In early May 1922, nearly two months prior to the official beginning of the Civil War, Kilkenny anti-Treaty IRA units took over 15 buildings in Kilkenny City,
most notably St Canice’s Cathedral and Kilkenny Castle.
This week, The Kilkenny Observer in conjunction with Cois Céim and The Saturday Walkers group, take a closer look at events of the time
Wilsdon’s Fort: Today this property is known as J.B.s Sports Bar. At the time of the civil war, Arthur J Wilsdon was the owner. It was a very strategic position as it commanded a view of the Railway station, the castlecomer road with the approach from the Military barracks. Rifle and machine gun fire opened up on the premises from the cast iron railway bridge in upper John Street.After about an hour’s attack Mr Wilsdon’s premises were evacuated. Under cover of machine gun fire soldiers rushed the door and affected an entrance and the occupants were made prisoners. The glass in the upper and lower windows had been shattered and the concrete walls showed evidence of the intensity of the gunfire the premises were subjected to. During the attack regular soldiers on duty at Johns Bridge and a number of civilians were startled by a bomb explosion. A bomb had been thrown from a window of a house adjacent to John’s bridge. The soldiers on duty since early morning were unaware the house was occupied except for the owner and his family. After a lull, the firing between the troops resumed at 6.30 on Tuesday evening and continued with great intensity up to 10.30. During this time the Executive forces evacuated City Hall. On resumption of operations regular troops attacked John Street police barracks and after a brief but fierce encounter the building was surrendered and the Executive forces taken prisoners. One of the regular soldiers was wounded in the face, during the course of the afternoon another member of the regulars was wounded by a sniper.
The Imperial Hotel: The next stronghold of the Executive forces to be attacked was the hotel. The garrison had been greatly reinforced by those who had escaped from City Hall. An armoured car was placed in position on the Parade and a gun trained on the hotel. Rifle and machine gun fire opened fire to which the occupants replied helped by snipers from the Castle Towers. This was one of the fiercest engagements of the day lasting from about 8 to 9 o’clock. The Executive forces surrendered and a number were taken prisoners. In the course of the attack Pte Kavanagh from Wexford forced open the back door of the Hotel with his rifle butt and a party of six soldiers rushed the premises. The occupants surrendered and being disarmed were taken prisoners. The remainder escaped and reinforced the garrison in the Castle. Miss O’Neill the proprietress of the hotel refused to leave during the siege. She was told there might be fierce fighting but she said she would stick it out and she did. Machine gun and rifle fire resounded all over the city, the operations being carried out between the Castle, the Bank of Ireland and the Prison. The city streets were deserted except for small groups gathered in secluded corners. When darkness came the feeling of terror which had come over the city was greatly increased by the fact that the streets remained unlighted. Just before 10’clock when the firing began to ease off a young girl named Margaret Loughman of New Street was seriously wounded at the corner of Walkin Street near the prison as she made her way home with her companion. Where the bullet came from is not known, so far as can be ascertained it ricocheted of the wall of Smithwick’s Bottling Store and struck the young girl in the knee, she lost a great quantity of blood before she was conveyed into the Bottling Store premises. She was attended to by Fr. Drea and received first aid, she was subsequently removed to the military hospital where an operation was performed. The bullet was not found but it is understood the sinews were badly torn. The young girl has three brothers each of whom spent time in prison on political charges during the recent terror. One is in Ballsbridge training for the Civic Guards, a second brother is a soldier in the Kilkenny garrison, another is a priest in the Redemptorist Order.