The destruction of civilian houses, Wexford’s Civil War

Burnt cottage (Burnt house (illustrative, location: Clonmult, Co. Cork, 1920)

While the destruction of a number of big estate houses during the Civil war is reasonably well know, a somewhat overlooked aspect of the conflict is the damage caused to the homes of the ordinary people. In total we have identified 33 civilian buildings which were damaged or destroyed during this period in Co. Wexford. These attacks appear to have occurred for a myriad of reasons and were often enabled by the general lawlessness which prevailed during the Civil War.

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Burnt cottage (illustrative, location: Meelin, Co. Cork, 1921, National Library of Ireland collections)

Some of the houses  were undoubtedly destroyed as part of the on-going military conflict, with the homes of Free State soldiers and their supporters often targeted by the anti-Treaty IRA. Many of these attacks occurred in the spring of 1923 and appear to have been carried out in revenge for the execution of three republican prisoners  at Wexford Gaol on the 13th of March. Homes of Free State soldiers were burned at Kellystown[i], Robinstown[ii], Ballybanogue[iii] and Vernegly[iv], while in Wellingtonbridge, Coolbrook Cottage was destroyed after it was vacated by the Free State army[v], who had been using it as a temporary base. Ballindaggin Parish hall was burned for similar reasons, as the building was sometimes used as an overnight base by Free State columns[vi].

Other attacks  were probably related to a low-level agrarian conflict that was ongoing in the early 1920s. This saw old land disputes resurface and the emergence of wage strife between agricultural labourers and farmers. In many cases these disturbances led to outright intimidation and violence, with haystacks burned, farm machinery wrecked, crops destroyed and buildings damaged.

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Burnt house (illustrative, location: Templemore, Tipperary, 1921, National Library of Ireland collections)

A very stark example of this was seen in Davidstown, where the Hossey farm was attacked by armed men on the 9th of May 1922[vii]. After an overnight exchange of gunfire, the Hosseys were forced to leave their cottage, which was then burned to the ground. This attack appears to relate to an earlier eviction (30 years previously) that saw the Hosseys take over the farm from tenants who had failed to maintain their rent payments.

An even more tragic case was seen at Ballygarret in December 1922, when Alice O’Neill and seven of her children perished in a house fire[viii]. Mrs O’Neill had been subjected to a concerted programme of intimidation in the preceding months, which saw her meadow ‘spiked’, crops destroyed and hired workers threatened. She was recently widowed and these assaults appear to have been related to a dispute with farm labourers, after the death of her husband, James. The attacks culminated on the night of December the 23rd/24th, when her haystack was set alight, a tactic that was often used in land disputes. Sparks from this fire quickly spread to the nearby thatched cottage and the building was soon enveloped in flames. Although neighbours attempted a rescue, it was a futile endeavour.

The next morning the bodies of Alice and her seven children were found inside the charred remains of the house, the four eldest boys in one bed, Alice, her daughter and the two youngest boys in another. The sole survivor was Alice’s daughter Molly, who had spent the night of the fire at her aunt’s house across the road. The jury at the subsequent coroner’s court found that the initial fire had been deliberately started but the perpetrators were never identified. Alice and her children, Mogue (10), Alice (8), Patrick (7), James (6), George (5), Henry (4) and Thomas (1), were buried shortly afterwards, in just two coffins.

burnt house ballyhack Wexford, Civil war
Burnt house (illustrative, location: Ballyhack, co. Wexford, 1921, National Library of Ireland collections)

A political dimension was also seen in the destruction of at least two civilian buildings during the Civil War. The first was a property belonging to Thomas Brothers near Wellingtonbridge, which was burnt down in December 1922[ix]. Thomas was an active Labour party supporter and this appears to be the reason he was targeted. The home of a sitting TD, Michael Doyle of Tagoat, was subsequently destroyed in March 1923[x]. A member of the ‘Farmer’s Party’, Michael was a prominent advocate of the new Free State and as a result his home was attacked twice by the anti-Treaty IRA. On the second occasion his family were ordered out of the house by armed men, who then proceeded to burn the building to the ground.

On other occasions outbuildings appear to have been destroyed during over-zealous attempts at robbery, especially car theft and this was probably the case when garages were targeted at Tomhaggard, Clohammon and Kilmore Quay.  At Tomhaggard a grenade was used to blow open a locked door and this unintentionally ignited the petrol stored inside. The resultant explosion blew out the windows of a nearby and church and also destroyed the car parked inside the garage.


Gazetteer of civilian houses/buildings destroyed or damaged during the Civil War in Wexford

The information below relies mainly on the Finance Compensation Files[xi] and contemporary newspaper accounts.


  1. Collops Well, Newbawn

One double labourer’s cottage was destroyed by fire on the 2nd of June 1922 at Collops Well, Wexford. It belonged to  Edward J O’Farrell of Faree (source: Compensation Files: FIN/COMP/2/25/10).


