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Memories of The Irish War of Independence in Ireland

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L.M.Reid is an Irish writer who has published many history articles online and in magazines.

Dora Maguire was a young mother during the Irish War of Independence in  1921 in Dublin, Ireland

Dora Maguire was a young mother during the Irish War of Independence in 1921 in Dublin, Ireland

What the Black and Tans Did in Ireland

This is the story of my grandmother who experienced the Black and Tans raids in Dublin when she was 12 years old. She also tells of her grandmother and aunts who were in Balbriggin when the Black and Tans went on a murderous rampage there. They were officially called The Royal Irish Constabulary Special Reserve, the RIC.

Bridget Maguire was a child in 1921 and living in Kirwan Street, Dublin Ireland. She always recalled those times when speaking of her childhood. She said, ‘When I was very young I remember being happy, we played on the street all day, and we made up our own games.

But by 1921 things were getting very dangerous because it was during the Irish War of Independence. One day, I was twelve years old then, and we were playing in Manor Street as usual. We hadn't noticed the men there, but when the Black and Tans came up Manor Street in the lorry our lads jumped out and attacked them.

My God all the shooting was terrible. They were running and shooting all around us, we ran up the lane to get away from the bullets.'

My Mother Dragged Us Home

You'd think it was us that was after being shot with all the shouting she was doing. Manor Street was dangerous, but we liked playing there, I don't know why. My mother was right though, I don't know how any of us kids didn't get killed.

She’d have murder with us for playing up there, but it was all around us, we were used to it really and we didn't realise the danger.'

Bridget Maguire at 12 years old in 1921 in Dublin Ireland.

Bridget Maguire at 12 years old in 1921 in Dublin Ireland.

No One Was Safe, Not Even Us Children

'The Irish lads were always sitting on the roofs of Kirwan Street waiting for the Tans to come down the road. It’s just like yesterday, I can see them now. You see the Tans were stationed in McKee Barracks so we were thick with them.

There were lots of raids all over the Buildings in Stoneybatter, but our street was done more, I suppose because of all the snipers. The Black and Tans would arrive in those lorries and run into the houses with their guns and wreck the place.

But if that was all they did then you were lucky. They were savage and vicious, they didn't care who they hit around the place, women and children too, no one was safe. I can see them coming up the street even now.'

British Soldiers, Black and Tans and the Auxiliaries

"I assure you no policeman will get into trouble for shooting any man ..."

On June 17, 1920, Lt. Col. Smyth was appointed the new Commander of the RIC for Munster. This is what he told the British Soldiers, Black and Tans and the Auxiliaries in his first speech to them.

"....If a police barracks is burned or if the barracks already occupied is not suitable, then the best house in the locality is to be commandeered, the occupants thrown into the gutter. Let them die there - the more the merrier.

Police and military will patrol the country at least five nights a week. Lie in ambush and, when civilians are seen approaching, shout "Hands up!" Should the order be not immediately obeyed, shoot and shoot with effect.

Shoot To Kill Policy

If the persons approaching carry their hands in their pockets, or are in any way suspicious-looking, shoot them down. You may make mistakes occasionally and innocent persons may be shot, but that cannot be helped, and you are bound to get the right parties some time. The more you shoot, the better I will like you, and I assure you no policeman will get into trouble for shooting any man ..."

The Occupation of  Ireland in 1921

The Occupation of Ireland in 1921

Arrival of the Black and Tans in Ireland

The Easter Rising in 1916 failed to free Ireland from British rule. But it did re-ignite the people’s desire for an Irish Republic. When the First World War was over Britain held a general election in December 1918.

Sinn Fein put up candidates in the British elections and won 73 seats, a landside victory in Ireland. Rather than becoming British MP’s they gathered at a meeting in Dublin on January 21st 1919 and they set up their own Government known as Dáil Éireann.

And once again an Irish Republic was proclaimed for the people of Ireland. This was the start of the War of Independence. In September 1919 the British Government declared the Dáil illegal.


On 23rd February 1920 the British Government imposed a curfew on the people of Ireland between midnight and five in the morning. The Black and Tans arrived in Ireland on 25th March 1920 because the Royal Irish Constabulary, (Britain’s police force in Ireland,) could not cope with the Irish people. The Black and Tans were officially called the Royal Irish Constabulary Special Reserve.

These men were recruited from all over Britain, most of them were ex soldiers who were unemployed and found it hard to get used to civilian life after the War.


