The Siege of Ballytrain

Template cover sheet which must be included at the front of all projects

Title of project:

The Siege of Ballytrain


Category for which you wish to be entered (i.e. Revolution in Ireland, Ireland and World War 1, Women’s history or a Local/Regional category

Local/Regional category


Name(s) of class / group of students / individual student submitting the project

St.Patrick`s N.S. Clara 4th, 5th and 6th Class


School roll number (this should be provided if possible)



School type (primary or post-primary)



School name and address (this must be provided even for projects submitted by a group of pupils or an individual pupil):

St. Patrick`s N.S., Clara, Killybrone, Co.Monaghan


Class teacher’s name (this must be provided both for projects submitted by a group of pupils or an individual pupil):

Mr. Treanor


Teacher’s contact phone number:

(047) 87569 / 0838801934


Teacher’s contact email address


























‘The Siege of Ballytrain’



“This country will be one entire slum unless we get into action, in spite of our literacy movements and Gaelic League it is going down and down……There is no life or heart left in the country.” Thomas MacDonagh (An Phoblacht 11-02-2010).


MacDonagh’s quote epitomised the feelings of many Irish people in the early part of the twentieth century. Tensions were high across the country as Ireland’s long running feud and battle for independence from its’ closest neighbours continued. Unionists also identified with these tensions as cohabiting with Irish people often created confrontations that could not be avoided. “In September 1912, thousands of northerners signed a covenant, pledging not to accept the authority of a Dublin Parliament, if the Home Rule Bill became law........The Monaghan Unionists took part in this resistance….The Ulster Volunteer Force was organised throughout the country in places where there were pockets of Protestants.” (Cuimneacan Muineacáin pg.20). The Monaghan Story reflected life in Ireland during this period. “Volunteers continued after the Rising and formed a nucleus of a new Force of Volunteers which sprang up in their country when the conscription threat came in 1918…..There were plenty of young men in Ireland at the time and there was comparatively little for them to do..........younger sons, who would normally have emigrated, remained at home and entered the Anti- Conscription Volunteers in their thousands.” Sinn Féin organised the Volunteers and many people were introduced to Sinn Féin through them. (Peader Livingstone pg.383).


The Royal Irish Constabulary (R.I.C.) integrated well with most communities to begin, acknowledging tensions between Ireland and Britain. According to local historian J.P. Graham (27-01-2017), they were immersed in Irish culture and married into Irish families. The dynamics of these relations would alter owing to frictions between both countries.  The Ulster Unionist Council published a speech by Eamon DeValera on 5th July 1917 stating “If you (Ulster) continue to be Britain’s garrison, we will have to do to you what we do with the Power of which you are a garrison- and that is kick you out.” (P.R.O.N.I. 12-01-2017). Another report titled ‘Incredible Behaviour’ published 25-08-1922 from the Conservative and Unionist Movement, ‘Irish Huns’, portrayed deep dissatisfaction from unionists at the conduct of their counterparts in Ulster. It describes the brutality with which rebels attack a residence, ordering the family out of the house. A resident that later returned to collect utensils in the house claimed “The rooms they had locked things up in were broken open, all the carpets relaid, china broken.  The carpets were already filthy, spat upon, covered with cigarette ash, dirtied with muddy boots........ glass used as darts to throw at a big Rembrandt picture that they had no time to get down.” She also remarked “the filth and stench of the place is indescribable, as the brutes don’t think it is necessary to use lavatories.”

Contrary to these Unionist portrayals, investigations conducted by the Northern Border Commission (19-04-1922) include an interview with a Catholic priest in Newtownhamilton. In the interview, the reported ‘ardent Sinn Féiner’ proclaims “the inhabitants of the town though evenly divided regarding religion, are on good terms with their neighbours and give no outward sign of trouble.”


Locally tensions remained between communities as Irish rebels attacked British forces to secure firearms in their ongoing battle. Upon visiting Caledon and the post of ‘A Specials’ at Emyvale Road Station, the Sergeant in Command reported that “30 shots were fired from Free State Territory across BURN’S BRIDGE at 17.45 hours on the 18th inst. There were not more than 3 Specials near the Bridge at the time and there appears to be no cause for shooting.”  (PRONI 23-01-2017)





















The following is a report published in a Unionist paper highlighting the brutality of Irish rebels; P.R.O.N.I. (19-01-2017)






Above is a map revealing population of Northern Ireland from a Protestant perspective (1911); Monaghan Museum (20-12-2016.)

As documented in several national newspapers, tensions were on the increase. Unionists were becoming disillusioned with life in Ireland, and felt limited support from Parliament in London. They felt Llyod George had done little to appease their concerns. Equally Nationalists felt aggrieved with insecurities and expectations associated with the Republican movement. Lieutenant General Sir H. Lawson (R.I.C.) documented this, “Behind their organisation there is the spirit of a nation- of a nation which is certainly not in favour of murder........ and believes that the members of the I.R.A are fighting for the cause of the Irish people.” (Cuimneacan Muineacáin, pg.62).