  1. Kellystown/Rathaspeck, Piercestown

Mary Mayler’s house at Kellystown was destroyed in March 1923. At the time the Cousin’s family was living there, he was a Lieutenant in the Free State army (source: Compensation Files  FIN/COMP/2/25/360). Also mentioned in the Free Press newspaper, which describes how the family were ordered out of the house by armed men who then proceeded to burn the cottage down (The Free Press, 24th of March 1923, p. 5)


  1. Castlehaystown, Taghmon

One dwelling house was destroyed by fire at Castlehaystown, County Wexford on the 16th of  June 1922. The owner was Patrick O’Sullivan (source: Compensation Files:  FIN/COMP/2/25/356) Shed and road wall survive


  1. Ballina, Curracloe

A dwelling house belonging to James Cloney was destroyed by fire at Ballina, County Wexford on the 17th of September 1922 (source: Compensation Files: FIN/COMP/2/25/681). Exact location uncertain


  1. Ex Sevicemen’s club, Wexford town

The ex-services men club at Slaney street/Redmond Place, Wexford town was burned on the night of the 30th/31st of May 1922.


  1. Ballindaggin Parish Hall

Ballindaggin Parish Hall was set on fire by armed men on the 25th of January 1923 (source: Compensation File FIN/COMP/2/25/619). The building was occasionally used as a base by Free State flying columns and had previously been the target of a failed bomb attack (source: The Free Press)


  1. Ballinroad, Oulart

A dwelling house and farming implements were destroyed by a fire at Ballinroad on the 18th/19th of April 1923 (source Compensation Files: FIN/COMP/2/25/594). It was the home of George Scott but the property may have been owned by Lieutenant Colonel Loftus Anthony Bryan of Borrmount House, Bree, as he also made a compensation claim (FIN/COMP/2/25/567).


  1. Robinstown

A dwelling house was destroyed by fire at Robinstown, Co. Wexford by unknown persons on the 16th of March 1923. It was the residence of John Walsh, whose address is given as Wexford Military Barracks (source: Compensation Files:  FIN/COMP/2/25/580).


  1. 14 Monck Street, Wexford town

Premises belonging to Johanna Martin was deliberately destroyed by fire at 14 Monck Street, Wexford town by armed men on 22 March 1923 (Source: Compensation Files: FIN/COMP/2/25/517).


  1. Ballybanogue, Edermine

Premises and goods destroyed at Ballybanogue, County Wexford on 28 April 1923. The file states that the claimant, Michael Lyndsay, is a private in the Free state army (source: Compensation Files: FIN/COMP/2/25/512)


  1. Kiltra,Wellingtonbridge

Outhouses destroyed by fire at Kiltra on 11 June 1922. File states that the claimant, Thomas Brothers, was an active supporter of the Labour Party candidates at the election which was held on the 16th of June (source: Compensation Files: FIN/COMP/2/25/415)


  1. Crossfarnogue, Kilmore

A thatched house owned by Michael Kehoe was destroyed by fire at Crossfarnogue on the 23rd of November 1922. It had been used as a store and the goods inside were also destroyed (source: Compensation Files:  FIN/COMP/2/25/404).


  1. Kilnamanagh, Oulart

A dwelling house and shop premises were destroyed by fire at Kilnamanagh on the 7th/8th of February 1923. Belonged to John Foxton (source: Compensation Files:           FIN/COMP/2/25/393).


  1. Yoletown, Tagoat

The home of Michael Doyle TD, was burned to the ground at Yoletown, Tagoat in March               1923 (source: Compensation Files: FIN/COMP/2/25/25). It was the second time the property had been attacked (source: The Free Press).


  1. Tomhaggard, Tomhaggard

A garage and car belonging to Michael O’Gorman were destroyed by a bomb explosion. The windows of the nearby church were  also damaged in this attack (source: Compensation Files: FIN/COMP/2/25/27).


  1. Ballygillane, Rosslare

A tool shed belong to George O’Connor (Crossabeg) was destroyed by fire at Ballygillane on the 15th of November 1922 (source: Compensation Files: FIN/COMP/2/25/66).


  1. Clohammon, Bunclody

A shed containing motor vehicles and belonging to Denis Dempsey was destroyed by fire at Clohammon on the 13th of May 1922 (source: Compensation Files: FIN/COMP/2/25/96)


  1. Vernegly, Bannow

A dwelling house was destroyed by fire at Vernegly, Bannow on the  11th of October 1922. It was the home of Andrew White, a Free State soldier (source: Compensation Files: FIN/COMP/2/25/115).


  1. Davidstown, Enniscorthy

A dwelling house and furniture were destroyed by fire at Davidstown on the 9th of May  1922. (source: Compensation Files: FIN/COMP/2/25/129) .This was related to a land dispute.   The owner of the house,  Michael Hossey, had taken over the property  after the previous a tenant (Murphy family) had been evicted. Hossey’s house was burned and he was forced off the property after an armed stand-off.


