07 - Dromcollogher Ambush - May 14th, 1921

07 - Dromcollogher Ambush - May 14th, 1921

The Dromcollogher Ambush was an incident from the War of Independence that took place on the streets of Dromcollogher on May 14, 1921. On the night before the ambush, the volunteers entered the town and took up quarters in two houses owned by reliable people. The party comprised men from each of the nine companies of the 3rd Battalion, West Limerick Brigade. They were led by Con Foley O/C and Ben O’Sullivan, Vice O/C. On the day of the attack, a bull sale had taken place in Dromcollogher and three tenders of military and auxiliaries from Newcastle West in full war kit and armed with machine guns had occupied the town until 4pm. At 6pm the volunteers moved to take up positions around The Square. Con Foley was in charge of ten men on the northern side of the street and Ben O’Sullivan had ten men on the southern side. A patrol from the local RIC barracks (the former St Mary’s Secondary school on the Cork Road) is described by the Irish Military Archives as comprising of sixteen men, RIC, Tans, and Auxiliaries, armed, some with rifles, some with repeating shotguns, and some with revolvers. An engagement lasting about two hours took place. One of the leading file of the patrol was killed instantly. Two other constables were injured in the attack. Firing on the volunteer positions, the patrol withdrew to the barracks from where a machine gun was used to fire on the street. No further direct engagement took place and the ambush party retired from their positions at 8pm. The man who died was an RIC constable from Behy, near Boyle. Thomas Bridges is buried at Ardcarne, Co Roscommon, and was a week short of his 22nd birthday when he lost his life in the Dromcollogher Ambush, on Saturday, May 14, 1921.
Modern Day View

Modern day view of some of the principle locations and actions involved in the Dromcollogher Ambush on May 14, 1921.

By 1921, the 3rd Battalion, West Limerick Brigade of the I.R.A. comprised about three hundred and fifty men aligned with nine companies in Dromcollogher, Broadford, Feohanagh, Kilmeedy, Ballyagran, Clouncagh, Castlemahon, Feenagh, and Killeedy. In March 1921, a full-time Active Service Unit (ASU) was formed within the Battalion made up of about twenty five men. Dromcollogher was represented in the ASU by Ben Sullivan, Michael Sheehy, Bob Ahern, and Tim O’Shea. Con Foley was in the Officer in Charge (O.C.). The ASU was equipped with two rifles, some revolvers and the bulk of the men had shotguns. Several attempted ambushes had been devised none had been successful until Con Foley took the Column into Dromcollogher on the night of May 13, 1921 in readiness for a planned attack on a patrol of Tans and R.I.C. at 6pm on May 14, 1921.

The column mobilised in Belville and marched to Dromcollogher arriving at 1am on May 14.The column separated, Ben O’Sullivan and ten men occupying a house owned by Paddy Quaid. Con Foley and another ten men occupied the upper portion of the restaurant owned by Lil Connors in the Square. It was about 2am by the time the column had settled down for the night.

Danny O'Callaghan

Danny O'Callaghan pictured in 1989. As a boy Danny was a witness to events on the streets of Dromcollogher in May 1921.

On Saturday, May 14, 1921, the sun shone brightly and a beautiful morning broke over Dromcollogher. D.J. Broderick (Auctioneer) had a Bull Sale in Jack Kiely’s small field on the North Road. About 10 am that morning three tenders of military and auxiliaries in full war kit appeared in the town and placed machine guns controlling the exits from town, searched all those entering and leaving the town, searched some houses and backyards, and remained there till 4 p.m. when they left for their H.Q. at Newcastlewest. While in the town, three of the military personnel partook of a meal in Lil Connors’ restaurant, unaware of the ambush party in waiting upstairs. When the military had left the town, Con Foley and his group in Lil Connor’s took up their positions. Dan Liston from this section was dispatched down the street to take over the Post Office and prevent telephone communications with the outside world. Ben O’Sullivan led his men from Quaid’s house to occupy the public house run by Michael Ahern. At Egan’s Pub on the west side of the Square, it was the responsibility of Garrett O’Dwyer, an assistant at Murray’s Drapery, to ensure this house was open and clear to act as an escape route for the ambush party. It was also O’Dwyer’s role to engage in the passing of messages from the Intelligence Officer (I.O., Bob Ahern) to the O.C. (Con Foley) and vice O.C. (Ben O’Sullivan) and between ambush parties on each side of street, during the day. At the time of the ambush then, four houses in The Square had been occupied: Lil Connors’, Michael Ahern’s, the Post Office, and Egan’s.

