Edward Bennett was a member of F Coy, 4th Battalion Dublin Brigade IRA
Edward Bennett was a member of F Coy, 4th Battalion Dublin Brigade.
Edward fought both in the War of Independence and the Civil War. He was awarded the service medal 1917-1921 with the “Comrac” bar (combat), for his service during this period.
He joined the Volunteers 1st April-1917. From 1917 to March 1918, he attended regular company training and parades, and transported arms when ordered to do so. During the period April 1918 to March 1919, he was appointed the rank of NCO and trained his section in the use of firearms. He was involved in dispersing recruiting meetings for the British, raids for arms, anti-conscription activities, election protection duties and armed patrols. After the elections of December 1918, with a sweeping victory for Sinn Féin, the first Dáil Éireann was established, a turning point in Irish history. At the first meeting of the Dáil, the Inchicore company supplied some members for protective duties which Edward was a part of. This group of men were part of a carefully selected group, fully trained and armed whose function it was to prevent any of the delegates, the first Teachta Dáila from being arrested by the British authorities 1919-1920, in command of his section of men, on the 3rd of April 1920, took possession of all the books and income tax records for his area which were held at the home of an official in Lucan, County Dublin. This was a plan carried out across the the country co-ordinated to take place at the exact same time that night, masterminded by Michael Collins. These bulky ledgers which Edward had captured were then carried with great difficulty across many fields before reaching Bluebell, were they were burned and destroyed. This was followed by a seizure from the homes of rate collectors of all the monies collected for rates, which were then handed over to Dáil Éireann.
Also during this period, an attempt to destroy an unoccupied Crumlin police barracks was only partly successful due to an accident in which one volunteer was himself, badly injured in the ensuing fire. An attempt to burn Chapilizod barracks did not succeed either due to a party of British soldiers who opened fire on the company. Fire was returned and all got away to safety.
During 1920, the railway works in Inchicore was raided several times. Edward worked there, and during one of these raids, him being a wanted activitist, got into an empty boiler and had another man weld up the entrance as till such time the danger had passed, He then had to be actually cut out of it by his colleague’s when the Black and Tans had gone.
Edward Bennett assisted in operations carried out on the morning of 21st of November 1920, a date which later went down in Irish history as Bloody Sunday. On this morning, Michael Collins ordered the assasination of British agents, known to intelligence as the Cairo Gang, at various locations throughout the city. On that morning, the assasination teams, which included ‘the squad’, and members of the Irish Republican Army’s active service units of the Dublin Brigade, were briefed on their targets, which included twenty agents at eight different locations in Dublin. At first, Collins’ plan was to eliminate over fifty intelligence officers and informers, but this was later reduced to thirty five on the insistance of Cathal Brugha, due to insufficient evidence on some of those named.
Most of these killings were carried out in the small middle class of the south inner city with the exception of the Gresham Hotel in O’Connell Street. Fourteen people were killed and six wounded, including suspected agents and those with no connections to politics, and two Auxiliaries. Four of the British casualities were military intelligence officers, and another four were secret service agents or MI5 as they were also known. However, out of the thirty five men on Collins’ hit list, only about a third had been eliminated. The majority of the raids had been abortive as the men sought were not in their digs at the time the teams arrived, and in some cases, the teams themselves bungled their jobs. Edward and a team of nine men were sent to the Eastwood Hotel on Leeson Street as part of this operation, to eliminate a Lieutenant Colonel Jennings. They succeeded in taking over the building, and their Captain, Christopher Byrne, ordered two men to cover the rear to block any escape. Edward led the main group inside, were they cut all the telephone wires, and asked the receptionist for Jenning’s room number. The manager however insisted that Jennings had not stayed the night. They went to his room and sure enough he was not there, and at this point, the staff evidently began to panic and told the hit team that there was twelve flying officers staying at the hotel, and said that if they wanted them, they would and could direct them to their rooms. By this time the remainder of the party had withdrawn and they consulted amongst themselves as to what they should do. They decided they would leave as they had no instructions regarding this procedure. In all, the actions of these men terrified and crippled the British intelligence in Ireland, causing many other agents and informers to come out of hiding and flee to the safety of Dublin Castle. This caused great consternation within the British administration. Reprisals were swift, Dick McKee, Peader Clancy and Conor Clune were captured and murdered in Dublin Castle, but this was only the beginning. A football match at Croke Park that afternoon, attended by thousands of spectators to watch Dublin play Tipperary, was in full play when British forces opened fire. Two players, Michael Hogan and Jim Egan were shot. Hogan died immediatly and Egan survived. Seven spectators were shot to death and another five fatally wounded, and another two had been trampled to death by the crowd.
Between the assasinations early that morning and the outright slaughter in Croke Park, this day was to be remembered in Irish history as “Bloody Sunday”. Collins would later go on to justify his mens actions in his famous quote:
“My one intention was the destruction of the undesirables, who continued to make miserable the lives of ordinary decent citizens.
