Today marks the 90th anniversary of the start of the Irish Civil War, described as one of the saddest chapters of Ireland’s troubled history. In the same week that Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness shook the hand of the Queen of England, it is even more poignant.
Back in 1922, the political support for the Anglo-Irish Treaty had been high here with a Sinn Féin majority and upwards of 90% of the IRA expressing support for Treaty ratification.
While the majority of the No.3 Brigade, south Donegal gave their allegiance to the Provisional Government some areas were anti-Treaty IRA, such as the IRA Volunteers of Bundoran company.
An all out battle at Pettigo and Belleek in late May and early June was the last combined stand of the now divided IRA and Free State forces. Amazingly they kept the British army at bay for one week. Sadly before the end of June these same men would be on opposing sides.
Opposing sides commandeered different barracks following the withdrawal of the British and RIC. Finner Camp was taken possession of by members of the anti-Treaty IRA.
The first actions of the war here was at Letterkenny when two IRA garrisons were removed from Rockhill and Ballymacool House. Free State forces then focused their attention on Finner Camp. A gun battle ensued for approximately two hours and the camp was surrendered.
Ballyshannon would also play host to the most prominent woman to take part in the Civil War in Donegal, Eithne Coyle from Killult near Falcarragh. Bundoran was the scene of some of the most intense fighting as the IRA from the 3rd Western Division sought to regain control of the town from Free State forces. It was also the last area to remain active.
Read historian Liam O’Duibhir’s fascinating account of the civil war in south Donegal on Page 8 inside.