Local History

An Leacht

Lahinch is best described in the literal translation of its name, “Leath Inis”, or the “Half Island.” This colourful description of the village is borne out by the Atlantic to the west, the Inagh River to the north and the smaller Moy River to the south.

The ancient form of the name Leathinnsi “half island” had given way in some circles to Lehinsi by the early 19th century. During the latter part of the 19th century the tourists, the railway and the golfers had adapted this to Lahinch.

The official name, in Irish, is Leacht Uí Chonchúir, or O’Connor’s Cairn, erected in memory of one of the O’Connor Lords of Corcomroe who was slain by his nephews in 1471. The site of this grave is believed to be at the end of the Main Street.

Dough Castle

Dough Castle is 1 km. from Lahinch.

It is a shattered tower-house standing awkwardly on one wall: the other walls fell at various stages during the 19th century.

This was as a result of building upon sand rather than the result of war.

Dough is the Irish, Dumhach, meaning a sandbank and the full castle name is Dumhach Uí Chonchúir, it being the principal stronghold of O’Connor.

It was originally founded by the O’Connors in 1306.

The first recorded reference to Caisleán Dumhcha is in 1422, but it is unlikely that any of the present fragment date back that far.

By 1584 the castle was held by Sir Donal O’Brien’s family.

In 1654 Colonel Stubber, a Cromwellian officer, saved the castle from the “Commissioners for overthrowing and demolishing castles in Connaught and Clare.”

It is described in 1675 , as a tall battlemented tower, having several windows and a door; a large dwelling house, two storeys high with four windows was attached to one side.

Donagh O’Brien of Dough, who received 4,340 acres together with the castle, manor and town of Liscannor from Charles the second, is described in 1690, as a leading Gent of Clare.

The Rineen Ambush

Towards the middle of September, 1920, it was unanimously agreed at a meeting of the Fourth Battalion that an ambush of major importance should be staged in the area, in the very near future. The main purpose of this ambush would be to get revenge for the murder of Martin Devitt who was shot dead in an ambush at Crowe’s Bridge in February of that year. A secondary function was to get arms for the poorly equipped volunteers in the area. There was very little difficulty deciding on a target because it was well known that a lorry full of Black and Tans left Ennistymon every Wednesday morning at eleven thirty and travelled to Miltown Malbay. It returned approximately four hours later. After further discussion it was decided that Dromin Hill, Rineen, which is five miles from Miltown Malbay would be a sustainable location. It was further decided that this should not be a “hit and run” affair but a fight to the end as it turned out to be on September 22nd.


Men from seven of the nine companies in the Battalion area took part. The companies in question were Ennistymon, Lahinch, Inagh, Moy, Glendine, Miltown Malbay and Letterkenny. Most of these, however, were unarmed because of the lack of ammunition. The entire lot of arms consisted of sixty rounds of 303 ammunition, eight rifles, two bombs, two revolvers and a varied assortment of sixteen shotguns. Most of these were without centre pieces and so the stocks and barrels were held together with pieces of cord. Many had faulty ejectors and were capable of firing only one shot. In fact, many of them were dangerous even for those who used them.


On the night of September 21st a meeting was held at Lehane’s house in [Cregg], Lahinch, which was Battalion Headquarters, to make final preparations. The night was calm and clear as the Battalion Staff and sections of the Lahinch and Ennistymon companies set out around midnight for the Church in Moy. Here they were joined by some of the local company and a few from Inagh. This party then set off towards Miltown Malbay, and at “Fior” Hogan’s in Ballyvaskin they were met by men from Letterkenny, Glendine and Miltown Malbay, and the entire lot marched across the fields towards Dromin Hill.


After a meal of corned beef, bread and stout, the senior officers held another meeting to determine the exact location, and to complete the necessary details. The original position, which was three hundred yards nearer to Lahinch, was discarded in favour of a newly selected site that had more to offer and which met with general approval. The hill is approximately four hundred feet high and this, coupled with the natural manner in which it stretched itself before easing off towards the railway at both ends, provided excellent opportunities for the scouts, when a vehicle could be seen approaching from either side, for a considerable distance in time to give ample warning of its approaches. There was good natural cover at one side of the road, but the other side had little cover in the sense that the retreat was cut off by the sea. It was deemed necessary to have two positions manned at this side of the road and Commandant O’Neill called for experienced men. These positions were filled on the one side by Lieutenant Anthony Malone and Captain Pako Kerin, and on the other by the Column Commander Steve Gallagher and Sean Burke – Lieutenant of the Lahinch Company.

