Statements – Military Archives – Defence Forces
In 1947, the Irish Government set up the Bureau of Military History to collect interviews and gather written statements from combatants during the period 1913 to 1921. The Irish Civil war was avoided for being too divisive. Some 1773 statements were compiled which gave an unprecedented insight into that formative period in Irish History.
The archive, now open to the public by appointment and soon to go on line mid 2012, accounts for 36,000 pages of living history. It was regarded as so dangerous it was placed in 83 steel boxes and locked away in a strong room. There it remained until the death in 2003 of the last person to testify. The collection is due to go online in 2012.
collection are various references to the Thompson Gun and the
Statement of Vincent Byrne [no. 423]; “…we were given a demonstration in the Temple or Casino…on the Malahide Road....The following were present:- Michael Collins, Dick Mulcahy, Ginger O’Connell, two Americans named Cronin and Dinneen, Tom Keogh, Jimmy Slattery, Pat McCrae, and myself….It was Cronin who gave the demonstration. Standing back a few yards, he fired at a tin can. The first shot lifted it inot the air and he kept hitting it in mid-air. The Big Fella and Mulcahy were delighted at the results and our only wish was that we had plenty of them. These guns were not used by members of the squad later. I believe however that they were used by members of the A.S.U. at Ballyfermot”
Statement of Vincent Byrne [no. 423]; “The First Thompson Machine Guns – When the first Thompson Machine Guns arrived at Moreland’s dump, the squad considered them to be great weapons. We gave them a thorough inspection and were itching to fire them. Tom Keogh started to load the drum, according to the instruction pamphlet, and when he had it fully loaded, he slipped it on to the gun. As we did not know what was going to happen, we all stood behind him in case of danger. He started to fidget around with it, when all of a sudden there was a burst of fire. In fact, he nearly drilled a hole through the brick wall. In my opinion, that was the first time the Thompson gun had been fired by one of our men”.
of Vincent Byrne [no. 423]; “Attempted
attack on troop train, Killester Station……in the
autumn of 1920, there was a splendid celebration to take place in Belfast on
the occasion, I believe, of the visit of the King and Queen. Our
5th Battn. Engineers were to mine
the railway line…..I would estimate the number of volunteers on this job as
between sixty and seventy men, including the Squad, the A.S.U. and members of
different battalions. I was ordered to take a pony and trap…..the bottom of the
trap was full of revolvers, hand grenades, two Thompson guns. “
[This ambush was aborted with men in situ for whatever
reason- date wrong given, State opening of
Statement of Bernard Byrne [no. 631]; “The standard of efficiency in relation to marksmanship was particularly high, despite the fact that we never had been given that one might call specialised training. The only time we ever received a direct lesson in any weapon was when the first Thompson machine guns were secured from the States and we were given instructions by two American gentlemen, one of whom was named Dineen. We were very proud of having been given control of two of these weapons”.
Statement of Oscar Traynor [no.340]; “The Thompson Guns were introduced in November or December 1920. The first introduction of these guns followed the arrival of two ex-officers of the American Army, one was major Dineen and the other whose rank I forget was named Cronin. These two men were available to the Brigade for the purpose of giving lectures and instructions in the use of the Thompson submachine gun.. The lectures, which were given to selected men of the Dublin Brigade, consisted in the main of taking the gun asunder, becoming acquainted with the separate parts and securing a knowledge of the names of these parts, the clearance of stoppages, as well as the cause of these stoppages. In the early stages it was not possible to give practical demonstrations of the shooting power of these weapons, but the handling of the guns, together with the method of sighting, made the men reasonably proficient……..During the Truce lectures followed on the practical use of these guns, and the quick clearance of stoppages was one of the features of an intensive course of lectures which took place in the training camp in Glenasmole, County Dublin. The two Officers continued to deliver these lectures, and their power and ability with these guns was always a cause of amazement to their pupils. They gave several demonstrations of firing these guns from various positions, always with tremendously impressive effect. Harry Boland, who was then representing the Government in the United States was, in the main, responsible for the importation of these Thompson Guns, as well as for the visit of the American Army officers mentioned……In Dublin the Brigade headquarters training camp was situated in a large house at Glenasmole , known as Cobbs Lodge….Actually as time went on it became more of a General Headquarters training camp as men were brought from various parts of the country to undergo courses of instruction, especially in the machine gun from the American officers who were engaged in that task.The course was brought to a conclusion in the late autumn of 1921 and was not resumed at any later date”
of William Stapleton [no.822]; “ The first two Thompson
machine guns were brought into
of William Stapleton [no.822];”The first
time I think that the Thompson guns were brought into action was shortly after
testing them at the Casino when we endeavoured to ambush the military train
conveying troops from the North Wall to somewhere in the north of Ireland, on
the Drumcondra main line. The first attempt was made
Statement of William Stapleton [no.822];”The Intelligence Officers would identify the British Forces for elimination. My part in this job was to take a Ford van, which by the way had been captured from the British…..together with Charlie Dalton and two others……some spare guns and bombs and two Thompson guns were brought in the van. My instructions were to park the van in Dawson St. at the corner of Duke St. and when the shooting started to move the van gradually….and fight off any British reinforcements that might come along using my own discretion….”
