The Plot (2022)

Backstory: The Intelligence War Rebuilt (1920-1921)

By the end of 1919, at the beginning of what we know as the Irish War of Independence, the police intelligence service in Dublin and across Ireland had practically broken down. The centre of British power in Dublin Castle could no longer rely on the effectiveness of the DMP (Dublin Metropolitan Police) in the capital or the established Royal Irish Constabulary in rural towns to supply their intel requirements. Locals were warned against cooperating or speaking to RIC officers. Many officers were threatened, many were attacked - leading to substantial resignations from the force. The consequence of this was the removal of RIC authority in many outlying areas – barracks were abandoned and left empty, the hand of British authority was removed from rural areas, allowing the IRA to assert more and more control. From the British side it was realised that change was needed. Brigadier-General J.E.S Brind and Colonel S.Hill-Dillon, formerly of MI5, were set the task of reorganizing the Intelligence or ‘I’ staff at the Castle. An officer was appointed to deal with records of each divisional area and to ensure that an enlarged registry and card index was built with information on IRA personnel. This marked the beginning of the Irish Republican Army List – a list which sought to identify and eradicate active members of the Irish volunteer movement and those within the hierarchy of this and associated movements.


According to British Intelligence reports, both the military and the police agreed that their most important sources of information were captured documents and formulation of a scheme to obtain information through correspondence and surveillance. Agents were despatched by Sir Basil Thompson – the director of intelligence at the Home Office – who was expanding his activities across Britain and Ireland after working on intelligence operations during WW1. Intelligence officers were expected to recruit informers as well as infiltrate organizations as undercover agents. In some cases, these officers were attached to uniformed volunteer units, often in disguise and with an alternative identity. These young men were blended into Irish society in civil service jobs, in steamship companies, as railway porters, bartenders or shopkeepers; they were posing as journalists or farmers and also as members of the Republican movement itself. Plainclothes agents mixed with Dublin citizens and crowds. When IRA members were arrested, they were arrested too. Improvised secret service activities such as surveillance, observational duties, indirect interviews, collating and collecting localised information were agents’ responsibilities. As was the handling of, and liaising with, potential informers. Contacts with Company Intelligence handlers had to be done in a covert way – on both sides – to ensure maximum protection of the intelligence works. 

Up to early 1920, undercover operations had been conducted, in a more improvised way, by small groups of officers or individuals against the IRA. But in March 1920, undercover operations were taken under army control and  formalised within a ‘Special Branch’ remit of the District Command in Dublin. This was done with the assistance of MI5 and London Metropolitian Police CID. New instruction schools were formed in Hounslow, close to London, where recruits were briefed, trained and sent to Dublin. New levels of espionage, subversion and covert training were almost a follow-through from first World War intelligence systems introduced as part of Britain’s response to potential threats from revolutionary movements and from fear of German infiltration or invasion. Recruits were made up of mostly retired army officers, who would operate in plain clothes, assimilate into Dublin society, live in a handful of lodgings in the South Inner city and act as observers, intelligence gatherers and seek out specific targets within the Republican movement. Captain R.D. Jeune, one of the first wave of undercover intelligence agents, described how at first the men would pose as Royal Engineer officers, get to know the town as thoroughly as possible and then assigned to “tail shinners” in an attempt to collect as much information as possible and root-out the leaders of republican movements.

The arrival of Colonel Ormonde Winter as chief of Intelligence in May 1920 and a new wave of special intelligence agents, furthered the underground war on both sides. Winter - or codename “O” - was innovative, obsessed with cloak and dagger methods and operations which established networks of undercover agents – both local, throughout Ireland, as well as recruited - from England.  Methods of acquiring information by means of subterfuge, observation, interrogation and infiltration. With the introduction of Winter, a more unified intelligence system was established between the RIC, the army and the Special Branch. Upon his arrival, a number of operations were put in motion in an attempt to produce fast results.

