The Cairo Gang was a group of British intelligence agents who were sent to Dublin during the Irish War of Independence to conduct intelligence operations against prominent members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA). Twelve people, including British Army officers, Royal Irish Constabulary officers and a civilian informant, were assassinated on the morning of 21 November 1920 by the IRA in a planned series of simultaneous early-morning strikes engineered by Michael Collins. The events were to be the first killings of Bloody Sunday.
Some Irish historians (such as Tim Pat Coogan and Conor Cruise O'Brien) dispute assertions of a common history of service in the Middle East as the reason for the unit's nom de guerre. It has been suggested that they received the name because they often held meetings at the Cairo Cafe at 59 Grafton Street in Dublin. Earlier books on the 1919–1923 period do not refer to the Cairo Gang by that name.
- 1 Background
- 2 Assassinations
- 3 Fatalities
- 4 Aftermath
- 5 Igoe Gang
- 6 See also
- 7 References
- 8 Bibliography
- 9 External links
By 1920, the success of the IRA, in particular its Intelligence Department under Michael Collins, was a cause of concern in the Dublin Castle administration, the then headquarters of the British government in Ireland. The IRA's success led to the British government's demand that the IRA be eliminated.
In January 1920, the British Army Intelligence Centre in Ireland stood up a special plainclothes unit of 18–20 demobilized ex-army officers and some active-duty officers to conduct clandestine operations against the IRA. The officers received training at a school of instruction in London, most likely under the supervision of Special Branch, which had been part of the Directorate of Home Intelligence since February 1919. They may also have received some training from MI5 officers and ex-officers working for Special Branch. Army Centre, Dublin, hoped these officers could eventually be divided up and deployed to the provinces to support its 5th and 6th Division intelligence staffs, but it decided to keep it in Dublin under the command of the Dublin District Division, General Gerald Boyd, commanding. It was known officially as the Dublin District Special Branch (DDSB) and also as "D Branch". In May 1920, Lieutenant Colonel Walter Wilson arrived in Dublin to take command of D Branch. Following the events of Bloody Sunday, 21 November 1920, when several D Branch officers were assassinated by IRA hit teams, D Branch was transferred to the command of Brigadier-General Sir Ormonde Winter in January 1921. Winter had been placed in charge of a new police intelligence unit, the Combined Intelligence Service, in May 1920, and his charter was to set up a central intelligence clearing house to more effectively collate and coordinate army and police intelligence. The several members of D Branch who survived Bloody Sunday were very unhappy to be transferred from army command to CIS command, and, for the next six months, until the Truce of July 1921, D Branch continued to maintain regular contact with Army Intelligence Centre while undertaking missions for Winter's CIS.
The photograph lodged in the National Library photographic archive Piaras Béaslaí collection (five copies) describes the men as "the special gang F company Auxiliaries". There are no names or details on the back of the photos. Three other photos are in the collection showing Auxiliaries posing on vehicles taken in Dublin Castle. These three photos are similarly numbered. Its members lived in boarding houses and hotels across Dublin, where they lived unobtrusively while preparing a hit list of known republicans. However, the IRA Intelligence Department (IRAID) was one step ahead of them and was receiving information from numerous well-placed sources, including Lily Merin, who was the confidential code clerk for British Army Intelligence Centre in Parkgate Street, and Sergeant Jerry Mannix, stationed in Donnybrook. Mannix provided the IRAID with a list of names and addresses for all the members of the Cairo Gang, and Michael Collins's case officers on the intelligence staff—Liam Tobin, Tom Cullen and Frank Thornton, were meeting with several D Branch officers nightly, pretending to be informers. Another IRA penetration source participating in the nightly repartee with the D Branch men at Cafe Cairo, Rabiatti's Saloon and Kidds Back Pub was Detective Constable David Neligan, one of Michael Collins's penetrations of G-Division (secret police) of the Dublin Metropolitan Police. Additionally, the IRA had co-opted most of the Irish servants who worked in the rooming houses where the D Branch officers lived, and all of their comings and goings were meticulously recorded by servants and reported to Collins's staff.