Statement of William Stapleton [no.822];”The Squad and the A.S.U. unit were held together after the Truce…..arrangements made to set up a camp near Brittas for the unit. This camp was organised on strictly military lines and a full programme of training was also drawn up……We had visits and inspections carried out by members of the Dublin Brigade Council…… the Brigadier, Oscar Traynor , Messrs. Cronin and Dinneen who brought over the Thompson guns….”
of Liam Daly [no.425];”…in August 1920,
Sean (Russell) asked me to supply and fit an electric motor in a munitions
factory he established in
of Major General P. Daly [no.387];”It was
around this time that we got our first Thompson Gun. Michael Collins was very
keen on this gun and actually came down to
Statement of Major General P. Daly [no.387];”Attempted train ambush at Killester….About April 1921, we got word from Intelligence of a train coming from Belfast with heavy reinforcements of Black and Tans……we decided to mine the railway line…..Bill Stapleton had the Thompson gun on a small foot-bridge…I decided to withdraw our men from the position”
Statement of Captain Sean Prendergast [no.755]; “One of these was the appointment of two ex-American officers – Major Dineen and Captain Cronin to the IRA training staff. These officers had arrived from America and with our then Director of Training ‘Ginger’ O’Connell set in motion training company officers, classes being held in a room over Gogan’s in Marlboro Street by the two former officers in the use of the Thompson sub-machine gun in which they were particularly expert. It is noteworthy that about that time and from that time the Thompson came into prominence as a favourite weapon of the IRA “.
Statement of Joseph McKenna [no.575]; “After the truce in July 1921, I and other officers attended Lough Bawn training camp for a period of three weeks. Open and close order drill, lectures on musketry, and demonstrations on the Thompson machine gun and Lewis gun were given as part of the course of instruction”.
Statement of George Nolan [no.596]; ”ASU attack troop train at Ballyfermot…while this was being done one man of our party, armed for the first time with a Thompson machinegun was to spray the tops of the carriages with fire….Jimmy McGuiness with the Thompson machine gun which, incidentally, was the first time I had seen one….and Jimmy McGuiness with his machine gun fired onto the carriages…”
Statement of Mrs Sean O’Donovan (nee Kathleen Boland) [no.586]; “It was to our place in Abbey Street that the three or four American officers came, who brought the Thompson machine gun to show to Michael Collins……not long before the Truce. I had to get in touch with Joe O’Reilly to get Diarmuid O’Hegarty, Gearoid O’Sullivan, Liam Mellows and other members of the Volunteer Executive to meet these officers in our shop one Saturday afternoon after closing hours, when everything was quiet.”
Statement of Mrs Sean O’Donovan (nee Kathleen Boland) [no.586]; “Paddy Daly – he was a daredevil – also brought a bundle of the little American machine guns out to our place in Marino Crescent and stored them in the hen house….”
