black and Tans. Ennis had a very large garrison of British military and R.I.C. these forces had motor transport and could be in Ruan within the hour if they were alerted. Members of the 1st and 5th Battalions of the Mid Clare Brigade were responsible for blocking the roads leading to Ruan. A large force would be needed to capture Ruan Barracks and Frank Barrett mobilised selected I.R.A. Volunteers from the 2nd , 3rd and 4th Battalions would form the main force which would carry out the raid on the barracks.
The I.R.A. Volunteers selected for the attack assembled at ten o clock on the night of the 17th of October four miles from the R.I.C. Barracks at a disused house near Barefield owned by the Costelloe family. The 5th and 6th Battalions had mobilised their Volunteers for the attack at O Brien’s house in Kilfenora on the previous night so many of their men had mobilised that Sean Mc Namara had to select a number of them to go to Ruan the next night and ordered the rest to mobilise on the 18th in Kilfenora and hold themselves in readiness to act as a reserve force in an emergency. At Costelloe’s over fifty men had mobilised, including Sean Moroney and Mick Tuohy from the Mid Clare Brigade who had been told about the planned operation by Laurence Allen. Barrett assembled all the I.R.A. Volunteers present and explained to them the exact details of the planned action. At four that morning they moved off towards Ruan led by an advance party of ten Volunteers and five scouts. The I.R.A. Volunteers from the 1st and 5th Battalions were already at work blocking the roads leading to Ruan. To prevent British forces rushing to Ruan or attempting to encircle the I.R.A. a widespread system of roadblocks was put in place. The outer line of defence was a far-flung ring of twenty stone barricades built across all the roads leading to Ruan, some of them as far as ten miles from the village. Inside these barricades the I.R.A. constructed a second series of roadblocks by building more stone barricades and felling trees across the roads leading directly to Ruan. Each of these road blocks was guarded by a section leader and I.R.A. Volunteers armed with shotguns.
Half a mile from the Barracks the I.R.A. stopped at a wood on the Dromore estate, took their boots off, and marched silently into Ruan in stocking feet. It was still dark at six o clock when the different I.R.A. sections took up their positions behind the outer wall of the barracks. Hidden from the view of the barracks windows, the I.R.A. waited for over an hour in a tense silence for Constable Wilmot to leave the barracks on his morning errand to fetch the milk. Just before half seven they heard the sounds of movement inside the barracks yard. In the still morning air Frank Barrett could clearly hear the noise of the back door of the barracks being shut and the barbed wire entanglement behind the barracks being pulled open. A moment later Constable Wilmot appeared carrying a bucket, he had gone about thirty yards towards Callanan’s house when he was held up by Peter O Loughlin and two other I.R.A. Volunteers Jim Quin and Frank Keane:
“We were there half an hour or so when the policeman emerged from the barracks for the milk. He was taken completely by surprise and surrendered without fuss.”
Within seconds of Constable Wilmot’s capture the first sections of the raiding party rushed down the concrete passage and through the gap in the barbed wire entanglements to the back door of the barracks. Constable Caroll had watched the capture of Constable Wilmot from the barracks and immediately opened the door and led the republicans inside. William Mc Namara led his section up the stairs with his revolver drawn and entered the first of two dormitory rooms which housed the eleven R.I.C. constables: “In less time than it takes to tell, we were in the upstairs rooms where the police were fast asleep. In the room in which I was one of the police Constable Longhead jumped out of bed on being awakened and appeared to be making an attempt to get his rifle from the rack over his bed when a shot rang out which mortally wounded him. Another policeman was slightly wounded in the leg. In the other room Sergeant Mc Carthy, who was in charge of the garrison, also made an effort to fight, but he was deprived of his revolver before being able to use it.”
Sean O Keefe’s section which entered the other upstairs room also met resistance from the R.I.C. but this was subdued without any further killing: “In the room where I entered with my section the occupants were all asleep and were roused by shouts of ‘hands up’. One constable named Ruddy did not comply and threw himself out of bed. He was fired at and wounded, but this bullet also wounded another constable named Farrelly. … We took possession of all the rifles and revolvers we found lying in racks on the bedroom walls.”
Constable John Longhead was carried downstairs into the barracks yard but died from his wound within minutes. He was a native of Sligo. The eleven other R.I.C. men were ordered to dress, taken down stairs at gunpoint and led to a nearby house where they were made as comfortable as possible given the circumstances. In their search of the barracks the I.R.A. captured fourteen Lee Enfield rifles, fourteen .45 Webbly and Scott revolvers, two shotguns, one automatic pistol, two Verey light flare pistols, twenty four Mill’s Bomb grenades, a thousand rounds of .303 ammunition, and seven hundred rounds of .45 ammunition. Fourteen police bicycles and a large amount of official R.I.C. documents and intelligence papers were also taken. and brought to the brigade’s arms dump in Crusheen.
