They may have gone through two incarnations in the past ninety years, but the police here have evidently not improved, if last week’s debacle in South Armagh is anything to go by. Two people languish in Daisy Hill Hospital from injuries received in a bomb attack …
The PSNI who got an hour’s warning of the impending explosion thought it best to protect their officers from any possible attack and chose to abandon their duty to protect the people. Not only did they fail to appear, they didn’t even broadcast a warning! Likewise a month ago when dissidents bombed Newry Courthouse, the police thought fit NOT to warn staff or patrons at the Brass Monkey, less than fifty metres from the scene of the explosion. In last week’s raid a helicopter was despatched to Newtown a half-hour later (the border is less than one minute away!) and no police arrived before a further hour had elapsed.
Casting such caution to the wind, the heroic firefighters (mostly volunteers) evacuated the area and saved a bloodbath. Just a few days earlier Matt Baggott (PSNI Chief Constable) had smilingly appeared in nearby Crossmaglen seeking locals to appear on camera with him, shaking his hand, to show that the Queen’s writ ran to all corners and parts. Surprisingly Conor Murphy, desperately seeking a democratic mandate to abstain from Westminster, was NOT present, though he offers them full support (except in pursuance of the killers of Paul Quinn, apparantly – certainly the family thinks so). Few votes to be won from that particular stand, I reckon.
But I wanted to go back ninety years to a previous attack on Newtownhamilton RIC Station. The following report appeared in the Newry Reporter of the time.
"Newtownhamilton, County Armagh was the scene of a Sinn Fein outrage in the early hours of Sunday morning last. Shortly after midnight 200-300 armed and masked men took possession of the town. Trees and telegraph poles were felled to disrupt communications and pickets placed on houses to prevent any alarm being raised.
Sergeant Traynor and five constables, by name McWhirter, Foster, Small, Doyle and Gray came under attack in the police station. The Sergeant’s wife and two little girls were also in the sand-bagged three-storey building. Fire was opened from a derelict building opposite and also from a laneway separating the barracks from the Ulster Bank. Mrs Traynor secreted her children safely and proceeded to supply ammunition to the police. The raiders then forced their way into the licensed premises of Mr P McManus, under the same roof as the barracks. The owner was tied up in an outhouse. With copious supplies of liquor at their disposal the raiders were inspired to renewed efforts!
Holes were bored in the wall separating the pub from the day room of the barracks. Explosives were inserted and the wall blown away. The police were forced to retire to the rear of the building where they continued gallantly to resist the attack.
That their spirits had not diminished from their four-hour attack against great odds was proved when a man, a leader of the attackers, called through a megaphone for the defenders to surrender and Sergeant Traynor called out a disdainful "Never", backed by a fussilade from his comrades.
Then the Sinn Feiners brought petrol-loaded potato-sprayers into operation. With these they soaked the front of the building and set it alight. Even when the building was a mass of flames the gallant policemen kept up the fight and it was only when the roof was about to collapse that they effected a further withdrawal to the barrack-yard and out-houses. From there they kept up the defence and eventually at about 4.00 am the dawn began to break and the raiders knew they had been beaten by a band of brave men.
They then vanished from the vicinity as speedily as they had come.
Newry Reporter 11 May 1920