“A boreen leading from the main road, which was parallel to the railways on to Honan’s house at the top of the hill, was the main line of attack. It had protective sod wall ditches, which provided natural cover. Branches from gorse and ferns were made use of to seal the entrance. Some of these were planted in a temporary fashion along the boreen walls, for extra cover, and in order that the attackers might not be seen either from passing trains or from the road.”[24]

Plan of Rineen Ambush:

Having satisfied himself that all necessary precautions were taken, Comandant O’Neill summoned the men together at daybreak. In his address, he reminded them once again of the purpose of the ambush. “Soldiers of the Republic, today we are to avenge the death of “Maurteen”. Continuing he said, “I want you to fight today as soldiers of the Republic should fight and when this engagement is over, I want to feel proud of you”. The men then returned to their positions and waited for their target to arrive.[25]

As the lorry was on its way to Miltown around noon, a wrong signal was given by the scouts. Two cart loads of hay were on the road and the signal given indicated three lorries. The men were therefore ordered to hold fire and the lorry was allowed to pass uninterrupted. The men had to wait three hours for the return of the lorry. In the meantime, however, the men had been briefed when to open fire. When the Crossly tender [armoured vehicle] eventually returned to opening blast of fire, it was spontaneous and powerful enough to blow the entire lot to pieces. The two bombs were ineffective, as both overshot the target and landed in the field beyond, where craters were visible years later.

When the smoke cleared the driver and three others of the party of six were dead, and the tender had come to an abrupt halt. Two however, had jumped clear. One, carrying his rifle, jumped, as it were, into the arms of his attackers and as he was about to use his rifle he was shot dead. The men moved in to collect the booty which consisted of five rifles and one thousand pounds of ammunition. Sean Burke took the policeman’s bandalier which contained fifty rounds of 303 ammunition and joined his brother Tom, and Donal Lehane, who had given chase to the second escapee as he crossed the fields towards the sea. It was just then that three lorry loads of troops were seen coming to a halt and another thirty were approaching on bicycles. Strangely, but fortunately for the volunteers, the troops were more surprised than they were, and consequently they [the volunteers] had the advantage. Just as the men were about to celebrate their victory they had to enter the second phase of the fight which they had not bargained for. “For a few seconds” said Sean Burke, “my brain was in a whirl. The fearful thought crossed my mind that had they been there minutes earlier, and the tender two minutes later, there would have been five battalions instead of six in the mid-Clare Brigade. The fourth would have been annihilated.”[26]

The extra rifles and ammunition was quickly distributed and the second phase of the fight began. Tom Burke and Donal Lehane were sorely missed as they had been completely cut off while chasing the escapee. Fortunately, however, they were not noticed as they made their escape towards the sea to Lehane’s house. For those remaining, the odds were desperate and it seemed that eleven men with rifles had no chance against such a force of armed men and the volunteers remembered their pledge of a “fight to the end”. The Crown Forces were fought from the railway and the sides, top and back of the hill, before a firm stand was made behind ditches and cocks of hay as the column fanned out. The fighting continued over three hours. By that time, most of the captured ammunition had been used, but not without results. When the British got to the top of the hill they began to use their machine guns, but by this time the I.R.A. were firmly entrenched, and were steadily picking them off. Shortly afterwards, Commandant Ignatius O’Neill and Micklo Curtin of the Moy company got wounded. A final effort was made by the British when four Tans broke loose in an attempt to make a capture, but they were all shot down. The I.R.A. had gained a victory and the seemingly impossible had been accomplished.

The I.R.A. immediately left the area carrying the wounded with them. Both were attended to by Doctor Michael Hillery at Moloney’s in Lackamore. Ignatius later recuperated near Kilfenora and received further attention from Doctor Pearson of Lisdoonvarna. Micklo Curtin was cared for in the Moy company area. Within a few weeks both were ready to offer their services once more.

On September 23rd, all national papers carried reports of the ambush and its aftermath. “Between thirty and forty civilians engaged in haymaking in the vicinity were arrested and conveyed to Ennistymon.”[27] Meanwhile the 4.20 p.m. train from Ennis was stopped and passengers were searched by military and police and one man, named Scully – a milesman on the West Clare Railway – was arrested. All papers also carried the report that four policemen and one soldier had been killed and one was wounded, but none had definite reports of casualties on the side of the attackers. On the following Friday, the funerals of the police victims passed through Ennis on their way to the native places of the men. Early in the morning, police went through the town requiring the townspeople to close their premises during the passing of the funerals. Three were carried in one lorry, two in another and one in a motor car. All six coffins were draped in the Union Jack. No incidents occurred while they passed through the town.

