Derry's role in the War of Independence: Part 9
Last time Liam Brady hinted at unusual sources of supplies of arms and ammunition for the IRA in Derry and Donegal. Here he continues the story...
“Most of the parcels were taken by me to John (Corney) Doherty’s, James Lynch’s, McLaughlin and Leonards, William Street and lots of other places where they remained until they were required.
“It is now very interesting to reveal that a very large quantity of .303 ammunition, at least one machine gun, several rifles and some small arms came from Dunree and Leenan Forts, Inishowen where the British troops were stationed.
“Another man with whom Paddy Hegarty was in contacted with was a Norwegian called Oscar Norby, who travelled across the Channel as a seaman on the coal boat ‘Carricklee’. He managed to buy good quantities of small arms and blasting gelignite. These supplies fanned out to counties Derry, Donegal and Dublin.
“General Eoin O’Duffy and Pierce Beaslai had received some of the supplies and Eddie McCafferty of Derry, a labour organiser, now living at Fahan, on his frequent visits to Dublin, bought large supplies of gelignite and small arms. His was a very dangerous job, but he accomplished it with complete success. He was a valuable member of the IRA. He ran the risk of capture and death on every journey but he never hesitated and his strategy was such that he was never caught.
“There were other people and routes by which supplies went, but these were only known to Paddy Hegarty whose work was so important that if arrested he was not to stay in jail if it was possible to get him out. This organisation came into being in 1917 and continued until the Truce in 1921. Owing to the strict secrecy with which the work was carried out they were able to continue throughout the years without attracting much attention or bringing suspicion upon themselves. But, we were always waiting for the day when the British Crown Forces would sweep on us and the lifeline that kept the Republican forces in Derry and the surrounding country alive-for without rifles, ammunition and explosives they would be helpless when called to defend themselves against the well-armed forces of Britain.
“Risks had to be run and everyone, realising the chances we were taking, took them with determination. Come what may, the supplies must get through. John Doherty received the bulk of these supplies, which he took to various districts of the city and from there the supplies went to Dublin and to other centres. I had been carrying supplies to his house and shed almost weekly for three years.
“One day while making my usual visit after a distance of almost half a mile with a parcel that must have contained over 500 rounds of ammunition, every few minutes I had to change the parcel from one arm to the other and lean it on my hinch bone, thinking I would never make it as the parcel was frightfully heavy. At last the shed was in sight and within a short time I was standing at the door. The place was packed with straw and the small place on the floor was dark. I had only gone a few steps when John Doherty roared at me like some demented person, ‘What do you want snooping there? Get to hell out of it.’
“I nearly fell through the ground. I was dumbfounded. Never before had I seen John in such a mood and I was just about to ask what it was all about when I caught a glimpse of a police sergeant sitting on a large wooden trunk. I made off without saying one word, wondering what I should do next. My arms were starting to give way under the heavy load and to walk back to Hegarty’s shop was out of the question. Walking over Francis Street, and over the Lower Road, I took one more look at Doherty’s shed and I saw John standing at the door waving me on to come over. Looking in all directions to see if my way was clear, a few paces brought me across the street.
‘That was a narrow shave,’ said john reaching for the parcel and putting it into the wooden trunk the policeman had been sitting on some minutes before.
‘He has gone and although he is friendly with me I would not trust him as far as I could throw him. If you had handed me that parcel in his presence our game would have been up. We would have been under lock and key and the boys would have been without any supplies. I am sorry I had to be rough with you, but I was afraid you would not see him in the dark. We can’t be too careful,” said John.
“James Lynch, another member of our group, was staunchly reliable and of a quiet, unassuming disposition. He had been keeping supplies from a very early period. In fact he was instructed by Seamus Cavanagh the OC to keep himself away from all republican gatherings, including all the drills and parades of the Volunteers as he wanted him to be free from all suspicions whilst he kept supplies of small arms and ammunition. I was sent at various periods to his house, and always with heavy parcels of supplies. On occasions I spent days sorting out mixed bags of ammunition which he had.
“Paddy Lafferty, another member of the group handled large supplies of ammunition, hand grenades, rifles and small arms. He had an arms dump made at the back of his yard. During numerous raids on his home, the police and the military walked over them without finding them.
“Paddy Hegarty seemed to live for the republican movement. Republicanism was his main topic and his every activity was directed towards that end. The risks that he ran and the narrow escapes seemed only to inflame his spirit to greater achievement. He had a knack of picking his men. Once approved by him, he trusted you with the utmost confidence and never had he to regret his decision. Several former unionists received his confidence in keeping republican supplies and were entrusted with keeping republican supplies. On one occasion when a large case arrived at his shop, with the usual supplies he was debating the Irish question with a British officer, while I was in the next room checking ammunition.
“One day a friendly policeman told Paddy that his shop would be raided in a few hours time. He had a number of heavy parcels containing mixed ammunition and some blasting gelignite. He asked if I could find a hiding place at my home for this stuff. I took the parcels, making several journey’s with the. They remained at my home for a little over two months.
“The RIC were the main collectors of information for the British Intelligence Staff. They or their agents attended all meetings of a national character. A report of all present together with the business transacted was made out and handed in at Victoria RIC barracks, Strand Road or sent through one of the secret channels used for such information.
“Two policemen who were specially appointed were in charge of this department where they compiled and sorted information for future reference. A duplicate copy was sent to Dublin Castle. The telephone exchange held a special line open for more urgent information each night at 10 o’clock.
“One little item which shows their method of approach was this. A republican soldier called Joe who spent a term of imprisonment and who was known to be an active member of the IRA was met one day by a man who was a complete stranger to him.
“This man got into a conversation with Joe and talked to him as if he known him all his life. Before he left he had arranged to see him again and within a month they had become good friends. The stranger told Joe that he knew that he was pressed for money. Joe admitted the fact that he and his people were living on a very scanty income.
“Thinking he had Joe on a string told him that he knew how he could get some extra money. All he would have to do was to report small items about the IRA which would no one any harm, but would get him a good weekly sum.
“Joe got a shock at first, but kept his cool and the agent thinking he had scored a hit arranged to meet him the following night at the Rialto Cinema. He told Joe that he would be sitting in the last row of seats on the ground floor and if he would turn up everything would be alright.
“In the meantime Joe told his whole story to a republican officer who advised him to meet this man as arranged, but Joe being afraid of becoming entangled in a net which he might not easily get out of, decided to stay away. The British agent knowing that his plan had failed and that he could be identified left Derry and was never seen again.
“The RIC had a number of spotters and touts on their payroll. The touts mostly consisted of the unfortunate type who were getting into trouble now and again through drink or occasional thefts and were supplying information to have their sentences reduced.”