Remembering Dan McGandy: The first IRA Volunteer to die in Derry and the first casualty of the Irish War of Independence on the IRA side

A hundred years ago last Sunday IRA Volunteer Dan McGandy disappeared during a raid of Mills grenades from Craig’s Engineering Works on the Derry quay.

The 19-year-old failed to rendezvous with comrades of the Ten Foot Pikers, an active service unit of the day.

Reported missing in action on January 20, 1919, and his remains retrieved from the Foyle six weeks later, McGandy, from Barnewall Place, became the first IRA Volunteer to die in Derry and the first recorded casualty of the War of Independence on the IRA side.

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Latter day testimony from senior republicans of the day, and the removal of a British soldier from the river two days after McGandy’s disappearance, strongly suggest he was killed in action while attempting to augment the IRA’s limited arsenal at the time.

On Sunday republicans gathered at McGandy’s graveside in the City Cemetery to remember his part in the struggle for Irish freedom.

After a wreath was laid by Malachi McCormack, Sinn Féin’s Christopher Jackson, delivered the main oration.

“It was the events of Easter Week 1916 that sparked the republican flame inside the 16 year old Daniel Joseph McGandy,” he said, “Following the execution of our leaders a young Dan like so many others across this island took the courageous step and joined the IRA.”

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Colr. Jackson said the incarceration of so many leaders after 1916 propelled young men like McGandy to the forefront of the movement.

“Following the Rising many of the leading republicans in Derry were interned, leaving the struggle in the hands of young volunteers like Dan and by the time of his death in 1919 Dan McGandy was leading an active service unit called the Ten Foot Pikers,” he said.

Colr. Jackson explained how the young Derry man had likely been commandeering explosives with this unit when he lost his life.

“It was the Ten Foot Pikers that discovered that Craig’s foundry in Boating Club Lane opposite Lawrence Hill was manufacturing grenades for the British Army and they set in place an operation that would see over 5,000 grenades safely in the hands of the IRA.

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“This operation was led by Dan McGandy and he would use his cover as a postman to enter the foundry and remove the grenades in his post bag.”

As an aside Colr. Jackson mentioned how McGandy, through his job at the post office, had apparently played a key role in securing the election of Eóin MacNéill to the First Dáil. Michael Sheerin, who was O/C of No. 1 Section of the IRA in Derry on the west bank at the time, later claimed McGandy had arranged to collect all postal votes on the eve of the 1918 General Election. The majority of these would have been recorded for the Unionist, Robert Anderson, but McGandy handed them over to the T.F.P.

Thus, according to Sheerin, thousand of those votes weren’t recorded as intended.

The circumstances of McGandy’s death remain shrouded in mystery, however.

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“On January 20, 1919, an operation had been planned at Craig’s foundry but when Dan failed to show up at the Tech as agreed the active service unit stood down. To this day we don’t know why Dan was unable to meet his comrades but what we do know is that Dan arrived late and being in possession of the key to the foundry he carried out the operation on his own,” said Colr. Jackson.

“Tragically the British Army had been alerted to the actions of the Ten Foot Pikers and ambushed Dan McGandy. Reports at the time claim that a struggle took place along the quay and a number of people were seen entering the river.

“Dans post bag, coat and his revolver were found next to the Quay and it was 6 weeks before his body was recovered. Although we will never know for sure what happened on that fateful night, two days later the body of a British Soldier was recovered from the Foyle and his death certificate states that he died on the same day as Óglach Dan McGandy.”