Book recalls bloody days of the Black and Tans

Date Published: 22-Nov-2012

“I have an absolute, incredible love for history – any history and any period. I’m very open,” says author William Henry. The books he has written provide proof of this, with themes covering everything from Galway men in the Great War, to the Battle of Knockdoe, and an account of how the Great Famine affected Galway.

William’s latest book, Blood for Blood: The Black and Tan War in Galway captures one of the darkest eras in Irish history, when the British government sent an ill-disciplined and savage gang of men, fresh from the battlefields of World War I, to quell the growing movement towards independence in this country. The Black and Tans and their colleagues the Auxiliaries caused carnage in Galway as in other parts of Ireland.


By its nature, war is brutal, but the brutality of the Black and Tans was “just shocking”, says William.

Blood for Blood captures this terrifying period in Galway, using a mix of contemporary accounts and stories from relatives of those involved. The title of the book is taken from the song The Wind that Shakes the Barley – the full line is Blood for Blood without Remorse.

This is the first comprehensive history of the ‘Tan War in Galway, explains William. “There were a lot of stories that had been communicated over the years in magazines and other books, but I’d never come across a book that had a complete history of the Black and Tan War in Galway.”

It was a rewarding but tough task.

“A lot of people have stories of the Black and Tans, but it wasn’t as simple as some stories portray,” he says.

William and his colleague Jacqueline O’Brien, who helps research his books, went through newspaper archives from 1919-1922 to access contemporary accounts. He also had his own archive of interviews from people who’d been in the Great War, which he compiled when writing Galway and the Great War and Forgotten Heroes: Galway Soldiers of the Great War. These contained ancillary stories about the Black and Tans in Galway.

For this latest book, they also availed of the National Archives Witness Statements, which are officially recorded accounts from people who had actually fought in the War of Independence.


And there were files from Dublin Castle, says William. These contained one version of an incident concerning a well-known Oranmore republican, Joe Howley who was shot dead in Dublin on December 5, 1920. This ‘official’ version differed totally from eye-witness accounts, which were also slightly at variance with each other.


Shortly after, another Galway man, Thomas ‘Sweeny’ Newell, was shot seven times at point-blank range in Dublin, but amazingly wasn’t killed. The College Road resident died many years later of old age, in 1962.

Willie spoke to his nephews and says that family members were a great source of information for the book.

“People were very open. I thought I’d receive more resistance, but in fact, people were extremely helpful. I was able to get information from the sons and daughters of these people and in a lot of cases, the witness statements actually bore out the stories of these people’s children.”

Several well-known atrocities are written about here, including the awful murder of the Loughnane brothers in Shanaglish and the abduction and killing of Fr Griffin in the city.

One of the tragedies that touched William most was the murder of 23-year-old mother Eileen Quinn in Kiltartan, near Gort on November 1, 1920. She was sitting on a stile in front of her house with her nine-month-old baby in her arms, when a military lorry passed and the occupants fired their guns. One shot hit Eileen in the abdomen. She was critically injured and died later in her house in great pain. She was seven months pregnant. The murder was subsequently raised in the House of Commons and a military inquiry followed, which recorded “death by misadventure”.

For more, read this week’s Galway City Tribune.