During the War of Independence (1919-1921), several incidents occured in Creggan Parish, the most talked-about being the attack on Newtownhamilton R.I.C. Barracks, on 9th, May 1920, the Cullyhanna shootings, on 6th, June 1920, the Freeduff ambushes, on 13th, January 1921 and the Creggan ambush, on 10th, April 1921.
The following is a contemporary newspaper chronology of these incidents and their sequels:
9th May 1920
R.I.C. Barracks Blown In and Fired
Newtownhamilton, Co. Armagh, was the scene of a Sinn Fein outrage in the early hours of Sunday morning last. Shortly after midnight, a party of armed and masked men, estimated at between 200 and 300, took possession of the town, held up all the roads, which were blocked with trees felled for the purpose, and cut off the telegraphic and telephonic communication. Pickets were placed on all the houses to prevent any alarm being given.
Attacks On Police Barracks
The object of the visit was an attack on the police barracks, a three-storey building in Newry Street, which was in charge of Sergeant Traynor and five men, Constables McWhirter, Foster, Small, Doyle and Gray. Mrs. Traynor, the sergeant's wife, and their two little girls were also in the barracks, where in consequence of an unsuccessful raid a short time ago, every precaution had been taken in the way of barbed-wire entanglements and iron-barred and sand-bagged windows. Fire was opened on the barracks from a vacant house on the opposite side of the street and, at the same time it was attacked from the lane way separating it from the Ulster Bank, the barbed-wire that had been erected around the barracks being cleared away. The police returned the fire, Mrs. Traynor, who in the meantime had secured her two children in a safe place, lying on the floor and supplying the police with ammunition.
When the raiders were foiled in their designs from this direction, they forced their way into the licensed premises of Mr. P. McManus, under the same roof as the barracks. The owner they seized, bound with ropes and conveyed him to an out-office outside the danger-zone, where he lay til released by three raiders before they took their departure. With copious supplies of liquor at their disposal, the raiders were inspired to renewed efforts. Holes were bored in the wall separating the public-house from the day-room of the barracks. In these, explosives were inserted and the wall blown in. After this breach had been made in the defences, the police were forced to retire to the rear of the building, where they continued gallantly to resist the attack. That their spirit had not diminished by reason of their four-hour fight against great odds, was proved when a man, evidently the leader of the attackers, called through a megaphone for the defenders to surrender and Sergeant Traynor called out a disdainful "Never", backed by a fusillade from his comrades.
Petrol Sprayed on Building
Then the Sinn Feiners brought potato-sprayers into operation. With these, they soaked the front of the premises with petrol and paraffin and set it alight. Soon, the building was a mass of flames but still the gallant policemen kept up the fight and it was only when the roof was about to collapse that they grudgingly effected a further retirement to the barrack yard and out-buildings. There they kept up the defence and stubbornly refused to yield and, after 4 o'clock, when dawn began to appear in the far sky, the raiders knew that they had been beaten by a band of brave men. They then vanished from the vicinity as speedily as they had come. During the attack, the inhabitants of the town, naturally enough, were in a great state of terror, which was by no means decreased by the action of the raiders firing volleys in the streets.
Daylight revealed to the eyes of the residents how truly terrible had been the ordeal of the police. There were traces of blood at intervals in the street, pointing to the fact that the raiders did not escape without at least one of their number providing a billet for a bullet from a police rifle. The barracks was a heap of debris, only a few walls remaining standing. All Sergeant Traynor's furniture and most of his property was gone, a piano and a few small articles being all that was saved. But though their little home was a ruin, the police still proudly retained possession of their rifles. Premises directly opposite the barracks were very Much damaged by the firing, while Mr. McManus' house and the side-wall of the Ulster Bank were also seriously damaged. Every drop of liquor had been removed from the public-house and what the raiders did not consume they left behind on the street when they made off.
Constable's Narrow Shave
Fortunately, none of the police were seriously hurt, though every member of the gallant little band suffered considerably from shock. Constable Foster had a very narrow escape, a bullet perforating his great-coat at the right shoulder As soon as intimation of the affair reached Bessbrook, which is the headquarters of the Newtownhamilton district, the District Inspector and a number of police journeyed to the place. Contingents also arrived during Sunday from Portadown, Armagh and Newry, as well as a detachment of military. So far, no arrests have been made. Mr. Joseph Dowdall, G.P.O. linesman, Newry, on learning of the occurrence, expeditiously proceeded to Newtownhamilton and, during the evening, repaired damaged telegraphic and telephonic wires.
(Newry Reporter, 11 th May 1920)
6th June 1920
Desperate Affair at Cullyhanna
Police Attacked after Aeridheacht
A sensation was caused in Dundalk on Sunday night when a motor drove through the town carrying two wounded policemen. It was ascertained later that the occupants of the car were Sergeant Holland and Constable Rossdale, both of Crossmaglen, who had been on duty during the day at Cullyhanna, where an Aeridheacht had been held, and who had been attacked by five bullet-wounds, two in the stomach, two in the left arm and one in the right wrist.