  1. Ballygarrett Little, Ballygarrett

Farm buildings and dwelling house destroyed by fire at Ballygarrett Little on the 23rd of  December 1922. Compensation Files states that a Mrs O’Neill and seven of her children were killed in the fire. Bridget Morris is the aunt of Mary O’Neill, the only survivor. (source: Compensation Files: FIN/COMP/2/25/146). May have been related to a land dispute. Mrs O’Neill, a recent widow, had been subjected to harassment for a number of months with crops destroyed and workmen intimidated. On the night in question a haystack appears to have been set on fire. Sparks from this blaze spread to the thatched roof of the cottage and the building burned down, killing all inside (source: The Free Press)


  1. Ballinatray Lower, Courtown

A bungalow belonging to Annie Byrne was destroyed at Ballinatray Lower, County Wexford on the 3rd of February 1923 (source: Compensation Files: FIN/COMP/2/25/211)


  1. Barrgy Commons, Murrintown

A dwelling house belonging to Thomas Ryan was destroyed by fire at Greenlake/ Bargy Commons, County Wexford on the 8th/9th of September 1922. Subsequently a barn, piggery and stable were destroyed by fire at Bargy Commons on the 4th/5th of May 1923 (source: Compensation Files: FIN/COMP/2/25/236).


  1. Curraghmore, Saltmills

A dwelling house and goods therein were destroyed by fire at Curraghmore on the 28th of April 1922. Owner: Laurence Doody (source: Compensation Files: FIN/COMP/2/25/266).


  1. Linziestown, Forth

A dwelling house belonging to Samuel B. Weldon was destroyed by fire at Linziestown on the 24th/25th of March 1922 (source: Compensation Files: FIN/COMP/2/25/294)


  1. Edermine, Oylegate

A shed belonging to Jane Mailday Ryan was destroyed by fire at Edermine on the 5th of May 1922. (source: Compensation Files:  FIN/COMP/2/25/342).


  1. Bullawn, New Ross town

Two dwelling houses destroyed at Bullawn, New Ross by unknown persons on 10 September 1922. Owner: John Hammond, (source: Compensation Files: FIN/COMP/2/25/329).


  1. Coolbrook Cottage, Wellingtonbridge

Burned on January the 22nd 1923. It had been used as Free State army base until January 18th, formerly owned by Saint ledger Carter (The Free Press , Feb 3rd, 1923, p. 5). In fact, the house formed part of the Leigh of Rosegarland estate and had been rented to St Leger Carter for some years until his death in November 1921 (Monica Wallace, pers comm).


  1. Garryhasten, Bunclody

Owner: William Kelly, farmer. Dwelling house damaged at Garryhasten by armed men on the 14th of May 1922 (source: Compensation Files: FIN/COMP/2/25/399)


  1. Coolatin, Bunclody

Owner: Annie Abraham. Cottage damaged at Coolatin due to the blowing up of the nearby Moyeady Bridge by Irregular forces on the 25th of August 1922 (source: The Compensation Files: FIN/COMP/2/25/489)


  1. Kilmore Quay, Kilmore

Shed and motor car belonging to Thomas Sutton were destroyed by fire at Kilmore Quay on the  17th of September 1922 (source: Compensation Files: FIN/COMP/2/25/48)


  1. Taghmon village

A dwelling house was damaged at Taghmon by a number of men on the 29th/30th of September 1922. The Compensation File states the house was occupied by a Patrick Daly who was also beaten (source: Compensation Files: FIN/COMP/2/25/308).


  1. Main Street, Gorey

Shop and premises belonging to William Boyce Jackson was damaged by fire in July 1922. Flames had spread from the adjacent R.I.C. barracks, which had been burned down by the anti-Treaty IRA  (source: Compensation Files: FIN/COMP/2/25/172)


  1. Ballinapierce, Davidstown

Home of Anita. G. Lett, windows smashed on the 17th/18th of May 1922  (source: Compensation Files: FIN/COMP/2/25/350).


[i] The Free Press, March 24th 1923, p. 5

[ii] Compensation Files:  FIN/COMP/2/25/580

[iii] Compensation Files: FIN/COMP/2/25/512

[iv] Compensation Files: FIN/COMP/2/25/115

[v] The Free Press, 3rd of February 1923, p. 5

[vi] The Free Press, 9th of December 1922, p. 5

[vii] Cork Examiner, 12th of May 1922, p. 8

[viii] Cork Examiner, 28th of December, 1922, p. 5

[ix] Compensation Files: FIN/COMP/2/25/415

[x] The Free Press, 24th of March 1923, p. 5

[xi] the Finance Compensation Files deal with the loss of, or damage to, property that occurred as a result of military action between July 1921 and May 1923, under the Damage to Property (Compensation) Act, 1923.




2 Replies to “The destruction of civilian houses, Wexford’s Civil War”

  1. A superb piece of an – up until now – totally neglected aspect of 20th century Wexford history Hopefully it will encourage others to take up the baton and research further as to why these events took place Also maybe those who suffered are due an apology from the government on behalf of the Irish people


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