By James Reddiough
The Bonniconlon Ambush of April 1921 took place in the middle of the Co. Mayo village but it was meant to take place further down the Ballina Road but the leadership were afraid of what might happen to the elderly people if it was held there, so they moved it closer to the village. There was a dance in the old school built in 1890 and the Tans were expected to raid, guided by the RIC from Ballina.
This was on the night of the 3 April 1921 a hundred years ago this month. There were wanted men at the dance and hence the raid by the crown forces. Women from the local Cumann na mBan tipped the volunteers off about the raid and they prepared an ambush near the school at a grove not far from Walshe’s house.
It was planned to lure the Tans from the dance and disarm them, and the party who were to do this were positioned closer to the school in the main section, with other sections on the Carra Road and on the Tubbercurry road in case that other Tans might come from different directions.
The ambush did not work out as planned. The Tans and RIC from Ballina came in two lorries and they anticipated the ambush and they halted the lorries a distance away from the school and they walked in twos and threes mingling with the people who were also walking to the dance in the school – it was dark and the Tans and RIC were not recognised in the advance party.
Then there was a turn in events when another smaller vehicle parked near Walshe’s gate. The 50 strong IRA party did not fire as they thought it might be Dr. Walshe’s car as only doctors were allowed on the road at that time. The figures dismounted from the vehicle and they walked towards the school – they were identified as the enemy by the sound of their accents and the click of a rifle.
When the IRA realised who they were they opened fire and the shooting went on for 30 minutes during which one Tan, constable William Hankins from Gloucester, was wounded and another member of the RIC was also injured.
When the IRA realised that the advance party were already in the school holding the people there prisoner they were ordered to withdraw and the ambush was abandoned. There were people in the hall who were interrogated by the RIC and Tans and they held the school for the night and they fired shots into the ceiling that were visible until the school was renovated in the 1970s, when it was converted for use as a community centre.
The tans were far from amused when they heard that a member of their unit had been wounded so they fired at the ceiling to intimidate the people and to force them to give information about the men who were on the run. The funny thing about it was that the men who were on the run were amongst the ambushers!
There were men from North Mayo and West Sligo in the ambush that night including men from the local company of Attymass and Bonniconlon that were known as the B Company 1st Battalion North Mayo Brigade, under the command of Willie Loftus of Carralavin at that time.
The village was raided and full of the Crown Forces the next day and they took young men away on lorries to the District RIC barrack in Walsh Street, Ballina, where they were held for a few days before they were released.
The following Sunday, the 10 April 1921 the police and military were searching people coming out from Mass and they raided houses in Ardnaree, Ballina and Bonniconlon in the weeks after the ambush and some of these incidents were the subject of claims to the malicious injuries courts the following February, 1922. These matters were reported on in the local papers.
This is the history of the affair known as The Bonniconlon ambush of the 3/4 April 1921 in the North Mayo Brigade area, there were men from Ballina and West Sligo involved as well as men from the locality and the neighbouring parish of Attymass. They were formed around this time into the No. 2 Active Service Unit of the Brigade area east of the river Moy, the other unit operated west of the Moy and were called the No. 1 ASU. Earlier that year, in February, there was an ambush prepared at the Crooked Bridge on the Ballina – Bonniconlon Road by members of the local company, numbering about 25 – 30 men but the enemy did not show up and the engagement had to be called off. This was the main contribution of Bonniconlon in the fight for freedom.