Towards the end of 1920 a Raid Bureau was organised, with the objective of dealing with captured documents taken from numerous searches. Quantities of documents were seized in raids on official and adhoc Sinn Fein offices and houses which disclosed the names or many IRA brigade and battallion commanders as well as intelligence files on the identities and movements of British Agents. In his report in British Intelligence in Ireland, Winter recounted: “In Collins’ offices have been found large numbers of Intelligence Reports, descriptions of individuals, details and numbers of Military and Police garrisons, lists of hotel waiters and night porters, and plans and sketches of Police Barracks, whilst the corruption of the telephone service is demonstrated by the communications that have been passed between British officials, codes and copies of the Police cipher wires have also been frequently discovered.” Reports had been found relating to Railway employees, ex-constables, postal officials, hotel staff, maids, servants and many others concerned in what Winter called the “Duties of Espionage.” 

Through the initial successes of these raids there was, in Winter’s opinion, a snowball effect. Captured documents led to fresh searches and arrests and the means of obtaining more intimate knowledge of IRA operations, plans, resources and intelligence files.  From August 1920 to July 1921 over 6’000 raids and searches were carried out in the Dublin District alone. Further information gathering such as the censorship of letters and periodical raids on mails and postal dispatches were commonplace. Infiltrators or “moutons” were placed directly into prison cells of detention with rebel prisoners. Experiments were made in transmitting intelligence by agents on secret inks, though found unsatisfactory. Winter also set up an address at Scotland House where anonymous letters could be sent, by would-be informers, regarding rebel activities and movements. Letters were, according to Winter, received in large numbers. But the proliferation of bogus letters received meant that this strategy only led to no satisfactory results, seldom if ever leading to the source of agitation. Through these methods, however, Winters intelligence organization was able to build up a very accurate picture of their enemy and the habits of main players in the IRA. Through the establishment of the Photographic Section of the Intelligence bureau, prisoners who were arrested were photographed and duly tabulated. It enabled convicted prisoners at the end of their sentence to be easily rearrested should they recommence activities. Moreover, these photographs could be duplicated and circulated to the police and military. This and other considerable information about the organization of the IRA was collected, collated and filed in the castle. The framework of the order of battle was built up and the methods to find specific individuals of threat were put into place. From 21st November 1920 to the 21st February 1921, a period of three months, 1,745 arrests were effected. From December 1920 to June 1921, 310 revolvers, 34 rifles, 20 shotguns, thousands of rounds of ammunition plus a large quantity of bombs, explosives, detonators and equipment were captured in the Dublin Area alone. 

‘Spies, Everywhere’

The British lamented that there were spies everywhere in Ireland. Of course this is true. Michael Collins – head of IRA Intelligence - built up an extensive network of casual informants inside the castle and outside. Winter commented that everyone from waiters, tramway conductors, bus drivers were “willing agents” ready to act as the eyes and ears for Sinn Fein and the IRA. The most important informants were in the postal, telegraph, telephone and railway services. Official Communications were intercepted and passed through Republican channels. On a number of occasions, volunteers captured Dublin Castles mail bags, with the connivance of local postal officials. Numerous RIC officers, some with the Crime Special Branch, secretly worked with the IRA.

Collins had also moles in the DMP and inside Dublin Castle itself. Ned Broy, Jim McNamara, Joe Kavanagh and David Nelligan provided information to Collins from inside the heart of the Castle and Dublin Met HQ. These men both provided streams of reliable information from within the heart of the British security system as well as pointing out officials, agents or spies for IRA assassination. It was Broy who copied key documents from G Division files and provided the tip-off for the infamous ‘German Plot’ arrests of 1918 and in April 1919 he helped to smuggle Collins into the G-Division document room at Great Brunswick (now Pearse Street) police station, where he was to scrutinize official files on the Republican organization, including photographs, descriptions of movements, addresses and contacts. Documents, notes and files attained on this night were kept in sacks inside the flat of Miss Eileen McGrane on Dawson Street. When they were discovered by a raiding party on 3rd December 1920, it became clear that Broy was involved. He was consequently arrested and a key component of Collins undercover operation was lost.

Many other Agents were scattered through the British administration in Dublin – including Lily Mernin, a typist in the British Command HQ, Nancy O’Brien – a cousin of Collins who each passed coded messages information from the castle into the hands of the Irish Intelligence. Women known to be supporters of Sinn Fein or involved in undercover activities always ran the risk of rough treatment by British-directed units, who subjected them to insults, indignities and had their hair forcibly cut. Mernin was a crucial spy for Collins. It was she who had outed the spy Fergus Brian Molloy, who was handled by Colonel Hill-Dillon, for whom Mernin worked.  As a trusted secretary and typist for the British, her role of typing letters for key figures in military intelligence meant that she played a key role in helping to formulate Irish intelligence. She was given keys to an unoccupied house on Clonliffe Road where she would type out copies, notes and memos that crossed her desk. These would be picked up at a later date by a dispatch rider who brought them to Intelligence HQ. 

