When The Troubles (Irish: Na Trioblóidí) began in Northern Ireland in the late Sixties, I asked my Grandma Bridget Price if any family had been members of the IRA -- the Irish Republican Army. She said yes, but was quick to add that they weren't the "Provisionals" who were terrorizing Ireland and England in those days. My dad was appalled at the violence going on and horrified that some Irish-Americans were sending money to Northern Ireland for arms. His message was clear: We were people of peace. Let the past sleep.
I didn't think much more about it. For me, the Irish struggle for Home Rule and the creation of the Irish Free State in 1921 became a topic for political junkies and history nuts.
I didn't think about it till I connected to the Coughlin family, my grandmother's cousins on the Martin side. John Coughlin (1899-1968) emigrated to St. Louis in 1928 and lived with my grandparents for 3 years. His granddaughter Lara was curious. She knew he'd been arrested. There was also some question about the nature of the "accident" that had killed John's father Peter in the quarry where he worked. Was it caused by his IRA activities?
So when we went to Ireland in 2012, I asked more questions. What I learned (with a little follow-up on the web):
During 1920-22, eastern Galway was apparently overrun with Black-and-Tans (temporary members of the Royal Irish Constabulary, mostly English WWI vets) and Auxiliaries, both ad hoc paramilitary units who became known for their violence and cruelty. They burned and sacked many small towns and villages, starting with Tuam in County Galway (July 1920),within 15 miles of where our family lived. [wikipedia]
Bridget's brother John Dunne (1891-1972) was indeed a member of the IRA. His younger brother Michael (1892-1984) was not a member, but a sympathizer. Michael suffered the worse consequences. When Michael worked the coal mines in Lancashire, England, he broke his hip. It had been properly cared for and he recovered. Back in Ireland, during the dark days of marauding paramilitaries, he was bicycling to Tuam from Ballaghduff. A B&T started riding alongside him and kept bumping him till he fell off and re-broke his hip. He walked with a limp for the rest of his days.
The Hanley's grocery shop in Ballygar was burned down for their suspected IRA activity. Thomas Hanley (1868-?) was married to Michael Dunne's sister Elizabeth "Lizzie" (1866-?) and they had six children.
The B&Ts invaded the Coughlin home on Ballygar Road [photo above]. They pulled out the two brothers, Michael and John, with the intention of killing them on the spot. Their sister Bridget pleaded for their lives and pursuaded the B&Ts to let them go.
Ambushes, tunnels, safe houses. Tony Martyn (another son of Rushestown, not our family) told me that there were three little roads leading into the townland of Rushestown. The residents re-engineered the entrances, putting in curves to act as blinds so they could ambush any invading B&Ts and protect their homes.
Ambushes were one way of fighting back. They were supported by tunnels and safe houses to help the fighters escape. Tony's family was involved in an ambush site between Ballygar and Mountbellew. Paddy Collins told me about the first time his father Peter Collins (1894-1979) picked up arms against the B&Ts at an ambush on the road between Mountbellew and Moylough. Unfortunately, the farmer-fighters were no match for the British and barely escaped with their lives.
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