Above: 1995 Boundary Commission Map; Omagh Library (17-01-2017)

Below  Eamon DeValera announces ‘safeguard’ for Ulster in 1919, published by the Ulster Unionist Council; P.R.O.N.I. (18-01-2017)

Whilst the struggles of Irish men and women was evident, the nation took great heart from the movement and united together to defeat the British Monarch. John Sullivan (Latton Volunteer Group) recounted in the Marron Report (1986) “We continued drilling and training. Pre-1916 we had no rifles; our equipment consisted of shotguns and one small revolver......Eoin O’Duffy was in charge of all the volunteers in the country.” Many Irish people conveyed such accounts as the movement gripped the nation. Sullivan continued; An incident at Soloheadbeg in Tipperary on 21st January 1919, the very day the Dàil opened, is usually seen as the beginning of the Angelo-Irish War. Volunteers attacked a cart containing Gelignite and killed two policemen who were protecting it.”


After the attack, incidents increased until in 1920 a full scale ‘guerrilla war’ developed throughout Ireland. Locally was no different with Nationalists sharing a combined objective; ‘to break Ireland Free from English rule.’ Commands were filtered down from GHQ in Dublin were O'Duffy was in consultation with Michael Collins. The wheels were in motion to ambush R.I.C. barracks across Ireland by late 1919, and Ballytrain in County Monaghan was scheduled. John Suilivan accredited State General O'Duffy with planning The Siege of Ballytrain. "I knew of the preparations for a month or two beforehand. I was at a meeting in Latton Hall. O'Duffy, O'Malley and Hogan were there. O'Duffy was the brains behind the plan." (Marron Report 1965). With relations strained across communities the R.I.C. were anticipating an attack. Mrs. Murtagh (wife of R.I.C. officer Ballytrain barracks) disclosed to The Marron Report (11-01-1966) "A day or two before the attack the police learned that an attack on a rural barracks in South Monaghan was imminent. The police prep red the barracks for the attack." She also made reference to the intensity of their preparations in the report. "Prior to the attack the R.I.C. at Ballytrain went regularly to Carrickmacross for training in the use of firearms. This included the throwing of hand grenades.”


However the Republican Movement was equally intricate. Eoin Coyle (Volunteer) stated; “On the night of the attack I was told by T. Magee to take a plank from H. McElroy’s shed. All going to take part in the attack wore white armbands, several volunteers were involved in barricading all routes leading up to Ballerina.” (Marron Report 1965). Local preparation was also influential on the attack with James McKenna Glaslough stating; “I was instructed to procure two cars to convoy eight volunteers to Donagh Company to the attack.” (Marron Report Oct. 1965).


As the attack unfolded John Sullivan stated in the same report; “I was at Ballytrain Bridge guarding off the road Shercock to Shantonagh. I think that Matt Fitzpatrick was with me but it may have been a brother of his..... We heard shooting clearly it lasted about a half an hour, then the explosion we remained at our post for some time after this we went home.”


James McKenna described scenes up at the barracks; “.......volunteers from Clones and Monaghan broke windows of a private house directly opposite the Barracks, jumped in an immediately open rifle fire on the Barracks. Other volunteers rammed the door of the store at the Barrack gable.”  (Marron Report 1965).The R.I.C. officers were under severe pressure to guard the station and the dynamics within the station were mixed. Mrs. Murtagh stated “Lawton was a Catholic and Graham was a Protestant. Neither of them would suggest surrender lest the other boast afterwards that he would but for his comrade cowerdice.” (Marron Report 1960)
Cuimneacan Muinecáin (pg.64) depict the fierce onslaught; “An assault party of about 30 volunteers surrounded Shantonagh barracks which was defended by 6 policemen. After 3 hours of fighting, when the gable of the barracks had been blown in, the police surrendered. Their arms were captured and the barracks destroyed.” According to several mixed sources in The Marron Report, the Irish Volunteers were sympathetic towards the R.I.C. soldiers offering them three opportunities to surrender before blasting the barracks.



“When the operation was completed all IRA assembled at a pre-arranged point. It was now about 5am. O’Duffy complimented the men on their success. He advised them to expect intense policing and military activity.” (Cuimneacan Muineacáin pg.66). A realisation dawned on the rebels that there would be repercussions for this significant capture. According to Pearse Lawlor; “Sergeant Graham later said that he had walked the nine miles to Carrickmacross to seek medical attention as he had been unable to drive because the road was blocked with felled trees. Constable Wilson and Sergeant Graham survived uninjured.” (The Outrages 1920-1922 pg.21). Mrs. Murtagh claimed; “After the attack the garrison spent a long time in the workhouse hospital in Carrickmacross. Constable Murtagh stayed there for three months pretending that he was suffering from shock.” This highlights the impact the ambush had on those involved and its consequences were evident. “In the raid on Shantonagh Barracks, the IRA collected about six rifles and some revolvers as well as a dozen hand grenades.......In mid-March a number of arrests were made in North Monaghan. The prisoners were taken to Derry jail.” (Cuimneacan Muineacáin pg.66). Divisions widened across Ulster as dissatisfaction grew amongst Nationalists at the interrogation of the Republican prisoners. This intensified relations between both communities as the I.R.A. initiated the ‘Belfast Boycott’ in April 1920. It was only enforced in North Monaghan were frictions were most heightened. The Clara community were a strong supporter for the boycott; James McKenna discussed this in The Marron Report (Oct.1965); “Clara Company members destroyed delivery vans in County Tyrone on many occasions at considerable risk.......... Eventually no Belfast goods were coming into our area except by rail. In order to obstruct this channel of delivery we arranged to hold up goods train at Faulkland level crossing which was two miles from Glaslough, and three miles from Monaghan.”