Participants in the ambush:



John Joe Neylon, Micko Nestor, Ned Hynes and Jimmy Gallagher.


 Paddy McGough, John Callinan, John Clune, John Donnellan, Jack Fitzgibbon, John Rynne, Martin Marrinan, James Meaney, Dan Callaghan and Martin Hehir.


 Pake Lehane, Donal Lehane, John Burke, Tom Burke, Mickey Reynolds, Mikie O’Dwyer, Marty Hynes, Paddy Queally, Paddy Foley and Mickey Hayes.


 Steve Gallagher, Seamus Hennessy, Joe Nagle, Pete Vaughan, Micklo Curtin and Tim O’Connell.


 Anthony Malone, Pako Kerin, Dave Kennelly, Pat Frawley, Martin Frawley, Johnny Burke, Brian O’Loughlin and Dan McMahon.

Miltown Malbay

 Ignatius O’Neill, Bobby O’Neill, Ned Lynch, John McMahon, Tommy Moroney, Joe D’Arcy, Michael O’Keeffe, John Fitzgerald, Thomas O’Connor and Jacko Hurley.


 John Crawford, Anthony O’Brien, Mort O’Connor, John Murray and James Ryan.[28]

Policemen killed:

Constable Hodnett, Cork

Constable Harman, London
Constable Kell, Roscommon
Constable Maguire, Mayo
Constable Harte, Sligo
Sergeant Hynes, Athlone (wounded in ambush but died later)[29]

The Rineen Ambush

A relentless foe set out to show

that our spirit could be killed.

Many a town was burned down

and many a grave was filled.
Brave men died on a lone hillside
On mountains and valleys so green
Ere the stage was set, and the “Tans” were met
In the ambush at Rineen.

A by-road there did cause a scare,
From the ranks volunteered a few
Four rifles bold these men did hold
Their aims were good and true
Then the Column lay, so quiet that day
Not a movement e’re was seen
And stalwart men did rise again
In the ambush at Rineen.
As the Angelus bell o’er Miltown fell
The lorry passed on it’s route
Those men lay there in silent prayer
But none e’re thought to shoot
After hours delay, on that fateful day
In the stillness all severe,
It came back, and then did crack
The rifles of Rineen.

As aims were true the shots were few
And the fight was at an end
But a second fight was then in sight
As three lorries came round the bend
In a mood to kill, they faced the hill
To fall and sprawl they were seen
They’ll ne’er forget the man they met
In the ambush at Rineen.
The arms found were handed round
And the column spread out for the fray
As the British advanced they jumped and pranced
Their machine guns were brought into play.
In the marshy ground, new positions were found
And targets were easily seen
As Forces of the Crown, that day went down
In the ambush at Rineen.
Two wounded lay on bales of hay,
And the British charged the spot
Some “Tans” so brave found an early grave
As one by one they were shot
As their bodies lay still on the side of that Hill
The column withdrew from the scene
And long will be told of the brave and the bold,
In the ambush at Rineen.

This is a ballad composed locally after the ambush at Rineen, and in it the feeling of pride the local people had in the I.R.A. is very well portrayed. It was a well planned ambush that nearly failed when “three lorries came round the bend”. But, the fact that the men were so brave and quick to act, they had a decided victory. “And long will be told, of the brave and the bold, in the ambush at Rineen”. This line was written sixty two years ago, but the memory of “Rineen” is as alive today as it was then.


24. Connacht Tribune : 1973 (date unknown)
25. Connacht Tribune : 1973 (exact date unknown)
26. Connacht Tribune : 1973 (exact date unknown)
27. Irish Independent : Sept 23rd, 1920
28. Connacht Tribune : 1973 (exact date unknown)
29. Irish Independent : Sept 23rd, 1920

Reprisals for and reaction to Rineen

From all the preparations made and care taken, it seems obvious that the volunteers were determined to have a victory at Rineen, but it also appears they were prepared to accept the consequences – or what they thought would be the consequences. At a meeting in Lehane’s house [in Lahinch] on the night of Septmeber 21st, it was assumed that Miltown Malbay would be attacked and so provisions were made for its protection. They had anticipated an attacking party of ten – as had been used in the past, and so were preparing for what they thought would be another victory. But they were mistaken; not only was Miltown attacked by a much stronger force, but the nearby towns of Lahinch and Ennistymon were also burned and looted. The reprisals were the worst ever carried out by Crown Forces during the war. Sir Winston Churchill said of them “Never were so many atrocities perpetrated on so many for the actions of so few.”[30]

The reprisals by the soldiers started on their return journey to the barrack. Sean Keane, a farmer on a horse and cart was shot dead near the scene of the ambush. Charlie Lynch who lived near Miltown Malbay was also shot dead. But it was that night the Black and Tans really satisfied their hunger for revenge. Miltown Malbay, the town nearest to the scene of the ambush, suffered most. The Irish Independent, on September 24th described the town as “a spectacle akin to that of Belgian towns after the Huns”. It continued, “There are not ten houses in the town that have not suffered in greater or lesser degree.”[31] At about 11.30 p.m., residents of the town were startled by the sound of shots. Immediately they fled to relatives and friends in the surrounding countryside. A number of uniformed men were then seen passing through the streets, shouting and cheering and striking doors and window shutters with butt ends of rifles and other weapons.

