British I.R.A. Volunteers 1921

An article by Padraig O Ruairc

Very often the history of Irish Republicanism is presented in over simplistic black and white terms of Catholic Vs Protestant – English Vs Irish. Any one who has undertaken even the most basic study of Irish history from the 1700’s onwards will know that this supposed sectarian mould of Irish history (set by the British Governments strategy of divide and conquer) was repeatedly broken. We all know, (or at least should all know) that the leadership of the 1798 rebellion was far more about Protestants like Wolfe Tone, Henry Joy McCracken and Lord Edward Fitzgerald than it was about Fr. Murphy of Boolavogue!

Likewise when looking at the Easter Rising – Irish War of Independence and later the Irish Civil War that people frequently broke out of the cultural and religious roles assigned to them. We have heard of ex British Soldiers like Erskine Childers and James Connolly leading the republicans or else Northern Presbyterian Ernest Blythe, Northern Quaker Bulmer Hobson, Northern Protestant Rodger Casement or Anglo Irish Protestant Constance Marcivictz taking up the republican cause.

But these examples British (and more specifically English) men who joined the republican struggle as ordinary I.R.A. Volunteers (not leaders) many of whom gave their lives for Irish Freedom will probably not be so well known to you.

Enjoy and remember this next time someone presents the struggle for independence as a simple black-white, right-wrong, English-Irish, Catholic-Protestant question.


Easter Week 1916, Dublin – Abraham Weeks

An English Jew from the East-end of London. Weeks was a militant socialist, trade unionist and member of the International Workers of The World better known by their nickname The Wobblies. Apparently he had come to Dublin to escape conscription to the British Army during WW1 and arrived at Liberty Hall, the H.Q. of The Irish Citizens Army on Monday the 24th of April asking to join the rebels stating That he had conscientious objection to fighting for capitalistic and imperialistic governments, but that he also had a conscientious objection to being left out of a fight for liberty. Weeks was nominally appointed as a member of the ICA and was attached to the G.P.O. garrison in O Connell / Sackville St. for the duration of the Easter Week rebellion. He was fatally wounded during the evacuation of the G.P.O. on Friday of Easter week and died the next day. (Not surprising really given that James Connolly to this day is the only Irish politician to have given an election address in Yiddish – See Manus O Riordan Connolly Socialism and the Jewish Worker, Saothar 13 Printed 1988)[For more see;- James Connolly, Liberty Hall & The 1916 Rising by Francis Devine and Manus O Riordan]

War of Independence and Civil War, Offaly – Charlie Chidlie

An Englishman who served in the British Army and was stationed in Crinkle Military Barracks, Birr Co. Offaly during the War of Independence where he was employed as military driver who chauffeured British Army Staff officers. Chidley deserted to join the I.R.A. and was able to give them valuable intelligence information. He remained with the I.R.A. through the remainder of the War of Independence, and took the republican side during the Civil War. He was captured by the Free State Army in Autumn of 1922 and interned.[For more read; Coolacrease by Paddy Heney]

War of Independence, Cork – Peter Monahan.

A British Army soldier from Scotland Monohan was stationed in Cobh with the Cameron Highlanders. Just before Christmas of 1920 Monohan troubled by the actions of the British Forces in Ireland deserted from his regiment taking with him Tommy Clarke who was apparently less interested in the rights and wrongs of the military situation in Ireland and was just fed up of Army life. They made their way through Ringaskiddy and headed west – apparently they got disoriented along the way and after wandering about cold and hungry for a few days they wound up in Kilmacsimon Quay a very small village between Bandon and Kinsale. Their presence had already been noticed by the local I.R.A. Volunteers when the two deserters called at the family home of Liam Deasy (who was an adjutant in the I.R.A.’s west Cork Brigade) asking his mother for food and cigarettes -which she gave them.
Monahan and Clarke were then arrested by the I.R.A. who suspected them of being British spies and were intent on executing them when Monahan revealed his republican sympathies and the fact that he had worked as a mining engineer in Scotland and had a good knowledge of commercial explosives. This probably saved their lives as the West Cork Brigades efforts at making landmines for use in ambushes and barrack attacks up to this point had all been successful. Monohan joined the I.R.A. and made mines that were used in attacks on R.I.C. Barracks at Kilbrittan, Drimoleague and Inishannon.

