Séamus Mac Evilly

Staff Captain: West Mayo Brigade IRA

Staff Captain Séamus Mac Evilly
Michael Mac Evilly
1955 Commemoration
Courtesy of Michael Mac Evilly
Badge with Cross of Cong
Michael MacEvilly
Evilly Memorial Cup
Michael MacEvilly
Funeral Cortege 1921
Michael MacEvilly
Memorial Image
Michael MacEvilly

Michael Mac Evilly’s book ‘Family Memoir of Seamus Mac Evilly and the West Mayo Flying Column’, brings the story of the republication period and the civil war in Mayo of the early 1900’s to us in fine detail.

As a boy and young man in Castlebar, on our regular visits to Lough Lannagh, we normally had a stop off at the nearby Republican plot at Castlebar Cemetery where we became familiar with the name of those interned there.

Off Seamus Mac Evilly, Castlebar, we had heard the story of Kilmeena ambush, the funeral restrictions and the confrontations with crown forces at the Church of the Holy Rosary, Castlebar.

We knew of his growing up in Thomas Street, joining the Castlebar Battalion of the Irish Volunteers in 1914, their preparations and readiness but did not get a 1916 call-up.His activities in 1917 and 1918 led to his arrest in April 1918 and his internment in Crumlin Road Jail, Belfast.

1918 general election resulted in the Sinn Fein organisation in a stronger position, the success of the Sinn Fein Courts to which Seamus Mac Evilly was District Court Registrar and is appointment to IRA Staff Captain in 1920.

1920 reorganisation of the large force of Mayo Volunteers into four separate brigade areas, North, South, East and West, had Seamus Mac Evilly then on active service in most of the western areas, Castlebar No.1 Batt., Newport No.2 Batt, Westport No.3 Batt.and Louisburg No.3 Batt.

Active service meant full time on the run with the more active sections of the brigade, engagement against RIC units and ambush of military patrols, which led to Seamus Mac Evilly’s final engagement the Kilmeena Ambush.

Kilmeena Ambush

“On the 18th May 1921 it was decided to attack a joint Black and Tan/ R.I.C convoy of a Ford Car and four Crosley Tenders, which consisted of twenty heavily armed RIC and Black and Tans, at Kilmeena. The column of 41 IRA men took up position close to Knocknabola Bridge at 3 a.m. By noon the British convoy had not arrived and Kilroy was thinking of moving away. They held out however and at around 3pm the convoy arrived. In the ensuing battle one R.I.C. man Beckett was wounded and later died. The British regrouped with Lewis machine gun and launched a counter attack”. Four of the IRA forces were killed. They were Seamus Mc Evilly, Thomas O’Donnell, Patrick Staunton and Sean Collins. Paddy Jordan of the Castlebar battalion was injured and died later at Bricens Hospital in Dublin. In a follow up attack Volunteer Jim Browne was killed in action. Kilroy’s great achievement was to get the column to safety without any further casualties.

Funeral

Seamus Mac Evilly was laid to rest in the Republican Plot in the old cemetery, Castlebar, following prayers and graveside blessings by his brother Rev. Fr. Ml. Mac Evilly.

The high tension in Castlebar is related in the funeral account of nephew’s Michael Mac Evilly, ‘A Family Memoir’, it tells :

“The British OC, Col. Packenham, now sent a letter to the Castlebar parish priest, Canon Fallon that only 12 persons would be allowed to attend each funeral, on Sunday and that no banners of colours were to be displayed. This was read at all masses on Sunday. When the remains of Seamus Mac Evilly emerged from the Castlebar jail on Saturday evening, the towns people refused to have the coffin placed on the waiting hearse and insisted on carrying it on their shoulders to the Church of the Holy Rosary in Castlebar.