Some months ago, when midnight raids started on isolated country barracks, the police then on duty at Cullyhanna were removed. Shortly afterwards, the barracks were burned down. (5th April, 1920) A "Democrat" reporter, who visited the scene of the desperate affair on Monday, interviewed all available persons who could throw any light on the affain While much reticence was shown by the people who actually witnessed the encounter, a sufficient information was obtained to give a clear outline of the occurrence. Cullyhanna is a quiet village generally. The Aeridheacht there on Sunday took place in a field situated about 100 yards from the entrance of the village. The road leading from the field faces a small wall erected on the opposite side of the road which runs through the village. All through the day on Sunday, three policemen Sergeant Holland, Constable Rossdale and Constable Rafferty - were sitting on the wall in full view of the crowds going to and from the Aeridheacht. At 8 o'clock, when the Aeridheacht had concluded, five men came up from the field and walked up to the policemen. One of the number shouted, "Hands up". The police refused to obey this command and the attackers at once fired into them. Sergeant Holland was apparently the first wounded. He at once drew his revolver from his pocket and returned the fire. In the duel, the Sergeant fired all his charge seven shots - and then pluckily re-loaded, although by this time he had received at least four wounds. The constables had their revolvers in cases, held by a lanyard. When they were attempting to take their weapons out, their assailants fell upon them, knocking both on the ground. It is believed that Constable Rafferty, when he had been disarmed, managed to escape from the wall across a field and obtained refuge in a house, a short distance away. Constable Rossdale had also been thrown on the ground and, while down, he was shot through the forehead. The revolvers carried by both constables were taken from them but the sergeant continued to hold on to his revolver and, some hours later, when he was taken to Dundalk, he still had his weapon with him. The sergeant and Constable Rossdale moved backwards as the sergeant fired, until they reached safety in McCeeney's public-house.
As so often happens in desperate encounters of this kind, an innocent man fell a victim to the shooting. He is Peter Charles McCreesh, the son of Francis McCreesh, a small farmer of Aughanduff, a townland situated about 5 miles from Cullyhanna and a short distance from Silverbridge. McCreesh is described as a quiet young man, aged about 29 years and unmarried. He had been attending the Aeridheacht with his brother and had been sitting on a ditch opposite the wall on which the policemen were. When the shooting commenced, the young man apparently moved to get away and, as he did so, he was shot in the back. The bullet pierced the lung and he died in a very short time. He was, however, attended by Rev. Fr. Gogarty, C.C., who providentially was in the neighbourhood and who hastened to the scene immediately he heard the shots. The Parish Priest, Fr Kerley, was on the scene within a few minutes.
Another civilian, a young man named Donnelly, was shot through the right leg. It is not believed that the wound is serious. Donnelly was seen moving towards the northern end of the village after the shooting had been in progress some time. He was taken to a wagonette and kept there for some minutes. Afterwards, he was placed in a motor-car by some friends and driven from the scene of the occurrence. Fr. Gogarty met the man limping and asked him ' if he was badly injured and he replied, "Not much". Considering that many hundreds of people, including many women, children and aged people, were coming from the field and that the entrance to that field is immediately opposite the spot at which the firing commenced, it is marvellous that more people were not killed, or at least injured. Fortunately, the line of fire changed as the police turned for McGeeney's, otherwise their shots were bound to proceed in the direction along w hich the people came. Hundreds of people were running in all directions when the shooting was in progress. In a wooden shed opposite McGeeney's house, a bullet went through a table and lodged in the side of the shed. Traces of blood were visible on the wall where the policemen stood. Once inside McGeeney's, the police were dressed and washed. An assistant in McGeeney's, a man named McDonald, told our representative that when the sergeant was admitted he looked very dazed and ill. The constable did not look too bad - he was able to walk and talk - but blood flowed copiously from the wound in his head. When the sergeant had been dressed, his first question was, "What will my poor wife and children do?"
