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Terse news items reflect war-time ambush and terror

The editions of the Kildare Observer newspaper in July 1922 were full of the staccato of war time news bulletins – but this time it was not a foreign war as had been the case with the paper’s coverage of local men involved in the Boer War (1899-1902) or the Great War (1914-18). The war reportage in July 1922 was driven by events on the paper’s own doorstep as Ireland was engulfed in a heart-breaking “civil war”. The irony of the description is that the war was anything but “civil” and this conflict differed from the others only in its proximity to home. Otherwise the common currency of war – death, destruction, injury and terror – was as evident in the columns of the Observer in the summer of 1922 as it had been in the columns of the paper during the foreign wars mentioned above.
Terse news items with headings such as “Mine exploded near Blackchurch”, “Ballymore barracks attacked”, “Coolcarrigan House Occupied” and “Capture at Ballitore”  illustrated the kind of news material which the Observer’s reporters and editors now had to deal with in the paper’s own circulation district. For journalistic staff whose experience lay in the relatively calm waters of reporting on county council meetings, racing festivals and garden fetes, the gathering of news in a fast-changing, intensely-violent and highly-emotive situation must have presented its own challenges. However the paper stayed faithful to the finer traditions of the “Fourth Estate” and made sure that the news was presented to its readers no matter what logistical or political difficulties were encountered in the news gathering process.
Some sense of the impact of the outbreak of the war on the circulation of newspapers can be gleaned from the editor’s column of the Observer in early July 1922 when he writes: “Since Wednesday week we (in Kildare) have been practically out of touch with the happenings in the South and West and North of Ireland and almost to an equal extent with occurrences in the city less than twenty miles from us. Papers, morning or evening have come fitfully through from the centre of operations.”
So disrupted was the circulation of national newspapers that a few enterprising Dublin newsboys hired cars to bring papers to Naas where they were paid a premium price by news-starved residents. Indeed an entrepreneurial Maynooth newsboy cycled into Dublin each morning and brought back a bundle of newspapers strapped to his handlebars which he sold for a highly profitable one shilling per copy.
However only the brave set out to travel the roads in July 1922 judging from the reports of ambush and incident as the anti-treaty troops flooded out from the city following the fall of the Four Courts. One of the most dramatic incidents occurred at Blackchurch when a large mine targeting a Free State armoured car was detonated. The Kildare Observer reported that when news reached Naas “a strong force of troops from Naas military barracks was at once despatched by motor lorry to the scene of the ambush.” The attackers had fled abandoning a dug-out and a number of rifles and notably, large quantities of newspapers which had “been seized by the irregulars from passing cars.” There must be few occasions in the history of guerrilla warfare where newspapers were regarded as a sufficiently valuable prize to justify a full scale ambush.
According to the Observer newspaper the damage to the Free State armoured car had been slight but two of the men in the car had been stunned by reason of “their heads coming in contact with the turret of the car when the explosion occurred.” In tactics which would be repeated sixty years later on the byroads of south Armagh, fire was opened on the armoured car after the explosion but was returned by the crew who – despite their concussion – managed to drive off their attackers. It must have been a frightening experience for two motorists who happened to be on the road at Blackchurch at the time of the ambush. One car was being driven by Mr. Barbour of Kilcullen who was driving some ladies to Naas and who had to stop at the spot owing to ignition trouble and the second by Mr. S. Loton, Newbridge who had stopped to assist him.
At least the two motorists had come through the experience without loss to life or vehicle. Somewhat less fortunate on the same stretch of road was Mr. Ernest Simpson, an ex-Quartermaster of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, who was motorcycling to Dublin when he was held up by “Irregular forces at Rathcoole.” He was detained for four hours but let go – minus his motorcycle.  The urgency by the anti-Treaty guerrillas to get their hands on transport of any kind is a striking feature of the news items. On a Sunday evening, Mr. Myles Quinn of the Kildare Co Co staff, and Mr. Michael Brown, Sallins  Road, Naas, were out cycling in the Ballymore Eustace district when they were “held up by Irregular forces and their bicycles taken”.
Certainly innocent travel on the roads in the Kildare/Wicklow/Dublin area was no longer safe as the civil war ignited. And this in turn isolated people and communities with the flow of news choked off even between neighbouring areas. It is a credit to the Kildare Observer staff that they managed to keep the columns of the paper full with news from all over the district despite contending with virtual siege conditions. As the long-suffering editor noted: “Never before in our history have we for so long been deprived of news of what was occurring, not only twenty miles away, but, in fact, in the adjoining parish or townsland.”   Series no: 290.

The Kildare Observer reporters were busy during the opening weeks of the civil war - from Liam Kenny's Looking Back series of 24 July 2012

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