Memories of the Black and Tan Raids in Ireland in 1921

Updated on November 16, 2018
viking305 profile image

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

The Black and Tans in Stoneybatter Dublin 7

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 in 1921
Bridget Maguire in 1921 | Source

"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.'

Bridget Maguire's Mother Dora

Dora Maguire in 1921
Dora Maguire in 1921 | Source

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 inambush 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 Black and Tans

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.

Curfew

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.

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.

Uniforms

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.

British Soldiers Dublin 1920's
British Soldiers Dublin 1920's | Source

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.'

Lawless and Gibbons Memorial
Lawless and Gibbons Memorial | Source

'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.’

Bridget Maguire in Manor Street Stoneybatter.1993. Age 84.
Bridget Maguire in Manor Street Stoneybatter.1993. Age 84. | Source

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.

Questions & Answers

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      • profile image

        Dermot Begley 

        3 months ago

        Bridget M.

        I agree with your writings up to the Trump remark.

        My family was very active in the fight for Irish independance.

        My Grandmother tombstone has been engraved "buried with honor, the old IRA"

        I dont understand how anyone could equate Trump with the history similararities of those time, quite the contrary.

        The previous Pres. and the Clintons would banish and ability to defend freedom by civillian in this country. They abdicate handing over our independance to a one world order.

        Trump supports the freedom for Americans granted to the people by the constitution.

        When ever its put to liberals to substantiate their remarks, they come up short.

      • viking305 profile imageAUTHOR

        L M Reid 

        11 months ago from Ireland

        Hello Colin, yes it was a very dark time in our history. My grandmother only lived up the road where they were stationed in Dublin. So it was very hard to get on with a normal life when they were always around,

      • escole61 profile image

        colin powell 

        11 months ago from march

        That was interesting. The Black and Tans are a blight upon us Brits. They left a terrible stigma. When I was a kid going to the eye hospital in London, my mother got talking to a retired policeman. This was 1968. He had been injured during the Blitz of WWII. He had been doing regular check-ups for his eyes. He said his police career begun in Ireland and he was scathing of the Black and Tans. He said they were always drunk and regular policemen had no control over them. He told my Mother that the recruitment drive only selected the thugs for the job. Most were unemployable men from the Great War. They had not done apprenticeships and were too old to start. Many were on the scrapheap where proper skilled employment was concerned. There was a multitude of applicants. But only the thugs were chosen. I'm not sure if the old man, telling us about this, was Irish or English. His accent was well-spoken. I often wondered if he was an ex-Auxillary. They were from more affluent backgrounds. Many were ex-officers as opposed to former NCO army ranks of Black and Tans.

      • profile image

        Bridget Diamond McHugh 

        12 months ago

        Thanks so much for posting this. Reading accounts like this have changed my opinion on gun control for the USA. After reading Tim Pat Coogan's accounts of the B&T's shooting into houses and the children & women running out the back saying,"Have we no guns" I decided maybe total banning of guns is not a good idea. My Mother was 14 at the time of this account and the memories have never left her. In 1984, When Bobby Sands was arrested for being in a car with an inoperable gun in the trunk and sentenced to 20 yrs in the Maze, my Mom was on the phone contacting US govt. officials, newspapers and anyone else she could ask to help. We all marched my Mom,my husband, me, and my children for months in front of the British Embassy to try to get Maggie Thatcher to change her policies. Other people from Ireland in our parish scolded us telling us to take the Boycott British Goods signs off my car. They said ,"you don't want to be mixed up with those people. I laughed and told them ,"We ARE those people" And still those boys kept dying, one by one. The greed never seems to end. At least it's peaceful now and the Irish people are thriving. But the stories and pictures of those times must be kept alive and you are doing a good job helping this. Those who do not learn from History are doomed to repeat it. This is happening right now in the USA via Mr. Trump. Pray for us will you please? Ask St. Michael to protect us.