David Nelligans account of his life as a double agent in Dublin Castle is a fascinating insight into the struggles, the violence, the subterfuge of everyday life in the early 1920s. In his book ‘The Spy in The Castle’, written in 1968, Nelligan gives a vivid account of the precarious position he was placed in during the height of the intelligence war. Nelligan joined the police force at 18, following a customary path of many young Irish men. With a foundation of good education courtesy of his Limerick parents – both school teachers – he began his career in the Dublin Metropolitan Police. Nelligan soon graduated to a role in the G-Division - living and working at close quarters with those who were trying to pinch Collins, uncover his network and curtail the activities of the Irish volunteers. After a decision to resign this role in May 1920, due to personal reasons, he was urged to do a u-turn after a meeting with Collins. Nelligan would now work both sides - in the centre of the British security operations in Dublin and as a key player in helping Collins to form a detailed intelligence operation against the men inside the Castle. Nelligans role in the G -Divisions political branch put him into direct contact with secret police and undercover agents brought from London. This unique role offered Collins a trusted informer and source of crucial information from inside the castle walls. 

'The Squad'

The IRA used intelligence information discovered in ‘G’ Division files, by Collins, to further their offensive. In late 1919 Michael Collins – Director of Intelligence - created a group of hit men referred to as ‘The Squad’, tasked with the assassinations of targeted British Intelligence operatives and agents living in Dublin. The Squad, at times nicknamed the Twelve Apostles, came directly under the control of Collins as Director of Intelligence or his deputy Liam Tobin and under no other authority. They were constantly on standby, available to be called to operation at a moments notice and assigned to ongoing intelligence gathering on suspected targets. The Squad acted as full-time paid assassins, initially commanded by the de facto leader of the group Mick McDonnell. The original core group of twelve mainly working-class men consisted of Tom Keogh, Jimmy Slattery, Paddy Daly, Joe Leonard, Ben Barrett, Vincent Byrne, Sean Doyle, Paddy Griffin, Eddie Byrne, Mick Reilly and Jimmy Conroy. After some time, the Squad was strengthened by the further members and supported by a network of munitions volunteers, brigade members and flying columns. Units chose an unassuming location in Dublin city centre as its nerve centre of operations – No 3 Crow Street, which was only a few hundred yards from the castle gates off Dame Street. One of the incredible features of the Intelligence war is the reality of how narrow the topography of streets are in which this conflict played out - rival undercover players on each side cross paths on a regular basis.

With the introduction of guerrilla tactics to the streets of Dublin, Collins brought the campaign to a new level. Knowing that a conventional war against the crown forces could not be won, he employed The Squad to operate on a shoot to kill policy against key targets at the heart of British Intelligence. Information and orders were supplied directly from the hierarchy of the Intelligence unit of the IRA and from Collins himself. The Squads role was to watch and reveal targets, then to await orders to assassinate. The overall intention of eliminating targets was to paralyse the British machine by striking at individuals within the intelligence network. This included informers and spies which helped the British to accumulate knowledge about Republican activities.

The Squad first took aim at the ‘G-Men’ of the DMP – five were killed or wounded in 1919 and 1920. The first target was detective Sergeant Patrick ‘The Dog’ Smyth, who was known for his anti-Sinn Fein prejudices and responsible for raids on the premises of the Gaelic Press printers, scrutinizing prisoners in Richmond Barracks after 1916 and later was present at a raid in 44 Parnell Square – a Republican HQ - where it was feared that he may have identified the elusive Collins himself. Mick Kennedy, Tom Keogh, Jim Slattery formed the neucleus of the Squad. They waited patiently at Drumcondra Bridge for several days and nights, finally shooting Smyth as he alighted from a tram on 30th July. Smyth died six weeks later, from wounds received, at his home 51 Millmount Avenue. The Squad next set their sights on Detective-Officer Daniel Hoey, of the ‘G’-division at the DMP. The murder of Hoey occurred just before 10 o’clock on the night of 12 September on Townsend Street - just 50 paces from the entrance to the detective office on Great Brunswick Street. Hoey was in charge of a raid on Sinn Fein offices at 6 Harcourt Street. McDonnell, Slattery and Tom Ennis carried out the order. On the 29th of November 1919 Detective John Barton was shot dead on College Street, near the Crampton Monument, on the orders of Michael Collins. Though he had only recently transferred to G Division of the Dublin Metropolitan Police Barton had a network of touts and claimed to have found an arms dump belonging to the IRA. Information about Bartons activities were reported to Collins by David Nelligan – one of the undercover IRA agents working inside the Castle.

