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In December 2005 (repeated January 2007) RTE broadcast a controversial programme on the former Minister for Foreign Affairs and founding member of Fianna Fail Frank Aiken. Born in Camlough, Co. Armagh, Aiken joined the Irish Volunteers in 1914 and was later commander of the 4th Northern Division, IRA. In the programme he was accused of engineering an ethnic cleansing of Protestants from parts of South Armagh, Newry, and other parts of the north, in particular the killing of seven Protestant civilians in one day in Altnaveigh. The 4th Northern Division operated in an area covering parts of counties Louth, Armagh, Monaghan, and Down and Aiken, as commander, was acting in reprisal for Crown forces murders in the area. In a directive to his men he wrote: “Reprisal must be six to one, so as to prevent the enemy from continuing same.”
At the outbreak of the Civil War the 4th Northern Division was neutral and had taken control of the Dundalk military barracks after the British army vacated on 13 April 1922. On 4 July 1922 Frank Aiken wrote to Richard Mulcahy, the commander of the Free State’s military, stating the 4th Northern Division would stay neutral. On July 15 1922 Aiken met in Dublin with Mulcahy, arguing for peace. The following day Mulcahy’s men came as friends to Dundalk and captured Aiken’s barracks through a breach of faith. Aiken and his officers were imprisoned in Dundalk Jail. However, John McCoy, from Mullaghbane, Co. Armagh, who was vice commandant for the division, escaped capture. On 27 July John McCoy led a small unit that attacked Dundalk Jail. They dynamited the prison wall and in fifteen minutes the well-timed operation resulted in the release of Aiken and dozens of his men. There were no casualties.
On 15 August Aiken returned with 300 men and captured Dundalk barracks. They use two mines to breach the walls of the barracks and temporarily take over the town. Four Free State soldiers were killed and 350 captured, while Aiken lost just one man. About 400 rifles, two eighteen-pounder guns and a huge amount of ammunition and stores were also taken. As a guerrilla operation it was one of the most successful ever in Ireland. More than 200 Republican prisoners, including sixty from County Kildare, were also released and entertained to breakfast at the military barracks. Among the prisoners liberated was Jim Dunne and a dozen members of his flying column captured near Sallins as they tried to blow up the railway bridge. Jim Dunne, from Greenhills, Kill, was a relative of the Fenian John Devoy, and had joined Kill Company, Irish Volunteers, in 1917, when he was fifteen.
“I took charge of sixty men from Kildare,” Jim Dunne recalled. “We were armed with thirty rifles and some explosives, etc. We then entrained with about 150 men from other areas to Dunleer, Co. Louth, and were instructed to blow up the railway bridge. This was carried out by P. Magee; Todd Andrews from Dublin HQ was in charge at Dunleer. He instructed me to cut across country for Kildare as best I could. Mick O’Neill of Celbridge, North Kildare Battalion, 1st Meath Brigade, had charge of another column of twenty men from that area and took another direction home. After travelling two days, mostly without food or sleep, we were surrounded by 500 Free State troops at Skree, Co. Meath. After a fight lasting from 6 p.m. to 10.30 p.m., I managed to break through the enemy ring with twenty men and rifles, and after travelling about five miles we put up at a farmhouse owned by two brothers named Duffy who lived near Fairyhouse racecourse. We had our clothes dried, as it rained all night and we were wet through. They also provided us with hot drinks and food. When we had got through the enemy ring, I had left a rearguard of ten men to hold back enemy troops. Those men were under the command of Patrick Magee, our engineer, an officer of Kill Company. Other men I can remember with him were Peter Mills, Kill, Jim Collins, Kilcullen, Jim O’Keefe, Kilcock. I can’t remember the names of the others. Each man of the rearguard had been provided with 250 rounds of ammunition and was armed with a rifle. When they surrendered at 10.30 p.m. they had only seven rounds of ammunition left and the rifles were jammed and red hot. The Dublin Guards who had been attacking them had lost three men killed and several wounded. The prisoners were lined up by the Dublin Guards to be shot, when the officer in charge of the Guards, Comdt. Stapleton arrived on the scene. He congratulated our men on the fight they had put up and accorded them good treatment. My column, after two days forced march, arrived back in the Kill area, where we had to rest for a week.”
Jim Dunne remained on the run for over a year after the Civil War ended. John McCoy was later captured in an engagement on the Castleblayney road. After the Civil War he moved to Dublin to work with the Military Pensions Board. In the 1940s John McCoy moved to Kill, a few hundred yards from the Dunne homeplace at Greenhills.

James Durney on Frank Aiken, John McCoy and local man Jim Dunne from Greenhills Kill during the Irish Civil War. Our thanks to James


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