On Sunday morning, May 22, Fr. Michael celebrated last mass that morning for the repose of his brother’s soul. The funeral of Seamus Mac Evilly was scheduled for 3.00pm. The British had ordered the streets to be cleared but still the people assembled. Shortly before this time the British attempted to move the people off the streets. Despite this, a large crowd had gathered at the church. A 3.00pm a body of military, with fixed bayonets, were drawn up outside. The coffin, draped in the tricolour, was carried from the church by some of his IRA comrades, including Captain Paddy Horkan, J. Mc Cormack and Ned Philbin.

Immediately, there was a major confrontation with the military. A British officer, a lieutenant, ordered the flag to be removed and when this was refused, it was seized. A further difficulty arose with a wreath of ‘National’ flowers in the shape of a Cross and this was ordered to be sized as well. The British officer in charge now ordered the people to disperse, which they refused. It was not until the military brought their rifles into the “working positions” and on the advice of Fr. Geoffrey Prendergast, an ex-British army Captain and Chaplain that the crowd moved from the precincts of the church.

The approaches to the cemetery and adjoining fields were held by the British military, RIC and Black and Tans, with rifles at the ready.The Lieutenant subsequently called to the Presbytery in Castlebar to apologise to Fr. Prendergast, his senior officer.

Republican Family

Michael Mac Evilly, came from Inishturk, with wife Mary, nee Gibbons, of Cloonlara, Louisburg, reared their family in Thomas Street, Castlebar. Michael Mc Evilly was an early member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood and joined the Mayo Volunteers, when formed in 1914.

The British WW1 conscription crisis in 1918, led to a huge increase in volunteers, who were instrumental in organising the anti-Conscription pledge.

Michael had his Na Fianna sons, Seamus, Tom and Jerry enlisted into the IRB in 1913 and the Mayo Volunteers in 1914. They all later achieved an important role in Irish republic activities, Seamus in the West Mayo Flying Column, Tom as Adjutant of Sligo Town Company and Jerry in Cork No.2 Brigade, Fermoy Batt. In the midst of this republication activity their brother Fr. Michael was ordained in 1917, who later in 1921 officiated at his brother Seamus funeral.

Remembered

Seamus Mc Evilly and his Kilmeena colleagues are remembered in the Castlebar Republican Plot with a large Celtic Cross.The finest silver trophy my eyes have ever seen is the magnificent Mac Evilly Cup, designed by Willie Brett of Castlebar and crafted in Seamus Mac Evilly honour. This Mc Evilly Memorial Cup for the Castlebar Coursing Club had a large Celtic designed silver bowl, mounted on heads of three greyhounds and supported by three upright rifles, all in silver.

 

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  • Biography of:
    Staff-Captain Seamus Mac Evilly (1898 — 1921)

    With enfilade fire from a Lewis gun mounted on Knocknabola Bridge, Jim Mac Evilly (or Seamus as he was known in the family) was one of the first Volunteers to be killed at Kilmeena on the 19th of May 1921 by a mixed force of RIC and Black and Tans. He was 23 years of age and though his wounds were critical, penetrating abdominal injuries from .303 ammunition, his death was not instantaneous.
    While disengaging from the Ambush, possibly even up to two hours later, John (Dalai) Chambers of the 1st Castlebar Battalion had come across Seamus and had assisted his feeble movements in locating his Rosary beads from a pocket.
    But when Fr. Killeen later approached Seamus to administer the Last Rites he
    believed he was already dead, ‘Gentle and refined Jim Mac Evilly’(so described by Volunteer Edward O Malley in his book “Memories of a Mayoman”, Dublin: FNT, 1981) had died for the Republic , dilis da thir agus da mhuinntir .

    As a youth Seamus along with his two younger brothers, Thomas and Jerry, were sworn into the IRB by their father Micheal Rua himself an old Fenian.
    While Thomas was to found the first Slua of the Fianna in Mayo in Castlebar in September 1914, (the Westport Slua was founded a year later by Tom Derrig in October 1915) Seamus joined the Fianna in 1915 and subsequently the A Company of the Castlebar Battalion (IrishVolunteers) after the split from the National Volunteers . Although forewarned of a possible Rising in 1916 the Castlebar Battalion mobilized in the Rooney Hall on Easter Monday without any engagement. On the 6th of April 1918 Seamus was arrested in Westport on a charge of illegal drilling and at the Castlebar Court on the 12th April was sentenced to six months imprisonment in Crumlin Road Jail, in Belfast.
    He was appointed Registrar of the local Sinn Fein District Court In Castlebar in May 1920.