      • viking305 profile imageAUTHOR

        L M Reid 

        3 years ago from Ireland

        I enjoyed writing this article because it was of my grandmother's memories of a very eventful few years in our country's history.

        Thank you Lee for taking the time to leave a comment

      • profile image

        Lee Cloak 

        3 years ago

        Great hub, very interesting, great pictures, thanks!

      • viking305 profile imageAUTHOR

        L M Reid 

        4 years ago from Ireland

        Good look with the new song Celtic Whispers Jasper Kearns, I hope some one can help you with the search for appropriate photos of the Black and Tans

      • profile image

        Jasperfkearns 

        4 years ago

        I've just Recorded A Ballad Song & Am Looking For Black & Tan Photos & Armoured cars leaving Guinness,s & Dev.if anyone can help,song,CELTIC WHISPER,S

      • viking305 profile imageAUTHOR

        L M Reid 

        6 years ago from Ireland

        My grandmother would never get tired of telling us the stories of her childhood during the Irish War of Independence and the terrible things the Black and Tans did in Dublin and Balbriggan.

        Thanks for reading and taking the time to leave a comment.

      • profile image

        Cormac Leonard 

        6 years ago

        Hello there HB

        I was fascinated by your story about your Deaf great grandfather and the Black and Tans. I would love to get more information if you have it, as I am doing research into the history of Deaf people and I am sure other Deaf Irish men and women would love to hear that story! My email is cormac.leonard@gmail.com.

        Cormac

      • viking305 profile imageAUTHOR

        L M Reid 

        7 years ago from Ireland

        Thank you Jandee for reading and your comment.

        Hello HB, Thanks for sharing your own family's experience of the Black and Tans. Yes you are correct your grandmother and great Grandfather were very lucky.

        There were a few decent men in the Black and Tans but very few. Most of them would have shot him on sight or at least have beaten him up very badly.

      • profile image

        HB 

        7 years ago

        What a great report.

        My own Grandmother in the west would have been a similar age, her mother dead, her father deaf and dumb trying to bring up a family. He couldn't hear the curfew bell, which made his youngest daughter (my grandmother)always with him, very fearful.

        One evening they were stopped by the Tans, the curfew had sounded. It was clearly their lucky day, the senior one, when it was found my Greatgrandfather was deaf and dumb, instructed he be let pass and escorted to the safety of home. He was NEVER troubled again, very lucky I think but perhaps it shows in the worst of people there is always one with a spark of humanity.

      • jandee profile image

        jandee 

        7 years ago from Liverpool.U.K

        Hello Viking, What a goose pimpling hub !! Thanks for writing it you brought it all to life. My family are from Ireland way back and I love reading it all,been meaning to read your other things for ages but now I am certainly going to as you have wet my appetite !Bridget and Dora ! what true tales they could tell!!!jandee

      • viking305 profile imageAUTHOR

        L M Reid 

        8 years ago from Ireland

        Thanks for reading and your comment. Yes it is very important to keep history alive with the memories of older people. My grandmother died 2 years ago at the age of 98. Her memories were very strong of those terrible times.

        If it wasn't for Michael Collins and men and women like him we would not now be a Free State.

      • profile image

        shilo (Cabra Lad) 

        8 years ago

        Thank you very much for putting this article on the site.

        Very informative my Gran lived in Dominick St and I heard all the stories of those Murderous Tans.

        God Bless Micheal Collins and the Rest of the Boys.

      • viking305 profile imageAUTHOR

        L M Reid 

        8 years ago from Ireland

        Thanks for reading the article Cat. I Appreciate your comment

      • profile image

        Cat 

        8 years ago

        very interesting, love the photos

      • viking305 profile imageAUTHOR

        L M Reid 

        8 years ago from Ireland

        Thanks for your comment Jay.

        Yes I love listening to the older people talking about their experiences. They have so much to say and most people in society treat them like they are invisable

      • profile image

        Jay 

        8 years ago

        That was very interesting. Makes it more real when its a first hand account.

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