From then on, all the members of the gang were kept under surveillance for several weeks, and intelligence was gathered from sympathisers (for example, concerning people who were coming home at strange hours, which would indicate that they were being allowed through the military curfews). The IRA Dublin Brigade and the IRAID then pooled their resources and intelligence to draw up their own hit list of suspected gang members and set the date for the assassinations to be carried out on 21 November 1920 at 9:00 am.
The operation was planned by several senior IRA members, including Michael Collins, Dick McKee, Liam Tobin, Peadar Clancy, Tom Cullen, Frank Thornton and Oscar Traynor. The killings were planned to coincide with a Gaelic football match between Dublin and Tipperary, because the large crowds around Dublin would provide easier movement and less chance of detection for the members of Collins' Squad carrying out the assassinations. Clancy and McKee were picked up by Crown forces on the evening of Saturday, 20 November. They were tortured and later shot dead allegedly while trying to escape, along with a Gaelic language student, Conor Clune, the nephew of Archbishop Clune.
28 Pembroke Street
The operation began at 9:00 am, when members of the Squad entered 28 Pembroke Street. The first British agents to die were Major Dowling and Captain Leonard Price. Andy Cooney of the Dublin Brigade removed documents from their rooms, before three more members of the Gang were shot in the same house: Captain Keenlyside, Colonel Woodcock, and Lieutenant-Colonel Hugh Montgomery. Woodcock was not connected with intelligence and had walked into a confrontation on the first floor of the Pembroke Street house as he was preparing to leave to command a regimental parade at army headquarters. He was dressed in his military uniform, and, when he shouted to warn the other five British officers living in the house, he was shot in the shoulder and back, but survived. As Keenlyside was about to be shot, a struggle ensued between his wife and Mick O'Hanlon. The leader of the unit, Mick Flanagan, arrived, pushed Mrs. Keenlyside out of the way and shot her husband.
117 Morehampton Road
At 117 Morehampton Road, Donnybrook, not far from the scene of the first shootings, another member of the Cairo Gang, Lieutenant Donald Lewis MacLean, along with suspected informer T. H. Smith and MacLean's brother-in-law, John Caldow, were taken into the hallway and about to be shot, when MacLean asked that they not be shot in front of his wife. The three were taken to an unused bedroom and shot. Caldow survived his wounds and fled to his home in Scotland.
92 Lower Baggot Street
Next, at 92 Lower Baggot Street, another member, Captain William Frederick Newberry, and his wife heard their front door come crashing down and blockaded themselves into their bedroom. Newberry rushed for his window to try to escape but was shot while climbing out by Bill Stapleton and Joe Leonard after they finally broke the door down.
38 Upper Mount Street
Two key members of the Gang, Lt. Peter Ashmun Ames and Capt. George Bennett, were made to stand facing the wall on a bed in a downstairs rear bedroom and shot by Vinnie Byrne and others in his squad. A maid had let the attackers into 38 Upper Mount Street and indicated, at gun point, the rooms occupied by the two targeted men. Despite many accounts to the contrary, Byrne was not involved in the killings in Morehampton Road that morning.
28 Earlsfort Terrace
Sergeant John J. Fitzgerald, of the Royal Irish Constabulary, also known as "Captain Fitzgerald" or "Captain Fitzpatrick", whose father was from County Tipperary, was shot and killed at 28 Earlsfort Terrace. He had survived a previous assassination attempt when a bullet grazed his head. This time he was shot twice in the head. The documents found in his house detailed the movements of senior IRA members.
22 Lower Mount Street
Meanwhile, an IRA unit led by Tom Keogh entered 22 Lower Mount Street to kill Lieutenant Angliss aka McMahon, and Lieutenant Peel. The two intelligence specialists in the Gang, McMahon and Peel had been recalled from Russia to organise British Intelligence in the South Dublin area. McMahon survived a previous assassination attempt when shot at a billiard hall. He was targeted for killing Sinn Féin fundraiser John Lynch, mistaken for Liam Lynch, Divisional Commandant of the 1st Southern Division. McMahon was shot as he reached for his gun.