The Squad did not shoot random policemen, all targets were researched and assassinations carefully orchestrated. The Squad received direct instruction from the GHQ Intelligence Department and from Michael Collins as Director of Intelligence or ‘D1’, Liam Tobin, Tom Cullen and Frank Thornton who were Assistants and Deputies working under Collins. The Department was based at 3 Crow Street, in Temple Bar. Though Collins reportedly never used this office, preffering to meet with Tobin and Cullen at Jim Kirwans pub, Vaughans Hotel and at Liam Devlins bar (68) – all in or around Parnell Square. Each had location had its own code name – Devlins was ‘Joint No. 2’ for example. According to Charles Dalton, Collins preferred  too use houses on Mespil Road, Mary Street and Harcourt Terrace – which were “ordinary dwelling houses” with a secret cupboard on the landing where Collins could take refuge if a raid occurred and where he concealed his papers. Many of the G-Men listed for assassination were agents who were deemed to be getting too close to Collins.

Many were tracked, watched and monitored and observed by members of the Squad and the inner circle of the Intelligence organisation at HQ. The Shooting of District Inspector William Redmond (Jan 1920) followed a period of observation by Tom Cullen – Assistant director of intelligence – who booked a hotel at Harcourt Street so he could keep an eye on his fellow guest Redmond, who had been sent from Belfast to take over the organization of intelligence in Dublin. Information about Redmond also came first from inside the Castle, from Detective James McNamara who was working secretly with IRA intelligence. The detective was shot in the dark lane of Montague Street by the Squad after attending a meeting at Dublin Castle on January 21st. According to Joe Leonard, Redmond had a ‘knight of shining armour concealed beneath his coat’ – referring to the fact that the inspector wore a bulletproof jacket.

The IRA from the start, however, had alot of success in uncovering and eliminating the agents despatched by Thompson. One such agent was John Charles Byrnes, who went under the alias John Jameson – a secret serviceman, highly regarded as an undercover agent of the A2 branch of the British military. Byrnes had first won the confidence of IRA leaders in London, then Dublin, through his skills of deception. He had gained the trust of the inner circles of the IRA, to the point that he secured an audience with Michael Collins himself. Byrnes was shot by Collins’ Squad on 2nd March 1920, near Albert College in Glasnevin, after being unearthed as a spy by a leak from Dublin Castle. This execution of an outed spy was part of the new phase of an IRA campaign which intended to destroy the British intelligence system through targeting individuals who posed a threat. Earlier in January 1920, Detective Inspector Forbes Redmond was killed by the what became known as the Collins “Squad” while walking back to his hotel in Harcourt Street. His movements became known to would-be assassins because his confidential clerk Jim McNamara was also a secret DMP for Collins. On 26h March 1920 Alan Bell -an inspector for the RIC and a member of the intelligence committee, also believed to be John Charles Byrnes’ handler - was shot upon dismounting a tram in Ballsbridge. Bell had been investigating the finances of Sinn Fein and was a threat to the funding of the IRA campaign. In April Henry Kells who was promoted to Detective Constable and assigned to the ‘G’ Division, was shot in Campden Street. According to one story he was involved in an identification parade at Mountjoy Gaol in Dublin, investigating the recent murder of Bell, when he was recognised by volunteer Peadar Clancy. This assassination was followed by Constable Laurance Dalton of ‘G’ Division – also suspected of identifying IRA men. Dalton was shot in Broadstone, Phibsboro by members of the Squad.  These men were strategic targets for assassination, aimed at dismantling the heart of the intelligence systems in Dublin castle. In effect these killings set the tone for the escalation of violence which lay ahead in the summer of 1920 and the atrocities of what has come to be known as 'Bloody Sunday'.

