The sack of Balbriggan



A look at an infamous event in the Tan War in County Dublin, 97 years ago this week.


A rampage by the notorious ‘Black and Tans’ on the night of Monday, September 20 followed the deaths of two of their number who were shot dead while in Smyth’s pub, Balbriggan earlier that day.

The sack began around 11pm as lorries loaded with Black and Tans arrived in the town from the barracks at Gormanston and directly proceeded to shoot, burn and loot the town in a systematic spree of horrific violence.

In Clonard Street, 20 houses were destroyed leaving helpless and terrified inhabitants to flee into the fields surrounding the town.

Several pubs were looted and burned including Derham’s Pub and McGowan’s pub on George’s Hill.

Local businesses were also targeted with Deeds and Templar Hosier completely destroyed. This factory had employed 130 workers and an additional 180 who did work for it from home.

There was only one house targeted on Hampton Street and it was that of John Gibbons, who was taken for ‘questioning’ concerning the shootings earlier that day.

Also at the barracks was the town’s barber James Lawless, both men protesting their innocence.

They were later taken to Quay Street where they were beaten and stabbed to death, their bodies found the next morning as the smoke from burned out town still rose in an eerie silence.

A terrified population sought refuge wherever they could, many going to Dublin to stay with relatives as news of the carnage spread throughout the land.

Others with nowhere to go or those who did not want to leave slept in makeshift straw homes in the fields around the town.

The English press covered the destruction.

“To realise the full horrors of that night, one has to think of bands of men inflamed with drink, raging about the streets, firing rifles wildly, burning houses here and there loudly threatening to come again tonight and complete their work,” according to the Manchester Guardian.

A British civil servant in Dublin Castle, Mark Sturgis, felt no remorse. He wrote in his diary: “Worse things can happen than the shooting up of a sink like Balbriggan.”

The policy of ‘unofficial’ reprisals was sanctioned at the highest level. The OC of the British forces in Ireland, General Sir Nevil Macready, defended it privately.

“Where reprisals have taken place, the whole atmosphere of the surrounding district has changed from one of hostility to one of cringing submission.”

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