When seen by our reporter on Monday, Fr. Gogarty pointed out the scene of the dreadful occurrence. He had been at the Aeridheacht and had left before the proceedings concluded. When he had been going to the field, the three policemen were sitting on the wall and Fr. Gogarty believes that they remained there all the time from 2 o'clock until 8, when the shooting commenced. Fr. Gogarty had got to the far end of the village when he heard a noise which he at first believed was caused by squibs going off. Then he saw people running in all directions and, thinking that the police had got out of hand, he returned quickly down. Although the sergeant believes that only ten shots were fired, Fr. Gogarty says he heard about sixteen. The moment the firing had ceased, he saw a young man whom he did not know limping along from the scene of the occurrence. Fr. Gogarty asked him if he was wounded and he replied that he was not bad and he added that he did not require the services of a priest. Further up the village, he saw young McCreesh lying on the roadway. He was very weak and moaned. He signalled that he knew Fr. Gogarty, who then administered the Last Sacraments of the Church. There were a number of people around the lad, who was not able to speak. The shirt was cut open and it was found that he had been short through the right lung. In a few minutes, the man died. "Then", said Fr. Gogarty, "I went to McGeeney's, where the two policemen had taken shelter. I found the sergeant sitting in an armchair in the kitchen and his left hand was covered with clotted blood. He told me that his left arm had been broken and that he had been shot in the stomach. Apparently, the sergeant had been using his left arm to protect himself, while he used his revolver with his right. I then asked him how it occurred and he said that three men came along and shouted, 'Hands up'. The police refused to do so and they fired three shots immediately. 'Then', said the sergeant, 'I fired seven shots from my revolver at them'. Constable Rossdale's head was covered in blood but I did not think then that he was badly wounded and he made no statement. He had been knocked down at first and his revolver taken from him. I attended the sergeant, who was subsequently taken to the Louth Hospital by a motorist. Constable Rafferty remained in shelter for a considerable time. Later in the night, a detachment of police came from Newtownharnilton direction and with these Constable Rafferty left". It is believed that this constable had only a few bruises. His whereabouts was unknown to the authorities up to midnight on Sunday.
Fr. Gogarty described the holding up of the policemen in the midst of a throng of people as the most cowardly thing that he had ever heard of. "They stood on the roadway all the day", he said and, while 1 don't mean that there was any justification for holding them up when they were alone, the holding up of the police when there were hundreds of people about done in order that these fellows might escape in the crowd - was the most cowardly act. Everybody knows perfectly well that no policeman would suffer his revolver to be taken from him without a fight and to start shooting when there were hundreds of children, women and old people about was a shocking thing to do. If the firing had been straight in the line along which the people were coming from the field, there would have been many more killed. If these people had any courage at all, they would have attacked the police when they were alone and not when there were dozens of people about and in order that they themselves might escape. Mind, 1 do not mean that there would have been any justification for the attack at any time but that many more people were not killed when the firing commenced is certainly surprising".
Late on Sunday night, the injured policemen were conveyed in a motorcar to Dundalk, where they were attended by Dr. Gill. In the sergeant's clothes was found a bullet from an automatic pistol and of the second charge in his revolver there were six bullets undischarged. Both the injured men were removed to the Louth Infirmary, where Dr. O'Hagan, J.P. took charge. At 3 o'clock on Monday morning, Dr. O'Hagan, assisted by Dr. Conway-Dwyer of Dublin and Dr. Gill, performed an operation on both the men, when the bullets were extracted, including one from the brain of the constable. The doctors remained with the patients all through the night. The men were very weak and their condition was described by the doctors on Monday as very very serious. Sergeant Holland is a married man. His wife and four children resided with him for some time past, while he has been in charge of the Crossmaglen
district. He is a native of Dunmanway, Co. Cork, and has seen service i Camlough and Whitecross. When taken to hospital on Sunday night, h was attended by Rev. Fr. Noonan, O.P. Sergeant Holland was a mos courteous and efficient officer and there were many callers at the hospita inquiring after him. Fr. Montague, C.C. Mullaghbane, was amongst the callers on Monday. Constable Rossdale is a native of Clontibret and is an only son. His father was a policeman. The constable is only 33 years of age and has been in the force for about 4 years. Although a force o military and police scoured the district on Sunday night, no arrests have yet been made.
(Extract, Dundalk Democrat, 12th June, 1920)
8th June 1920
Inquest Opened and Adjourned
An inquest on the body of Peter Charles McCreesh of Aughanduff, the onlooker who was shot dead during the disturbance, was opened on Tuesday afternoon by Mr. John F. Small, Coroner for South Armagh. At Mullaghbane Sinn Fein Hall, the tricolour with a black cross was flown in connection with deceased's death. The inquest was held in an outhouse of the deceased's father and all approaches to the residence were guarded by armed soldiers posted at various vantage-points, while a large number of police, armed and otherwise, were on duty in connection with the inquest. District-Inspector Davis, Bessbrook, represented the Crown and Mr. J. H. Collins (Messrs. Collins & Collins, solicitors, Newry) appeared for the next-of-kin ... Francis McCreesh, father of the deceased, identified the body as that of his son, who was 28 years of age, unmarried and lived with him. Deceased was the only son he had at home fit to work the -farm. He saw deceased on Sunday at Cullyhanna about half-an-hour before he was injured. Later on, he saw him dead ..."The body was brought home by me and his brother that evening in a trap that Mrs. McGeeney gave us" ... The Coroner asked District-Inspector Davis if he proposed to examine either of the policemen who had been wounded ... District-Inspector Davis said that he intended to examine Constable Rafferty ... He expected it would be three weeks, however, before he could have the constable there for examination ... The coroner then said he would take medical evidence and adjourn the inquest to a later date ... The inquest..was adjourned until Wednesday, the 30th June. After the inquest, the remains were removed to Mullaghbane for interment in the burying-ground there ... The coffin was covered with the tricolour and behind marched three companies of Sinn Fein Volunteers ... The cortege extended for well over half-a-mile.