They were given the name of the Black and Tans by the Irish because of the mixture of army and police uniform. A few months later in July over five hundred Auxiliaries arrived in Dublin. These men were all ex officers in the British Army. They were given the rank of sergeants in the RIC.

Houses burnt out in Balbriggan after the Black and Tans raided it.

Houses burnt out in Balbriggan after the Black and Tans raided it.

Balbriggan, Co Dublin

In September 1920 the Black and Tans went into the town of Balbriggan where they terrorised the people. They burnt down fifty four houses, a factory and looted four pubs. They also killed two local men.

Bridget’s grandparents aunts and uncles lived in the town of Balbriggan. She recalled, ‘The Tans went crazy down in Balbriggan one night. There was a whole gang of them and they were dangerous drunk. They were looking to kill people and they did.

Uncle Willy brought my Aunt Cissy and my granny up to Dublin to stay with us then. My granny nearly died with the shock of it, she was very old. Loads of people had run out of their houses and gone up the banks in Balbriggan. They hid there and stayed the whole night for their own safety.

But my aunt Tiny she couldn't get out, she lived in the house down the road from my granny and she got caught there when all that was going on. But the Tans never went into her house, she was lucky, a lot of people weren’t. They also burnt a whole street down.'

Seamus Lawless and Sean Gibbons were murdered in Ballbriggin by The Black and Tans

Seamus Lawless and Sean Gibbons were murdered in Ballbriggin by The Black and Tans

Murder of Irish Men in Balbriggan

'And there were those two young lads that were stabbed to death with the bayonets. It was just outside aunt Tiny's front door. But she said no one could help them. The Black and Tans were standing there laughing and drinking waving their guns around. They stabbed them to death with the knives on the guns.

She said the Tans were rotten drunk and rolling about the place. Aunt Tiny never forgot what those lads went through that night. They were Sean Gibbons; he was a dairyman and lived up the hill, the other lad, he was Seamus Lawless, he owned a shop in the town.

The priest came into her house to stay with aunt Tiny that night and the doctor came too, she had a bad heart and they thought she would die with all the goings on. She lived until she was ninety-six in the end.

There's a plaque on the bridge in Balbriggan to the two men that were killed, but it doesn't give you any idea of what they went through or the rest of the people in Balbriggan that night. The young people, they just couldn't imagine it today.’

The British Public Were Shocked

The British public were shocked at the happenings in Ireland and pressure was put on the Government to end the war. America was also aware what was going on.

The Truce in July 1921

On 6th December 1921 at 2.10 am the Treaty was signed. All British soldiers including the Black and Tans left Ireland. Bridget Maguire and the people of Stoneybatter were relieved. The Irish War of Independence was over.

The Irish people no longer had to fear the sound of the lorries or avoid the bullets of The Black and Tans. The Treaty was brought to the Dáil in January 1922 and then to the people, who passed it. Unfortunately not all agreed and Ireland began a Civil War.This finally ended on 24th May 1923 when a cease fire was called.

British soldiers in Dublin in the 1920's

British soldiers in Dublin in the 1920's

The Black and Tans in Ireland

The Black and Tans in Ireland


  • Mrs Dora Maquire
  • Mrs Bridget Reid
  • Mr Peter Reid
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  • The Black and Tans by Richard Bennett
  • The Time of the Tans, an oral History. by Tomas MacConmara
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  • Countess Markievicz. An Independent Life. Anne Haverty. 1988
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  • Guns and Chiffon. Women Revolutionaries and Kilmainham
  • Terrible Beauty. Diana Norman. 1987
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  • The Easter Rebellion. Max Caulfield. 1964
  • Agony at Easter, The 1916 Irish Uprising. Thomas M. Coffey. 1971
  • A Terrible Beauty is Born. Ulick O'Connor. 1975
  • Sixteen Roads To Golgotha. Martin Shannon.
  • The Insurrection in Dublin. James Stephens. 1966

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

Question: What was McKee Barracks?

Answer: During the occupation of Ireland by the British troops it was their army barracks. When Ireland got rid of the British it became a barracks for the Irish troops. It is still used for that purpose today.

Question: The unfair suffering of Irish people was horrific at the hands of the Brits, has there been any restitution to the families in any way?

Answer: No, none at all

Question: Who are all these men pictured?

Answer: They are serving soldiers of the Black and Tans in Ireland in the 1920s.

Question: Did black and tans harass all sections of the population?

Answer: Yes, they enjoyed the bullying, beatings, and murder of all Irish men women and children.

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