The first house to be set ablaze was that of Mr. P.H. O’Neill, a hardware merchant, and then the premises of Mr. Edward Roche were seen to be on fire. Other houses set on fire were those of Messrs. Collins and Michael Hayes. Some hours later the premises of M. Marrinan and Michael Casey (Draper) were set ablaze. Goods were looted from several houses and enquiries were made as to the whereabouts of certain young men in the locality, who, fortunately for them, had fled at the outbreak of the invasion. After some time, police arrived on the scene but little was done to prevent further burnings. Dr. Hillery’s garage was forcibly entered and set on fire, and much damage was done to his house. He had retired from the commission of the peace shortly before the ambush. A number of soldiers stationed in the town led by their officers helped locals to fight the flames and rescue the unfortunate residents trapped in the burning houses. The uniformed men who carried out, so relentlessly, the work of destruction did not leave the town until 5.30 a.m. The inhabitants were fear-stricken in the following weeks and for the next few nights remained in the country after dusk.

While the destruction mentioned above was taking place, Lahinch, the nearest village on the other side of the ambush was suffering in much the same way. Parties of uniformed men in lorries arrived at about 2.30 a.m. and went up and down the street, screaming in their distinct English accent and setting fire to houses and shops.

The town hall, the property of Miss Collins, was burned to the ground and many more houses were destroyed including Miss Flanagan’s Bar and grocery, Vaughan’s grocery, Miss O’Dwyers drapery shop and Halpins and Reynolds public houses. Mr. Thomas Blackwells premises were set fire to but he succeeded in extinguishing the flames. However, the hall and front room were damaged and many door jambs were burned. When the men were about to attack the Marine Hotel, Miss Collins (mentioned above) and Mr. Byrant, an excise officer, appealed to have the hotel spared as it was entirely occupied by ladies and they had already suffered enough by the loss of the town hall. The appeal was granted and as the men moved away, they gave permission to Miss Collins to take in a number of terrified women and children who were waiting outside. As a young man named Joe Sammon, a visitor to Lahinch from East Clare, was running from a house he was shot dead. He was in his late twenties, married, and had one child. Fearing a repetition of the outrage the residents spent the two following nights on the sandhills and many visitors left the sea-side resort fearing that their lives would be endangered if they remained.

As some of the attackers were passing from Miltown to Lahinch they set fire to every rick of hay in sight. They also stopped at the house of Mr. Lehane, who lived at Cregg near Lahinch and set fire to it. They then dragged the old man from his burning home and shot him in front of his wife and daughter. His sons John Joe, Jimmy and Mickey escaped a hail of bullets as they escaped by the railway embankment. Pake, his eldest son, who fought in the ambush earlier that day, was engulfed by flames in Flanagan’s pub, Lahinch, on the same night.

Simultaneously, another town, Ennistymon, which is two miles from Lahinch, was also being attacked. Evidence available at present shows that the town hall was first to be burned down after which the men proceeded to the private house of Mr. Tom Connole, a thirty-one year old married man with two children. He had worked as a clerk in the Henry Street warehouse in Dublin but failing health had forced him to return to Ennistymon some months before the incident. He was secretary of the local branch of the I.T. & G.W.U., [a trade union] a Catholic and suspected of taking part in the ambush, but local people at the time claimed he had no part whatsoever in it and never played an active role in politics. Mr. Connole was taken from his house and shot while his wife and children were compelled to look on. He was then thrown into the flames of his burning house.

Soon after this horrifying incident, Devitt’s drapery shop was set on fire but the flames soon spread to Marrinan’s next door. “On hearing a cry for water, three young men, sons of Mr. Linnane, a building contractor, and a man named Sullivan went to the rescue. One of the men Patrick, was shot dead, but the others were unable to go to his assistance because the firing continued. He was subsequently taken to Connoles stable by an ex-soldier named White and was attended to by Fr. Mullins, C.C. who arrived on time to administer the last Sacraments.”[32] He was twenty one years of age, unmarried and worked with his father. He, too, was innocent and never participated in politics.