When the barracks had been thoroughly searched the building was set on fire using a supply of petrol taken from Murty Kelly’s shop. As the first flames of the fire took hold, Ignatius O Neill arrived at Ruan by car with three other I.R.A. Volunteers from the 4th Battalion of the Mid Clare Brigade. They had intended to take part in the operation but had to take a wide detour on their journey from Lahinch to avoid British patrols and roads trenched by the I.R.A. One of these volunteers, Frank Molyneaux, a chemist from Ennistymon was taken to the three R.I.C. constables injured when the barracks was captured and he dressed their wounds. The remaining R.I.C. men were being held as prisoners in front of the barracks when O Neill arrived. William Mc Namara from Ennis was one of their guards “Most of the R.I.C did not appear to be unduly upset over the fate that had befallen them, but Sergeant Mc Carthy was very annoyed and refused to give an undertaking that there would be no reprisals.” On hearing this O Neill couldn’t resist the temptation to give them ‘a small dose of their own medicine.’ Frank Barrett watched as O Neill gave the R.I.C. men the order to ‘fall in’ for foot drill: “All complied with alacrity, with the exception of the senior sergeant who obstinately refused to be drilled by an I.R.A. officer. O Neill a former Irish Guardsman … was not the type who would readily tolerate disobedience to a military command that he might utter. The recalcitrant sergeant was possessed of some rudiment of wisdom however, for he did not persist in his attitude and sulkily ‘fell in’ with the others before it became necessary for O Neill to apply some persuasion. Up and down the narrow road marched the bewildered police, their nailed boots on the road re-echoing in the crisp October air. Half the village watched in astonishment as the peelers ‘jumped two in response to orders bawled out by o neill in a parade ground voice that would have been the envy of any sergeant major who could have heard it. … It was an occasion that will be long remembered in Ruan.”
When O Neill had finished drilling the R.I.C., Constable Wilmot and Constable Caroll were separated from the group who were told that the pair were being kept as hostages to prevent reprisals by the British forces. The R.I.C. were told that Wilmot and Caroll would be shot and the houses of local unionists burned if the R.I.C. engaged in reprisals for the burning of the barracks. The real reason for taking them hostage was to deceive the British as to Caroll’s part in the attack and provide cover for his defection to the I.R.A.
With the demolition of the barracks completed by the fire the R.I.C. Sergent and his men were again warned about the consequences of reprisals and then taken to houses in the village and given breakfast. They were warned not to leave these houses for an hour. The I.R.A. force was dismissed by Barrett and broke up into different sections which departed for safe houses in their own areas. As a group of I.R.A. volunteers from the 4th Battalion narrowly avoided entering an ambush that the British Army had laid at Shallee on the Ennistymon road.
Bill Caroll was to be posted as an I.R.A. Volunteer in the Ballyvaughan area of the Mid Clare Brigades 6th Battalion. Sean Mc Namara and the other members of the 6th Battallion withdrew from Ruan taking Caroll and Constable Wilmot with them as ‘hostages’ to Diffley’s house at Carron in north Clare: “At Carron we held a mock Courtmartial for Constable Wilmot’s benefit. The ‘court, decided to release him and to ‘detain’ Constable carol as a hostage. Constable Wilmot was told he was to convey word to his authorities that if there were any reprisals by the British troops as a result of the Ruan attack that Constable Caroll would be executed. We not had the problem of ensuring that Constable Wilmot would get back safely to some R.I.C. station so we decided that it would be best that he should be taken to Gort in county Galway. This task was left to myself to arrange. One of the most reliable men in the Battalion, Mick O Loughlin of Ballyvaughan, had a motor car and I got him to drive myself and constable Wilmot from Carron to Tirneevin Cross about three miles from Gort. Before parting from his guard at Carron, Constable Wilmot insisted on shaking hands with all his captors and was most profuse in his thanks for the good treatment he had received. On the way towards Gort I kept reminding him of the decision given at his courts martial, and told him a bit of a colourful story of how the I.R.A. had compiled a list of the most prominent unionists in county Clare who, as well as who, as well as ‘Constable’ Caroll, would all be shot if there were any reprisals by British troops for the capture of Ruan Barracks, and that the counter reprisals by us would also include the burning of the houses of these Unionists. Constable Wilmot promised to convey all I had said to him, and he seemed to have done so, too, with good effect because there were no reprisals.