Peel, hearing the shots, managed to block his bedroom door and survived even though more than a dozen bullets were fired into his room. When members of Fianna Éireann on lookout reported that the Auxiliary Division were approaching the house, the unit of eleven men split up into two groups, the first leaving by the front door, the second leaving through the laneway at the back of the house.
119 Baggot Street
At 119 Baggot Street, Captain Geoffrey Thomas Baggallay, a barrister by profession, who had been employed as a prosecutor under the Restoration of Order in Ireland Act 1920 regulations, and who had been a member of military courts that sentenced IRA volunteers to death, was killed by a three-man IRA unit.
Major McCormack and Captain Wilde were in the Gresham Hotel. The IRA unit gained access to their rooms by pretending to be British soldiers with important dispatches. When the men opened their doors they were shot and killed. A Times listing for McCormack and Wilde does not list any rank for the latter, however. McCormack's killing was another IRA mistake. He was a member of the Royal Army Veterinary Corps and was in Ireland to buy horses for the Army. He was shot in bed and Collins himself later acknowledged the error. Unlike the British officers, McCormack, a Catholic, was buried in Ireland at Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin.
Captain Crawford narrowly escaped death after the IRA entered a guesthouse in Fitzwilliam Square where he was staying, looking for a Major Callaghan. On not finding their target, they debated whether or not to shoot Crawford. They decided not to shoot him as he was not on the hit list; instead they gave him 24 hours to leave Ireland, which he promptly did.
In the Eastwood Hotel the IRA failed to find their target, a Colonel Jennings. Other targets who escaped were a Major Hardy, as well as a "Major King, a colleague of Hardy [who] was missing when he [assassin Joe Dolan] burst into his [King's] room that he [Dolan] took revenge by giving his [King's] half-naked mistress 'a right scourging with a sword scabbard', and setting fire to the room afterwards."
Major Carew, an intelligence officer who with Captain Price had cornered IRA gunman Sean Treacy the month before was on the hit list but when the IRA came calling for him, he had moved to an apartment across the street. He heard the gunfire at his former lodging and began firing his own revolver at an IRA sentry outside. The sentry was hit and took cover inside the house. Carew's action prompted the IRA gang to clear out.
Several IRA men carried sledgehammers with them the morning of 21 November as they expected to encounter some bolted doors. They did not find any but as Dr. T. Ryle Dwyer has noted, used them to smash the skulls and faces of some of the officers they had shot down.
Two members of the Auxiliary Cadet Division, Temporary Cadets Frank Garniss and Cecil A. Morris were among a patrol of Auxiliaries who responded to the scene of one of the attacks, armed with .45 caliber Webley revolvers and a carbine. Garniss and Morris were shot and killed in their effort to cordon off the rear of one of the scenes of assassination.
A Times listing of killed and wounded reports that in addition to Caldow, Captain Keenlyside, Colonel Montgomery, Major Woodcock, and a Lt. Murray were wounded, but not killed. Montgomery died 10 December 1920 of the wounds he received on Bloody Sunday.
Nineteen men were shot. Fourteen were killed on 21 November, Montgomery died later making fifteen in all. Four were wounded. Ames, Angliss, Baggallay, Bennet, Dowling, Fitzgerald, McCormack, MacLean, Montgomery, Newberry, Price, Wilde, Smith, Morris, Garniss were killed. Keenlyside, Woodcock, Murray and Caldow were wounded. Peel amongst others escaped. The dead included members of the "Cairo Gang", British Army Courts-Martial officers, the two Auxiliaries and a civilian informant.
Of the IRA men involved, only Frank Teeling was captured during the operation. He was court-martialled and sentenced to hang, but escaped from Kilmainham Gaol before the sentence could be carried out. Patrick Moran and Thomas Whelan were arrested later and, despite their protestations of innocence, were both hanged for murder in connection with the killings in March 1921
The remaining Cairo Gang members, along with many other spies, fled to either Dublin Castle or England, fearing they were next on the IRA's "hit list". This dealt a severe blow to British intelligence-gathering in Ireland.