Ongoing Work - 'The Plot' - November 2020




    “We have established the addresses of the particular ones. 

    Arrangements should now be made about the matter. 

    Lt. G. is aware of things.  

    He suggested the 21st. A most suitable date I think."   





'Struggle' - from Ongoing Series "The Plot" 2020

On the morning of Sunday November 21st 1920, a group of Irish republican Volunteers mounted an operation of synchronized assassinations on a number of key British Intelligence officers living in central Dublin. The operation was planned by Michael Collins, Director of Intelligence of the Irish Republican Army, and intended to dismantle the heart of the British Intelligence network in Ireland - specifically a group of officers who were residing in Hotels and Guesthouses in the city centre.

That morning, at around 9am, a series of shootings took place in and around Dublin city, resulting in the deaths of intelligence agents and members of the British Auxiliary Forces. In the afternoon of the same day, came the swift and brutal reprisal. British forces stormed into a crowd of over 10’000 Gaelic Football spectators in Croke Park and sporadically opened fire into the stands, killing 14 people – including a female spectator, one player and an 11 year old boy. In all, 30 people died within fifteen hours on that fateful day in Dublin. The day has become known as Bloody Sunday – one of the most horrific incidents of the Irish war of independence. 

The assassinations of the British officers virtually crippled intelligence operations of Dublin Castle. Bloody Sunday also marked an emotional turning-point in the War of Independence and has gone down as a central event in Irish nationalist history and in Irish collective consciousness. 

The exact events which led to the killings have never been conclusively proven, with each side contradicting the other. This project focusses on the lesser known story of the morning of Bloody Sunday – the plot to take down the British agents, the counter-intelligence operative mounted by the IRA up to and including the fateful day of 21st November. The project takes witness statements from members of the squad itself, from eyewitness accounts, from victims’ partners or loved ones and retraces the events as they unfolded in the locations where the assassinations of British agents occurred. The work also retraces the locations of abandoned operations, failed hits and misdemeanours of Volunteers as mentioned in interviews and documents found in Irish Military Archives. 


The Appointed Hour' from Ongoing Series "The Plot" 2020. 

At 8am on the morning of Bloody Sunday, Vinny Byrne assembled his team at 
St. Andrew’s Church, Westland Row “Our place of mobilisation for Sunday 
morning was outside St. Andrew's Church, Westland Row, at 8 a.m. Herbie Conroy 
was detailed to bring an axe along with him, in case we might have to break into the
rooms where the enemy were. Every man paraded at the appointed hour. We were 
early on our appointment, and had to take our time in going to Mount St. 
All operations were to be put into action at 9 a.m."


'Cross Fire' - From Ongoing Series "The Plot" 2020. 

Witness Testimony  Vinny Byrne - who participated in the  
assassination of British Agents at 38 Upper Mount Street. 

'Grave Doubt' from Ongoing Series "The Plot" 2020. 

An IRA murder squad entered the Gresham Hotel at 9am. Here Lieutenant 
L.E. Wilde and ex-captain Patrick McCormack were shot. The Witness 
testimony is from Hotel Manager James Doyle who describes his “grave doubt” 
as to the MacCormack’s association with British Intelligence: “I mentioned it 
to Collins after the Truce…he said that he would make inquiries into the matter, 
but after this the matter was never referred to again.” It is believed that 
MacCormack had come to Dublin to Purchase racehorses. 


'Surveillance Positions' from Ongoing Series 'The Plot' 2020 

'9am was Zero Hour' From Ongoing Series "The Plot" 2020 

28 Pembroke Street, just before 9am, IRA men divided into two groups, and each went
up its own staircase. On the third floor they knocked on doors of British Intelligence
Agents Dowling and Price. One of the other officers in the house said that he heard a
voice  say "I have a letter for you Sir", followed quickly by two bursts of pistol shots: 
“The two lads were in bed in pyjamas .They were against the wall when Paddy fired.
I saw one hit the floor and [fall] down the stairs.”


'Concentrate on Hardy' from Ongoing Series "The Plot"

A special effort was being made to locate and eliminate a British Intelligence Officer known as Hoppy Hardy. This man resided in Harcourt Street, close to the offices of Michael Collins and was known for his brutality – including the murder of a shopkeeper called Carroll in Stoneybatter (Grandfather of actor and comedian Brendan O’Carroll of “Mrs Browns Boys” fame). Hardy was not present in targeted location on Bloody Sunday and missed his execution squad. 