(Extracts, Newry Reporter, 1Oth June 1920)
9th June 1920
Forgiveness of Assassin
"I forgive the man who shot me and I want you to do the same". This, it is reported, was the dying statement of Sergeant T. Holland, one of the victims of the Cullyhanna shooting, to his wife, a short time before he expired, at the Louth County Infirmary, Dundalk, on,Wednesday evening.
(Newry Reporter, 12th May 1920)
Death of Sergeant Holland
Last evening, at 7.15 o'clock, the death took place, in the Louth Infirmary, Dundalk, of Sergeant Holland, of Crossmaglen, who was attacked and seriously wounded by armed Sinn Feiners at Cullyhanna on Sunday evening last ... No change has taken place in the condition of Constable Rossdale, who was shot on the same occasion...
racts, Newry Reporter, 1Oth June 1920)
10 June 1920
Inquest on Sergeant Holland
On Thursday afternoon, Mr. J.H. Murphy, Coroner for North Louth, opened an inquest on the body of Sergeant Holland, who died on the previous evening in the Louth Infirmary ... Deceased's wife, who is a native of Belfast, remained in the hospital with the body, while his two brothers, one of whom is in the R.I.C., attended the inquisition ... The Coroner announced that the doctors did not consider a postmortem necessary, owing to the operation performed, and they would give their evidence that day. The inquest would then be adjourned for further evidence. Patrick Holland, brother of the deceased, a Post Office Clerk, ... identified the remains. The deceased, he said was about 42 years of age and married. He left a widow and five children ... The inquest was adjourned to 6th July, in Dundalk Courthouse.
(Extracts, Newry Reporter, 12th June 1920)
Impressive Funeral of Sergeant Holland
On Thursday night, the remains of Sergeant Holland were removed from the Louth Infirmary to the Dominican Church, Dundalk, where the Rosary was recited and the Dead March played. The remains were carried by the deceased's comrades and rested before the altar throughout the night ... On Friday morning, a most impressive ' funeral was accorded the remains, which were being moved from the church of interment in Belfast. Full military honours were accorded the deceased. The coffin was draped in the Union Jack and Sergeant Holland's cap, belt and bayonet rested on a gun-carriage, drawn by six magnificent black chargers and driven by sergeants of the Royal Field Artillery. A firing party of 12 men of the R.F.A., with arms reversed, headed the cortege. The chief mourners were: Mrs. Holland (widow); Messrs. Patrick Holland, G.P.O., Dublin; Daniel Ho.lland, D.M.P., Kingstown; and John Holland, R.I.C., Valentia (brothers)... Several of the Dundalk policemen accompanied the remains to Belfast.
Inquiries at the County Infirmary yesterday elicited the information that Constable Rossdale, while not yet out of danger, was slightly improved.
(Extracts, Dundalk Democrat, ]2th June 1920)
30th June 1920
The Cullyhanna Tragedy
Adjourned Inquest on McCreesh
The adjourned inquest on the body of Peter Charles McCreesh was held on Wednesday in Aughanduff National School by Mr. J.F. Small, J.P., Coroner for South Armagh. There was a big display of military and armed police in the vicinity of the school. Soldiers arrived in motorlorries and, fully armed and wearing war-helmets, stood on duty in the surrounding fields and at the bye-roads leading to the place of the inquest ... Mr. Babington, K.C., represented the police and Mr. P.J. Collins appeared for the next-of-kin ... The Coroner explained that on the last occasion he hadmerely taken evidence of identification and the evidence from the doctors. At that time, it was stated by D.I. Davis that the policemen were not able to attend and he asked for an adjourrunent for three weeks to see if they would be able to attend. Since that time, one of them had died - Sergeant Holland. Mr. Babington, K.C., stated that neither of the police would be able to attend but he would give all the evidence he possibly could as to how the occurrence occurred... HeadConstable Gallagher, Dundalk, was called by Mr. Babington and stated that he knew Sergeant Timothy Holland from the time on which he had been admitted to the Louth Hospital. On the evening of 9th June, he went to the hospital to see the sergeant, having had communication from the hospital to say that the sergeant was dying. In the ward in which the sergeant lay, he shook hands with him, asked him how he was and Sergeant Holland shook his head and said, "I'm nearly done". He received the Last Rites of the Church at the time ... Witnesses told him that he was directed to take a statement from him and the sergeant gave the following statement: "I was on duty with two constables, Rossdale and Rafferty, at Cullyhanna, on Sunday 6th June 1920. About 8.15p.m., when the people had left the Aeridheacht and came on the Cullyhanna village, I and the two constables were standing midway between the public-house and school-house, Cullyhanna. 