Statement of Nicholas Smyth [no.721]; “When the Truce was declared…the first training camp I attended... …I also made the acquaintance of weapons which I had heard about, but never seen, such as the Thompson machine gun, the parabellum and Peter the Painter automatics. These weapons were new to the average volunteer and needless to say, we were all very anxious to learn all that we could about them.”
of Charles Dalton [no.434];”Ambush of
British troops at Drumcondra, 16th June
1921 – I accompanied a party from the Squad and the ASU in an endeavour to
ambush a train containing newly-arrived troops in Ireland en route to the Curragh….we took up positions…..myself and another
volunteer with a Thompson gun each….in a laneway covering the railway line…..My
companion opened fire with his gun, but I did not get my gun into action as the
target only presented itself for about one minute. Neither of us had ever
handled a Thompson gun before this. As a result of the fire, several soldiers
were wounded….This was the first occasion on which the two Thompson sub-machine
guns that were in the country were brought into action. It may not be
irrelevant to mention that two American ex-officers of Irish descent had come
Statement of Major General P Daly [no.387]: “It was about this time we got our first Thompson gun. Michael Collins was very keen on this gun and actually came down to 17 North Richmond Street, Mrs Byrne’s house, where we were having a lecture on the gun. The lecturer was either Prout or a Kerryman named Allman who had been in the American Army, I am nearly sure Allman was the lecturer. We afterwards went out to the Casino in Marino….we were surprised when one of the Brothers out of the O’Brien Institute came and told us that we could be heard all over the place”.
Statement of Major General P Daly [no.387]:”Attempted train ambush at Killester – About April 1921, we got word from Intelligence of a train coming from Belfast with heavy reinforcements of Black and Tans, ……..and we decided to mine the railway line….about 100 yards on the Dublin side of Killester Bridge. Bill Stapleton had the Thompson gun on a small footbridge…..The bombs were to be sude first, and the Thompson gunner was to rake along the side of the train…..I decided to withdraw our men from the position…”.
of Major General P Daly [no.387]:”The
last big round up was to take place towards the end of June. We arranged to hit
every Black and Tan visible on the streets of
of Edmond O’Brien [no. 597];”…..dumped
the stuff in the Carmelite Priory……There was also .45 and other sizes of pistol
ammunition as well as .303 rifle ammunition, and a small supply of Thompson
sub-machine guns, and ammunition therefor, began to become available at this
time. The first small supply of the Thompson guns that I saw was, as far as I
can remember, about May or June of 1920. There were of course larger supplies
obtained later, and I do not know whether the first lot I saw had come to us by
way of gift from some of our friends, or whether they had been purchased by our
people in New York. It was just following this, perhaps a month or two later,
that Sean Nunan sent me to Washington, DC to deliver
to Joe Begley a large sum in dollar currency. This money was, as far as I know,
for the purchase in bulk of the first large quantity of Thompson sub-machine
guns. Begley was staying in
of Edmond O’Brien [no. 597];”…I was
associated with a group of young Irishmen in
Statement of Matthew Barry [no. 932];”…Attempted attack on troop train Celbridge 2nd July 1921 …..there was also a man with us who carried a Thompson gun - a weapon that was new to us….as these thoughts were racing through my mind, and all thoughts of danger disregarded for the moment, I heard a burst of Thompson machine gun fire. It seemed to come from somewhere half left of the British position but further away. …I understand now that the Thompson gunner, as he was getting away, fired a burst in the air – a very foolish thing to do, but it saved our lives. Our opponents must have thought they were being attacked in the rear because immediately all fire ceased on our position”.
Statement of Daniel Ennis [no. 1132];”In September 1921, I went to a training camp at Kilmovee, County Waterford together with other officers of the Waterford City Battalion. Here we received instruction in the use of the Thompson machine gun, grenades and rifle and revolver practice”.
Statement of John O’Connor [no. 1181];”During the Truce I attended a training camp at Castlemaine where I received instruction in the Thompson machine gun section…..”.
Statement of Tadg McCarthy [no. 965]; appendix included G.H.Q. Training memo number 14 dated 7th November 1921 Team Drill for Thompson Machine Gun crew.
