Royal Irish Academy

A Revolution in Profiles - Co. Offaly

In association with The Royal Irish Academy

James Duffy 1896 or 1900-1922

James Duffy was born in Clara between 1896 or 1901. Both his parents James and Ann were employed in the Goodbody Jute Factory at Clashawaun. 

During the Great War, the town of Clara had one of the highest levels of per capita recruitment in Kings County/Offaly. Duffy is believed to have enlisted in the Leinster Regiment, and he is described in newspaper reports as having come through the many engagements in Flanders and France unscathed.  Some confusion exists regarding James Duffy’s year of birth, with 1896 recorded in Irish military pension files, while census returns suggest a date between 1899-1901. It is possible that Duffy was one of the 225,000 underage boys across Britain and Ireland who enlisted during the Great War.

In January and February of 1922, whatever differences existed on the issue of the Treaty, republican military leaders attempted to preserve some semblance of unity as British forces withdrew from Ireland. By March and April, the IRA had spilt irrevocably. Immediately after the spilt, the pro-Treaty National Army found itself outnumbered by their anti-Treaty opponents. To compensate for their numerical disadvantage the National Army began an enlistment campaign and their new recruits included a large number of soldiers who had formerly served in the British Army.

James Duffy who had been working as a labourer, joined the National Army as part of this influx at Athlone. At Custume barracks, the National Army General Sean MacEoin had convinced of many IRA men from Westmeath and Longford to accept the Treaty. Nonetheless, MacEoin’s command area covered vast areas of north Connacht where anti-treaty forces  held sway. 

Originally was posted to Ballymahon, County Longford, Duffy was detained while visiting his family at Clara and imprisoned at anti-Treaty Divisional H.Q at Birr military barracks in Crinkill, He was released when retreating republicans burned down the barracks in July 1922. 

 In the west, anti-treaty forces had also burnt Sligo Barracks and abandoned the town at the being of the Civil War. Regrouping under the leadership of Frank Carty republicans launched a counter offensive taking over 30 prisoners and capturing Collooney in early July. Later in the month, five National Army troops were killed and two amoured cars seized in an ambush at Rockwood. In response MacEoin led a force of 400 troops in a successful operation to retake Collooney and republicans retreated to the Ox mountains from where they continued to launch guerilla attacks for the remainder of the war. Duffy is reported to taken part in MacEoin’s counteroffensive  and was posted to Castlebar in its aftermath.

On the night of 11 August small groups of IRA men had infiltrated the town and taken over a building at the Mall. Meanwhile, Duffy was taking part in a National Army picket. When the patrol divided at main street, Duffy and another solider William Murray continued on in the direction of the Mall. Duffy’s inquest later heard that he … 

‘and another Volunteer named McMurray(sic) were rounding a corner near the Protestant Church when they were challenged, a voice asking, “Who goes there?” Deceased replied “friends,” and the voice said, “Advance one.” Deceased advanced, and as he reached the opposite side of the road, at the entrance to The Mall, where it transpired a number of men were in ambush a volley of shots rang out and the deceased fell, mortally wounded. He was quite dead when picked up subsequently.’ (1)

William Murray was also wounded in the the initial attack, as were Quartermaster Finan and Volunteer Chris Devaney when arrived at the scene.

After an inquest at Castlebar Infirmary, Duffy’s coffin was carried by members of the National Army to the Church of the Holy Rosary, where it reposed over night before being conveyed to Clara.  

James Duffy’s funeral at Clara was described as one of the largest witnessed in the town, with two or three thousand mourners in attendance.  His coffin, covered in the tricolour was carried to the hearse from the church by fellow soldiers from Athlone and a military brass band lead the cortege in a funeral march to the Monastery cemetery, where three volleys were fired, and the last post sounded at the graveside.

The author acknowledges the existing research carried out by James Weir on James Duffy   


Sources:

1901 and 1911 Census. Search online at http://www.census.nationalarchives.ie/search/

Military Service Pension Collection. James Duffy 2D431. Search online at https://www.militaryarchives.ie/collections/online-collections/military-service-pensions-collection-1916-1923/search-the-collection

BBC Website. ‘The Teenage Soldiers of World War One’  Online at https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-29934965

Michael Hopkinson. Green against Green, the Irish Civil War (Dublin) 1988.

James Weir. ‘An Ambush in Castlebar- Death of Volunteer James Duffy’ Clara History Event 27 January 2023.

Irish Independent. 15 August 1922.

Irish Times. 19 August 1922.

Londonderry Sentinel. 17 August 1922

Offaly Independent. 19 August 1922.

(1) Londonderry Sentinel. 17 August 1922

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