1 observed a group of men, seven or eight in number, standing to our right front in the middle of the road. I noticed them watching us. My attention was directed elsewhere for a few seconds, when they shouted 'Hands up'. They were then directly opposite me. Before I realised what was happening, I was shot twice in the left arm. One of the men again shouted, 'Hands up' and fired into my stomach. I drew my automatic pistol with the right hand and fired seven shots at him. He fell. The man who fell was the man who fired at me. I then ran to McGeeney's public-house and got Constable Rossdale to re-load the pistol. I was afterwards removed on a motor-car to Dundalk". The witness added: "That's the dying man's statement and he signed it. He was very low and it was with great difficulty I was able to take the statement from him"...Mr. Collins: "Do you suggest that the man who was hit and who is referred to in the statement is the man who is dead?". "I can't go beyond the statement. Mr. Babington: "That is all the evidence I can produce now". Coroner: "Do you ask for any further adjournment for the attendance of Constable Rossdale and Constable Rafferty?" Mr. Babington: "No, the men are not able to attend" ... In his address to the jury, the Coroner stated that their business was to find out how Peter Charles MeCreesh met his death. The only evidence they had was the evidence of identification given by the father and the statement of the sergeant as to what took place that day. Sergeant Holland's statement was clear that he fired at a man and hit him because the man fell. Peter Charles McCreesh was found injured subsequently but they had no evidence at all to show that he was the same person because, so far as he could read from the statement of the sergeant, the man at whom he fired was hit in front and the evidence of Drs. Cronin and McKenna, who had been examined at the opening day of the inquest, was that deceased was shot from behind. The entrance wound was at the back and there was no exit wound at all ... He believed that the jury was bound to say that the deceased died from shock and haemorrhage following a bullet-wound but by whom fired they did not know. The jury considered for 20 minutes and, on the Coroner entering the room, the foreman stated that they were unable to come to any verdict ... Eventually, the inquest was adjourned until 7th August, at Mullaghbane School.
(Extracts, Dundalk Democrat, 3rd July 1920)
6th July 1920
The Late Sergeant Holland
Inquest Again Adjourned
The adjourned inquest concerning the death of Sergeant Timothy Holland was opened in the Courthouse, Dundalk, on Tuesday morning ... Mr. W. Johnston ... stated that the only evidence he had to offer was the dying statement of Sergeant Holland and it was a question for the jury whether they would hear that evidence and then adjourn again for the attendance of the police constables who were still unable to attend. The jury ... decided that it would be useless taking any evidence that day and the inquest was adjourned until 19th August...
(Extracts, Dundalk Democrat, 10th July 1920)
17th August 1920
Inquest on Civilian Victim Concluded
On Tuesday afternoon, in Meighfoner National School-house, Mullaghbane, Mr. John Francis Small, Coroner for South Armagh, resumed the inquest into the circumstances connected with the death of Peter Charles McCreesh, Aughanduf, who was shot dead following an Aeridheacht in Cullyhanna on ... 6th June ...
The jury returned a verdict of death from shock following haemorrhage caused by a bullet fired from the revolver of Sergeant Holland. They tendered sympathy to the relatives and added: "We condemn the sending of police to such gatherings as Cullyhanna Aeridheacht, believing their presence there in the present state of affairs causes trouble"...
(Extracts, Newry reporter, ]9th August, 1920)
19th August 1920
Inquest on Sergeant Holland
On Thursday morning, Mr. J.H. Murphy, Coroner for North Louth, resumed the inquest concerning the death of Sergeant Holland ... as the result of bullet-wounds received at Cullyhanna on 6th June ... The Coroner: "I suggest to you the following verdict. That Sergeant T. Holland died on the 9th June 1920 from septic peritonitis caused by bullet-wounds in the abdomen received on the 6th June, as a result of shots fired by some person or persons unknown ... The verdict as outlined by the Coroner was agreed to ... The proceedings concluded.