Modern Day View

Modern day view of some more of the locations involved in the Dromcollogher Ambush on May 14, 1921.

It was the procedure for the local R.I.C. to get their milk daily supply from a vendor, Flor Fitzgerald, The Square. Each evening at about 6 p.m. a party of R.I.C. proceeded to the shop to collect the milk. This routine had been observed by the I.R.A. intelligence and an ambush planned on this basis. According to one observer, at about six o’clock a party of three R.I.C. constables Deegan, Roche and Bridges proceeded to collect the milk supply. They were surprised on reaching Fitzgeralds to notice that a number of shops were closed. On reaching the milk shop they knocked at the door. Ben O’Sullivan gave the order “Open Fire” and immediately from Michael Aherne’s, the I.R.A. opened fire. In the first volley Constable Bridges fell dead on the street and Constable Deegan was wounded. The surviving two policemen fled. Constable Roche took shelter in an out-house of Denis Collins while the wounded Constable Deegan ran towards the barrack. Two volunteers, one masked, emerged from M. Aherne’s and ran across the Square. Constable Deegan ran up the road in zig-zag fashion and twice the two armed men stopped and each fired two shots after him. These two men were Michael Sheehy and Michael Dwane who were armed with the two rifles that the ASU possessed. They made their way across the Square to Egan’s pub, firing in turns on their way in the direction of the R.I.C. retreat to barracks. Safely in Egan’s where Garry O’Dwyer had secured access, they took up firing positions at an upstairs window of this house, one of the few houses with a clear view all the way to the R.I.C. Barracks on the Buttevant Road.

Map Initial Engagement

Representation of the path taken by initial patrol, the positions held by the ambush parties, and the location of the fatal shooting of Constable Bridges.

During the lull in fighting, Con Foley, O.C. emerged from Lil Connors and recovered a Webley revolver from the stricken constable. After a short while another patrol approached from the Barrack including Sergeants O’Connor, Stephens and the wounded Constable Deegan. Sergeant Stephens returned to dead man and searched his holster. The sergeant was not interfered with as it was hoped by the ambush party there he would bring along the remainder of the patrol into line of fire again. He evidently got suspicious or saw some incautious move on the part of some member of the ambush party as he signalled to the patrol to retreat. Fire was opened again by ambush party, and the sergeant and two other members of the patrol were wounded. The enemy patrol retired to Barracks firing at ambush party positions all the time. A machine gun was then brought into action at Police Barracks and trained on the street. Firing from this lasted for about 15 or 20 minutes. Ambush party then decided to retreat as their equipment did not give them much hope of doing anything better. They retired at 8 p.m.

Map Second Engagement

Representation of the movement of the IRA riflemen from Aherne’s, across The Square to Egan’s and their firing towards the retreating RIC patrol members. Also shown, the second foray from the RIC Barracks to The Square and the retreat and fire-fight that ensued.

A couple of notable sidebar actions took place while the main fighting was taking place on the street. Firstly, during the height of the fire-fight between the volunteers in the Square and the police at barracks, Eily Walsh was seen to run through the cross-fire from her home in the Post Office to Church Street so as to secure spiritual succour for the dead policeman on the street. Also at the Post Office, there was another confrontation between the volunteer Dan Liston and some other R.I.C. personnel. This may have included a Constable Lyons who had been drinking two doors up in Horan’s Pub and who was seen making his way to the Post Office. In any case, a malfunction with Liston’s revolver allowed time for R.I.C. to escape down the back garden of the Post Office. Lyons made his way along by the stream and emerged on to the North Road by Kiely’s Boreen. He was seen running through the Square after which he ran down Church Street and into O’Sullivan’s Butchers where he hid for the duration of the ambush. Ironically, this was the family home of the Vice O.C. of the I.R.A. unit, the man in charge of the party in Michael Aherne’s who had given the order to fire the first shots in the Dromcollogher Ambush.

Map Walsh and Lyons

Apart from the main Ambush events, there were noteworthy involvements by individuals including Eily Walsh from the Post Office and a Constable Lyons.