On one occasion when Monohan was leading a small group of I.R.A. volunteers down a country road they met a local farmer driving a pony and trap. He struck up a conversation with Monahan and un hearing his Scottish accent assumed that the armed men with him were R.I.C. Auxialiaries ( believe it or not it was a common enough mistake to make to confuse the Auxies and I.R.A. during the war as neither side was properly uniformed, civilian trench coats and british equipment were used by both sides.) The farmer asked Monahan ;Is it safe for me to be talking to you sir? When Monahan replied that it was the man told them the whereabouts of an I.R.A. dugout he had stumbled across and continued ;Im not like the rest of them round here at all. The Very Reverend Mr. Lord is my man and I give him the information. You fellows should come round at night and ill show you round. Having unwittingly blown his cover and exposed himself as a spy the man was taken prisoner and executed that night.

Monahan was killed by British fire during the Crossbary Ambush of March 1921

[For more read Protestant Nationalists in Revolutionary Ireland by Leon O Broin or Republican Cobh and the East Cork Volunteers Since 1913 by Kieran McCarthy

War of Independence and Civil War, Kerry – Reginald Hathaway Stennings

Alias Walter Stephens, a 23 year old Englishman, a native of London, with an address of 39 King Edward Street, Slough, Bucks, England. He came to Tralee some time during the War of Independence as a member of the East Lancashire regiment of the British Army. During this time he deserted the British joined the I.R.A. and became very friendly with local republican leaders Edward Greaney and Aero Lyons. He remained a member of the I.R.A. after the truce and when the Civil war broke out he joined the Free State Army. However he quickly disappeared from barracks absconded with a rifle and a hundred rounds of ammunition in order to rejoin and rearm the I.R.A.! He was captured during the surrender of Pierses Flying Column and signed a form undertaking not to take up arms against the Free State under the alias of Walter Stephens.

He was taken prisoner along with James Mc Enry and Edward Greaney on the 18th of April 1923 at Clashmelcon caves and received severe physical abuse from his Free State Captors after his surrender.

He was executed by the Free State Army at 8 o clock on Wednesday the 25th of April 1923. He is buried in the republican plot at Rahela Graveyard Ballyduff, Co. Kerry.

For more read Tragedies of Kerry by Dorothy Mc Ardle of The Civil War in Kerry by Tom Doyle

War of Independence and Civil War, Cork – Ian MacKenzie Kennedy

Ian Graeme Baun MacKenzie-Kennedy or Scottie as he was inevitably nicknamed. Scottish Protestant – a well known figure in Ballingeary and in Irish-speaking circles during the War of Independence. MacKenzie Kennedy was born in 1899 and is believed to have hailed from Inverness-shire in the Scottish Highlands. He came from a distinguished family that was steeped in the military tradition. His father was a major and his uncle had been a major general in the British army. His brother was killed in action in France, and his mother keen for her son to avoid the same fate, took him to live in Ireland about 1916. The youthful MacKenzie Kennedy was a tall strapping young man in kilts was proficient in Scots Gaelic, and subsequently studied Irish.

Scottie and his mother initially lived in Killarney with the Honourable Albina Broberick, whose brother was the earl of Middleton. Albina gaelicised her name to Gobnait ni Bruadair and was an unrepentant republican. Later Scottie arrived in Ballyvourney looking for a place to stay in order to learn Irish and further his interest in Celtic studies. Creedons of Ballyvourney advised him to go to the famous Toureen Dubh in Ballingeary where he stayed for the next three years. The house belonged to the Twomey family and had a reputation for being full of laughter and boundless hospitality.

