The village of Galbally, with its charming traditional streetscapes and historic shopfronts, preserves traces of East Co. Limerick’s revolutionary archaeology. Once part of the 6th Battalion of the East Limerick Brigade, Galbally had an active company of IRA Volunteers from at least 1915. The village also contained a RIC barracks and was home to the British Army’s Green Howards Regiment for a time.
In the centre of the village, your eye is quickly drawn to the statue of an IRA Volunteer. Below which, you’ll find an inscription commemorating ‘the officers & men of Galbally district. Irish volunteers who died on scaffold, field and from hardships endured in the struggle for Irish Independence. Edmond Foley & Patrick Maher in Mountjoy June 7th 1921, Michael Scanlan killed in action Oct. 27th 1920. James Scanlan, Sean Lynch, William P. O’Brien, Michael Quish & Thomas Whelan. Edmond O’Brien Liam Fraher, John J. O’Brien. For the Glory of God and the Honour of Ireland. Erected by public subscription.’
Looking around the village, you’ll find some of the names commemorated on the statue on the surviving shopfronts, especially at the south corner of the square. Here a two-story building has the name John Scanlan written above the front door. This building was once a shop and the home of the Scanlan family, who were to the fore of much of the revolutionary activity in this area.
One of their children, Michael (commemorated on the statue), was arrested and later killed by Crown Forces in Limerick in October 1920. Another of their sons, Jimmy, was injured during the famous rescue of Seán Hogan in Knocklong in 1919. He had been on the run and was an active member of the Flying Column.
Their daughter Deborah was also a highly active member of Cumann na mBan. It is, therefore, unsurprising that the family shop (and home) was subject to multiple raids and various intimidation tactics by British forces. It was said that the matriarch of the household, Ellen Scanlan, would ‘run the Tans out of the shop shouting “Black and Tans, I’m not afraid of ye, ye shot the best son I had, get out!”.
The terrorising of the premises continued and is evidenced today by a bullet mark above the door. Another probable bullet mark has been re-plastered but is still evident to the lower left of the doorway. The local military unit was the Green Howards Regiment, stationed in Galbally, who are said to have used Winchester rifles. These had a .44 calibre round and could easily have created such impact marks.
It is interesting to see how closely the locals (including IRA and Cumann na mBan) lived with the RIC and the Green Howard Regiment. The home of J.J. O’Brien, a prominent IRA Volunteer, was right next to the RIC Barracks in Galbally. When he had gone ‘on the run’, the Green Howards commandeered his family home as their barracks. This put O’Brien in a curious situation in 1921 when: ‘We sniped Galbally police and military barracks, maybe a few days before the Truce, which actually meant that I was firing on my own house’.
These are just some of the interesting stories we have heard about in the Archaeology of the Revolution in East Limerick project. If you have any more you would like to share, please do come along to our free revolutionary workshops, which are being held across East Limerick. The next workshop will be in the Old Chapel Rooms, Kilfinane, on the 22nd of February at 7 pm. All are welcome to attend.
Sources used in the creation of this blog post include:
Toomey, T. et al. 2020. Honouring the Men and the Women: the War of Independence Volunteers in East & Mid Limerick, Knocklong Development Association, 130
Ryan T. 2019. Jimmy Scanlan, War of Independence Volunteer and the Scanlan’s, a Republican family. In Cummins N. et al. The Rescue of Seán Hogan at the station of Knocklong 1919-2019.
BMH.WS1647 J.J. O Brien, 37