National Army Soldier (Sergeant) Thomas Nolan


National Army Soldier (Sergeant) Thomas Nolan (aged 24) of ‘Old Staff House’, Burren Street, Carlow town (Killeen near Ballymakeera)

Date of incident: 4 Dec. 1922

Sources: Death Certificate (Slievereagh District, Union of Macroom), 5 [recte 4] Dec. 1922; CE, 7, 8, 9, 11, 18 Dec. 1922; Evening Herald, 7 Dec. 1922; Belfast Newsletter, 8 Dec. 1922; SS, 9 Dec. 1922; FJ, 9 Dec. 1922; MSPC/2D119 (Military Archives); Sean O’Mahony Papers, MS 44057/3 (NLI); O’Farrell, Who’s Who, 209; Ó Héalaithe (2014), 240-48, esp. 243, 247; Keane (2017), 333, 419-20.


Note: Sergeant Thomas Nolan was killed in action on Monday, 4 December 1922, while fighting for the Free State at Ballymakeera. According to his death certificate, he died from shock and haemorrhage owing to bullet wounds at Killeen (Ballyvourney parish) in the Macroom district. His death was instantaneous. See Death Certificate (Slievereagh District, Union of Macroom), 5 [recte 4] Dec. 1922.

In this well-planned and well-executed action, a large party of Irregulars (estimated to number from 150 to 200), with the aid of an armoured car seized earlier in Bandon, launched a surprise attack on Free State troops stationed in the small village (population about 200) of Ballymakeera early on the morning of 4 December. The village is located about 8 or 9 miles from Macroom on the road to Killarney, and about a mile or two from Ballyvourney. Steps were taken by felling trees and blocking roads and bridges to prevent reinforcements from arriving quickly. A hundred Free State troops were quartered in Ballymakeera under Commander P. Mooney, with many of the soldiers staying in the local Hibernian Hotel and others billeted in houses in the village. The Irregulars used their armored car and its machine guns with effect, pouring fire into the headquarters hotel. It was alleged that the attacking Irregulars, ‘ignoring apparently the safety of the civilian population, shot up the whole village with machine guns, rifles, revolvers, hand grenades, bombs, and every other destructive device that could be employed’. After some five hours of fighting, the Free State forces surrendered unconditionally, and ninety of the men were marched out of the village as prisoners of the IRA. The published list of Free State casualties included one dead (Sergeant Nolan) and fifteen wounded. Free State forces soon retook possession of the village. Later newspaper reports about this incident focused on the action of a reputed spy for the Irregulars within the Free State forces based in Bandon; this National Army soldier (named as McPeak) was able to drive the armoured car called the ‘Slievenamon’ out of the Bandon Military Barracks on 2 December 1922 and into the possession of anti-Treaty IRA forces, who were able to make use of it at Ballymakeera, where it was crucial to their success. It was claimed that this spy had also been in charge of the armoured car when Michael Collins was killed at Béal na mBláth, and again more recently when Free State General Thomas Ennis was ambushed; on the first occasion, it was said, the machine gun on the car had only one belt of ammunition, and on the second occasion the machine gun had mysteriously jammed. See CE, 7 Dec. 1922.

The ‘Slievenamon’ was soon traced to the hills overlooking Gougane Barra and recovered there in a farmyard, where it was positioned between two ricks of straw .and covered under a pile of furze. When Free State troops returned to Macroom with the famous armored car, ‘they received a great ovation’. See CE, 11 Dec. 1922. See also Sean O’Mahony Papers, MS 44057/3 (NLI).

At the time of his death Thomas Nolan was serving as a sergeant in the 32nd Infantry Division of the National Army. The victim’s father Michael Nolan was eventually awarded a dependant’s allowance in consideration of his son’s death. The father was for a time a small-scale pig dealer, but when his son was killed, he was forced to move temporarily into the County Home in Carlow town. Earlier, he had lived in lodgings with his deceased son at the ‘Old Staff House’ on Burren Street in Carlow. In April 1924 Michael Nolan was awarded a dependant’s allowance of 15s. a week, which was made retroactive to 1 January 1923, and on 7 May 1924 he was sent a cheque for £55 10s. 2d., which was cashed the next day! See MSPC/2D119 (Military Archives). 

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