I have proof enough myself of the atrocities which this gang of spies and informers have commited.
If I had a second motive, it was no more than a feeling such as I would have for a dangerous reptile.
By their destruction the air is made sweeter…
As for myself. My conscience is clear.
There is no crime for detecting in war time the spy and the informer.
They have killed and destroyed without trial, I have paid them back in their own coin”
It is worth noting that also in November 1920, Edward was appointed the rank of 2nd Lieutenant. Nine days after Bloody Sunday he was captured and arrested. He was interned in Kilmainham Jail for a short time, then Arbour Hill, and finally Ballykinlar camp in County Down. Its not exactly clear where or how he came to be arrested, but in my opinion it could have been after a raid was carried out on the office of Richard Mulcahy, Chief of Staff of the I.R.A. This raid took place in November also. Captured documents from this raid (Irish Volunteers HQ), included lists of names and addresses of all ranks of volunteers. This started a snowball process in which finds in one house initiated further raids and more discoveries of documents and suspects. From November that year to the time of the truce in July 1921, 6,311 raids had been carried out in the Dublin district alone.
While in Ballykinlar camp in 1921, he was involved in the digging of tunnels in efforts to escape, and other activities to make better their conditions. He was released from Ballykinlar in November 1921. A number of high ranking and important volunteers were not released straight away after the truce was agreed, hence his late release. During the truce, he was appointed battalion revolver instructor in the same month as his release. He took the Anti-Treaty side during the Civil War that followed the signing of the Treaty, and on the 29th of July 1922, was appointed quartermaster, with the rank of captain for the entire battalion.
During the Civil War, he assisted in the taking of the Four Courts. During this time, he was involved in arresting men for criminal activities. He was also involved in destroying newspaper premises and comandeered Kingsbridge station (now Heuston station). Other areas he was on active service were Inchicore and O’Connell Street. Its not clear how he escaped from the Four Courts, ending up in O’Connell Street at this time after the Free State forces bombardment of the building, but in the papers of Colonel Padraig O’Connor (subject of an upcoming book), in which I was allowed to view by its author Diarmuid O’Connor, he states that after the wall was breached on the Chancery Lane side of the building, many were let escape by members of the Free State forces who fought along with them during the War of Independence.
On June 29th 1922, Anti-Treaty forces now occupied various buildings along O’Connell Street. These units were led by Oscar Traynor whose aim it was to direct Free State forces attention away from the Four Courts. Not all Republican force men or irregulars as they were now known, were prepared to fight against former comrades within the Free State army, and their numbers dwindled to no more than about five hundred throughout the city. Traynor and his men, which included Edward Bennett, took over the Gresham and the Hammond hotels on O’Connell Street. They were soon joined by political leaders such as Sean T.O’Kelly who arrived at the Hammond which was now the new republican headquarters. De Valera, Austin Stack and Cathal Brugha also arrived.
The four hotels along O’Connell Street were linked by smashing through their connecting walls. The billiard room in the Hammond became a hospital for treating the wounded. On the 5th of July a white flag was hoisted above the Hammond, only to be followed by a burst of gunfire at Colonel Padraig O’Connor’s men when he went to take the surrender. It is here were Cathal Brugha was fatally wounded after ordering his men out of the building, decided himself to run out the front door at Free State troops with revolvers in both hands. O’Connor shouted at his men to shoot at his legs.
He actually died later that evening in the Mater Hospital due to a shot he had taken in a major archery. Oscar Traynor and his men then made their escape when the building they were in caught fire. By this time, it was reported that the whole block of buildings, from Findlater Row to the corner going down to Marlborough Street Cathedral was in flames. At this point, it was decided to evacuate the Republican Headquarters and De Valera and others were smuggled across the river Liffey to Mount Street. The last to surrender was the group that was under Brugha’s leadership.
After his escape from the O’Connell Street battle, Edward continued fighting mainly on a guerrillatactic basis. He mentions in his papers that at this point, he was involved also in dismantling armoured trains at the Inchicore Railway Works. In the end, he was finally arrested about the 14th of July 1922 and was interned at Beggars Bush barracks, Kilmainham Jail, and Gormanstown Camp in north county Dublin. During his stay at Kilmainham Jail, were he was in command along with others of Independence fame such as Tom Barry, Oscar Traynor, Sean T.OKelly, and Sean McEntee, he was one of the 700 Republican prisoners, who on hearing of the death of Michael Collins, all knelt and said a decade of the rosary for the soul of their former commander and comrade. This shows the esteem that Collins was held in by many on the Republican side, who were not aware that Collins had waged a northern campaign only weeks before. While in Gormanstown camp, he was again involved in tunnel digging in a bid to escape. As the Civil War came to a close, Edward was released on the 20th of October 1923.