The Siege of Ballytrain epitomised life in Ireland during this period. There were regular acts of anger and brutality, typified in Dublin prior to the attack when Michael Collins specifically targeted Ballytrain barracks.“The original plan to step up the campaign in 1920 was to attack the RIC barracks in the town of Ballybay........Collins ordered that the attack be switched to Ballytrain because stationed there was RIC Sergeant Lawton, who had given evidence against three republicans who received sentences of three years penal servitude.” (Mícheál Mac Donncha An Phoblacht 11-02-2012).


This capture fuelled a desire for Ireland to rule itself. “This was the first RIC barracks in Ulster to be captured by the IRA. It`s captured led to the closure of isolated barracks in Inniskeen, Cullaville and Clarebane.” (The Outrages 1920-1922 pg.21). Ireland became a volatile place to live as battles intensified everywhere. The Siege of Ballytrain reinvigorated formerly disillusioned Nationalists, particularly in border regions. It was a catalyst for increased attacks on British Forces through the province and the country.

 It attributed to recognition for reconciliation between Unionists and Nationalists. This was also realised in Dublin and London as leaders from both sides recognised the necessity to negotiate a settlement which would eventually culminate in the signing of the Treaty between Ireland and England in December 1922.


One hundred years on from The War of Independence, divisions remain, despite The Good Friday Agreement and politicised nature of life in Northern Ireland today. However dynamics have significantly changed from war mongering to political issues such as governing and power sharing. There are conflicting views on areas such as cultural/educational affairs and ‘Brexit’ of course.

Life around St. Patrick`s N.S. Clara has been strongly influenced from events of then. Our school is situated eight hundred metres from the border. Children in the North will refer to this as ‘half a mile’. We use Euro, they use sterling. We spend eight years in primary school, they spend seven. They do GCSE`s and A-Levels, we do a Junior and Leaving Cert.


The Border Commissions redrafted the border line several times in the 1920’s. Had that border line had been scaled 3mm south of the Monaghan/Tyrone border, we too would be part of ‘Brexit’. Irrespective of this, people either side of the border are preparing for a time of great change with anxiety AGAIN!!!



























Below  Boundary Commission Map proposing alterations to borderline 1925 and ratio of Protestant/Catholic divides in Ulster 1921; Monaghan Museum (19-01-2017)











Above: Irish Boundary Commissions map proposing alterations to the border; Monaghan Museum (19-01-2017)











Below: Sources from archives relating to

attacks on police and Loyalists; P.R.O.N.I. (16-01-2017)


Cessation of Republican Activity in Ireland



Boundary Commissions / consequences of Treaty; P.R.O.N.I. (27-01-2017)



National Paper reports from The Siege of Ballytrain


Ballytrain ambush report from ‘Ulster Herald’; Monaghan Museum (21-02-1920)







‘The Liberator Newspaper’ 17-02-1920: ‘Ballytrain Attack’; Monaghan Museum (24-01-2017)

‘The Freeman`s Journal’ 16-02-1920; Monaghan Museum (11-01-2017)



















‘Irish Independent’ Monday 16-02-1920; Monaghan Museum (11-01-2017)





‘The Anglo-Celt’ 28-02-1920 discloses Damages Claim; Monaghan Museum (23-01-2017)







‘The Anglo-Celt’ 28-02-1920; Monaghan Museum (23-01-2017)







The Northern Standard Report on The Siege of Ballytrain 21-02-1920; Monaghan Museum (18-01-2017



·       ‘An Phoblacht’ Mícheál MacDonncha (11-02-2010)


·       ‘Boundary Commission For Northern Ireland, Fourth Periodical Report on Parliamentary Constituencies and Second Supplementary Report on the number of members to be returned to the Northern Ireland Assembly by each of those constituencies. (1995) Published in London’  Jacqueline Kerrigan (31-01-2017)


·       ‘Cuimneacan Muineáin 1916-1966’  Published in Monaghan by Clogher Historical Society 1966


·       John P Graham Monaghan Historian & author in ‘The Killevan Story’ 27-01-2017


·       ‘Marron Reports’  Monaghan Museum, Teresa Loftus (January 2017).


·       ‘Public Records Office Northern Ireland’  Desmond McCabe (2017), Belfast


·       ‘The Monaghan Story’  Published in Monaghan by Clogher Historical Society 1980


·       ‘The Outrages 1920-1922’  Published in Cork by Mercier 2011



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