Statement of Patrick Moylett [no. 767];”Immediately Dail Eireann was former it was arranged that a company would be registered to carry out the operations outlined here. The result was that the National Land Bank was brought into existence, also a limited company called ‘Irish Overseas Shipping and Trading Company’…..Our transactions concerned the importing of ammunition and guns. The guns were consigned to us, not bought by us, and they arrived here in cargoes. The biggest consignment consisted of Thompson machine guns. We got an official order from the Dublin Corporation for 5000 tons of coal, and this coal was to cover 500 cases of Thompson guns.This was eraly in 1921, about January or February, and there was a longshoreman’s strike in New York…This action in itself drew attention to our cargo. These were the first Thompson machine guns to be sold by Thompsons; they were late for the first war. The guns arrived at the pier in new York and 396 cases out of a total of 500 were leaded on the ship….the Customs Officers discovered them…..the net result was that the Salvage Corps salvaged 104 cases of Thompson guns. These guns ultimately arrived in Kerry three weeks after the Truce. They arrived during the first week in August 1921”.
Statement of Michael Stack [no. 525];”The last engagement of the Squad was carried out by no.3 and no.4 sections on the Friday before the truce. This was the ambushing of a military train at Ballyfermot bridge. Jim McGuinness took up his position at the corner of the bridge with his Thompson gun…McGuinness opened fire with the Thompson gun as the train emerged from the tunnel…the casualties were heavy on the British that day”.
Statement of Denis Lordan [no. 470];”Approximately two weeks before the Truce, the Brigade OC Liam Deasy and the Column OC Tom Barry and myself proceeded to Cronin’s Hotel ….having received orders…..About a week later I received orders to report to Divisional Headquarters for training in the use of the Thompson gun. A number of these weapons had reached the country just previous to this period and it was understood that a large number would become available as soon as sufficient instructors were trained in their use. Before the time arrived for me to report to Divisional Headquarters, the Trice intervened”.
Statement of Sean Nunan [no. 1744];”As well as being in charge of the Bond campaign….I also had charge under Harry Boland of a special fund of about $100,000 for the purchase and shipment of arms. This included many small lots shipped by individual seamen with whom I was in regular contact , and a large consignment of Thompson machine guns. This consignment was unfortunately captured by the Federal authorities on the ship on which they were stored”.
of Sean Boylan [no. 1715];”After the
reorganisation, I met Mick Collins by appointment at
of Sean Boylan [no. 1715];”In June 1921 I
was ordered to report to Barry’s Hotel Dublin. I met Mick Collins, Gearoid O’Sullivan, Dick Mulcahy
and I think Eamon Price. A few days
earlier two troop trains had been sent from the Curragh
of O’Brien [no. 1647];”At that time, July
1921 my rank was that of vice-Commandant of the 6th Battalion,
of John Gaynor [no. 1447];”I think nearly
a thousand soldiers was due to pass down the line about
on its way back from
of Colonel Padraig O’Conchubhair [no. 813];”The supply of ammunition was running very
low - .45 ammunition
particularly. A large quantity of .45 rifle ammunition had been
of Padraig O’Conchubhair[no.813 ];”Ambush of
troop train at Ballyfermot – Information was received
that a party of troops with stores would be travelling on the
passenger train from Kingsbridge on
of Catherine Rooney [no.648 ];”When the first Thompson gun was brought into
of Frank Saurin [no.715 ];”We had Thompson guns and we intended using
them at Jammets. In through a laneway in
Statement of Thomas Ryan [no.783];”The first statement deals with an expected landing of arms in the south coast and as far as I can remember, took place some time around April 1921: South Tipperary columns 1 and 2 were ordered to proceed to the Nire valley for the purpose of digging dumps to receive a cargo of arms that was expected to be landed on the Dungarvan coast….about a dozen dumps were made and lined with heather. We worked in two parties constructing two dumps at a time. These dumps were constructed according to a set plan in concealed positions in the hills and consisted of holes dug about ten feet square and ten feet deep, the bottom and sides lined with heather and the top covered over with timber carrying sods and heather. These dumps were never used for the purpose for which they were intended as, owing to the vigilance of the coastguards, the cargo could not be landed near Dungarvan but was as I understand landed further down the coast by arrangement with the Brigade Commander Pax Whelan….I knew little or nothing at this time about the details of this cargo of arms that was expected but in a very private and confidential conversation between the O/C of the Column, Sean Hogan, and myself with one or two others, we learned from Hogan that the arms expected consisted of Thompson guns , which were then a novelty to us, and that these guns were coming from America.This was all we knew about it at the time and when in fact the cargo did not land there, we heard no more about it at the time.
