Thomas Loftus - The story of an Irish Volunteer

Thomas Loftus was born in the townland of Knockroe, Bonniconlon, Ballina, Co. Mayo around 16 September 1894 (his baptismal record reads 19 September) to John Loftus and Bridget Loftus (nee Gallagher) and was the seventh child of a family of nine as was the norm at that time.

John Loftus was a farmer and could speak Irish and English. Tom was a fluent Irish speaker.

A Company of the Irish volunteers was formed in Bonniconlon in March 1917 and a Sinn Fein club was founded around the same time. Tom Loftus was appointed Captain and the Vice-captain was William Loftus, Carralavin.

The company was active, drilling and parading at Sinn Fein meetings in Attymass, Foxford and at a mass demonstration to oppose conscription in April 1918, in Ballina.

In the local elections of May 1920 Tom Loftus was elected for Ballina Rural district. Tom combined his role as District councillor and Volunteer officer well. There were about 20 - 25 officers and volunteers in the company and the women's movement, Cumann na mBan, supported them. In the late winter and early spring of 1921, Bonniconlon came in for some harsh treatment when a house was burned in the village and a local people either in the volunteers or associated with them were captured and interrogated.

There was an attempted ambush in Bonniconlon on 3 April 1921. The IRA expected the Tans to raid the dance in search of volunteers and they planned an ambush. The ambush party consisted of volunteers from the 1st and 5th Battalions, mainly Ballina, Bonniconlon and Corballa.

The Tans walked through and they were not noticed because the column was expecting a tender. This RIC party raided the school and held the people there. A second tender arrived at the gates of Walsh's house in the grove on the Ballina side and when the volunteers recognised them they opened fire and wounded one of them.

The wounded Tan, William Hankins was brought to the school where he was treated. The tans held people in the school and questioned the young men there and fired shots at the ceiling of the classroom to intimidate them. The next morning reinforcements arrived and some men were taken to Ballina but released later. The tans based their head quarters at the Co -op.

They beat both Pat Laurence and John Cawley and pushed them down in the river in the village. A few weeks later, there was another planned ambush of the RIC at Easkey, Co. Sligo but the patrol did not come out on patrol and the column withdrew.

The other engagement with crown forces where Tom Loftus was involved was the Culleens ambush on 1 July 1921. Culleens is located between Dromore West and Ballina. The volunteers were drawn from the Enniscrone, Ballina and Bonniconlon areas and numbered 25 in all. Seamas Kilcullen was in command. Only twelve of them had rifles and the rest had shotguns.

Tom Loftus and Jack Brennan took some money from the Post Office as a decoy, the owner Mr. Tuffy reported the matter and when the volunteers learned this they returned the money and took up ambush positions. Seven members of Dromore West RIC arrived in an extended formation on bikes and were fired on resulting in two being wounded and two others were captured. The remaining three took cover and commandeered a passing car to take them to nearby Easkey where there were tans and RIC.

The volunteers took their captives and headed for the mountains. The Tans from Easkey barrack arrived and fired on them but they got away through the bogs as a running battle developed. Before they started to climb the mountains and get away to Bonniconlon, they shot the two captured RIC men. Tans from Ballina and Auxis from Tubbercurry came on the scene but the volunteers had escaped.

This was the final action for the north Mayo Brigade and they were hard pressed before the Truce.

Tom Loftus and the majority of the Bonniconlon volunteers took the Republican side during the Civil War. The anti - treaty forces in north Mayo were part of Michael Kilroy's 4th Western Division.

Tom was a Commandant in the No. 2 Brigade and the O/C was Tom Ruane, Ballina. Tom Loftus did not see much action during the Civil War. He and a number of other volunteers were captured at Dooneen, Castleconnor when they were sniping the SS Tarter when it was conveying National Troops from Killala to Enniscrone on 6 August 1922.

There were four others captured along with Commandant Loftus. William Loftus then took the leadership of the Bonniconlon men.

Tom Loftus was taken from Ballina to Athlone and from there to Tintown No. 2 in the Curragh where he went on hunger strike for 41 days. He was released in May 1924 and after this he immigrated to the USA.

On his return to Ireland in 1932, he joined An Garda Siochana and was soon promoted to Detective Sergeant, and then to the Special Branch at Dublin Castle. He was responsible for escorting Ministers of State and he led the escort for Eamon de Valera when he went to London to sign the Anglo - Irish Trade Agreement in 1938. In 1947, he was appointed Captain of the Guards at Leinster House in succession to Commandant Tom Byrne. In 1960, he held the post of Superintendent of the Oireachtas. He replaced Mr. Liam Tobin in this post.

He retired as Superintendent in 1963, aged 69. Sadly, he died less than four years later at his home, Cnoc Ruadh, 8 Washington Park, Templeogue, Dublin on 9 January 1967 at the relatively early age of 72. His remains were taken to Sir Patrick Dunn's Hospital and from there to Rathfarnham Church where President de Valera attended the removal and the funeral. Tom Loftus or Tomás Ó Lachtnáin as on the gravestone is buried in Bonniconlon cemetery and a Celtic cross marks his grave.

His wife and six children, some of whom entered Religious life, survived him. One of his sons was a Journalist and the other a solicitor.