Despite his background Scottie was warmly accepted by the people of Ballingeary as a true Gael among Gaels, and soon the tiny valley among the hills thrilled to the skirl of his pipes. He is still remembered for his sunny, happy nature. A friend Geraldine Neeson, Cork City musician and journalist, gives the following description of him:

“He was a most attractive person whom we all liked very much. An extrovert with a consuming curiosity about people and their motivations. He had a sharp, frequently-used wit and a clear, infectious laugh, and was excellent company.”

Scottie seemed to love Ireland from the first and before long joined the Ballingeary based D Company, 8th Battalion of Cork No.1 Brigade of the I.R.A. His comrades best remembered him for the amusement he caused on so many occasions. His notion for a stovepipe cannon wound tightly with steel wire, to demolish barracks-doors with, might or might not have succeeded. Nobody wished to test it. The experimental sail he affixed to his bicycle was quite effective but a good deal more fun. His comrade Padraig Greene recounted the gunpowder episode.
“Scottie made a quantity of gunpowder and was preparing to test it – an operation in which he asked for my assistance. He had prepared the ‘boxing’, i.e. the cast iron tapering cylinder which goes into the nave of the wheel by plugging one end of it. With a measured amount of powder he wanted to estimate how far it would throw a 26 ounce steel bowl.

“He had all preparations made to do the test, but luckily for me, I was given another job that took me away from the house. Scottie took the ‘cannon’, poured in the powder, placed the bowl on top of it and then tamped plenty of paper on top of the bowl. He made one great mistake – he forgot to put paper on top of the powder before he inserted the bowl.

“When he started the tamping, metal struck metal creating a spark, and the whole thing blew up in his hands. His hands were black from grains of powder and the lintel over the window was cracked and so was the sill. Everyone in the house was in a state of shock when I returned.

“The following day, the Bean A’ Tigh told Scottie to remove the gunpowder into the ashes around the fire causing an explosion which covered the kitchen with ashes and cinders causing further uproar. Few people, other than Scottie would have been allowed to remain on in the house after these episodes. “Scottie’s only complaint was that part of his moustache was burned on one side.”

John M. Regan – The District Inspector of the R.I.C. based in Bantry in 1918-1920 recalled meeting Scottie in his memoirs on an occasion when his car had broken down in the vicinity of a local I.R.A. leaders home. With them came a man in a Scotch Kilt whom I recognised at once as a Scotsman of a cultured type who had come to Ireland for one reason or other and ended up joining the I.R.A. He had been taken prisoner at Glandore and of course was also released. Just when were about to start he came to me and said, ‘Do you have a revolver of mine. I tried to appear composed as I agreed and for something to say remarked that I had no ammunition to fit it. Upon which he informed me that if I gave it back to him he would get stuff to fit it all right. We left, apparently, the best of friends.

There is one other story about how he went to Killarney quite openly during the early days of the War Independence but before it had reached its real intensity. The town was full of British military and one day two swaggering officers armed fully abused him in the street and made some sneering remark about his cowardice in not not joining up. Scottie reached out and grabbed one in either hand, banged their heads together, and threw them dazed up the street.

The writer Sean O’Faolain who was a comrade of Scottie’s, recollects him in his autobiography Vive Moi! from when he stayed in Dick Twomey’s of Tureen Dubh. “I slept there (in a hay barn) many a night beside a magnificent tall Scot, named Ian Bawn MacKenzie Kennedy, who had come over to Ireland to fight for the Irish Republic.”

Scottie was respected by his IRA comrades as was shown early in 1921 when he was entrusted with the arms fund totaling £85 and went to England at great personal risk to buy guns – he returned on March 24th with eleven new Webley 45 revolves hidden in a crate.

