Black and Tans
Irish American Ryle Dwyer writes a weekly column for the Irish Examiner. They cover a range of subjects but erhaps his historical items are of the greatest interest (to me at least). His current article draws a parallel between the recent kidnappings of Israeli soldiers and the repercussions and events in Tralee in 1920. Needless to say there is no intention on Dwyer’s part to equate historical events to current events but it shows that there is nothing new under the sun.
In September 1920 the IRA in Tralee kidnapped a Black and Tan, holding him for five weeks before shooting him in late October. Shortly after, the IRA took two more Black and Tans prisoner. Patrick Waters and Ernest Bright were shot on the authority of Paddy Cahill, the local IRA brigadier and their bodies were never recovered.
During the early hours of the next morning, the Black and Tans swept through the streets of Tralee shooting indiscriminately, often into houses. They burned down the County Hall. Assuming the IRA was holding their colleagues, the Black and Tans then unleashed a reign of terror on Tralee over the next nine days. Monday, November 1, was All Saints’ Day, a holy day of obligation, and all the churches were busy. The Black and Tans drove up and down the streets in lorries, discharging rifle shots. On the evening of 1 November they shot dead a painter, John Conway, 57, as he was returning from evening devotions.
A group of foreign journalists who had attended the funeral of Terence MacSwiney in Cork on the Sunday (Note: MacSwiney was Lord Mayor of Cork and had been imprisoned for offences under the Defence of the Realm Act. He died after a hunger strike) came to Tralee. They witnessed Black and Tans posting a warning: “Unless the two Tralee policemen in Sinn Féin custody are returned before 10am on the 2nd inst. reprisal of a nature not yet heard of in Ireland will take place in Tralee and surroundings.”
Shortly after noon on Tuesday, Tommy Wall, 24, an ex-soldier who had fought in France during World War I, was standing at a corner on the main street. As a former soldier who had fought for the Crown, he may have thought he would be safe. One of the Tans hit him in the face with a rifle butt and told him to get out of the place. As he left, they shot and fatally wounded him, claiming he was shot trying to escape.
Publication of the town’s newspapers was suspended for the duration of the siege. But the international press focused on the town as never before or since. During the nine-day siege, events in Tralee made the front pages of the Montreal Gazette four times and the New York Times three times.
The front page report in the Montreal Gazette began: “The town of Tralee, Ireland, is fast approaching starvation in consequence of recent police orders forbidding the carrying on of business — until two missing policemen are returned by the townspeople. Trade is paralysed, the banks, and bakeries even being closed, and the condition of the people is becoming desperate.”
In an editorial, the Montreal Gazette lamented: “Men in high places, who should understand the danger of irregular methods of lynch law order, do not show a serious appreciation of the gravity of the situation. Some give veiled excuses for the violence that almost amount to encouragement.”
Hugh Martin of the Daily News reported: “During the past few days Tralee has been in the public eye more than any other town in Ireland and the reprisals there have been given worldwide publicity. Women and children, in addition to the men who may have been guilty of the kidnappings, were going hungry and may soon be faced with the prospect of starvation. How can the Government clear itself of the charge of waging war on women and children?”