The opening shots in Ireland’s War of Independence were fired by an IRA unit led by the charismatic Sean Treacy. Treacy was a gifted guerrilla fighter and an inspirational leader. Joe Ambrose’s book is a major re-evaluation of the personalities and events which kickstarted Ireland’s march towards freedom.
Ambrose’s ground-breaking book brings a refreshingly new perspective to the ambushes, shoot outs, and raids which characterised a war known in Ireland as "The Tan War."
Members of the Squad and of the Dublin Brigade attacked eight addresses in Dublin, killing eleven men and wounding five more, one of whom died later. "Most of the dead and wounded were army officers." wrote David Leeson, "Some of them were Secret Service agents, but others were just ordinary soldiers. One victim had recently been demobilized, had come to Dublin to purchase horses and was shot by mistake."
The innocence of this supposed horse trader is disputed but James Doyle, manager of the Gresham Hotel at the time, was one of many who thought that he was a pointless casualty. "At about nine o'clock on the morning of Bloody Sunday," Doyle said, "I was in bed in my room and awakened by noise. It was a muffled kind of thing like the beating of a carpet. The porter called up to my room afterwards and I asked him what the noise I had heard was. He said that Captain McCormack, who was occupying a room quite close to me, had been shot dead. I got out of bed and entered Captain McCormack's room and I saw that he was then dead. The worker also told me that another man had been shot dead in a room on the next floor over Captain McCormack's. I went to this room also and saw the dead man. His surname was Wilde. I was totally ignorant of what took place or why these men were shot at the time. I questioned the porter and he told me that a number of armed men had entered the hotel and asked to be shown to the rooms occupied by these two men."
The Gresham's manager said that McCormack had been staying in the hotel since September and had been buying race horses: "He had booked his passage back to Egypt for December on the Holt Line. Although he had been a veterinary surgeon with the British Army there would appear to have been grave doubt as to his being associated with British intelligence. While he was here I never saw him receiving any guests. He slept well into the afternoon and only got up early when a race meeting was on. When I found him shot in his room, the Irish Field was lying beside him." Doyle seemed confident that the suspiciously-named Wilde was indeed a spy, having being told that Wilde was thrown out of Spain because he was well known there to be a British agent.
South of the Liffey, at 22 Lower Mount Street, Michael Collin's assassins found Lieutenant Angliss, the man who'd organised the Dublin Intelligence Section, and killed him as he lay in bed. Another officer sleeping across the corridor from Angliss heard the commotion and began to barricade himself into his bedroom, piling furniture up against the door. He then leaned out of his bedroom window and called for help.
A party of Auxiliaries in plain clothes drove past the beleaguered house at that moment. Noticing the huge commotion that was going on, they sent two of their number back to Beggars Bush barracks for reinforcements before surrounding the building. The IRA men were still trying to break down the barricaded door when they heard the Auxiliaries shooting at them from the street. Two assassins managed to escape but a third, Frank Teeling, was wounded and captured. The fugitives shot their way out through the front of the building, ran down Grattan Street and, according to Leeson, "escaped across the Liffey on a commandeered ferryboat."