Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Ebrington Raid (1951)

The Ebrington Raid



ON June 3, 1951 the IRA was back in action. Members of the Derry city unit led by two GHQ Staff officers (including Tony Magan) raided a local British barracks and captured arms. An tÉireannach Aontaithe/The United Irishman of June 1951 in a front page article described the raid as “a fitting protest against the visit of English royalty to Ireland made by the Irish Republican Army”.

Bren and other machine guns plus Sten sub-machine guns and Le-Enfield rifles and a quantity of miscellaneous ammunition were seized.

The BESA 7.92mm machine gun taken was a new type of weapon still on the secret’s list, according to a News Flash in the July issue of the Republican organ. The 20 Lee-Enfield Mark IV No 1 rifles were like the Bren light machine gun and the 20 Sten guns all of WWII vintage – six years earlier.

In fact the army of the 26-County State was still equipped with WWI Lee-Enfield Mark III rifles while the IRA trained with much newer weapons as a result of the raid.

Bell described how the Derry unit “reorganised in 1947 and up to a solid twenty men by 1951, requested permission to raid the Ebrington territorial Barracks inside the Joint Royal Navy-Royal Air Force Anti-Submarine School”. The operation was actually a silent seizure without armed confrontation; the intelligence was excellent and the chance of success good. It went off without a hitch.

The UI detailed the foresight and efficiency displayed throughout, every contingency being guarded against and nothing left to chance. In planning out the mode of entry beforehand the various obstacles had been noted and provisions made to overcome them. When an additional obstacle was encountered all the necessary implements were on hand to deal with this.


The whole action was well rehearsed beforehand; each man knew his job and the part he had to play. Two large padlocks had to be smashed and a heavy door sawn through.

The precious cargo was loaded on the waiting truck and “delivered into the eager hands of the men waiting to receive it”. Within a couple of hours the truck was back empty in its garage.

GHQ had to issue a statement to the press before the British army and the RUC were even aware of what had happened!

It was the first successful arms raid on a British military establishment since the Belfast IRA raided Ballykinlar Camp on February 10, 1940 and seized 100 rifles. A report of that action had been broadcast on Raidió Phoblacht na hÉireann, the IRA radio, in Belfast that evening.

The Derry raid of June 1951 was in fact the first armed action by the IRA since 1944. Things were looking up . . .

In the Republican Organ the purpose of the raid in relation to the new policy was implied.

“. . . the only effective protest that can be made to England’s claim to rule in Ireland, viz: the placing of guns in the hands of men who are willing and anxious to use them to drive the British army out of Ireland.”

In Donegal, a middle-aged man remarked that it was “only a protest” and that “the arms must have been thrown into the sea”. Not so, as Bell assesses.

“Most of Ireland may have been little interested in a single snatch-and-grab raid but within the Army it made a difference. Some sort of corner seemed to be turned. Volunteers were now using the Lee-Enfields, better rifles than those of the Irish army (sic). The Military Council was at work.

“The first printed directives on Organisation had been issued in May 1951, the first training notes had been printed in June and in July the first re-issue of An tÓglach, the IRA monthly came out.

“When Magan spoke at Bodenstown on June 24, he might well feel the Army was truly under way,” Bell concluded.

Meanwhile the people were being organised behind the Movement as “the stiffening force”. In addition to the public meetings in Belfast, protest meetings against the English Royal visit and the detention without trial for a week of 13 men in Belfast were held in Letterkenny, Swinford, Lurgan, Cork and Dublin.

The meeting in Dublin took place on Saturday night, June 2. It was preceded by a parade through the centre of the city, headed by a Tricolour, while at the end of the parade a Union Jack was dragged along the ground.

The Republican organ described it as having been “streeled” along the streets. It was afterwards burned at the meeting amidst the cheers of the large crowd present.

Speakers on the platform were Michael Traynor, chair; Séamus Sorahan, Gearóid Ó Broin (Dublin); Margaret Buckley, Tomás Mac Curtáin, Seán Kearney and Tomás Ó Dubhghaill.

The speakers emphasised that if these [English royal] visitors were coming at the invitation of the Irish people to the free Irish nation “they could receive the highest honours and the greatest hospitality”.

