Alexander Will - the first  member of the dreaded Black and Tans to be killed in Ireland, shot dead by the Irish Republican Army.

On a warm summers night in County Kerry, in 1920, the Irish Republican Army attacked the Royal Irish Constabulary barracks in the village of Rathmore. The attack is significant for the fact that it claimed the life of Alexander Will - the first  member of the dreaded Black and Tans to be killed in Ireland.

On the evening of July 10, 1920, IRA volunteers from the 5th Battalion of the Kerry No.2 Brigade targeted the RIC barracks near the railway bridge in Rathmore. The building was considered impregnable with its doors and windows fitted with heavy steel shutters but, it did not stop the boys of the Kerry brigade from having a go at it!

Read more: Winston Churchill ordered Black and Tans into Ireland in 1920

Captain of the Rathmore IRA company, Manus Moynihan, along with Con Leary, Fred Crowley, Dave Crowley and Mick Dennehy planned the attack and came up with the idea of doing it with a cannon.

The weapon in question was taken from Ross Castle in Killarney under the cover of darkness by battalion quartermaster Con Leary and taken by horse and cart in the direction of blacksmith Din Murphy's forge near Gneeveguilla.

Black and Tans on the streets.

Black and Tans on the streets.

The blacksmith made a platform for the cannon and it was hauled up the Paps Mountains for testing. By all accounts the testing proved to be a roaring success, so much so that some of the IRA volunteers feared the loud blast from the old gun would wake Anu, the sleeping goddess of the mountain. Never mind the fact that it would draw the attention of the authorities!

For the attack on Rathmore barracks the cannon was placed on a railway cart and pushed up the tracks near the target. Up to 20 Volunteers from the Glenflesk company assisted the Rathmore Volunteers and all roads in and out of the village were blocked by Volunteers armed with pikes and blackthorn sticks. Those who had guns were posted at the site of the attack, around the RIC barracks.

Homemade bombs were attached to builders hods and the plan was to creep up to the barracks as night fell and drop the bombs over the steel shutters but, the plan did not go off smoothly.

The Volunteers got into their positions , some were on the railway with the cannon while others hid behind sandbags on the bridge by the barracks. Those tasked with carrying the hods with the bombs took off their boots and in stockinged feet carried their deadly cargo towards the barracks windows.

As the late hours of July 10th turned into the early hours of July 11th, one of the bombs lined up near the sandbags went off prematurely. It did not cause any serious injuries, but it did alert those inside the barracks.

Black and Tans stopping a member of the public.

Black and Tans stopping a member of the public.

A fierce firefight between the occupants of the barracks and the IRA Volunteers went on for hours. The canon failed to work but as snipers lined up behind the sandbags kept the pressure on those inside the barracks, a number of bombs were hurled from hods in its direction. 

The building took the force of the bombs and bullets until a Volunteer successfully lobbed a bomb containing 4lbs of gelignite in through a top window which had been breached. The explosion blew the doors and windows apart and knocked the attackers outside the barracks off their feet. The explosion was so loud the IRA Volunteers feared it would alert the authorities as far away as Killarney, so they immediately dispersed.

Their fears were realized when a contingent of Black and Tans arrived into Rathmore from Killarney at Dawn to find the barracks badly damaged but still standing. They also found a number injured inside the barracks and one casualty. The Tans then sacked the village and burned the creamery to the ground.  For days after the locals lived under a reign of terror by marauding Black and Tans until they eventually moved on to another unfortunate target elsewhere in the Kingdom.

The casualty on that Summers night in Rathmore was 28-year-old Scotsman  Alexander Will, a Black and Tan who had been briefly  stationed in the barracks. His cause of death was laceration of the head from the explosion. Rather ironically, Will was born on the feast day of Ireland's patron saint, March 17th, 1896. The Aberdeen Press reported how the deceased "resided at 28 Damacre Road, Brechin" and how "much sympathy is felt in Brechin for his mother who is a widow." The Weekly Irish Times described how Will was a member of the Scottish Presbyterian Church and his remains were taken from Kerry to the Abbey Church in Dublin before being sent to Scotland by steamer where he was interred.

The attack on Rathmore barracks became something of a baptismal of fire for many of the young IRA volunteers there that night and it could be said that it was also a taste of things to come for those sporting the uniform of the enemy.  Since early 1920 the armed resistance to British rule in Ireland had been gathering great  pace that by March of that year a new special reserve division of the RIC was introduced  to "keep the peace." This special reserve division would be more commonly known as the Black and Tans and they did everything except keep the peace!

Read more: Bloody Sunday 1920, Black and Tans kill fourteen

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Black and Tans photographed at the North Western Hotel, in Dublin.National Library Irelaand