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Plucky postmistress alerts Volunteer police to armed raid

Well before the signing of the Treaty between Britain and Ireland in December 1921 the republican movement had been undermining British rule in Ireland by a number of strategies. One of these was to set up an alternative set of public service departments to win over the allegiance of the public from the established British administration.  Particularly sensitive in this process was the setting up of a new Irish Volunteer or Republican police force which was intended to displace the Royal Irish Constabulary who were seen by many as being agents of British oppression in Ireland (although, ironically, most RIC personnel were decent men of solid Irish origins).
The existence of two parallel policing forces in the country especially after the Irish Volunteer police came into the open after the signing of the Treaty in December 1921 must have created an amount of confusion. Nonetheless the Volunteer force proved effective in policing duties and a dramatic account from the files of the Kildare Observer newspaper in January, 1922 shows the Volunteer police taking rapid action to bring wrongdoers to justice.
The episode centres around a raid on the small post office at the gate to Clongoweswood College, on the Clane-Kilcock Road. Headed ‘Smart capture by Volunteer Police’ the report tells of how two masked men entered the post office and pointed revolvers at the post-mistress, Miss Shanahan. One of them smashed up the telephone instrument  A quick-thinking Miss Shanahan refused the raiders’ demands to hand over money or even to put her hands up but she did manage to conceal a sum of money in notes by dropping them behind a desk. One of the men brandished a large knife and proceeded to rifle the desk where he found a small sum of money. The raiders made off but warned Miss Shanahan not to leave the place for an hour or she risked being shot.
However the plucky postmistress ignored the warning and slipped out the back door of the small post-office. She knew exactly where she was headed for just three hundred yards away was a neighbour’s house --Mainham forge --which happened to be the residence of the Officer Commanding of the 4th Battalion Irish Volunteer Police, Mr. Pat Dunne. This officer reacted as effectively as any professional policeman and using the communication links built up during the war of independence (1919-21) mobilised his Volunteeer colleagues in the surrounding countryside and despatched search parties on bicycles to cordon the area of north Kildare centred on Clongowes. Taking two companion Volunteer police with him, he set off for Clane where he made enquiries. Observant locals said that the two strangers had been seen pedalling towards Dublin on the Celbridge Road. Pat Dunne’s Volunteer trio took off in pursuit and a kind of chase on bicycle ensued. Eventually the trio of Volunteer police caught up on the two raiders near Baybush on the Celbridge Road and promptly put them under arrest. The suspects were searched and were found to have in their possession £2 3s 6d in coppers and silver, two toy revolvers, two masks and large army jack knife. They appeared to be brothers and gave their address initially as Lucan but later as Mount Brown, Inchicore.  The prisoners were removed to Dublin by order of the Brigade Chief of the Republican police.
The Kildare Observer highlighted that the notes hidden behind a desk by Miss Shanahan when the raiders had burst in had not been touched. It added that the ‘plucky action of Miss Shanahan in leaving the office to report the matter, notwithstanding the warning she had received, might be regarded as the chief factor in the capture.’    It reserved particular praise for the Volunteer police: ‘This capture establishes a very creditable record for the Mainham volunteers, it being the second effected by them within the past month.’ 
It is notable that nowhere in the account is there a mention of the official police force of the day, the Royal Irish Constabulary. A transition was underway at many levels in the administration of justice and the organisation of policing in Ireland. The Royal Irish Constabulary was winding down its operations in Ireland and ceding police barracks to the Volunteer police.  The praise heaped on the Mainham Company of the Irish Volunteer police suggests that this improvised police force was well up to the job and needed to little learn from its royally-titled police predecessors. Series no: 264

How a plucky postmistress assisted in the capture of two raiders from the Looking Back series of 17 January 2012. Our thanks to Liam

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