On the following day, the remains of both men were taken to Ennistymon Church where they remained overnight. Solemn requiem Mass was offered next day by Rev. Fr. Nestor P.P. who made brief reference to the events of the tragic night when both men were murdered and, after asking the prayers of the congregation for the happy repose of their souls he appealed to both families to have the funerals private in order to prevent any further trouble. Both families complied with his wishes and the remains were interred at the cemetery in Churchill [in Ennistymon].

Many other houses were completely destroyed including Whelan’s tailor shop, P. Clair’s grocery shop and Callinan’s public house, and only the four walls remained standing. In the ruins of Whelan’s house a remarkable thing was noticed soon afterwards. High up and embedded in a stone wall was a plaster cast of the Holy Face. This escaped damage except for a slight chip in one corner. The house of Mr. John Hynes, draper and Mr. Joseph Conneally of Clooney, Ennistymon, were also damaged.

Having devastated Miltown, Lahinch and Ennistymon, the men proceeded to the nearby fishing village of Liscannor where they wrecked havoc on private houses. In a report on the reprisals in the Irish Independent of September 27th, the total damage was estimated at £100,000.

On the day following the ambush and reprisals, the Bishop of Galway and priests of Kilfenora held a conference at Lisdoonvarna. Here they condemned the Rineen ambush as “unwise beyond measure and a grave breach of the law of God, except of course it occurred in lawful self-defence, which they had no means of ascertaining at that time.”[33] They also deplored and condemned the destruction of lives and property of innocent people which were carried out immediately after the ambush, by British forces, all the more because it seemed to be encouraged and tolerated by those who professed to be governing the country, and had a duty above all else to protect the lives and property of the people of Ireland.

They appealed to their own people to be careful in this time of crisis, to give no provocation or protest for a recurrence to violence on the part of the British forces. “They prayed Our Father in heaven to have mercy on the souls who have been so suddenly hurled before His tribunal and they implored His guidance and protection for their own flocks and for the people of Ireland through the intercession of Mary the Great Mother of God who has helped the Irish so much in the past.”[34]

The then Bishop of Killaloe, Dr. Fogarty, made the following statement at early Mass in Ennis on Sunday, September 26th. “Mistakes and sorrows are, I suppose, inevitable in such an intense struggle as we are now passing through but if the country adheres faithfully to the advice and directives of its elected representatives we shall win our cause and without the disasters which are sure to follow when irresponsible heads take action on their own account”. Dr. Fogarty continued “while we deeply deplore such actions (Rineen), in the present excited state of feeling, the less said the better. We can only sympathise with the afflicted sufferers and pray, as we sincerely do, that God may have mercy on the souls of those, whatever side they belong to, who have been killed in that series of horrible outrages.”[35]

It may seem natural that native people would be shocked and horrified by the British reprisals, but it appears that shock was equally widespread in England. The Westminster Gazette had a report which stated “it is absolutely essential that the authorities should stop these outbreaks of violence on the part of the police. An undisciplined force is worse that none, and the more difficult the situation in Ireland becomes the greater is the need for discipline. If this vendetta is allowed to grow more intense, complete anarchy will be the result”.

Lahinch Church

The Catholic Church in the centre of Lahinch village is called the church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception. It is in the parish of Kilmanaheen and Ennistymon which is in the Diocese of Kilmacduagh, Kilfenora and Galway.

The first church in Lahinch that we still have pictures of today, was built in 1831. It was in exactly the same place as our church is in now, overlooking the village and the Atlantic Ocean.
In 1944, the old church in Ennistymon was in very bad repair, so an architect was called in to have a look at it. Ennistymon Church needed a new roof, new windows and a new gallery.
Lahinch Church was also in very bad repair and it was far too small. It became very crowded in the summer when visiting priests and tourists came to Lahinch ion their holidays. The train from Ennis and other parts of Clare used to bring in hundreds of people visiting the seaside every weekend.
Repairing both churches would have been very expensive, so it was decided that it would be best to build two new churches in Lahinch and Ennistymon.

The Parish priest Canon Sheedy and the bishop of Galway, Bishop Browne, decided to run a competition for the best design for the new churches. But some of the local people began to grumble and say, “Why weren’t we consulted? Wouldn’t it do to repair the old Churches? We don’t need new Churches”.

So Bishop Browne decided to give every house in the Parish a chance to say what they wanted to do. He sent everybody a letter in July 1952. Four hundred and six households said that they did want to build a new Church, and sixty one said that they didn’t. So it was decided that two new Churches in Lahinch and Ennistymon were to be built.