Thomas Keogh, along with accomplice Jim Slattery and six others from the 2nd battalion E company had been assigned to 22 Lower Mount Street at 9am to “eliminate a number of British Intelligence Agents and spies” who were residing there. While upstairs, Slattery heard the sound of gun fire at the front door. They immediately surrounded the house and tried to gain admission. One of the volunteers, Billy McClean, fired at them through the door and got wounded in the hand. McClean however had bought a little time for the men upstairs to find and assassinate their prime targets and to make their escape. The company would make their way to the Quays, where a boat was arranged  to take members of the squad across to North Wall. Later Keogh would stand in the famous Hill 16 as British Forces opened fire into the crowd at an All-Ireland final in Croke Park. McClean would make his way to a safe house in Denzille Place to be treated for his injuries. 

Harcourt Street was the location for the Head Quarters of Sinn Féin when Michael Collins was appointed as Minister for Finance by the First Dáil in 1919, he chose No 6 Harcourt Street to be his base as the War of Independence intensified. The street was a hotbed of intelligence and counter-intelligence activities. Many British Agents were known to be residing in the Harcourt Hotel at the time of Bloody Sunday.


At the Shelbourne Hotel, at around 9am, 3 IRA men went up the stairs, and the leading man turned a corner, saw (in a mirror) a man with a gun in his hand moving towards him. He fired, believing that he was about to be attacked. The mirror shattered, and the sound of gunshots apparently enabled their victim to get away.


‘Operation Abandoned’. According to Charles Daltons Witness Statements, an Ambush was planned for British Officers reportedly living in lodgings across the street from the entrance of the Pheonix Park on North Circular Road. The 1st Batallion, F Company were detailed to provide surveillance of this area and carry out orders relating to an attack on the morning of 21st November: “Six of us were detailed and reported the next morning at the appointed time. He told us to carry our guns. Holohan arrived and told us to go home.”   
                                                                 WITNESS STATEMENT – DOCUMENT NO. W.S. 667 – PATRICK LAWSON

ACCOUNTS of BLOODY SUNDAY - from 'The Plot' (November 2020)

Walking towards St Andrews church at dawn on a cold November day, one can feel a small sense of physical and psychological alignment with young men who traversed the same Westland Row streets just over one hundred years ago. This is where Vinny Byrne assembled his small group of volunteers on the morning of Bloody Sunday. Byrne was 19, an apprentice cabinet maker turned member of the Irish Republican Army. Regardless of his age, he was a hardened veteran of the ongoing war of independence. He went to school at St Andrews, just around the corner, and was just two days away from his 20th birthday when he was placed in charge of a special brigade of men involved in an operation designed to bring down the heart of British Intelligence networks in Ireland.

Collectively referred to as ‘The Squad’, Byrne and his comrades had been undergoing intelligence operations of their own under the direction of Michael Collins. They had been secretly observing the activities of British officers and plainclothes agents on the streets of Dublin - evaluating patterns and movements, identifying players and establishing each address where their enemies resided. On this particular morning, a plot to eliminate a tangible threat to Irish republican ambitions was put into play. A list had been circulated amongst an inner group of the Republican movement and a series of synchronised assassinations were planned in key locations of South Central Dublin.

Every man paraded at the appointed hour. It was 8am. Collectively, the brigade was mobilised to make the slow walk to Mount Street - just a short distance away - to carry out the execution of known British agents, who were known to be living across from the corner of Merrion Square. The young volunteers made their way along the dimly lit paths of Denzille Lane, past the National Maternity Hospital – where Byrne and many members of the Squad were born - and took up their designated positions on the corners and doorways of  Upper Mount Street.

