100 YEARS AGO: Seán Hogan rescued at Knocklong

Published in Issue 3 (May/June 2019), Volume 27

By Joseph E.A. Connell Jr

Following the Soloheadbeg ambush on 21 January 1919, Séamus Robinson, Seán Treacy, Seán Hogan and Dan Breen went on the run. The group who took part in the ambush became known as ‘the Big Four’, for whom the British offered a reward of £10,000.

On 11 May 1919 Hogan was arrested at Meagher’s of Annefield, near Thurles, although his identity was not known until later. When Treacy heard of Hogan’s arrest, he realised that the British would likely send their prisoner to Cork City by rail and he decided to mount a rescue. An RIC escort of three constables and one sergeant accompanied Hogan on the Cork-bound train. When it stopped at Knocklong, Co. Limerick, the rescue party boarded the train. Treacy was in the lead, followed by Ned O’Brien, John Joe O’Brien, Seán Lynch, Jimmy Scanlan and Edward (Ned) Foley (the latter three unarmed).

Hogan was seated with his back towards the engine, flanked by Sergeant Peter Wallace and Constable Enright. Facing them were Constables O’Reilly and Gerry Ring. When confronted by the rescuers, Enright pressed his gun against Hogan’s head and was shot dead by Treacy and Ned O’Brien. A fierce hand-to-hand fight followed: Ring escaped through the door, O’Reilly was knocked down by a blow to the head from Jimmy Scanlan, but it was only when the huge Sergeant Peter Wallace was fatally wounded that the struggle ended. By then Seán Treacy had been seriously wounded in the throat. Constable O’Reilly, who crawled out of the carriage carrying Ring’s carbine with him, began shooting into the train from the platform, and he wounded Ned O’Brien and Jimmy Scanlan. The arrival of Séamus Robinson and Dan Breen ended the rescue. Breen was hit in the arm and chest. Hogan was taken away, badly bruised but unwounded. He was spirited away to Knocklong village, where Seán Lynch, one of the rescuers, cleaved his handcuffs in the local butcher’s shop.

Afterwards five men living in the neighbourhood of Knocklong were arrested: Ned Foley, Patrick Maher, Michael Murphy, and Mick and Tom Shanahan. Foley and Maher were condemned to death and hanged. Maher had nothing to do with the Volunteers or the attack.

After Knocklong the hunt for ‘the Big Four’ intensified; they relocated to Dublin and undertook a range of missions under the direction of the Dublin leadership, some in association with Michael Collins’s ‘Squad’. Plans were made and ambush positions taken for a number of attacks on Lord French, British viceroy and commander-in-chief. Owing to inadequate intelligence, however, action was postponed until December 1919, when Hogan, Treacy, Breen, Robinson, Martin Savage and a number of Dublin Volunteers under the leadership of Paddy Daly ambushed Lord French’s motorcade of three cars at Ashtown Road, Dublin. As so often occurred in these ambushes, the Volunteers’ intelligence was faulty and French was not in the car that was the centre of the attack. Though three of French’s party were wounded, French got through unharmed, while Martin Savage was killed and Breen was wounded.

Above: ‘CLEAVER WITH WHICH SEAN HOGAN’S MANACLES WERE BROKEN ON THE OCCASION OF THE HISTORIC KNOCKLONG RESCUE 13TH. MAY 1919. PRESENTED BY SEAN O’RIORDAN, KILMALLOCK.’ (NMI)

Treacy was later killed in Dublin; Breen and Robinson survived the War of Independence. Hogan returned to Tipperary in the middle of 1920, serving as a battalion officer in the Third Tipperary Brigade before being made O/C of the Brigade’s 2nd flying column in December 1920.

Joseph E.A. Connell is the author of Michael Collins: Dublin 1916–22 (Wordwell Books).

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