Random Ramblings from a Republican
Friday, November 21, 2008
Sunday, 21 November 1920
Michael Collins' Revenge on the Cairo Gang

In response to the IRA successes against the Tans, the British Gov't had formed secret paramilitary death squads to "help" the RIC, Black and Tans and Auxiliaries. In the latter part of 1920, British Intelligence in Dublin, including what was known as the 'Cairo Gang' - 18 senior British Intelligence officers, had collected information from an extensive network of informers around Dublin city. Such a nest of spies and assassins was obviously of great concern for Michael Collins and the IRA leadership.

So to counter this looming problem, the IRA carried out one of its most successful counter intelligence operations with the execution of British spies in Dublin. Possessing the names and addresses of these British agents, the IRA Intelligence Department under Michael Collins put in action an audacious plan to wipe them out. On Sunday, 20 November, IRA Volunteers drawn from 'the Squad', some affiliated with those who would be killed in the massacre at the GAA match at Croke Park that later in the day. The casualties included Jeannie Boyle, who had gone to the match with her fiancé and was due to be married five days later, and John Scott, who was 14 and so mutilated that it was initially thought that he had been savagely bayoneted. The youngest victims were aged ten and 11.

The operation was planned by several senior IRA members, including Michael Collins, Dick McKee, Liam Tobin, Peadar Clancy, Tom Cullen, Frank Thornton and Oscar Traynor. The operation began at 9.00am when members of the Squad entered 28 Pembroke Street. The first British agents to die were Major Dowling and Captain Leonard Price. Andy Cooney of the Dublin Brigade removed documents from their rooms before three more members of the Gang were shot in the same house: Captain Keenlyside, Colonel Woodcock, and Colonel Montgomery. As Keenlyside was about to be shot a struggle ensued between his wife and Mick O'Hanlon. The leader of the unit, Mick Flanagan, arrived, pushed Mrs. Keenlyside out of the way and shot her husband.

At 119 Morehampton Road, Donnybrook, not far from the scene of the first shootings, another member of the Cairo Gang, Lieutenant Donald Lewis MacLean, along with suspected informer T. H. Smith, and McLean's brother-in-law, John Caldow, were taken into the hallway and about to be shot, when McLean asked that they not be shot in front of his wife. The three were taken to the roof where they were shot by Vinnie Byrne and Seán Doyle. Caldow survived his wounds and fled to his home in Scotland.

Next, at 92 Lower Baggot Street, another member, Captain Newbury and his wife heard their front door come crashing down and blockaded themselves into their bedroom. Newbury rushed for his window to try and escape but was shot while climbing out by Bill Stapleton and Joe Leonard after they finally broke the door down. Newbury's corpse hung out of a window for several hours as the RIC waited to approach, fearing the body might have been booby-trapped.

Two key members of the Gang, Lt. Peter Ashmun Ames and Captain George Bennett, were shot and killed, following a short gun battle, after a sympathetic maid let their attackers into 38 Upper Mount Street.

Sgt. John J. Fitzgerald, of the Royal Irish Constabulary, also known as "Captain Fitzgerald" or "Captain Fitzpatrick", whose father was from County Tipperary, was shot and killed at 28 Earlsfort Terrace. He had survived a previous assassination attempt when the bullet only grazed his head. This time he was shot twice in the head. The documents found in his house detailed the movements of senior IRA members.

Meanwhile, an IRA unit led by Tom Keogh entered 22 Lower Mount Street to kill Lieutenant Angliss aka McMahon, and Lieutenant Peel. The two intelligence specialists in the Gang, McMahon and Peel had been recalled from Russia to organize British Intelligence in the South Dublin area. McMahon survived a previous assassination attempt when shot at a billiard hall. He was targeted for killing Sinn Féin fundraiser John Lynch, mistaken for Liam Lynch, Divisional Commandant of the 1st Southern Division. McMahon was shot as he reached for his gun.

Peel, hearing the shots, managed to block his bedroom door and survived even though more than a dozen bullets were fired into his room. When members of Fianna Éireann on lookout reported that Auxiliary Division were approaching the house, the unit of eleven men split up into two groups, the first leaving by the front door, the second leaving through the laneway at the back of the house.

At 119 Baggot Street, Captain G.T. Baggalley , who had been a member of military courts that sentenced IRA volunteers to death, was killed by a three-man IRA unit, one of whom was a future Fianna Fáil Taoiseach, Seán Lemass.

Some members had decided that they would be safer residing in hotels. Captains McCormack and Wilde were in the Gresham Hotel. The IRA unit gained access to their rooms by pretending to be British soldiers with important dispatches. When the men opened their doors they were shot and killed. A London Times listing for McCormack and Wilde doesn't list any rank for the latter, however.

Captain Crawford narrowly escaped death after the IRA entered a guesthouse in Fitzwilliam Square where he was staying, looking for a Major Callaghan. On not finding their target, they debated whether or not to shoot Crawford. They decided not to shoot him as he was not on the hit list; instead they gave him 24 hours to leave Ireland, which he promptly did.

In the Eastwood Hotel the IRA failed to find their target, a Colonel Jennings, as he, along with Major Callaghan, had spent the night in a local brothel. Other targets who escaped were a Major Hardy, as well as a "Major King", a colleague of Hardy was missing when IRA assassin Joe Dolan burst into his room .

Two members of the Black and Tans, Cadets Garniss and Morris, were also killed. All in all, 8 members of the Cairo gang, and most of their top leadership were taken out. Michael Collins and his brain-trust had struck one of the more successful attacks in the history of Irish Republicanism up to the present time.

Tim Pat Coogan's The IRA & Michael Collins: a biography
Wikipedia: Cairo Gang
Ulick O'Connor's Michael Collins & The Troubles 
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