Neil ‘Plunkett’ O’Boyle remembered in Wicklow

Neil Plunkett O’Boyle, 1898-1923

by Eamon Heffernan

Wicklow Republicans gathered on Sunday, May 27 to commemorate Commandant Neil Plunkett O’Boyle at Knocknadruce, Valleymount, County Wicklow.*  Cmdt O’Boyle was murdered there by the Free Staters on May 8 1923, as the civil war was coming to a close.

O’Boyle was a Donegal man and was brought up on a small farm near Burtonport. As a teenager he had a keen interest in Irish Republicanism and in the Irish language but initially could not get involved in politics as he helped his mother in looking after his father who was in poor health.

O’Boyle was 19 when his father died and he then needed to work to support his family.  For a short time he worked on the railway but his open support for the republican cause led to harassment by the Royal Irish Constabulary and he was forced to leave Ireland at the age of 21.  He went for Scotland where he worked as a miner.

The stone that was erected at the spot where Cmdt O’Boyle was murdered by Free State forces at Knocknadruce. The fresh flowers were laid there May 27, 2018 by local non-aligned Republicans.

While in Scotland he joined the IRA and began procuring weapons to be sent back to Ireland.  However, he was caught by the Scottish police and in December 1920 sentenced to five years hard labour at Peterhead prison.  He spent long periods there in solitary confinement.

When the ‘treaty of surrender, aka the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty, was signed O’Boyle qualified for release.  He was freed in February 1922.  Nevertheless he opposed the Treaty as a betrayal of what had been fought for in the war for independence.

He returned to Donegal but, as an anti-Treaty republican, he was arrested a few months later. When he was being transported to Finner camp he wanted to jump from the truck and escape but was beaten to it by another prisoner.  While at Finner camp he attempted to dig a tunnel but it was discovered by jailers. He then planned to take over the tug ship that was in the water to meet the boat to take the prisoners to Dublin.  When this did not work he tried to take control of the ship itself!

After arriving in Dublin he and his comrades were transported to Newbridge barracks in County Kildare.  And O’Boyle started digging another tunnel; this time the tunnel was successful and he and another 159 men escaped.

He made his way to Dublin and was placed in command of No 2 Brigade, IRA 3rd Battalion and stationed in Wicklow where he operated in the Wicklow Mountains.

The ceasefire order of April 1923 was adhered to by O’Boyle and his men but they, like most IRA men and women, went into hiding waiting to see what would develop.  Ceasefire or not, the Free Staters still hunted IRA people. O’Boyle’s unit was attacked by Free Staters on May 8 1923. The unit returned fire and retreated, hiding in the woods; the Free Staters came in after them firing.  Some of the IRA people were disguised in Free State army uniforms and managed to escape into the hills during the ambush.

With just 2 Thompson guns and 7 rifles, O’Boyle and a handful of men survived under fire from 80 Free State soldiers armed with Lewis guns and rifles.

About a week later O’Boyle and others were in a safe house in Knocknadruce. The house was surrounded by Free Staters.  O’Boyle asked the Free Staters to allow the owners of the house – a woman and her daughter – to leave.  The Free Staters would not hear of that and threatened to bomb them out with grenades, a common tactic they used.  When O’Boyle realised what was going to happen he walked out with his hands up to save the lives of the two women.  As he was speaking to a commander from the Free State army and had his hands in the air Neil Plunkett O’Boyle was shot first through the eye and then in the head by the Free Stater.  The others in the house were rounded up and taken away.

His remains returned to Donegal where he is buried in Kinclasslagh graveyard,

The Nolan family now live in the house at Knocknadruce and May Nolan gives all Republicans a great welcome when they arrive there to see the stone that marks where O’Boyle was murdered.

May makes very strong tea so beware!

*’Plunkett’ comes from his admiration for the 1916 leader.

Posted on June 5, 2018, in Commemorations, Counter-revolution/civil war period, Free State in 1920s, 1930s and 1940s, General revolutionary history, Historiography and historical texts, Prisoners - past, Public events - Ireland, Repression in 26-county state, Republicanism post-1900, Revolutionary figures, War for Independence period. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

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