DoC Series: War of Independence Diary

Our next installment of the Decade of Centenaries series features the diary of Seamus McCann.

McCann played an active role in the War of Independence in the north of Ireland, mainly in places around Donegal and Derry. This diary was written by McCann in 1939 and gives an account of manoeuvres, training and ambushes on enemy forces between 1919 and 1924. McCann’s entries include maps and diagrams describing exactly how certain attacks were carried out. Below you can see his entry for an IRA attack on the Royal Irish Constabulary guard outside the post office near Waterloo Place in Derry in March 1920.

McCann lists his fellow volunteers who took part in the various raids, attacks, ambushes etc with him. This detailed information is hugely important for historians and researchers who are trying to gather knowledge on specific IRA members and their movements.

In November 1919 McCann along with eleven other volunteers took part in an ambush on members of the RIC returning to Dungloe, Donegal, from Derry Jail. This was the first IRA action in Donegal during the War of Independence. In the ensuing shoot out McCann noted that

‘One of the RIC was badly shot up and was left laying out all night in a bog hole’.

Dungloe ambush 1919

IRA ambush at Dungloe, Donegal in November 1919 (UCDA P226 p37).

Another ambush took place in Dungloe the following year on 5 July 1920. This was a much smaller matter as only two IRA members took part in it; Frank O’Donnell and John Walsh. On this occassion McCann was not involved with the attack itself but he provides details on what happened. He also names the RIC member that got shot, one Sergeant Mooney. According to McCann Mooney got a ‘charge of buck shot in the belly‘.

IRA ambush 5 July 1920

IRA ambush on 5 July 1920 at Dungloe, Donegal (UCDA P226 p35).

McCann was also present at the Army Convention on 26 March 1922 in the Mansion House in Dublin. The Anglo-Irish Treaty had been signed on 6 December 1921 and was narrowly ratified by the Dail on 7 January 1922. The Treaty divided the IRA, the Dail and the population of Ireland into Pro and Anti-Treaty sides. This division would eventually lead to the Irish Civil War. The Army Convention was held so that members could vote on whether they would serve the Republic or the Dail. They voted to break from the Dail and declared themselves as Anti-Treaty.

McCann gives his opinion of this meeting in the Mansion House, which wasn’t a very high one! He states that

This meeting was like all meetings held in Dublin talk talk’.

He goes on to talk about the taking of the Four Courts by Rory O’Connor and other Anti-Treaty supporters. But just to highlight how the Treaty divided friends, family and comrades, McCann notes that a volunteer he fought with was now on the Pro-Treaty side.

Civil War started Free State troops at England’s bidding shell the IRA HQ the Four Courts Dublin. And our old Column A/C is one of the Defenders’.

Army Convention 1922

McCann’s entries about the Army Convention of 1922 (UCDA P226 p41)

Start of the Civil War

McCann’s entries about the start of the Civil War in Dublin (UCDA P226 p42)

Reaction in Donegal

McCann details the reaction to the Civil War in Donegal (UCDA P226 p43).

McCann’s diary also includes an account of the attempted round-up by British forces in West Donegal, May 1921; of a training camp at Breenagh directed by Todd Andrews after the Truce; of the establishment of anti-Treaty headquarters and his arrest in Glenties in June 1922, transfer to Newbridge from where he escaped in October; his eventual return to Derry in early 1924, where he was appointed Officer Commanding, Derry Brigade and continued to organize.

This diary gives a great insight into the movements, ambushes and thoughts of an active member of the IRA during a signifigant time in Irish history. Seamus McCann’s diary is available and accessible in UCD Archives to everyone who wishes to find out more about these years of conflict.

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