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Centenary commemorations of West Mayo Brigade

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MAKING PLANS Harry Hughes, Chairperson of the West Mayo Centenary Committee.

Westport was ransacked by Black and Tans this week a century ago


Áine Ryan

CENTENARY commemorations may be on hold due to the pandemic, but while those difficult times were more military than medical, it remains important to mark such an important period.
And as we await the lifting of restrictions, a new website, westmayo.ie, developed by Westport Historical Society with its West Mayo Centenary Committee, is ensuring our War of Independence narrative is kept alive.  
One hundred years ago this week, the first Carrowkennedy Ambush led to the sustained ransacking of Westport by the Black and Tans.
The first so-called ambush happened on March 22, 1921, when four RIC men from the Drummin Barracks were attacked.
Reporting that a Sergeant Coghlan was shot dead and Constables Love, Maguire, and Creedon were wounded, a contemporaneous Mayo News report states that the ambush caused much alarm and fear in the community. Due to an official policy of reprisals, people knew what was about to happen next, and by March 23, the Black and Tans had ransacked the town.
An excerpt from the Mayo News edition of  April 2, 1921, brings the events vividly to life:
“The hours of dawn on Saturday brought consternation to the hearts of the people of Westport. From 2am to 6.30am pandemonium reigned in the town, while the Crown forces were engaged in reprisals for the recent ambush at Carrowkennedy, eight miles away.
“Volley after volley of gunshots, revolver shots, and bomb explosions on the street alarmed the sleeping town, and this was kept up continuously for four hours.
“The private dwelling and drapery establishment of Mr Charles Hughes, Chairman of the Westport Urban Council, were broken and wrecked with bombs. Prior to the wrecking, the furniture and bedclothes of his private residence in High Street were removed and burned on the street. Both houses are wrecked from basement to roof.”
This report also details the names of other ransacked premises in the town: Mr Thaddeus Walsh, publican; Mr John McDonagh, house; Mr John McGreal, public house; and Mr Patrick Kitterick, premises. Furthermore, Mr Darby Hastings’ public house in Carrowkennedy was burned, as well as the houses of Mr Edward O’Malley, Mr Mark Moane, Mr Joe Ring, Mr Cox and Mr Thomas Hoban. The reprisals lasted all week in the area.
Unsurprisingly, these reprisals did not deter the West Mayo Brigade, and further ambushes were carried out in Islandeady, on May 6; the Railway Bridge, Westport, on May 8;  Kilmeena on May 19; Skirdagh on May 23, and – the most dramatic of all – the second Carrowkennedy Ambush on June 2.  

‘Salvage Sale’
SPEAKING to The Mayo News yesterday (Monday), Harry Hughes, the chairperson of the Centenary Committee, said: “My granduncle, Charles Hughes’s shop was bombed and he had to go on the run for 18 months. Nearly five weeks later, his wife Mrs Jennie Hughes advertised (The Mayo News, April 30, 1921) a ‘Salvage Sale’ of the goods she saved from the destroyed shop. It would be more than 12 months later when the shop would be reconstructed – it is now the Portwest shop at the top of Bridge Street.
“There were numerous attacks on individuals, families and businesses in the town over a period of 18 months, especially during 1921. The people of Westport showed great perseverance and resilience.”
Harry Hughes confirmed that plans are afoot to unveil a plaque on the MacBride monument on Bank Holiday Monday, June 7. A book about the history of the West Mayo Brigade is also to be released.
The Centenary Committee is interested in hearing from anyone who would like to contribute family histories, stories and photographs from this period.

MORE See http://westmayo.ie/ or contact@westmayo.ie.

Quote unquote
‘Volley after volley of gunshots, revolver shots, and bomb explosions on the street alarmed the sleeping town, and this was kept up continuously for four hours’
– The Mayo News, April 2, 1921