The Rineen Ambush
September 22nd, 1920
Before proceeding to describe the action at Rineen, it is necessary to say something about the character of the man in charge of the operation. It can be stated truthfully that it was O'Neill's, bold, and resolute leadership, and military training, that extricated the Column from what might have been certain disaster. What type of man
was this Ignatius O'Neill, of whose personality and achievements, in the days, when he and the men who served under him were "on the run" is so much heard of in Clare today.
The memory of this gay, gallant, and fine soldier is still fresh in his native County, where his name was a household word, and his deeds have become legendary. Of stock long associated with the national struggle, he was born in Miltown Malbay in 1896, son of Patrick Hugh O'Neill and Mrs. Ethel O'Neill. His forebears, both on the
paternal and maternal side were in the "Land League" fight, in which his mother's brother, a member of the patriotic Hynes family of Toureen, Spancil Hill, Ennis, gave his life on the scaffold. He was also a cousin of Harry M. Hynes, chairman of the Diamond jubilee and St. Patrick's Parade of N. Y. Tall and with a flaming thatch of red
hair, Ignatius was of athletic build and was decidedly an adventurous type. He had his primary education in Miltown Malbay and subsequently attended Blackrock College, Dublin, where he became outstanding in the field of sports. After completing his college education he decided to travel to the United States where he expected to find a
fruitful field for bold endeavour. The outbreak of the first World War in August 1914, found him in New York, and a ready victim for the propagandists, who were busy upholding the Allied Cause as a sacred fight for the freedom of small nations, and he needed little urging to join the fight. Soon after, he was in active service in
France, where be was wounded, and sent back to an English Hospital for treatment and to recuperate.
It was probably during this period of convalescence in England, that he heard the call of Ireland, and he realized that if small nations were really in need of his help, his own native land had the prior claim.
Once he had begun to think about Ireland, and her long struggle against foreign domination, it was inevitable that he would become a factor in her fight for freedom.
Thus it came about on that September dawn of 1920. The Active Service Unit of the Fourth Batt. Mid Clare Brigade, I.R.A. which just moved into position at Rineen, to engage the enemy, was commanded by the tall red headed ex-guardsman Ignatius O'Neill.
After carefully checking the pre-arranged plan of attack, and with everything in readiness at five forty-five a.m., the Column waited patiently until twelve o'clock noon, when a police lorry (travelling south) on its way to Miltown Malbay appeared.
It was permitted to pass, because of a mistake in signals.
This disappointment was temporary however, for within an interval of forty minutes it returned over the same route. A pre-arranged signal was given and with a terrific barrage from rifles, shot guns, and grenades, the I.R.A. were in full control in a few minutes. When the smoke cleared away all six occupants of the lorry were dead.
Commandant O'Neill took ten men to the road to remove the arms and equipment which comprised six rifles and three thousand rounds of ammunition and one revolver with fifty rounds.
The Column Commander and five of his comrades, having just completed the removal of the guns and ammunition were still at the ambush site, when they received a hurried warning that the Military were coming. In a matter of seconds three enemy transports were hastily pulled up. Excited English Officers shouting orders brought the soldiers
quickly into action. They were immediately engaged by the I.R.A. and a battle for survival began. Comm. O'Neill was quick to realize that his Column was out-numbered by more than five to one. With a limited supply of rifles and ammunition matched against one hundred and fifty regular army troops using machine guns and rifle grenades,
he decided on fighting a withdrawal action. With the Column spread out over a large area, a rear guard and flanking attack was made possible which kept the enemy from advancing. Comm. O'Neill and Michael Curtin were wounded in battle and carried to safety. There were no arrests.
The enemy casualties numbered about 27.