By Donal J O’Sullivan
DISTRICT DIRECTOR: sean lyons / EDITOR: tommy martin
One of the most controversial leaders in Ireland during the first half of the 20th century was undoubtedly General Eoin O’Duffy. He was born at Cargaghoo, Castleblayney, County Monaghan in January 1890. His father was a small farmer and Eoin was the youngest of seven children. On leaving school he became very involved in G.A.A. affairs and obtained employment with Monaghan County Council. He joined the Gaelic League and through it met members who were later involved in the Rising of 1916. He went on to become leader of the County Monaghan Brigade of the I.R.A. He was in charge of the I.R.A. force who captured Ballytrain R.I.C. barracks. At the outbreak of the Civil War he took the Pro Treaty side and became Officer Commanding of the Northern Command of the Irish Army and later of the South Western Command.
When the new Civic Guard [later An Garda Síochána] was established he was persuaded by the Irish Government to take over the position of Commissioner of the new force in September 1922. He was only thirty years of age at the time. He held the post until February 1933 when he was sacked by De Valera and the Fianna Fail Government. He was an outstanding leader of the Garda Síochána over a particularly difficult period and it is doubtful if any other leader could have achieved so much – in bringing a young unarmed police force to establish law and order and the rule of democracy in a country torn asunder by conflict and Civil War.
An organisation commonly known as the ‘’Blueshirts’’and under the official title of the ‘Army Comrades Association’ was set up in February 1932 by former Colonel Austin Brennan and former Commandant Ned Cronin. To distinguish themselves they wore ‘blue shirts’. Many of its members were former members of the Irish Army. General O’Duffy joined the organisation in July 1933 and he was elected leader. He became the principal speaker at rallies held by the organisation at different venues.
Militant Republicans clashed with the speakers and followers who turned up at these rallies, often resulting in serious violence. On October 6th 1933 O’Duffy arranged for one of his rallies to be held at Tralee. Given what had occurred at earlier rallies, bus loads of Garda reinforcements were requisitioned from Limerick and Cork City to augment the Kerry Garda Force.
At 2.45 p.m. on October 6th, Gen O’Duffy and Comdt Cronin arrived in Tralee and went to the Grand Hotel where they met some Cumann na nGaedheal representatives. They later walked down the Mall wearing their blue shirts, where they met a very hostile mob who hissed and shouted at the them with slogans like, ‘’Up Dev’’, ‘’Up the Republic’’ ‘’We remember Ballseedy’’ etc. Both men were on their way to address a meeting in the Foresters Hall and when they were about halfway there, about 20 men attacked them. One man from the crowd went towards O’Duffy and hit him with a hammer on the head. O’Duffy later said, “He was not prevented from striking me. After I was struck with the hammer and while my face and clothes were saturated with blood I was struck on the face. The culprit was not arrested or interfered with by the Guards.”
The Gardaí had been caught unawares by the incident and they formed a cordon around the Foresters Hall to ensure that none of the protestors got in to the meeting. Violent scenes erupted and the Gardaí were involved in baton charges on the protestors. Motorcars bringing delegates to the meeting were attacked and stones were thrown at them. The buses bringing Gardaí from outside locations were also attacked with stones. Caball’s shop was forced open and about 40 hurleys were stolen from it which were used in the riot.
Inside the Hall, O’Duffy addressed about 120 people while the place was pelted with stones and missiles which broke glass on the roof and caused other damage. Duffy and his party could not safely leave the building, and after the Gardaí baton charged the crowd the situation became more violent with the Gardaí being pelted with stones and bottles. The situation was very volatile and at about 10 p.m. two lorry loads of soldiers arrived from Cork to bring the situation under control. One detachment with fixed bayonets and a machine-gun used tear-gas bombs to disperse the crowd. The second detachment of military in double-file, marching through the town with their rifles at the ready, succeeded in restoring peace. A lot of windows were broken and the army remained on duty in the town until 7 a.m.
While the whole affair was taking place, O’Duffy’s motorcar was taken from its hotel garage in Denny Street and set on fire at the arch in Denny street, where it was completely destroyed. O’Duffy was eventually rescued from the Forester’s Hall and together with Cronin, was ‘spirited’ over the short mountain to the International Hotel in Killarney. He later issued a statement; “The Guards who otherwise would be anxious to maintain their reputation as impartial police officers must have had instructions to take no steps to prevent an attack. The hammer affair was simply the dying kick of a disappointed people. They didn’t expect I’d reach Tralee at all.”
At 8 am Mass on the following Sunday, Monsignor O’Leary denounced in the strongest language the actions of the hostile crowd who caused the trouble. On October 15th, Mr. Sean Lemass, Minister for Industry and Commerce said, “I notice in the press today that Mr. O’Duffy complained that he was not getting sufficient protection from the Gardaí. The fact is that all over the country, the Gardaí were being put to very heavy duty protecting Mr. O’Duffy. If he would conduct himself and his political campaign and organisation as a political force on the same lines that other parties adapt, the task of the Garda Síochána would be much easier.”
In the early hours of the morning following the riots relating to the visit of General O’ Duffy, Tralee Garda Station was attacked from the rear with a machine gun. Many of the windows at the rear of the Station were broken and several bullets passed through the dormitory rooms at the top of the building while other bullets were embedded into interior walls and partitions. Luckily nobody was injured.
A number of young men were later arrested, tried and imprisoned for the riotous behaviour relating to the General’s visit.
Image sources unknown.
About the author
Donal J. O’Sullivan is a retired Chief Superintendent of An Garda Siochana and historian. He is the author of: The Irish Constabularies, 1822-1922: A Century of Policing in Ireland (1999); District Inspector John A. Kearney: The RIC man who befriended Roger Casement (2005).