The I.R.A. parties emerged from the occupied houses. Ben O’Sullivan’s section marched down the street in the direction of Newcastle West, the riflemen in Egan’s Pub covering their retreat. They were joined afterwards by Con Foley’s section and later that night, they all dispersed to their own company areas. The I.R.A. ambush party were without casualty, with the count on the R.I.C. side of one dead and two wounded. On that Saturday night residents of Dromcollogher experienced a great feeling of uneasiness and an air of tension and fear prevailed. It was the usual experience that wherever an ambush occurred, the Crown Forces, notably Black and Tans or Auxilaries arrived and wreaked havoc on person and property. Prior to the ambush all roads leading to the town were blocked by felled trees and thus their arrival would be somewhat delayed. When darkness fell Very Lights (distress flares/signals) were sent out from the local Barrack. Prominent supporters of Sinn Fein as well as many local residents evacuated their homes and spent the night in the homes of their country friends. At about 3 a.m. British re-enforcements arrived. They immediately knocked at every house in the town and ordered all able male inhabitants to proceed to the Square. Here they made a careful scrutiny and selected the most able bodied, placed them on army tenders and proceeded to where the road blocks were erected. They supplied them with the necessary implements and compelled them to cut the trees and clear the roads. They were then released and had to walk home distances of five to seven miles. They were particularly anxious to arrest Michael Murray, a draper, who while not a fighting man was very prominent in the movement. Luckily for him he had departed and spent that night at the house of Jack Fitzgibbon, Knockacraig. On the next day, Sunday, two tenders of Black and Tans arrived and three of them came into Egan’s public house. They laid their revolvers on the counter and demanded “whiskey”. The whiskey had been removed on the previous night and Paddy Egan offered them “Beer”. They had about three drinks each and then departed without payment of course. These looked a very “tough” bunch and were restrained from defacing house fronts by the local R.I.C. Sergeant O’Connor, who had been a participant in the previous night’s ambush.

Newspaper report

Contemporary newspaper report of the Dromcollogher Ambush.

About a week passed without incident and life returned to normal, and the townspeople thought that they had escaped any further retaliation. They got a rude awakening however, when about ten days afterwards a force of about 100 soldiers arrived under an aggressive officer, a Major Peck, who produced an order authorising him to carry out “official reprisals”. A young lieutenant instructed “master” O’Callaghan not to allow the school children out for lunch. They proceeded to Murray’s Drapery (Michael Murray was missing). They gave Mrs. Murray a half hour of notice to evacuate herself and her staff and take with them only a few personal belongings. They then put a mine in the house and exploded it from under Noonan’s Arch. The Square it was strewn with rubble, broken glass and drapery goods, but the military engineers certainly knew their job, since they completely demolished Murrays and did very little damage to the adjoining houses.


A 1912 view of the imposing Savage’s Drapery shop, which, when renamed as Murray’s, was one of the buildings blown up as a reprisal for the Dromcollogher Ambush.


The shop that replaced Murray's was the fine premises run by John Galvin. Now of course Meaney's Centra Supermarket trades on this site.

They next proceeded to the drapery store of Murrays at Kiely’s Boreen. Here they brought all the goods out on Kiely’s field (where Tom Kiely’s house now stands). They saturated them with petrol and set them on fire. They then blew up the store. They continued on their work of reprisal and destroyed the houses of Eoin O’Sulllivan, Coolygorman, Broadford, an I.R.A. officer and on the run and John Quaid, a Sinn Fein court judge. They were unable to locate the home of Mark O’Shea, Ballinlongig (his son, Tim, was local I.R.A. captain and on the run). They returned the following day however and having found the house, they burned it down. The overall punishment for the ambush was the destruction of six houses.


Following the Dromcollogher Ambush, Official Reprisals involved the destruction of six properties in the locality.

The man who died was an RIC constable from Co Roscommon. Thomas Bridges was born on 23-05-1899 to Thomas and Rebecca Bridges, Behy, Knockvicar, Boyle, Co Roscommon. He was the youngest of seven children. His three brothers were John, William and James, and his three sisters were Frances, Emily and Rebecca. RIC Constable number 69992 Thomas Bridges had had one year police service having been a farmer before joining the RIC. Thomas Bridges is buried at Ardcarne, Co Roscommon, and was a week short of his 22nd birthday when he lost his life at 6.15 on the evening of Saturday, May 14, 1921 in the Dromcollogher Ambush.


The headstone for the Bridges family in Ardcarne Graveyard, Co Roscommon. Included is Constable Thomas Bridges, killed in Dromcollogher, May 14, 1921.

Members of the ambush party with Con Foley, positioned at Lil Connors’:

Members of the ambush party with Ben O’Sullivan, positioned at Michael Aherne’s:

Acknowledgements: The foregoing is comprised of extracts from various witness statements and writings, interleaved with minimal change to the original texts. Those quoted include the following: