Royal Irish Academy

A Revolution in Profiles - Co. Offaly

In association with The Royal Irish Academy

Harry Biggs 1897/1899?-1920

Harry Biggs was born in either 1897 or 1899 and spent his childhood in London. Joining in the British Army at 15, he was discharged a year later, but reenlisted at 18. He was wounded fighting in France during the Great War and is believed to have lost a brother in the war. Biggs joined the London Metropolitan Police on his demobilisation but resigned after just 4 months. He joined the RIC on 9th October 1920 and was stationed with the Transport Department in Gormanstown camp county Meath.

In the Autumn 1920 the IRA began to form flying columns across Ireland. In the Athlone Brigade the column was established under the leadership of a 21-year-old, ex-British solider James Tormey. After basic training in the Fahereen company area, the unit holed up in a shed belong to Fr. Magee the parish priest of Tubber and began to plan offensive operations. On 22th October, Tormey and his men took up ambush positions at Parkwood, just inside the Offaly border outside Moate, hoping to surprise an RIC patrol. 

On the same day, Harry Biggs left Gormanstown as a passenger in a convoy travelling to Ballinasloe. When the 3 vehicles reached Parkwood at about 1pm, the first lorry drove through the ambush position, the IRA party opened fire on the second truck fatality wounding Biggs. The inquest held within days of the shooting and a compensation hearing sitting the following spring differ on whether Biggs was driving on the day of the ambush The column appears to have been surprised by the arrival a third lorry and running low on ammunition they withdrew. 

In the aftermath of the ambush, Crown Forces fired wildly in Moate and Athlone where the 50 year-old nationalist councillor Michael Burke was shot and killed. In response to Burkes death Hamar Greenwood told the House of Commons…

It is inevitable that in the conditions in Ireland prevailing in Ireland, the innocent should sometimes suffer for the acts of the wrongdoer.’

Military honours were accorded at Athlone, when Harry Biggs was removed by train for burial in London.


Sources:

Bureau of Military History Statements. David Daly Witness 1337. Henry O’Brien Witness 1308. Search online at  https://www.militaryarchives.ie/collections/online-collections/bureau-of-military-history-1913-1921/bmhsearch/

Hansard online at https://api.parliament.uk/historic-hansard/commons/1920/oct/26/civilians-alleged-floggings

Westmeath County Council Decade of Centenaries Blog. ‘The Parkwood Ambush 1920’ online at https://www.westmeathcoco.ie/en/ourservices/planning/conservationheritage/decadeofcentenariesblog/theparkwoodambushoctober1920.html

Richard Abbott. Police Casualties in Ireland 1919-1922. (Cork) 2019.

Daithí O Corráin and Eunan O’Halpin. The dead of the Irish Revolution. (Yale) 2020.

Leinster Reporter. 9 April 1921.

1 Hansard online at https://api.parliament.uk/historic-hansard/commons/1920/oct/26/civilians-alleged-floggings

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