    Although from the Castlebar Battalion, Seamus seemed to spend more of his time while on the run with the more active Westport Unit of Joe Baker and Joe Ring (Batt. OC Westport). In November 1920 Seamus went on full-time active service with the West Mayo Brigade Column.
    Although his official rank in the Volunteers was Lieutenant, locally in the Castlebar Battalion he answered to the soubriquet ‘Captain‘. Because of these activities the family home and publican business in Lower Thomas Street, Castlebar was frequently raided by the RIC/ British Army to the family’s psychological
    and ultimately financial distress.
    On occasions, Seamus would visit his brother’s house in Tir An Fhia, Cararroe, where he (Fr. Michael ) was the curate, in the hope of reducing the family anxiety. Fr. Michael was a classmate and a close friend of Fr. Griffin and it was he who took the famous photograph of Fr. Griffin in a Volunteers uniform .Fr. Griffin was subsequently murdered near Barna by the British Army out of Galway, in November 1920, on account of his pro-Sinn Fein activities.
    Thereafter, Fr. Michael’s house in Cararroe was kept under surveillance by the RIC, thereby adding to the families woes.

    After the Kilmeena Ambush, the bodies of four of the Volunteers killed (including Seamus)and wounded were thrown in the back of a lorry and covered by a tarpaulin which the RIC / Army proceeded to stamp upon as they made their way back to Westport. Later, as the bodies were still not identified as they lay in the street, the authorities inside the RIC barracks in James’s., had them removed by train to

    Castlebar Jail to where Captain Paddy Horkan and Volunteer Johnnie Mc Cormack of the Castlebar Battalion, under the guise of undertakers assistants and with considerable risk to themselves, gained access and identified Seamus as he was thrown on a dung heap at the rear of the Jail and still wearing his glasses though now with a cracked lens ! His Mother subsequently came to the Jail to formally identify him, accompanied by Fr.Michael, and in the face of derisive taunts from one British soldier whom she recognized, from previous raids on the family home.
    Fr. Michael together with his sister, Alice who had been staying with him had made their way to Castlebar from Gorumna via Maam Cross.
    Later Captain Paddy Horkan went down to the bridge at the end of Main St.
    in Castlebar to find someone to volunteer to help dig the graves.
    The first to step forward was Martin (Darkie) Layden who himself was an ex-British Army soldier. The British authorities meanwhile ordered the streets to be cleared.

    At the funeral in the Old Cemetery in Castlebar on Sunday 22nd May at 3 pm, 12 family members only were allowed to accompany the cortege.

    Prior to being placed in the grave, a pall in the Republican colors was wrapped around the coffin. It had the inscription ‘Chuir Paidir le h-anam

    Sheamais Mhic A Mhilidh Caiptin Airm Phoblact na h-Eireann a fuair bas ar son na h-Eireann 19 Bealtaine 1921 . Dia le na anam’ .

    Later, Seamus’s mother always claimed that the British had ‘murdered’ her son. She was unable to obtain a death certificate for Seamus until 1933 when she finally registered his death. She had hitherto refused to deal with the British and later after the Truce with an equally hostile Free State military authorities. Seamus’s obituary card issued during the Civil War stated that he was of the Irish Republican Army thereby emphasizing the family’s Republican credentials, as his two brothers fought on, Thomas with Sligo No. 1 Batt. and Jerry with Cork No2 Brigade ( Fermoy Batt, ) both Anti -Treaty.
    Both later controversially refused to accept any War of Independence Medals or IRA Pension on the grounds that they had fought for a Republic only.

    By Sean Horkan (19/04/2018)

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