Ballygar is a town with a rich history dating back over 200 years. Here, local historian Paul Connolly takes a look back on one of the most infamous events in the town’s past.
On May 19th 1918, Jerry Clancy and Tom Brehon assembled a group of 100 Irish Volunteers in the square in Ballygar. Shortly after this gathering both Clancy and Brehon were arrested by the RIC for illegal drilling and were held at Ballygar barracks.
Mr. Rice, Royal Magistrate, arrived from Castlerea and made his way to the courthouse where he remanded both men in custody until the 17th of June and ordered their removal to Galway Jail. The local press reported that local Volunteers had made it very difficult for the magistrate to get to Ballygar cutting down trees on the approach roads while barbed wire was strewn across the roads – this was later disputed by the townspeople. After the case was heard, the magistrate could not make it out of Ballygar and had to return to the barracks. The police later accused the crowd of becoming violent and arming themselves with objects taken from Fitzmaurice’s forge nearby, again, this was disputed by the townspeople. The District Inspector failed in his attempts to disperse the crowd and ordered his men to fix bayonets. They charged the crowd twice, scattering them in all directions. At least seven people received stab wounds before the crowd dispersed and the wounded were treated locally by sympathetic townspeople. Two local men, John Egan and Thomas Glynn, received wounds from bayonet thrusts during the RIC charge.
The trial of the two prisoners took place at Galway Courthouse on Monday, June 17th 1918 before Magistrates Mr. Kilbride and Mr. Hill. Constable Mullane of the RIC in Ballygar told the court that “both men were in command of about 100 men that day in Ballygar and gave them military orders and marched them from Ballygar to Athleague”. He said he heard Brehon say: ‘fall in, stand at ease, and other military terms’. The volunteers marched in a four deep formation from Ballygar, through Mount Talbot and on to Athleague led by a fife and drum band, according to Constable Mullane.
The defence argued that it was Pentecost Sunday in Ballygar and the march was part of a religious procession. They claimed that the march was approved by the parish priest, Rev. Dr. Kielty and it was not of a military nature. The court was not aware that Rev. Kielty was a Sinn Féin member and a close personal friend of both Clancy and Brehon. The defence further claimed that there were women and children in the march and no military terms were used by the defendants. They did however admit that military uniforms were worn by some of the participants of the march. The magistrates had no doubt that this was a military exercise and gave both men a one month prison term. They served their sentence in Belfast where Clancy took part in a hunger strike that was happening at this time within the prison.
This was the only bayonet charge to occur in Ireland throughout the entire Revolutionary years and it is also believed to be the last such charge ever ordered in the country. This event made headlines throughout the world; reports appeared in the New York Tribune, the New Zealand Herald, and Adelaide Advertiser among others.