Republican News · Thursday 19 February 1998

[An Phoblacht]

The toughest leader

At the outbreak of the Civil War, much was expected by republicians of the IRA in Tipperary and in the main they were not disappointed. Unlike many other areas around Ireland, which retired into its safe areas after an initial burst of activity, the IRA here had the capabilities to bring the war to the enemy.

Despite the area's command structure being riven with personality clashes and a lack of communication, the IRA in County Tipperary were party to some of the most spectacular republician successes of the Civil War.

The volunteers of the Third Tipperary Brigade, Second Southern Division, under Commandant General Dinny Lacey were amongst the most active and, along with other Brigades, were involved in capture of the Free State held city of Waterford on 19 July 1922 as well as other towns in Counties Tipperary, Kilkenny and Waterford.

Dinny Lacey of Attybrack, County Tipperary, became a major thorn in the side of the Free Staters as he had been in Britian's side during the Tan War. He had been a Volunteer organiser in 1916, and a Gaelic League member, and he supervised munitions manufacturing prior to the Tan War. He gained a reputation as a fearless fighter and was involved in many of the ambushes and other military operations in Third Brigade area in 1920-21.

Following a successful offensive by Free Staters in August 1922, South Tipperary republicans regrouped with Lacey ordering the adoption of guerrilla tactics and the establishment of flying columns. Until then the fighting was characterised by open warfare on a larger scale - unlike much of the fighting during the Tan War - often involving several hundred Volunteers.

Many of the columns operated out of the area surrounding the Knockmealdown, Galtee and Comeragh mountain ranges from where they launched numerous ambushes. In December republicans recaptured Carrick-on-Suir, Callan, Thomastown, Mullinavat and several other towns in the area, once more gaining the area the reputation of being ``a little republic of its own''.

There was no effective move against republicians until Paddy O Connor took charge of the Free Staters in the South Tipperary area. Another Free State colonel in the area was a former colleague of Lacey's during the Tan War, Tommy Ryan.

Up to 1,000 Staters were drafted into the area from the garrisons in Cashel, Limerick, Cahir, Tipperary and Clonmel to try to make it a death trap for republicans.

It was around this time, according to Dan Breen, that an approach was made to Dinny Lacey by the neutral IRA Association to discuss a truce. It was for this discussion that Lacey and his column moved into Ballydavid in the Glen of Aherlow, on the night of 17 February.

Billeting in various houses in the locality, the Volunteers came under attack the next morning. Lacey had been staying in Roddy Ryan's Ashgrove house along with Captain Bill Allen and Commandant Paddy McDonagh. Under heavy fire Lacey and the others made a dash from the house to escape the ever closing net. Paddy Mc Donagh was seriously injured in the ensuing gun battle and Dinny was mortally wounded.

Dinny Lacey's death would have a serious demoralising effect within the IRA and a Free State report that ``Lacey was the toughest leader which could be found in any part of Ireland'' demonstrates the calibre of the leader the IRA lost that day.

At the age of 33 Dinny Lacey died this week 75 years ago. His comrade Commandant Paddy McDonagh died the following day in Tipperary hospital.

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