Sack of Balbriggan

Sack of Balbriggan 1920

The Irish War of Independence (1919-1921) was a turbulent period, where recurrent attacks by rebel forces on the Royal Irish Constabulary (R.I.C) and the British army led to reprisals against the local population, none more savage than The Sack of Balbriggan. On Monday, 20th September 1920, following the shooting dead of Peter Burke, Head Constable of the Royal Irish Constabulary (R.I.C.), in a public house in Balbriggan, Black and Tans from nearby Gormanston Military Camp were summoned to investigate. The discovery of the body led to a rampage of revenge in the town. Many houses in Clonard Street were set on fire; a number of shops, pubs and a textile factory were also burned. Most tragic of all were the murders of John Gibbons and James Lawless, arrested that evening by the Black and Tans, and whose bodies were discovered the following morning, at the junction of Quay Street and Bridge Street

Niall Keady

Over the past few months leading up to the commemoration of the centenary of the Sack of Balbriggan, I have gathered together some bits and pieces, news, information and testimonies. Everything that I have discovered is presented below and overtime I hope readers will dip in and out and learn about the terrible event that happened in Balbriggan over 100 years ago. This is a fluid project and I can continue to add any further discoveries and link to modern talks and presentations.

While very sad and disappointing that many events to mark this occasion had to be cancelled due to covid I hope the coverage given by Balbriggn News help a few more to learn and hear about the events of the 20th & 21 of September 1920 in Balbriggan.

Writing on the centenary of the sack of Balbriggan, President Micheal D Higgins, issued a comprehensive statement.  The President was scheduled to visit Balbriggan and lay a wreath at the graveside of two of the victims of the event, however, this was cancelled due restrictions impose during Covid-19.

Extract from the Presidents Statement:

"Let us all continue with, indeed embrace, the new beginning that the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement represented as we continue to carve out our peaceful co-existence on the island of Ireland through a genuine democratic dialogue grounded in respect for our communities’ identities and their lawful traditions, recognising and paying tribute to John Hume’s vision of a shared island at peace."

Read the full statement here: Statement by President Michael D. Higgins on the Centenary Anniversary of the Sack of Balbriggan

Irish Times report on Presidents Statement Sept 2020: President Higgins says British must face up to their history of reprisals

Statement by President Michael D. Higgins on the Centenary Anniversary of the Sack of Balbriggan


Balbriggan Town Walkabout Sept 2020

In the days preceding the centenary it was becoming clear that due to covid-19 restrictions, planned events would be cancelled.   So I joined with Cllr Cathal Boland, members of FOIRA and Vincent Donnelly as they visit the now-infamous landmarks around balbriggan where incidences of the Sack of Balbriggan September 21/22 1920 occurred. Each video is approx 15 mins

Part 2

Part 4

Part 1

Part 3


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Óglaigh na hÉireann 

Military Archives

The Bureau of Military History, 1913-1921. collected by the State between 1947 and 1957, in order to gather primary source material for the revolutionary period in Ireland from 1913 to 1921. The Bureau’s official brief was ‘to assemble and co-ordinate material to form the basis for the compilation of the history of the movement for Independence from the formation of the Irish Volunteers on 25th November 1913, to the 11th July 1921’ (report of the Director, 1957).

Here we found a trove of documents and statements from men and women involved as volunteers at this time. Statements from the main protagonists from the Fingal Branch of the IRA.

I have posted extracts from several statements pertaining to the Sack of Balbriggan Septembr 1920. I have highlighted the specific reference to the Sack of Balbriggan and the shootings proceeding the event. I would urge readers to download the entire documents for study.  As they hold fascinating accounts of raids, activities and details of missions carried out by locals.

ABOVE: Statement by witness Michael Rock, Commandant Naul Battalion, Fingal Brigade IRA. Download the full witness statement HERE

BELOW: Statement by witness John Gaynor, Captain Balbriggan Company, Irish Volunteers and IRA.  Download the full witness statement HERE

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