of Mary Cremin [no.924];”I remember another occasion when with some volunteers and other Cumann na
mBan members I went to Tilbury Docks to collect guns
and ammunition off a boat from
Statement of Edward Fullerton [no.890];”The first incident of note during the Truce period was attending the Divisional Training Camp at Killeavy, Co.Armagh. As far as I can remember, this camp started a few weeks after the Truce. In all I was about four weeks there. We received a very intensive course of training in the use and care of all types of firearms, including rifle, revolver and Thompson gun.
of PJ Paul [no.877];”…I was brought to
another room in the University which I remember had the name on the door saying
that it was the room of Owen McNeill. There I met Emmet Dalton and a man named
Cronin, an American and another American with him. I was shown a specimen of
the Thompson sub-machine guns which I learned were being smuggled in from
Statement of Sean Gibbons [no.927]; “On a Sunday about the 24th June……we decided sorrowfully and reluctantly that the time had come to disband the column …and that some of the officers of the Brigade staff should go to Dublin for a course of special training and if possible induce Headquarters to give us some Thompson guns to reinforce the Lewis gun that we had captured……The Brigade staff went to Dublin mainly to report on their stewardship and if possible to get lectures on the Thompson gun about which there was a great deal of talk at the time.”
of Laurence Nugent [no.907];”…on Paddy
Fleming’s return form the
of Laurence Nugent [no.907];”Various
episodes of the Civil War ….when PJ Fleming was about to return from the
of Daniel Flynn [no.1240];”I was interned
until the general release of internees in December 1921…On release from
Statement of Dan Guiney [no.1347];”During the Truce I attended a Battalion camp which was held at Freemount. This would be about early August 1921. Officers from all companies in the Battalion attended this camp. We undertook a course of training in the care and use of arms, especially the Thompson gun. In addition, all aspects of military activities were covered. The camp continued for two weeks and was in charge of Sean Nunan. The training Officer was Tom Roche”.
of James Crenigan [no.1395];”Orders were received from General Headquarters that all Coastguard
stations between Donabate and Laytown,
Co. Meath, were to be destroyed or burned down. These buildings were occupied
by men of the British coast-watching service and their families. They were
generally retired British Navy men and it was believed that they were armed.
The capture of such arms was not however the object of our operation. I
understand that our General Headquarters had made plans to land a consignment
of Thompson sub-machine guns and ammunition which had been procured in the
Unites States on the East coast north of
of Seamus Finn [no.1060];”On my return to
Div. HQ at Dunboyne the O.C. informed me that Mick
Collins had spoken to him about a very important job which was due to take
place in the Fingal area. I was sent to meet Mick. I
met him in
Statement of Padraig O’Cathain [no.1572];”A Brigade training camp was opened at Duckett’s Grove, a big estate four miles east of Carlow town………..Two Irish ex-American army officers spent a week with us on machine gun training with special attention to the then new Thompson gun”.