An underground foundry was constructed at Carrigbawn, to manufacture hand grenades and bombs. Local volunteers scoured the countryside for scrap metal, old pig troughs and plough shares. A year earlier Scottie had provided a “74/14/12” recipe for gunpowder to the officers. Scottie played the Flowers of the Forest on the bagpipes at Donall ‘ac Taidhg McSweeney’s funeral, at the old man’s dying request. He visited his mother at regular intervals in the Castle Hotel in Killarney, but she failed to persuade him to return to Scotland. Eventually Scottie converted to Catholicism, having been influenced by the religious atmosphere of West Cork. No doubt his father a major in the British army was not pleased about his sons conversion to both Irish Republicanism and Catholicism and requested that if the British Forces in Cork captured his son he asked to be allowed to command the firing squad that executed him!

Throughout the Truce period and after the signing of the treaty Scottie remained a member of the I.R.A. and opposed the Treaty and cycled from Twomey’s house in West Cork to Cork city to oppose the advancing Free State Army. It was not long before Scottie was to enter the fray. The following is based on an article that appeared Poblacht Na h-Eireann Scottish Edition) dated 21 October 1922. During the fighting in Rochestown, as the covering party of the IRA was evacuating to their second position near Douglas village, their lorry broke down at Belmont Cross. Three Volunteers jumped from the lorry and took up position in Belmont Cottage nearby to enable the rest of the party to get away under the protection of an armoured car. These were Scottie, Frank O’Donoghue and Moloney.
One party of Free State soldiers who charged the cottage was forced to retire leaving one of their number by the name of Flood, a Dublin man, dying on the road. Frank O’Donoghue rushed from the cottage to Flood’s aid, whispered an act of contrition into his ear, and the unfortunate Flood died grasping O’Donoghue’s hand. The republicans took one prisoner.

The cottage was later surrounded, and the three brave republican soldiers kept up an unequal fight against 64 Free State troops, killing 12, and wounding 15 according to the report. Only when the last bullet was fired did the battle cease. When further resistance was impossible, and having delayed the enemy until the republicans had taken up their position, the little party decided to surrender.

MacKenzie Kennedy opened the door and put up his hands in token surrender, but was shot dead as was Moloney. O’Donoghue was captured and taken prisoner.

Ian MacKenzie Kennedy was only 23 when he was killed on the 7th of August 1922. He was buried on the 12th of August in the republican plot in St. Finbarr’s Cemetery in Cork City alongside other soldiers of the Republic. There is a small plaque to his memory in Ballingeary and he is commemorated on the republican monument in Macroom.

Most of the research is my own except for information on Charlie Chidlie supplied by Philip Mac Comway and the piece on Scottie Mc Kenzie Kennedy which was taken from an article in the Irish Democrat newspaper by Stephen Coyle that I added to and edited after.

Does anyone else here know of any English or British men who served in the I.R.A. 1913-1923?

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  1. Conor March 9, 2011 at 5:30 pm

    I may have some info on men from England who were at the Four Courts during 1922 but as far as I know they were Irishmen who lived in England. I’m not at home at the moment but if you reply to this at my email address I will be back in Brisbane around sunday 13th Mar.

  2. Tommy Mooney April 9, 2011 at 10:25 pm

    Paraic, a really interesting posting, and very informative. Of course there were a few “Yanks” also who took part I believe, were there not ?

    Your refusal to accept the “conventional” descriptions and catagorisations of the Wars between Imperialism and Republicanism that took place in Ireland is refreshing. It is the first time I’ve seen those opinions publicised and I hope that they become better known.

  3. Ivan Lennon April 16, 2011 at 11:26 pm

    Sar fhear Padraig!

    We will have to get you over here to America to explain the nuances of Irish Republicanism to the AOH/Sons of St Patrick crowd.

    No doubt they would extend to you the same “cead mille failte” granted the Liberator himself when he immodestly noted Frederick Douglass as
    “the Daniel O’Connell of his people”.

    Slan leat

  4. John Murphy January 9, 2013 at 7:55 pm

    I am looking for a list of the IRA that were involved in 1921/22 and ideally which unit they were involved with.
    John Murphy

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