A footnote to the rescue at Knocklong: a bystander’s role

3rd Tipperary Brigade.
Seán Hogan’s Flying Column, 3rd Tipperary Brigade (source: Wikimedia Commons, public domain).

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In this article, Dr Rory Fisher pays tribute to the contribution made by his mother, Jennie Gallagher, in caring for a police officer fatally injured during the Knocklong train ambush.

On the evening of 13 May 1919, 18-year-old Seán Hogan of the 3rd Tipperary Brigade was a prisoner on a train bound for Cork. He was in the custody of four members of the RIC: Sergeant Wallace and Constables Reilly, Enright and Ring. Three members of the 3rd Tipperary Brigade (Dan Breen, Séamus Robinson and Seán Treacy) and five men from the Galbally Volunteers ambushed the train at Knocklong Station in Co. Limerick, and successfully rescued Hogan following a struggle and gun battle. During this exchange Treacy and Breen were seriously injured, Constable Enright was killed and Sergeant Wallace was mortally wounded.

Knocklong station.
Knocklong Train Station, Co. Limerick.

Newspaper reports from the time describe the role played by 19-year-old Jennie Gallagher, the daughter of the Kilmallock postmaster. She was returning from Dublin to Kilmallock and was in the carriage where the RIC officers and prisoner were positioned, though not in the same compartment.

Jennie Gallagher.
Jennie Gallagher, witness to the Knocklong rescue of Seán Hogan.

Jennie was standing in the corridor when a man brushed past her and entered the compartment occupied by Hogan and the police. She then heard a flurry of shots as people rushed out of the train ahead of her. She quickly disembarked and informed the engine driver, who was about to start the train, to stop. He warned her to stay clear of the bullets. She observed as Constable Reilly got out of the carriage, followed by Sergeant Wallace who was covered in blood. Wallace lay on the grass. Jennie went to him, untied his belt, and washed his face and hands. While tending to the wounded man, she witnessed his comrade, Constable Reilly, firing rapidly at the retreating crowd.

When the stationmaster appeared on the scene, Jennie informed him that Sergeant Wallace was badly injured. The stationmaster wired for doctors and an ambulance to meet the train in Kilmallock. Sergeant Wallace was able to return to the carriage. Likewise, Jennie re-entered the train and took the revolver out of the hand of the dead Constable Enright who had been shot through the heart, as well as another revolver that she found on the floor. She continued on the train to Kilmallock, where Fr McCarthy and an ambulance attended to the dying sergeant. He was then conveyed to Kilmallock Hospital and died soon after from his injuries including a gunshot to the stomach.

Sergeant Wallace Royal Irish Constabulary
Sergeant Peter Wallace, RIC, died on 14 May 1919 (photo: memorial card; text: appeared as an obituary in the Westmeath Independent, 24 May 1919).

Subsequent to the event, Jennie was given an inscribed ladies gold watch by the RIC for her assistance. Unfortunately, due to the political tensions at the time, Jennie, along with her postmaster father and entire family, had to be relocated by the British government to Letchworth Garden City in England.

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As a result of the Knocklong ambush, six men were charged: Edmond Foley, Patrick Maher, Michael Murphy, Michael O’Connell, and brothers Michael and Thomas Shanahan. But Foley was the only one among them to have taken part in the rescue and he was unarmed. O’Connell was eventually released after going on hunger strike.

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John J. Power of Kilmallock was the very able solicitor for the defence. He took this case at great personal risk (indeed, his assistant, John Lynch, was mysteriously shot dead by Crown forces while staying at the Royal Exchange Hotel in Parliament Street, Dublin, in September 1920). After discussions with counsel, Jennie was regarded as a most important witness for the defence. Power visited her in England and arranged for her to return to Ireland to appear at the Armagh assizes to give evidence in defence of the accused, during which the Shanahans were acquitted. Murphy was later also acquitted.

Foley and Maher faced a court martial in Dublin, during which Jennie explained that Maher was not present at Knocklong. In later life she claimed that at the end of the trial she approached the prosecutor to stress Maher’s absence at the ambush. Nonetheless, Foley and Maher were found guilty and sentenced to death.

IRA Volunteers Edmond Foley and Patrick Maher.
Patrick Maher (left) and Edmond Foley (right), two of the “Forgotten Ten” who were hanged and buried in Mountjoy Prison during the War of Independence (source for Maher: Wikipedia / Kilmainham Gaol Museum, public domain; source for Foley: Wikipedia/ Kilmainham Gaol Museum, public domain).

Power presented a very detailed testimonial to Sir Nevil Macready, Commander-in-Chief of the British forces in Ireland, in an attempt to win a reprieve. As part of this, he emphasized the contradictory evidence of the witnesses for the prosecution noting that they made no effort to come to the aid of those attacked, raise the alarm or render first aid. In contrast, he stressed that first aid was administered to Sergeant Wallace by a witness for the defence, the young “Miss Gallagher”, at significant risk to her life. Despite the tireless efforts of John Power and pleas from Sergeant Wallace’s father to spare the men, Foley and Maher were hanged in Mountjoy Jail on 7 June 1921.

Jennie Fisher née Gallagher, witness to the Knocklong rescue of Sean Hogan.
Photograph taken c.1955 of Mrs Jennie Fisher née Gallagher and her son Rory Fisher, author of this article and then a medical student at Trinity College Dublin.

In later years the Gallagher family was reluctant to discuss the ambush and subsequent events. This was perhaps not surprising given the heavy price they paid in leaving their home in Ireland forever, all because of one young woman’s selfless care of a dying stranger.

This article was written by Dr Rory Fisher to commemorate the brave contribution made by his mother, Jennie Fisher née Gallagher, in tending to the wounded during this episode of the War of Independence. This account is based on contemporary reports published in the Limerick Leader and Irish Independent, as well as personal exchanges between Jennie and her son, and information obtained from Limerick historian Tom Toomey and John Power’s great-granddaughter Elaine Power (BL).

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One Response

  1. Michael Murphy was my grand uncle. While he was ultimately acquitted, it was not as a result of the Armagh trial.
    At Armagh a “true bill” was found against him, as was the case with Foley & Maher, so he too remained in custody and faced Court Martial in Dublin.
    Defence council of Patrick Lynch KC and Richard Best KC requested that he be tried separately from his fellow prisoners, so that he could give evidence at their trial which he did.
    His trial ended when the defence moved for his acquittal on the grounds that the evidence presented was equally consistent with guilt and innocence. The prosecution tried to resist but the military judges agreed and he was released.
    Michael Murphy was from Knocklong and was due to start a job at the station the day after the ambush. He had been in the British Army during WW1 but on demobilisation he had joined the Knocklong Battalion of the IRA along with 3 brothers, a cousin and a future brother in law.
    One of his brothers was in the flying column and upon release Michael was involved at Lackelly and fought in the Civil War until his capture by the National Army at Kilmallock.
    He died in 1950 but my father’s older brothers always held that a major part in his acquittal was the testimony of Miss Gallagher who bravely gave evidence that while he was at the station, he was unarmed and not involved in the rescue.
    He was a very tall man for the times and used to wear part of his army uniform that he kept after demob. It was reported that he had directed Breen and the others from the station platform before approaching the carriage where Enright was dead and Wallace was dying.
    He is buried in the old graveyard on the hill of Knocklong.

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