It was here at No 38 that two prime targets had been identified – key intelligence agents George Bennett of the Royal Army Service Corps and Peter Ashmun Ames, an American working undercover for MI5. Both were considered leaders of British intel operations in Dublin. A servant girl opened the door and quietly pointed in the direction of two occupied rooms up the stairs and along the hallway. According to Byrne, both agents were found in their respective beds, asked to get up at gunpoint, march to the back room and face the wall: “I said to myself – May The Lord have mercy on your souls! I then opened fire... They both fell dead.”
As the November half-light turned into a clear blue sky, the bells of the local church began to ring, scatterings of birds dispersed from rooftops and the sound of gunshots echoed through Mount street. As the men burst out of the house, fire was opened on them from the other side. They retreated down an alley and onto to Mount Street Lower. Here Byrne crossed paths with Thomas Keogh – another young volunteer - running at pace, dropping from his hand a revolver onto the cobblestone path. Keogh, along with accomplice Jim Slattery and six others from the 2nd battalion E company had been assigned to 22 Lower Mount Street at 9am to “eliminate a number of British Intelligence Agents and spies” who were residing there. The Company were admitted to the house by a maid and proceeded to separate rooms on separate floors - the numbers of which they had already been ascertained. While upstairs, Slattery heard the sound of gun fire at the front door. A housekeeper had spotted a patrol of British Auxiliaries passing outside and had started to scream for attention. They immediately surrounded the house and tried to gain admission. One of the volunteers, Billy McClean, fired at them through the door and got wounded in the hand. McClean however had bought a little time for the men upstairs to find and assassinate their prime targets and to make their escape. The company would make their way to the Quays, where a boat was arranged to take members of the squad across to North Wall. Later Keogh would stand in the famous Hill 16 as British Forces opened fire into the crowd at an All-Ireland final in Croke Park. McClean would make his way to a safe house in Denzille Place to be treated for his injuries.

One of the targets at the operation in Mount Street Lower was one Henry James Angliss – known in Dublin by his alias - Lieutenant Patrick McMahon – a plainclothes undercover agent, who was a decorated veteran of the first world war, serving in Russia before being dispatched to Ireland to become a specialist in intelligence in the war against the Irish Republican movement. McMahon was high on Collins’ list after he had divulged, under the influence of drink to a female lodger, that he had killed an Irish legal clerk named John Lynch in the Exchange Hotel in September 1920. The girl had passed this information onto on IRA intelligence agent, making McMahon a prime target for execution. 

As Slattery recalls: “We succeeded in shooting Lieutenant McMahon, but could not gain admission into the room where the other agent was sleeping. There was a second man in McMahon's bed, but we did not shoot him as we had no instructions to do so. We discovered afterwards that he was an undesirable character as far as we were concerned, and that we should have shot him.” The second man in McMahons bed was allowed to live. In the aftermath of Bloody Sunday, the man – referred to as “Mr C” in military documents - went absent without leave, refusing to attend inquests relating to the events of Bloody Sunday. He was found and arrested in southern England, forced to come back under escort to testify and subsequently admonished by the British Military for a history of misconduct.
While Slattery and company were making their approaches to the target location on Mount Street Lower, Bill Stapleton was waiting under Baggot Street Bridge, after being instructed to report fully armed for an operation that Sunday Morning. There he would meet Joe Leonard and other members of his Company at the appointed location to “liquidate members of the British Intelligence Service” living at No. 92. Nine O’Clock was zero hour. After mobilising the men into positions around Baggot street and Herbert Street, Stapleton entered the house and requested to see Captain William F. Newberry: “He was in his pyjamas, and as he was attempting to escape by the window and was shot a number of times. One of our party on guard outside fired at him from outside.” Newbury was shot seven times and his body left hanging from the window. The operation lasted about fifteen minutes.  Upon their retreat, Stapleton and Leonard intercepted a British dispatch rider, took his motorcycle and made their way to the Quays. Stapleton would later head to Croke Park and was present when it was raided by the British: “I was beside a man who was shot and I was splashed with his blood. We were on the top step of a new stand which was in course of construction on the North side of Croke Park, and I escaped by jumping over the wall into the back yard of one of the houses in Jones's Road. We were very much upset over the Croke Park incident. Some of us went down to Jervis St. hospital and saw the dead bodies, but as far as I was concerned no action took place that night.”
At 119 Lower Baggot Street, Captain Geoffrey Baggally - a member of military courts that sentenced IRA volunteers to death and also believed to be one of Kevin Barry's torturers, was high on the list for assassination. The IRA unit which carried out the operation included a future Taoiseach - Sean Lemass, as well Patrick McCrea, who was a veteran of IRA activities since 1913. At 9am the men entered the house, leaving one man on guard on each side of the building. They already had particulars of the agent's bedroom. Baggally opened the door to and armed unit and tried to escape through the window. Before he could reach it, he was shot on the top of the head, through the left eye and twice in the chest. According to McCrea: “The job was completed in the space of a few minutes. We got away without incident.” A car picked up a few men coming off the Mount St. job and arrived back at an assigned headquarters at North Richmond St – in the shadow of the canal end at Croke Park. McCrea would arrive home to Dolymount at 11am that morning after reporting to Richmond Street HQ.  His absence was noticeable to his family - he had missed breakfast and not been to Mass: “Up to this point my wife did not think I was deeply involved. When I said I had been out fishing she asked me where was the fish. This remark caused me to stumble and I could not think of a satisfactory answer. In order not to give myself away, after breakfast I took the tram into town and went to the short 12 o’clock Mass in Marlboro’ St. when I left the church I met several of the fellows who had been out that morning with us and, at this time, there was terrific activity on the part of the military and Tans all over the city.”