Statement of Sean O’Driscoll [no.1518];”…On 28th May 1921…..I passed on the information regarding the enemy knowledge of the landing of arms to Collins and then took a course of instruction in the maintenance and handling of the Thompson gun from two yanks for one week”.
of Patrick Daly [no.814];”In connection
with cargoes sent from New York, we later on, instead of bringing them ashore
to a dump in Liverpool, carried them directly to a B&I boat that was due to
sail for Dublin. This particular type of cargo was mostly a consignment of
Thompson guns with suitable ammunition. It was an awkward consignment to handle….The
Irish organisation in New York were not satisfied with the relatively small
supplies which they were succeeding in getting across the Atlantic on liners to
Liverpool and considered that if a boat with a sympathetic crew could be
procured to sail direct Dublin or some other Irish port a consignment of arms
could be forwarded in that way. …..A Moore-McCormick boat was eventually
of Michael O’Donoghue [no.1741];”…One serio-comic incident I remember. A
young green IRA section commander reported to Brigadier Lehane
for instructions. He carried a Thompson sub-machine gun and a drum of
ammunition (these were just then very new to the IRA as they had only come in a
few months before from the
Statement of Thomas McNally [no.410 ]; “About twelve midnight I wakened hearing what appeared to be loud knocking on our door. My brother Joe was stationed at the bedroom window with a Thompson Gun. On looking out I saw a number of soldiers and a tender with RIC, some in uniform and some in civvies. Needless to say we feared the worst.”
of Thomas McNally [no.410 ];”In support of this I should like to state that I only stayed in my
home twice over a particular period. I was ‘on the run’ and on each occasion
the house was obviously
under notice. On the first occasion I had just come back from
of Thomas McNally [no.410 ];”An
arrangement had been made in the early stages of the Truce whereby some of the
Southern Divisions would exchange their own local rifles for an equivalent
number handed over from the British and those handed in my these Divisions
would be handed over to the Northern Divisions so that they could not be identified
if subsequently captured in the North when operations subsequently recommenced
there……General O’Duffy, who was Chief of Staff,
agreed after representations made by OC Division (Colonel Seamus Woods) to give
us six hundred rifles and sixty thousand rounds of ammunition and two Lewis
guns. The numbers were obliterated from the rifles before being handed over to
us. In addition, general McMahon gave me five Thompson guns as the Lewis guns
were not so suitable for our type of action as Thompsons. I swapped the Lewis
guns for Thompsons with Major General D Hogan, OC 5th Northern
Division. I brought these guns home by rail and was met at the G.N.R. terminus
Statement of Robert Purcell [no.573];”The first was an attack on a troop train at Killester. The A.S.U. turned up in strength for this operation of which Paddy Daly was in charge. I cannot remember what time of the year this ambush took place. A troop train was expected to arrive from Howth direction. We took up positions on both sides of the embankment some distance from Killester station. We were armed with hand grenades. A man with a Thompson gun took up position on the bridge crossing the railway. Our instructions were that we were not to attack the train until the Thompson gun first went into action. . This was to be our signal for the attack. As the train approached, a member of the ASU got a bit excited and without waiting for a signal from the man on the bridge with the Thompson gun, he fired his grenade.”
Statement of Joe McGuiness [no.607 ];”Attack on troop train at Ballyfermot; On the 8th July – two days before the Truce – Nos 3 and 4 sections of the ASU took part in the last engagement, an attack on a troop train at Ballyfermot. …….Nos 3 and 4 sections were to proceed to Ballyfermot railway bridge at one o’clock……armed with bombs, revolvers and one Thompson gun, and take up position there to await the arrival of the train. …The Thompson gun was to be mounted on the parapet of the bridge, and a sack steeped in paraffin oil and petrol was to be thrown on top of the second carriage as the train passed under the bridge. I was instructed to light the sack snd throw it on to the second carriage. Another man was to take up position on the other side of the bridge and empty a drum of petrol on to the carriages. Simultaneously with this happening, the men on the left hand side of the embankment were to throw grenades on the train, and the men on the right hand side on top of the bridge, Jimmy McGuinness was to open fire with his Thompson gun…….After about twenty minutes in position, the train arrived and the signal was given that it contained troops. Fire was opened on it immediately. As the train passed under the bridge, the petrol form the drum was poured down and the soaked petrol sack was thrown on top of it…….It pulled up at Clondalkin station where I believe the wounded were removed. I believe the casualties were fairly heavy”.
of Pat McCrea [no.413 ];”Train ambush at Ballyfermot – It was reported
that a troop train was to leave Kingsbridge for the Curragh