ON THIS DAY: 18th MAY 1921: A NIGHT OF TERROR ON THE MAIN STREET
In May 1921, during the height of the War of Independence, Peadar O’Donnell was commanding an IRA flying column in West Donegal and large detachments of British forces from Derry were sent to that area in an attempt to capture them. O’Donnell issued an order to Anthony Dawson, O/C of Letterkenny Company in the absence of his brother James, to carry out an attack on the British forces in Letterkenny in an effort to relieve the pressure on his men.
Dawson organised an attack on the Main Street on Wednesday 18th May against a patrol of three RIC Constables and one Sergeant. Dawson and his company lay in wait in McGlynn’s Walsteads near the Literary Institute (approximately where the Library is today) and opened fire on the patrol shortly after 11pm while at the same time, another group of men fired at the No. 2 Barracks at the bottom of the town (where the Wolfe Tone bar is today). A 19-year old constable from Kildare with only 3 months service, Albert Carter, was shot dead by a revolver bullet to the throat while Sergeant Charles Maguire received two wounds in the hip and the calf of the leg. All the available police, reinforced by the military located at Sprackburn, paraded the streets, which were by now practically deserted by civilians.
However, the Black and Tans, located in No. 1 Barracks beside the Courthouse, heard the shots and were quick to retaliate. Two local civilians, Anthony Coyle and Simon Doherty, were injured in the reprisals while McCarry’s Hotel, location of the Sinn Féin Courts, was shot up and a grenade thrown through the window. The Derry Journal from 20th May 1921 tells us:
“There were heavy and continuous fusillades, which continued for several hours, and two civilians were wounded by rifle bullets, Anthony Coyle in the wrist and leg, and Simon Doherty in the foot. McCarry’s hotel was injured, the smoke room windows being completely demolished, pictures and mirrors shattered. A large hole was torn in the floor, apparently by a grenade or bomb. There are several bullet marks on the ceiling and walls. Terror prevailed during the night, few people retiring to bed.”
In the Cathedral the next morning, Dr. O’Donnell, Bishop of Raphoe stated:
“An evil deed has been perpetuated in our midst that brings sorrow to us all. Until yesterday this district was free from bloodshed. Last night, however, as the inhabitants of the town were retiring to rest a young man was shot dead without warning or mercy, and others were wounded, then or later on… From what I know of the people, I do not believe there is anyone around here of murderous intent; anyone who would deliberately imbrue his hands in the blood of his fellow man…I earnestly hope no idea of vengeance will be entertained. Vengeance belongs to the Lord. Wherever the aggressors came from they have a heavy account to render with God. May He in His mercy forgive them.”
The attack had the desired effect of drawing off the forces from West Donegal who then concentrated on the Letterkenny district in the belief that the Column had moved in that direction and Peadar O’Donnell made his escape