The Rineen Ambush was an ambush carried out by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) on 22 September 1920, during the Irish War of Independence. It took place at Drummin Hill in the townland of Drummin, near the hamlet of Rineen (or Rinneen), County Clare.
The IRA's Mid-Clare Brigade attacked a Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) lorry, killing six officers. Shortly after, the IRA volunteers were attacked by ten lorry-loads of British Army soldiers, who had been sent as reinforcements. However, they held off this attack long enough to flee the scene and sustained only two wounded.
The Volunteers in County Clare had been active since 1917 and by late 1920 had forced the RIC to abandon most of its small rural barracks in the county. This gave the IRA greater freedom to move in the countryside. In August 1920, the RIC were reinforced by the British deployment of Black and Tans and Auxiliaries to the county. Five RIC men, eleven IRA volunteers and four civilians had been killed in County Clare during the two years before the ambush.
The Rineen Ambush was ordered by the leadership of the IRA's Mid Clare Brigade, who had noticed that an RIC lorry travelled every week on the Ennistymon to Milltown Malbay road. John Joe Neylon (the leader of the local IRA battalion) was put in charge, although the actual attack was led by Ignatius O'Neill, the Officer Commanding. He was a veteran of World War I who had formerly fought with the Irish Guards. The ambush party had only nine rifles and some grenades, the remainder being armed with shotguns or handguns. They prepared to attack the lorry from a railway bridge that overlooked the road at Rineen.
As the IRA party was lying in wait, Alan Lendrum, the local resident magistrate, drove unwittingly into a roadblock of IRA's West Clare Brigade, in an unrelated action. He was stopped at a railway crossing at Caherfeenick near Doonbeg. When the IRA demanded he surrender his car, he drew an automatic pistol and the IRA men shot him twice in the head, fatally wounding him. The IRA weighted his body with stones and dumped it in a nearby lake. Even though the British Military inquest had established that Lendrum had died of gunshot wounds members of the RIC. in Clare spread a false version of events and claimed that Lendrum had died of drowning.
Although in strict military sense not related to the ambush (the three battalions in co. Clare operated independently), it had serious consequences for the ambush. It was quite quickly noticed that the magistrate was missing and the military in Ennistymon decided to send out a search party of ten lorries of soldiers.
The RIC lorry passed safely through the ambush position, travelling from Ennistymon to Milltown Malbay, due to some confusion among the IRA over the numbers they faced. However when they learned that there was only one lorry, it was attacked on its return journey from Milltown Malbay. The lorry was hit by a grenade and blasted at close range by rifle and shotgun fire. The shooting was over in seconds, with five out of the six RIC men being killed outright. The sixth man managed to run about 300 yards before being shot dead.
Five of the dead were Irish RIC officers and one was an English Black and Tan. The IRA took their weapons and burned the lorry.
However, not long after the lorry had been set ablaze, ten more lorries of British Army troops arrived on the scene. They had been sent out to search for Alan Lendrum, the magistrate who had gone missing earlier that day. A running fight developed, as four IRA riflemen kept the troops at bay while the other volunteers made their escape. Two IRA volunteers and several British soldiers were wounded in the firing. Padraic O'Farrell lists the casualties as three British soldiers killed, but this is not confirmed by the other sources.
The British forces, enraged by the ambush and the escape of the IRA force, took out reprisals on civilians in the surrounding area. Immediately after the action ended, they burned the house and farm of the O'Gorman family and shot a local farmer, Sean Keane. He later died of his wounds.
That night, a mixed force of police and soldiers raided the home of Dan Lehane, whose two sons had taken part in the ambush. They shot him dead and burned his house at Lahinch. Patrick Lehane was burned to death in the attic when the house was set alight. Several other houses were burned in Lahinch and a further eight were razed in Milltown Malbay.
A separate RIC raid took place in Ennistymon, in which several homes and businesses were burned. In this raid they killed Tom Connole, the secretary of the local ITGWU trade union, and burned his home. PJ Linnane, a 15-year-old boy, was also shot dead by the police.
In what may have been a belated reprisal for the ambush, four IRA men were arrested by the Auxiliaries at Killaloe on 16 November, beaten, interrogated and then shot dead. Another two were summarily executed in the same way on 22 December at Kilkee.
The reprisals were condemned in the British, Irish and international press. In the House of Commons, the British Labour Party tabled a resolution condemning the reprisals and calling for an investigation. This was defeated by 346 votes to 79. Hamar Greenwood, the Chief Secretary for Ireland, defended the State Forces' actions, saying that the houses destroyed were those of, "notorious Sinn Feiners... I am convinced that the people of those two villages knew of this ambush".
In Clare itself, according to IRA man Anthony Malone, the ambush had two effects. One was that the RIC became careful to travel in convoys of no less than three lorries. The other was that, as a result of the reprisals, the civilian population "became embittered against [the British] and adopted a more defiant attitude to the [British] military and Black and Tans".
The death of Resident Magistrate Alan Lendrum, however, according to pro-republican Catholic priest Sean Gaynor, "was not to our credit". On 1 October, the local IRA removed Lendrum's body from the lake, put it in a roughly constructed coffin and left it on the railway tracks at Craggaknock railway station for British forces to find.
- "Raids and Ambushes - Rineen Ambush (Memoirs of Andrew O'Donoghue)". Clare Library. Retrieved 2009-11-01.
- Padraig O Ruairc, Blood on the Banner, The Republican Struggle in Clare, Mercier, 2009, p169-171
- Ernie O'Malley, Raids and Rallies, Anvil 1982, p77-87
- O Ruairc, p 115
- O Ruairc, p 325-331
- O Ruairc p159-160, "One of the IRA Volunteers drove the ex-British officer's car from the scene, while William Shanahan took the mortally wounded Lendrum to an outhouse in a nearby field. Shanahan, thinking Lendrum was already dead, took him to a lake, tied a weight to him and threw him in the water, where the unconscious captain died of drowning." O Ruairc corrected this statement in later editions of the book as it was clearly incorrect.
- Death Of Alan Lendrum by Pádraig Óg Ó Ruairc. This article also contains a statement that he had erred in attributing Lendrums death to drowning in the book.
- On the ambush, O Ruairc p162-166, O'Malley p72-77
- O'Farrell, Padraic (1980). Who's who in the Irish War of Independence, 1916-1921. Mercier Press. Retrieved 01/11/09.
- on reprisals, O Ruairc, p167-171, O'Malley, 77-87
- O Ruairc p 325
- Ernie O'Malley Raids and Rallies, p87
- O Ruairc, p170
- Michael Hopkinson, The Irish War of Independence, p130, Gill and Macmillan, 2004
- O Ruairc, p171