While news of assassinations and ambushes spread across the streets of Dublin, in Pembroke Street the lodgers of No. 28 were still coming to terms with the events of that morning. It was here that seven British regimental officers in total resided. Inside the house, now an interconnected row of offices, a deep blue carpet leads to the first floor where Mrs Caroline Woodcock awoke to the sound of church bells ringing around Dublin, summoning people to mass. Her husband Col. Wilfred James Woodcock – a commander of four battalions in the Great War, hurried over his dressing as he was himself to take a Church parade at the Commander-in-Chiefs lodgings. As she stood at the window, struggling with the cuffs of her blouse, she spotted a man climbing over the garden wall.  It was shortly after 9am. A group of about ten republican volunteers, of the 3rd battalion, had entered the house and ascended the staircase in search of their targets. Only two members on ‘the list’ were killed on the day – Captain Leonard Price and Major Charles Dowling. Col. Woodcock was injured, as were three of his colleagues, one of which died subsequently in early December. Mrs Woodcock later reflected “Had it not been for those silly little buttons I should have gone down to breakfast with my husband, and should have had the agony of seeing him and others killed or wounded before my eyes, and should probably have been shot myself.”

One member of the IRA unit which entered the house at Pembroke Street was Charles Dalton, who was 17 years old and had become a key intelligence officer for the IRA under Collins. A youthful man, obviously with a sense of patriotic energy and commitment to the cause, Dalton had done most of the groundwork to find information on the condemned men at this particular location. He had courted the maid, got an IRA man employed as a porter and established the rooms where the targets were sleeping. He was involved in the execution of Price and Dowling, both of whom were unarmed and in their pyjamas: “They were lined up. They were held up on the staircase. I saw one hit the floor and fall down the stairs.”

In 1929 Dalton would author a book detailing his activities with the Dublin Brigade and offering an intense personal account of his experience on the day of Bloody Sunday. Years later, in the 1950s, Dalton would contribute to the Irish Bureau of Military history – who conducted interviews with many of the volunteers involved in the events of Bloody Sunday. Through carefully reading these witness testimonies, it is possible to establish not only known locations connected to the war of independence, but also to identify surrounding narratives to many of the main events of the time – surveillance operations that were put into play, methods used to gather intelligence, key players involved, specific locations that were battlegrounds for the intelligence war between the IRA and British Agents – all of whom were navigating and working the same streets at the time of these events. Witness statements help to construct a very broad and detailed sense of this historical moment and how it unfolded. They offer a more authentic and personal portrayal of the events from various vantage points, perspectives and, as discovered, sensibilities of these young men. To trace the specifics of Bloody Sunday, through the narratives of first-hand accounts and memories, is a process of revisiting and revising the hidden histories of the familiar streets of Dublin City and surrounds. That morning several successful attempts by the IRA to execute members of British Intelligence were complimented by several failed attempts and abandoned operations.

For this ongoing photography and research project, witness accounts have allowed me to map-out the key locations and the surrounding settings of each individual assassination, assassination attempt and failed operation. It is possible to establish the possible entry routes and escape routes of the volunteers, locations where surveillance happened and pieces of information passed hands, locations where meetings took place and back alleys which acted as IRA ‘Dumps’ or safe houses where weapons were kept and where instructions were passed. Each setting played its part in the history of the day, where plans were made and where the plot unravelled.
From Ongoing Photographic and Research Project ‘The Plot’ by Martin Cregg