Author: Cian Mulqueen
On this day 100 years ago, the Royal Irish Constabulary marched out of Bruff handing over their barracks to members of the 3rd East Limerick Brigade of the Irish Republican Army. The barracks which now serves as private residencies has been covered in detail on this page before, but it is important to remember the feelings of the Bruff community 100 years ago. The barracks had become a symbol of the British occupation and as a result the cruelty and hatred that was entailed with that occupation. The events of Caherguillamore house in 1920 and the shooting of Richard Leonard on New Years Eve 1920 were fresh in the minds of most people in South Limerick and Bruff being one of the last RIC barracks to be manned in South and East Limerick made it an even bigger symbol of repression in the community.
Throughout the war of independence particularly in Limerick the RIC became the primary target of the three Limerick IRA brigades. Policemen were attacked throughout the latter half of 1919 and orders from IRA GHQ intensified these attacks to the targeting campaign of RIC stations. In the Limerick district this campaign started on the 31st January 1920 with a failed attack on the RIC station in Murroe with its relatively small force of five RIC constables and one sergeant. The campaign would intensify and would reach a conclusion five months later when the RIC barracks in Kilmallock (now home to Bank of Ireland) was attacked. With the closure of Ballylanders barracks following an IRA attack a few months previously on the 27th April the number of men stationed in Kilmallock fluctuated with some accounts stating that over 28 men were stationed in Kilmallock on the night of the attack. The strong defenses and high number of RIC men posed a serious threat to the attacking IRA force but IRA southern command believed that the destruction of this barracks deemed “indestructible” by the RIC themselves would send a message as to the severity the IRA’s campaign was. 70 volunteers were mustered on the night of the 27th May with men from all parts of Munster brought in to ensure the success of the attack. With Enfield rifles and mills bombs the attack was deemed a success by IRA command with the destruction of the barracks and the killing of two RIC men. Thomas Kane, 48, and Constable Joseph Morton, 47. Both were wounded early in the battle and their bodies were “consumed in the fire,”. The volunteers suffered one casualty Liam Scully an Irish teacher from Kerry who was buried under the cover of darkness in Templeglantine the following night. Following the destruction of Kilmallock barracks and the closure of other smaller, more rural barracks the number of RIC men stationed in Bruff swelled. Not only did Bruff now form a barracks for the garrison of Kilmallock but also other barracks that were closed throughout 1921. RIC stations and outposts such as Grange, Bruree, Herbertstown and Ballyneety all resulted in the swelling of the RIC force in Bruff.
Figures for Bruff RIC force in 1921 show a significant force of 21 constables, 3 sergeants and 1 head constable under the command of a district inspector. By the time of the truce only a third of all operational RIC stations were manned in comparison to figures for 1919. A change in tactics by IRA GHQ in the latter half of 1920 and the start of 1921 led to attacks being primarily focused on RIC patrols rather than fortified barracks which required a significant ammunition reserve. The ‘Tall Trees Ambush’ in Kildorrery in August 1920 by the East Limerick flying column and North Cork brigade resulted in the death of a British RIC constable and 6 weeks later the West Limerick Flying Column attacked a curfew patrol outside of Abbeyfeale. The grange ambush on the 8th November 1920 saw joint action involving the flying columns of both the 3rd Battalion East Limerick Brigade and the 4th Battalion Mid Limerick Brigade, supported by men from the local companies of Bruff, Grange and Holycross (East Limerick brigade) and Fedamore and Ballybricken (Mid Limerick Brigade). Donnchadha O’Hannigan had overall command of the ambush which resulted in a serious miscalculation and a more overwhelming army and police force being present than originally anticipated. It is believed that the IRA inflicted 4 casualties on the British and did not suffer a single casualty of their own. The Limerick IRA’s greatest operational success was at Dromkeen on 3 February 1921, when 3 ‘old RIC’ and 8 Black and Tans were killed in a joint ambush by the Mid-Limerick and East Limerick brigades. At least 20 ‘old RIC’ and 17 Black and Tans were killed in Limerick during the War of Independence. The 11 July 1921 Truce brought hostilities to an official end but there was still public outrage at RIC excesses and sporadic attacks of policemen continued during this period. RIC Sgt. Thomas Enright was killed in Kilmallock in December 1921.
According to Maurice Meade of the IRA’s East Limerick Brigade, Enright was shot because he had been ‘particularly active and bitter against our men’ and ‘no opportunity to [kill him] had arisen until the Truce’.
The handing over of Bruff barracks appears to have occurred by all reports as fairly straight forward with the RIC marching into barracks in Limerick city which would not be evacuated until Thursday February 23. The evacuation saw control of the barracks in Bruff being taken over by elements of the 3rd East Limerick brigade of the IRA. However, that was not the end of attacks on RIC men within Limerick. Within weeks of the Black and Tans’ departure, retired and disbanded Irish RIC policemen found themselves the target of localized expulsion campaigns, driven primarily by elements of the anti-Treatyite IRA which at the time were particularly strong in South and East Limerick. These campaigns, which occasionally culminated in murder, created a climate of panic amongst ex-RIC which led thousands to take temporary or permanent flight. In Limerick city, sporadic expulsions commenced in late March and many county areas were also affected. For example, Rathkeale’s resident ex-RIC were ordered out in the last week of April, and there were expulsions from our own parish in Bruff as well as Adare, Foynes and Newcastle West around the same time. 100 years ago today the men of the Royal Irish Constabulary left Bruff but the violence did not end there and neither did the use of the barracks for the political climate began to shift deeply and the ensuing civil war would once again see violence and loss erupt on the doorstep of the large three storey building at the centre of our town.