But coming as they were, to demonstrate the continued subjection of the Irish nation, to try to strengthen and perpetuate the “divide and conquer” policy on Ireland – their coming could only be calculated to rouse the indignation and even hate of the Irish people.

This calculated insult could only be looked on as a challenge. We should answer it not merely by protest meetings, but also by organising again to make good our claim to all Ireland, North and South, “from the centre to the sea”.

If the English Royal visit had the effect of waking us from out torpor, of rousing us again to action, then it would have been a blessing in disguise. But it was up to ourselves.

In the June 1961 issue of An tÉireannach Aontaithe/The United Irishman a letter from Patrick Darcy, Headford, Co Galway is carried. It is in connection with the unveiling of a memorial cross at Castlegar on Easter Sunday of that year, at which Mr Gerry Boland, 26-County Minister for Justice 1939-48, officiated.

Mr Darcy stated: “It has been reported in the press that a Mr Darcy, a relative of the late Comdt Louis Darcy, was amongst those present at the ceremony. I wish to state that I was the nearest relative of the late Comdt Darcy who was present in Castlegar that day, but I was not present at the unveiling.

“I was there a considerable time before the ceremony commenced and I went there for the express purpose of protesting against the unveiling being performed by an ex-Minister for Justice, during whose term of office the late Tony Darcy, my brother and a first cousin of Comdt Louis, was forced to die on hunger strike.

“I did make such protest to several members of the Memorial Committee and informed them that should the unveiling be performed by the ex-Minister I would not be associated with it.

“As I was not present when the ceremony took place I do not wish my name to be in any way associated with it,” concluded Patrick Darcy in his well and clearly spelled-out letter.

In the April issue News of the Month section, Gerry Boland figures showing that like the Bourbons, Fianna Fáil had learnt nothing and forgotten nothing from their first coercion of Republicans in the 1930 and 1940s.

“Mr Boland and his master Mr de Valera,” it reads, “have been very perturbed in Leinster House recently because an ‘Illegal Organisation’, to kill which they had employed all the forces of the [British] Empire, is still alive and not alone that but is still actively recruiting and collecting money.

“They know of course that the logical outcome of all this activity on the part of the ‘Illegal Organisation’ will be a war against England to whose monarch they and their friends have sworn allegiance [1927, 1932 and 1933 in order to be admitted to Leinster House].

“They know that in pursuance of their adopted policy of co-operation with England they will, in the event of such a war, have to declare openly whether their allegiance is to the Empire or to the Irish people.

“In the meantime they try to have it both ways.” (Unveiling monuments to Republican Dead while they seek further coercion of Republicans, for example.)

However on June 12, 1951 as a result of a 26-County general election precipitated by the “Mother and Child” crisis, Fianna Fáil was returned to power as a minority administration. Gerry Boland became Minister for Justice for the last time.

The Organ of Irish Republicanism’s July issue quotes a Sunday Express reporter of June 17:

“Mr Gerald Boland, back again under Me de Valera as Minister for Justice, is said to have called for a dossier on the activities of the outlawed IRA in the three years he had been out of office.

“Forecast is that the remaining elements of the irregular army is likely to get a shock.

“A claim frequently made by Mr Costello and his ministers was that they ‘took the gun out of Irish politics’ (where did we hear that before and since?). But Mr Boland and members of the new government have never accepted this claim.”


“A colleague of the new Minister for Justice said yesterday: ‘He is a strong man, and will stand for no nonsense from the IRA or any other private or underground army.

A publication which described itself as ‘the Organ of Irish Republicanism’ printed yesterday that a raid on Ebrington Barracks, Londonderry (sic) was ‘carried out by the IRA’, and described the raid as ‘a fitting protest against the visit of English royalty to Ireland.’

“The general political scene since the changeover will be cleared tomorrow when Prime Minister (Sic) de Valera will hold a press conference to tell his plans. And his Defence Minister, Mr Oscar Traynor, is scheduled to explain when he hopes to do about civil defence.”

For the record let it be noted that Seán Mac Bride, ex-Minister for Foreign Affairs, protested long and loudly on June 13 in Leinster House against the reappointment of a man with such a record of coercion against Republicans as Minister for Justice. But Fianna Fáil had minority support only in Leinster House . . .

Note: Sinn Féin issued a statement in May 1951 which was carried in the daily newspapers saying that they had not the finance or other resources to contest the 26-County general election.

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