A large crowd gathered at the site in Clonfin – just outside Granard - last Sunday afternoon to commemorate the 21 members of the North Longford Flying Column who were ambushed by the Black and Tans on that fateful day in February1921.
Four Auxiliaries were killed that day, however, the commemoration heard from guest speaker Martin Morris, County Archivist, that on the day, it was the care shown to broken and buruised British forces by the local brigade that “has gone down in history”.
Mr Morris also spoke about the importance of commemorations like that of the Battle of Clonfin – which is now in its 92nd year – and pointed to the necessity – for all of us to seek to gain a deeper understanding of the nation’s history.
“Commemorations like this one are very important,” the County Archivist said, adding that the Clonfin ambush was part of a “bitter and costly struggle” for the independence of this State and, therfore, “deserves to be remembered”.
“In commemorating events in out past, hopefully we deepen our understanding of them. We should also aim to hand on knowledge and appreciation of our history to future generations. It is important to note the local background to Clonfin - in the lead up to the battle, there had been the shooting of District Inspector Kelleher and Constable Cooney; the buring of Granard; the attack on Ballinalee and the shooting of District Inspector McGrath. One can only imagine the level of tension and fear in north Longford in early 1921.”
Mr Morris then went on to place emphasis on the “humane treatment of the Auxiliaries” and provided a very apt quote from John Carthy who wrote about the battle in 1971.
“An aspect of the eposide that I believe should be emphasised is the humnance treatment of the Auxiliaries following their surrender to the Flying Column,” Mr Morris added. “The wounded men received medical attention and the uninjured men were allowed to take the dead and injured to Longford. In considering this point, I can do no better than quote the late John Carthy who said, ‘Craven [the commander] and his men were professional soldiers for whom the Irish campaign was not perhaps the most glorious part of their careers; but they met at Clonfin – men with courage and skill to match their own, chivalry which they might emulate but not surpass, and humanity and charity which astounded them to the point of incredulity’. Such humanity and charity were rare on both sides in a conflict that had increased in ferocity over the previous months.”
It has also been noted in history that members of the Auxilliary unit gave evidence in favour of General Séán McEoin at a subsequent murder trial. “I firmly believe that in commemorating Clonfin, we remember the ideals of the men and women who fought for our freedom,” Mr Morris concluded.
A wreath was then laid at the monument, and a roll call reminded all of us present, about a historic battle that took place in North Longford 92 years previous.