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Irish War of Independence in Athlone/Westmeath, 1920-1921

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  • Irish War of Independence in Athlone/Westmeath, 1920-1921

    Two articles on the guerilla campaign waged as part of the Irish War of Independence in Co. Westmeath, from mid-1920 to early 1921, with the focus on the activities of the Athlone IRA Brigade (Athlone being right in the middle of Ireland, in case anyone is wondering).

    A Clenched Fist Open: The Flying Column of the Athlone Brigade, 1920-1

    The Athlone IRA Brigade formed its own flying column in October 1920, partly upon orders to do so by GHQ and also to find a use for the increasing number of its members 'on the run.'

    The new unit was led by a former British soldier, Jim Tormey, who was described as having a “fine physique and of a commanding disposition". It also included a number of men who were serving as IRA officers in other units and prepared to serve part-time in the column.

    Despite some initial success, the column was plagued by poor discipline and bad luck.

    Sieges and Shootings: The Westmeath War against the RIC, 1920

    Mid-1920 saw the decline and collapse of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) as a civil police force as pressure and a sense of being on the wrong side caused many of its members to resign.

    Accelerating was the attitude of the county boards, now dominated by Sinn Fein members since the June 1920 elections, who passed resolutions such as one condemning the RIC as a “blue-coated army of occupation" who were now to be banned from using the local hospital.

    The Volunteers/IRA stepped in to fill the policing breach, taking on many of the now neglected duties such as guarding the peace in country fairs and enforcing pub closing times - not always an easy task in the case of the latter, such as when the Volunteer 'on duty' was beaten and crippled by the pub's irate patrons.

    Not content with taking a passive stance, the IRA razed a number of abandoned RIC barracks. There was only one attempt on an occupied station, in Streamstown, with a succession of (overly?) elaborate schemes to take it.

    The IRA also targeted a senior RIC officer, Sergeant Thomas Craddock, one of their more persistent foes. Craddock was blamed for assaulting suspects and even crippling one, although in the latter case it seems he was innocent.

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