(Extracts, Newry Reporter, 21st August, 1920)
13th January 1921
Postman Receives 9 Bullets
The district between Crossmaglen and Cullyhanna, in South Armagh, was the scene on Thursday of two dreadful occurrences - deadly attacks upon a police-escort accompanying a postman and, later on, on a police-force engaged in looking for the body of the injured postman. The men involved are: Constable William Compston (killed); Patrick Kirke (seriously wounded and since dead); Constable Philip Boylan (wounded). Thursday morning, five policemen were detailed to escort Pat Kirke, a Crossmaglen postman, from Crossmaglen to Cullyhanna. A good deal of old-age pension money was being carried to the latter post-office. The escort was cycling with the postman, he being about 15 yards in front. When about quarter-of-a-mile on the Crossmaglen side of Cullyhanna just past Ballyfanaghan Bridge - there is a sharp turn in the road. Beside this turn is an untenanted house. As the postman came near the house, he saw a man run across the road to the house. He became suspicious and shouted to the police behind to "Look out". Hardly had he the words out of his mouth, when a deadly volley of bullets came - some from the house and others from the ditches which line it. The police at once jumped off their bicycles and got their rifles at the ready, preparing at the same time to take cover from the bullets, which still came like hail from the vacant house. Poor Kirke was heard to moan and seen falling. He crawled some distance off the road. The police returned the fire from the attackers and, for the considerable time, a hot battle took place between the attackers in hiding and the little force which had taken up position on the roadway. Then the fire from the house ceased and the police, after vainly searching for the postman, took their injured comrade, Constable Boylan, on the way back to Crossmaglen Barracks. After walking for half-a-mile, they obtained a seat on a passing motor and journeyed to Crossmaglen. It is estimated that about 50 men were engaged in the attack on the postman and the patrol. When the police reached Crossmaglen Barracks, it was found that constable Boylan, a young unmarried man, had been shot in the chest and left arm. Local medical assistance not being available, Dr. O'Hagan of the Infirmary was sent for and he immediately proceeded to Crossmaglen. There, he attended the injured man. Meantime, a Crossley tender, which had come with police from Dundalk, left Crossmaglen with a mixed party to look for poor Kirke. As they approached the vacant house where the earlier ambush had occurred, a shot rang out and caught Constable William Compston in the groin. The unfortunate man bled profusely and, when being removed to hospital in Dundalk, he expired at Castletown Cross. Evidently, the shot which killed Compston was fired from behind a ditch, as the police rushed into the house and found no one there. The injured postman was found near the house and removed to Crossmaglen, where he was treated. He had sustained such injuries that his life was despaired of. At least 9 bullets were shot through his back and pierced one of his lungs. His liver was also injured by bullets. Thursday evening, after he had been removed to the Louth Infirmary, Kirke suffered intense pain. Constable Boylan, though seriously injured, is not expected to succumb. He bore his sufferings manfully and his thoughts were for the unfortunate postman, who was lying beside him on the road. The body of constable Compston was laid in the mortuary of the Louth Infirmary. He was a fair-haired young man of about 25 or 26 years of age. For several hours after his removal to hospital, poor Kirke suffered terrible pain and, despite the attention of Dr. O'Hagan and his staff, the man expired shortly before 9 o'clock. He was a young man of 22 years, of fine athletic build and stood almost 6 feet in height. He joined the Post Office as a telegraph messenger and, in 1916, joined the Royal Irish Fusiliers. He served in France and was mentioned in dispatches. On being demobilised, he returned to the Post Office Service and continued as a postman in Crossmaglen ... Kirke was uiunarried. He had received the Last Rites of the Church from Rev. Fr. Tohall, C.C., shortly after his admission to the infirmary.
A Graphic Account
A graphic account of the search for the postman and the shooting of Constable Compston was given to a "Democrat" reporter by the policeman who had charge of the party from Dundalk, which proceeded to Crossmaglen in response to a message. At Crossmaglen, volunteers responded to the call to look for Kirke's body, a mixed force with a local civilian journeying in the Crossley. "When we came within 200 yards of the vacant house, we scattered out and opened fire on the hedges and concentrated on the house but there was no reply. 1 saw the postman's bicycle lying on the road above the deserted house and 1 went there. Near it was the old-age pension money, which Kirke had been carrying and the seal on which was not broken. The parcels and mails were scattered about. The postman had been carried to a house further up. When I went in, he was badly wounded and moaning terribly. He was lying on the kitchen floor. About nine shots had gone into his back - a whole charge widiin a small area". When the policeman heard that one of his man had ~ been fired on, they opened up fire on the house again but there was m response. Apparently, Compston had been sniped from a distance. In the house into which the police rushed was found a large revolver and a military haversack containing at least one hundred cartridges. These cartridges were filled with buckshot - a small round charge made in a split mould. These would split on hitting a hard object. There was a lot of food in the place - bread (some of it home-made), butter, tea, sugar and a large parcel of sandwiches, the lot sufficient to maintain a large force of men for several days. There were even tins of condensed milk. Around one end of the floor, hay was scattered and appeared to have been slept in. There was no person in the house when the police entered. The belief is held that at the time of the first ambush two of the attackers were seriously wounded. Two men were seen to fall after the rifle-fire of the police and the hostile fire from the house stopped after that for about 5 minutes, during which the police believe the wounded or killed were being taken inside the house. Later on, bloodstains were found in the untenanted house. The men, who are believed to have been shot, wore trench-coats. The postman was placed in the lorry on a bed of straw. The police present took off their great-coats and wrapped them round him. One policeman tore off his own shirt to bandage the wound of Constable Compston. Compston bled profusely and never spoke after he had been placed in the tender.
(Dundalk Democrat, 15th January, 1921)
14th January 1921
A military inquiry was held in Dundalk Military Barracks on the 14th inst. concerning the death of Constable Robert William Compston, R.I.C., in Co. Arrnagh the previous day ... The Court found that deceased died from shock and haemorrhage due to gunshot wounds inflicted by some person or persons unknown and that these persons were guilty of murder ...
(Extracts, Frontier Sentinel, 22nd January 1921)
15th January 1921
On Saturday last, a military court of inquiry was held at the Military Barracks, Dundalk, concerning the death of the postman, Patrick Kirke, who was the second victim of the Freeduff ambush ... The court found as follows: "We find that the death of Patrick Kirke, postman, Crossmaglen, was due to shock and haemorrhage and severe traumatic emphysema caused by gunshot wounds inflicted by some person or persons unknown and that such person or persons were guilty of wilful murder".
