Major General Michael Kilroy was Commandant of the 4th Western Battalion, Old IRA. and played a leading part in the War of Independence.
He lived and died in a house on the Carrickaneady Road. Kilroy, a blacksmith by trade, was deeply religious, very proper and had a great dislike for anybody who drank alcohol. On one occasion in mid winter while attending a Brigade Council meeting, the woman of the house arrived with a tray of glasses and a bottle of Poitín, to warm them up as it was snowing heavily outside. When offered the Poitín Kilroy replied: "Ma'am we don't drink."
In September 1920 Michael Kilroy was appointed Vice O.C. Mayo Brigade IRA. The following November a meeting of the Brigade Council was held in Kelly's of Brockagh 4 miles N.E. of Newport at which it was decided to set up active service units. Kilroy was appointed Brigade O.C. The Active Service Units were not successful, as most members were known to the R.I.C. so it was decided to engage in guerrilla warfare. The West Mayo Flying Column was set up with Kilroy as its leader.
On the 18th May 1921 it was decided to attack a joint Black and Tan/ R.I.C convoy 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 3p.m the convoy arrived. In the ensuing battle one R.IC. man Beckett was wounded and later died. The British regrouped around the house of the parish priest, Fr. Conroy, 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. The whole affair was a disaster. Kilroy's greatest achievement was to get the column to safety without any further casualties.
On the 2nd June 1921 Kilroy accompanied by Moane and Madden set out to choose a suitable place for an attack on the Westport/Leenane road. The column consisted of 33 men on this occasion. They took up position between Widow Sammon's House and that of Widow Mc Grale in Carrowkennedy. Soon the Black and Tans arrived and a soldier took out a machine gun, but he was put down instantly. Another soldier who tried to take his place was also put down. The British then started to use grenades. One of their number was about to launch another grenade when he was shot and the grenade fell back into the lorry and exploded injuring several of the Tans and soon afterwards they surrendered. In all 13 of the British party were killed and 13 surrendered. A large quantity of arms and ammunition were also seized.
This ambush had been a tremendous success for the IRA and it boosted their confidence immensely. The boys then went on the run throughout the region sheltering in safe houses. While near Laherdane in the vicinity of Neiphin Mountain they were visited by Jack Leonard, a cousin of Michael Kilroy, who took the only photograph of the flying Column that exists up to the present day. The following October the 4th Westerrn Division was set up as part of an organisational move and Kilroy was appointed its O.C.
The Treaty was opposed by most of the IRA leaders in Mayo and not much is recorded of the civil war period in Mayo. The Catholic Church denounced many of the IRA men and many of the Anti Treaty side were interned by the Free State forces.
In February 1922 the Infantry Barracks in Castlebar was taken over and turned into the H.Q. for the 4th Western Division. The barracks was evacuated on the 24th July on instructions from Kilroy and an attempt was made to burn it down. Only one wing was destroyed however.
When Michael Kilroy joined the newly formed Fianna Fail Party it came as a bit of a shock to his colleagues. He was a member of Dail Eireann from 1927 to 1937. After the formation of the first Fianna Fail Government in 1932 he proposed De Valera as its President. He was also Chairman of Mayo County Council for many years until his retirement from public life in 1937. Following his retirement he was a member of the Hospitals Commission.
He died in December 1962 at his home on Carrickaneady Road. A huge crowd, including over 500 IRA Veterans attended the funeral cermonies. President De Valera, who was accompanied by his ADC, Col. Brennan, attended the Requiem mass in St. Patrick's Church, Newport, celebrated by Cannon Killeen P.P. The Most Rev. M. Mc Keown, DD, Auxiliary Bishop of Perth, Australia, a native of Drummin, Westport also presided at the mass.
On arrival the President was met by a guard of honour of IRA Veterans under Captain William O'Malley. He was greeted at the church door by Cannon Killeen and escorted to a seat in the sanctuary. Also present were Mr. Boland, Minister for Social Welfare; Mr. Aitken, Minister for External Affairs; Mr.O'Morain, Minister for Lands; Mr. Bartley, Minister for Defence and Mr. Brian Lenihan, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Lands. Heading the two mile funeral to Burrishoole Cemetery was the Westport Brass Band under Mr. P.Mc Conville. At the graveside Comdt. Edward Moane delivered an oration, and a firing party of the old I.R.A. men under Capt. P. Duffy fired three volleys over the grave. Lieut. C.Kelly, Westport F.C.A. sounded the Last Post. Cannon Killeen, assisted by Rev. R. Horan recited the last prayers. His colleagues donated the stained glass windows over the Sacred Heart and Lady's Altar in St. Patrick's Church, in his memory.
By Brian Hoban