The Knockbounce incident, 13 November 1920
On the night of 13 November 1920, a Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) sergeant and six constables were going to the house of a farmer at Knockbounce, near Kilcullen, when they were fired on by a group of armed men. The police returned the fire, wounded two men, and arrested five others. There were no police casualties. This was the official newspaper report. What occurred is totally different and still a matter of dispute.
What is certain is that at the Ennis home, about half a mile south of Kilcullen village on the Athy road, two men were wounded by the RIC. Thomas Haslett, a native of Manorhamilton, Co. Leitrim, employed as a shop assistant at J. J. Byrne’s hardware establishment, was shot through the neck. William Martin, the son of a local victualler, was shot through the thigh. Haslett was seriously wounded, while Martin’s wound was not termed grave. Both men were tended by the local GP, Dr. Barker, and then brought to Kildare County Infirmary, in Kildare Town, while five men arrested at the scene were brought to Kilcullen RIC Barracks, at Lower Main Street.
The RIC later said that they had went to investigate reports that shots had been fired into the Ennis home and later claimed they found two spent bullets in the house. As the seven-man RIC patrol from Kilcullen Barracks arrived at the house a bicycle lamp was shone on them and at least three shots fired in their direction. The police claimed they shouted “Hands up!” and returned the fire. Haslett and Martin were wounded and five others in the party put up their hands and were subsequently arrested. Eight others, according to police, ran off. The five arrested were: Daniel Brennan, farmer, Brownstown; Laurence Conlan, farmer, Knockbonce; Harry Myers, blacksmith, Milemill; John Murphy, labourer, Knockbounce; and John O’Rourke, labourer, Milemill.
Kilcullen Company, IRA, claimed that it was a planned ambush, but it seemed that both the Volunteers and the RIC were informed at the same time of the dispute at the family home, which had been in progress for some time. The Volunteers were standing on the road in military formation or marching order, when the police arrived and the exchange of shots then took place. Police later denied any shots were fired at them and said that no arms or ammunition were found at the scene, although they did find two hurleys. A relative of one of the men arrested said to a Kildare Observer reporter that the Volunteers did not fire any shots at the police but that a shot was fired into the Ennis house followed by shots that wounded the two Volunteers.
The dispute arose between the two sons of John and Mary Ennis, who had a farm at Knockbounce. John Ennis, a farmer with three children, died aged seventy-five on 25 January 1912. His sons Edward (47), and James (43) possibly had a falling-out over the farm with the mother and sister Bridget (45) probably taking opposing sides. Mary Ennis died on 28 November 1922, aged seventy-five; Edward was present at her death, leading to the assumption that she had taken his side in the dispute.
At a district courtmartial held at the Curragh Camp in December 1920 Daniel Brennan, Harry Myers, Laurence Conlan, John O’Rourke and John Murphy, were charged with ‘the commission of an act prohibited by R.O.I .R. in that at Knockbounce, Kilcullen,’ on 13 November, they ‘aided other persons unknown in the discharge of firearms whereby certain members of the R.I.C. were endangered’. The five pleaded not guilty and after a lengthy hearing were found not guilty and were discharged.
A report of the incident was compiled some years later and deposited with the Military Archives, based at Cathal Brugha Barracks, Dublin. In the Brigade Activity reports recently released by the Bureau of Military History a report titled ‘Knock Bounce X Roads ambush’ mentions that two volunteers were badly wounded and one ‘Black and Tan’ was wounded in this incident. The date given is October 1920 while the event happened on 13 November 1920. A detailed hand-drawn map shows the positions of all parties in the engagement. No. 1 IRA position was situated at a bye-road across from the Ennis home and comprised ten volunteers: Daniel Brennan, John O’Rourke, John Murphy, Laurence Conlan, William Martin, Thomas Hazlett, Harry Myers, William Clifford, James Mackey and Maurice Lambe. No. 2 IRA position, situated on the same side of the Ennis house comprised five volunteers: Paddy Brennan, James McGuirk, Paddy Quinn, Michael Neill and Jim Collins. The description of the incident is as follows:
‘The above may be described as a surprise attack by the RIC and Tans resisted by IRA, the Volunteers having sustained losses of 2 severely wounded and 6 arrested. The house mentioned in sketch, Ennis’s had sought the aid of the Volunteers, while a member of this family had sought aid from the Tans and RIC. This was unknown to IRA, the former being aware took up positions with result of arrests and wounded mentioned, one Tan was wounded.’
The report is more than likely drawn up to fit the narrative of the time. It suits republicans to say it was a planned ambush and one policeman was wounded, but it was more than likely that the two sides arrived at the same time and briefly clashed. Where the truth lies is lost in time and conjecture.
While continuing to study that period of Irish history I have endeavoured to name and identify all Co. Kildare participants in the Irish Revolution. It is interesting to note that of the fifteen men involved on 13 November 1920 ten of them took the anti-Treaty side in the subsequent Civil War, three joined the National Army and the actions of the remaining two have yet to be established. Kilcullen Company, IRA, was overwhelmingly anti-Treaty and those who took part in the ‘Knockbounce Incident’ were to become prominent in the activities of the anti-Treaty IRA during the turbulent Civil War.