(Extracts, Frontier Sentinel, 22nd January, 1921)
16th January 1921
Constable Compston's funeral took place on Sunday from his father's house, at Outlack, to Lisnadill Church, the body having been brought from Dundalk by police tender. Military honours were given and the number of the general public present must have been close on 1,000 ...
(Extract, Armagh Guardian, 21st January 1921)
10th April 1921
Special Constables Attacked Near Crossmaglen One Dead, Three Wounded
One Special Constable was killed and three members of the same force were wounded in an ambush in the village of Creggan, near Crossmaglen, Co. Armagh, on Sunday-last. The murderers, about sixteen in number, arrived on bicycles and held up all people going to Church at Creggan and placed then under guard in a public-house, while the ambush was being prepared. Constables Samuel Dougald, Hans Leeman, Edward Linton, John Fluke and William Irwin, all stationed at Crossmaglen, left the latter village to cycle to Divine service at Creggan Parish Church at 12 o'clock. Nearing Creggan, they observed three men standing at the bridge. When the constables pulled up, these men disappeared. Constable Fluke, who was leading the party, turned the corner of McConville's public-house and, inunediately he did so, a man darted to the rear of the shop. The police who were armed with revolver, decided to search the public-house. The door had been partially opened in response to their knocking, when a hand-grenade, thrown from behind a wall outside the public-house, exploded near the police, inflicting minor injuries on three of the party. Immediately, the constables opened fire on the men, estimated to number sixteen, who were behind the wall, and their fire was answered by a volley of rifle and revolver fire, accompanied by the throwing of hand grenades, which burst on the roadway. Constable Fluke was shot dead, about nine bullets entering his stomach and chest and, when found later, he was lying on his revolver. Constable Linton was hit by two bullets in the right leg and the ankle of the same foot was damaged by an exploding grenade. He fell but rose again and returned the fire of his assailants. Dougald was hit in the right hip, as was also Leeman, when he was proceeding around the corner of the public-house for shelter. Constable Irwin escaped uninjured. No attempt was made to dispossess the constables of their arms and the four survivors, although three were wounded and bleeding profusely, proceeded to walk back to their station. After they had covered 11/2 miles, a passing motor conveyed them to their destination. The ambush appears to have been well organised. Prior to the arrival of the constables, a party of young men cycled into the village. Sixteen bicycles were placed in a ploughed field some distance off and all people entering the village - those going to Mass as well as those making their way to the Service in the parish church - were held up and marched into the public-house, owned by Patrick McConville, the Chairman of Crossmaglen Rural Council. An armed guard was placed over them, while the rebels took up position behind a 5-foot wall, which is directly opposite the public -house. It is stated that some of the attackers were seen to fall but this is unconfirmed. Police and military arrived on the scene from Dundalk afterwards but no arrest were made and the civilians engaged in the attack had cleared off. The three men injured in the ambush were removed to the hospital in Dundalk and inquiries late on Sunday night showed that they were progressing favourably. Their wounds were not considered serious. Dougald is a native of Co. Tyrone; Leeman of Cullentrough, Co. Armagh; and Linton of Killylea, Co. Armagh. The relatives of the dead constables reside in Ballydoo, Co. Armagh.
(Newry Reporter, 12th April 1921)
Co. Armagh Ambush
Believed to be the Work of the "Flying Column"
... The civilians engaged in the dreadful business were unknown to any of the local people. They were unmasked and are believed to be portion of the Sinn Fein "flying colunm" which has been operating in some of the Ulster counties during the past three weeks. A member of this party stopped a rural postman in the Creggan area on Sunday and stole his bicycle. A young lad cycling to Mass was also stopped and his machine taken.