Eventually another group of intelligence operatives led by Head Constable Eugene Igoe from County Mayo would take the fight to the IRA. Officially known as the Identification Branch of the Combined Intelligence Service (CIS), Igoe reported to Colonel Ormonde Winter.
The Igoe Gang consisted of RIC personnel drawn from different parts of Ireland, and they patrolled the streets of Dublin in plain clothes, looking for wanted men. The Igoe Gang posed a serious threat to Collins's apparatus and in fact caught a Volunteer whom Collins had brought to Dublin to identify Igoe. They were never penetrated by the IRA. Igoe later conducted secret service operations for Special Branch over many years in other countries but never returned to his farm in Mayo out of fear of reprisal. Winter appeared on Igoe's behalf to obtain an increase in his pension in view of his many services to the Crown in Ireland and elsewhere.
- Imperial War Museum, General Hugh Jeudwine Papers, A Record of the Rebellion in Ireland, 1919–1921 and of the part played by the Army in it. Volume II
- Caroline Woodcock, Experiences of an Officer's Wife in Ireland(London and Edinburgh: Blackwood and Sons, 1921).
- Charles Townsend, The British Campaign in Ireland 1919–1921 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1975)
- The Irish War of Independence by Michael Hopkinson (ISBN 978-0717137411), page 91
- "Casualty Details: Charles Milne Cholmeley Dowling". Commonwealth War Graves Commission. 1920-11-21. Retrieved 2009-06-04.
- "Casualty Details: L Price". Commonwealth War Graves Commission. 1920-11-21. Retrieved 2009-06-04.
- "Casualty Details: Donald Lewis MacLean". Commonwealth War Graves Commission. 1920-11-21. Retrieved 2009-06-04.
- "Casualty Details: William Frederick Newberry". Commonwealth War Graves Commission. 1920-11-21. Retrieved 2009-06-04.
- "Casualty Details: Peter Ashmun Ames". Commonwealth War Graves Commission. 1920-11-21. Retrieved 2009-06-04.
- "Casualty Details: G Bennett". Commonwealth War Graves Commission. 1920-11-21. Retrieved 2009-06-04.
- "National Police Officers Roll of Honour: Royal Irish Constabulary 1867–1922". Police Roll of Honour Trust. 2009-05-06. Retrieved 2009-06-04.
- "Casualty Details: Henry James Angliss". Commonwealth War Graves Commission. 1920-11-21. Retrieved 2009-06-04.
- Casualty Details: Baggallay, Geoffrey Thomas. Commonwealth War Graves Commission. 1920-11-21. Retrieved 2009-12-29.
- The Times, 23 November 1920
- The Times, Murdered Officers' Last Journey 25 November 1920
- Tim Pat Coogan, Michael Collins: The Man Who Made Ireland, p.160
- Todd Andrews, Dublin Made Me, Mercier Press, 1979, p. 153
- T Ryle Dwyer, The Squad and the Intelligence Operations of Michael Collins (Cork: Mercier, 2005).
- James Mackay, Michael Collins, A Life (Edinburgh and London: Mainstream Publishers, 1996).
- Michael Hopkinson, The Irish War of Independence (Montreal: McGill Queens University Press, 2002)
- "Casualty Details: Hugh Ferguson Montgomery". Commonwealth War Graves Commission. 1920-12-10. Retrieved 2009-06-04.
- Tim Pat Coogan, Michael Collins: The Man Who Made Ireland.
- Ormonde Winter, A Report of the Intelligence Branch of the Chief Police Commissioner 1921, Public Record Office (PRO).
- Todd Andrews, Dublin Made Me, Mercier Press, 1979, p. 153
- Yigal Sheffy, British Military Intelligence in the Palestine Campaign, 1914–1918 (Cass Series – Studies in Intelligence, 1998).
- Michael Smith, The Spying Game (Victor Gollancz Ltd, 1996).