17 Aug 2022

Up for bid: Relic of Coolbawn Ambush

ON June 18, 1921, a group of over 30 armed men waited silently along a stretch of road at Coolbawn, two miles outside Castlecomer.

ON June 18, 1921, a group of over 30 armed men waited silently along a stretch of road at Coolbawn, two miles outside Castlecomer.

They were members of the 5th Battalion of the IRA - the Kilkenny Brigade - shored up by a Flying Column that had arrived to boost the numbers of the local division.

The plan was to ambush a unit of British soldiers, who were transporting the explosive gelignite from the Castlecomer MIlitary Barracks to the Wolfhill coal mines.

But something went wrong.

The British soldiers were tipped off, and sent an advance unit to sneak up on the waiting IRA men. In the ensuing gunfight, two Kilkenny men - Nicholas Mullins from Thomastown and Sean Jack Hartley from Glenmore - lost their lives.

The youngest survivor of the Coolbawn ambush was Patrick Quinn, a member of the Flying Column. Just 16 years old at the time, he was armed with a Webley revolver.

Quinn would eventually go on to become one of Eoin O’Duffy’s most loyal captains, as part of the Kilkenny Blueshirt Division. In 1937, he was part of a brigade that left Ireland for spain to fight alongside General Franco’s men.

The revolver used by Quinn on that ill-fated day in Coolbawn has recently resurfaced, and is now to go under the hammer next month, as just one of the rare items of memorabilia up for grabs at an auction entitled ‘Ireland’s Struggle’.

“The revolver is one of the extant pieces of militaria from the ambush,” says Castlecomer auctioneer George F Mealy. “There are 750 lots of rare books, and 450 lots of rare artefacts, including manuscripts, guns, swords, flags and other memorabilia from throughout Irish history. There are documents detailing Ireland’s struggle going back as far as 1798, through the 1916 Rising, the War of Independence, Civil War and up to the 1950s.”

The auction takes place on April 24 and 25 in Dublin, with a viewing on the Sunday and Monday prior. There will also be an opportunity to view in Castlecomer on Thursday, April 19.

For more information, visit

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