The vivid story of how five Ulster Specials were ambushed on their way to Divine Service at Creggan Protestant Church, South Armagh, on Sunday last was given to our Dundalk correspondent (says the "Belfast Telegraph"), who had a special interview with the wounded constables, three of whom are at present detained for treatment in the Louth County Infirmary. Constable Dougald is a native of Dungannon and has been four months with the Specials. Relating his experiences to our representative, he said: "Five of us cycled out from Crossmaglen to Creggan Church on Sunday for Divine Service. When we got the length of McConville's public-house, a short distance from the church, Constable Fluke, who was leading, observed three men standing on the road. Just as these men saw us, they ran back into the public-house. We dismounted and decided that we would search the house but, on coming up to it, we found the door was closed. Constable Fluke knocked at the door and asked for admission. The door was then partly opened and a bomb came from the opposite side of the road, striking the ground almost where the five of us were standing. Part of the bomb struck Constable Fluke as it exploded. The rest of us separated and, as we did so, three more bombs were flung at us in quick succession. After the first bomb, the attackers opened fire with rifles and revolvers. We returned the fire but our assailants were concealed behind a five-foot wall, while we had no cover., Although seriously wounded, Constable Fluke emptied his revolver twice at the attackers. Constable Linton, who received two bullet-wounds in the leg, also continued to use his revolver. 1 did not receive a bullet-wound at all but I was hit from behind with a portion of an exploded bomb on the right hip. We fired at the attackers until our ammunition was expended. By that time, their firing had died down and, between walking and crawling, we got a considerable distance along the road towards the barracks. Then the police motor came along and picked us up. Constable Fluke was dead when the relief party came and they found him lying on top of his revolver. The relief party also brought in our bicycles, which had not been touched. The attackers never came into the open at all. We were informed that our assailants had sixteen bicycles in a ploughed field convenient to the place and that before our arrival they collected all people going to worship so that there would be no one who could inform. Constable Irwin escaped across the field shortly after the firing began and, on striking the road again, he met a motor. This conveyed him to Crossmaglen and he brought out the relief party. There must have been upwards of one hundred rounds of very rapid firing altogether in the affair". Constable Hans Leeman, of Killylea, Co. Armagh, who had been three months with the Specials, also gave an account of his experiences to our reporter: "We left Crossmaglen at 12.05", he said, "and arrived at Creggan at 12.15. 1 was the last around the turn and 1 did not see the three men observed by Constable Fluke, who was leading. The first thing 1 saw was a man standing at McConville's door and apparently when he saw us he rushed in. We agreed to search the house and when we went to the door they would not open it and immediately a bomb came across the wall on the opposite side of the road. The first bomb got Constable Fluke and the last 1 saw of him was when he ran round the gable of the house for shelter and to take up a position. It was probably when going round that he got the several other bullet-wounds which he sustained. Constable Irwin, who was a few yards down the road, continued the firing. There was no cover and 1 lay down flat in front of the door where the first bomb came over and emptied my revolver twice at the crowd behind the wall. I continued looking for shelter and went on my knees round the gable in the direction taken by Constable Fluke. When doing so, a rifle bullet caught me on the right hip and 1 had to crawl about 150 yards on my knees out of the line of fire. 1 overtook my companions, Constables Dougald and Linton, and, between walking and crawling, we nearly went one mile before we got a car". The wounded constables were operated on on Monday in the Louth Infirmary and are progressing favourably. Constable Linton, a Killylea man, is the most seriously wounded and he is also going on well....
(Extract, Newry Reporter, 14th April 1921)
10th - 13th April 1921
An Immense Funeral
(Special Constable John Fluke)
The funeral took place on Wednesday afternoon (13th April).... The cortege to Killylea Parish Church was headed by a firing party of the Royal Irish Fusiliers, the deceased's regiment... The Killylea and Tynan district Specials were out in force... and some of the deceased's comrades came from Crossmaglen. At the church, Rev. G. L. L'Estrange conducted the ... service ... The ... Last Rites at the graveside having been solemnised, three sharp volleys rang out from the firing party, ... while the bugle waled the long "Last Post"...
Reprisals were only to be expected ... On Sunday night (10th April), two houses occupied by men who are reputed to be Sinn Feiners, were set on fire. James Mallon, thatcher, Summerhill, lives in a little thatched cottage beside the lane that leaves the Killylea road and joins the old road a few perches on. On Sunday night (10tfi April), this house was set on fire and, when Mallon came out, he was fired on three times, being wounded in the chest and twice in the arm. The house was completely destroyed. Mallon was brought to the Infirmary and detained. Hugh Smyth, Tamlet, about half-way between Armagh and Killylea, had also his house set on fire but in this case very little damage was done, as the fire was put out... (Extracts, Armagh Guardian, 15th April 1921)
22nd April 1921
Co. Armagh Outrages
In the early hours of Friday morning, several dastardly outrages were perpetrated in the Killylea district of Co. Armagh. The leading roads from Armagh to Killylea were blocked.by trees and, at about 2 a.m., a number of armed and masked men, estimated between 20 and 30, fired several shots into the house of George Preston, Cullentrough, near Killylea. The raiders demanded admission in the name of the I.R.A. They made a thorough search for arms, which proved fruitless. They then ordered Preston and his aged mother and sister to clear out. A large quantity of petrol was sprinkled over the house, a commodious thatched building, and, having been set on fire by means of bombs and handgrenades, it was very soon demolished. A large hay-shed belonging to Mr. Preston, containing a large quantity of hay, straw, potatoes and other farm-produce was also completely destroyed. After leaving Preston's, the raiders turned their attention to the house of Robert Leeman, nearby. They again demanded admission in the name I.R.A. and, having taken possession of a gun and some cartridges, they ordered the occupants to leave the house. They then saturated the building with petrol and set it on fire. It was completely gutted. Mr. Leeman and his wife and young family were left standing on the roadside in scanty attire. Mr. Preston is a member of the B-Class Special Constabulary, while Mr. Leeman is the father of Special Constable Hans Leeman, who was dangerously wounded in the recent ambush at Creggan Church, near Crossmaglen...
(Extracts, Newry Reporter, 28th April 1921)