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07 Jul 2022

McHugh's Miscellany: After Battle of Pettigo/Belleek British held part of Donegal

Area of Belleek Fort/battery in Donegal was not given back until August 1924

McHugh's Miscellany: After Battle of Pettigo/Belleek British held part of Donegal

These were tense days in the not so merry month of May, back in Donegal 100 years ago.  

Tír Chonaill was tentatively wedged between the War of Independence and the Irish Civil war.

This, after a General election had been called on May 19 by the Provisional government of Collins.

With that election looming on June 16, 1922 it would copper fasten the Anglo Irish Treaty that had been signed in London the previous December followed by much acrimonious debate over its merits and demerits in the months that followed.

A graphic from the Irish Independent in 1971 explaining the origins of Partition

In Finner Camp, the anti treaty forces (aka Irregulars) were in the ascendancy and control, but by the end of June, they would be forced out by National troops (pro treaty), but not without injury as well as the death of Capt James Connolly, who was a member of the anti treaty forces.

It remains a painful legacy in this decade of commemorations.

This Saturday, another extremely important historical event will be remembered and commemorated thanks to a cross-border partnership between Fermanagh County Museum and Donegal County Museum.

The Battle of Pettigo/Belleek, took place along the border in late May, early June 1922 in that same delicate period.

Decisively, it was the last time that Pro and Anti Treaty Forces fought alongside each other against British forces before the Civil War. 

The memorial in Pettigo to those who died in the Battle of Belleek and Pettigo

Significantly, It was also the only full on battle with artillery salvos from the British since the Easter Rising.  

It is estimated that a vastly bigger 2,000 British forces were needed to eventually thwart 100 of the Irish volunteers. 

From a southern perspective it formed part of Michael Collins's Northern Offensive with the tacit support of anti treaty soldiers under Liam Lynch and was a direct reaction to the ‘pogroms’ against Catholics in the North.

The Southern Star reports on comments made by Winston Churchill in the House of Commons at the time

Winston Churchill was very much involved from the British perspective and the acrimony followed after the retaking of Belleek by the British, as they also took control of the Belleek Battery/Fort, which was actually part of Free State territory in Donegal.

The British did not abandon that part of Donegal until August 1924.    

During the battles that raged Patrick Flood of Pettigo, Bernard McCanny and William Kearney of Drumquin, were killed at their post, while Willian Deasley later died from wounds inflicted during the same battle.

Prominent speakers this Saturday will include Dr Éamon Phoenix, Dr Edward Burke, Dr Margaret O'Callaghan and local historians, John Cunningham, Jimmy Baird and Pauline Gilmartin.

It should prove to be a very thought provoking day . . .  

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