Demob crazy Black and Tan

It was late summer of 1922 when we boarded a train at Dundalk bound for Clones. We lowered the window with its strap and watched as others boarded. A small group of laughing men came walking along the platform. There were five or six large men who looked like farmers grouped around one small man wearing a brown trilby hat and a grey tweed overcoat that reached down to his toes. 

We could see that the small man was the entertainer of the group. He talked unceasingly and what he had to say was obviously highly entertaining to his companions.  

 The men stopped at the compartment next to ours. The small man got in, closed the door, let down the window and resumed the cheerful conversation with his laughing friends on the platform in front of him. He spoke with an English accent; his listeners were local men and it was clear they had all been drinking. 

The guard sounded his whistle, the noisy group shouted their farewells to their departing friend and he called back to them saying how much he had enjoyed his time in Ireland and particularly their merry meeting. Just as the train started to move, he pulled out a large revolver, the biggest I had ever seen, and with deliberation and whoops of delight, he fired shot after shot into the roof of the station.

 His erstwhile companions dived in panic for doorways that were not there. As we slid along the platform to the thunder of the little man’s revolver, men and women and children were throwing themselves in all directions. In the train the women were screaming. There were two women in our compartment who were down on the floor. Mother was vainly trying to bring her brood within her protective embrace.

 My brother and I realised he must be a Black and Tan. Yet far from feeling fear we were delighted and exhilarated at the Wild West performance at which we had a ringside seat. As the train moved out of the town we could hear him in the next compartment singing at the top of his voice. Our womenfolk were almost in a state of collapse. Only a thin partition separated us from a drunk man with a large revolver. Every now and then as the train chugged through the trees the revolver would appear – right beside us – and he would take a shot at a tree or a rock or a telegraph pole and up and down the train the cries of frightened females could be heard.

The train stopped at every small station and each time the Englishman would call out to people standing on the platform, engage them in bantering conversation and, as we moved on, send them scattering in panic with bullets screaming over their heads. What for many people was a truly frightening experience was, for us boys great entertainment. We were disappointed when at Ballybay (near the end of our journey) the man in the next carriage got off the train and soberly walked away, in the midst of the dozen or so departing passengers.

 As we arrived, Clones station was deserted. When the train stopped people opened carriage doors and got out but there was no one there to greet them. Then policemen carrying rifles and revolvers came out of every nook and corner around the big station. Word had come through saying that Black and Tans and IRA men were engaged in a running battle on the train.

The bird had flown!

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.