The very first time a Thompson sub-machine was fired in a military conflict anywhere in the world was on Dublin’s northside.
Variously nicknamed the Tommy gun, the Chopper or the Chicago Typewriter (after its widespread use by Prohibition-era gangsters in that city), the weapon had been invented two and a half years previous to its 1921 appearance on Dublin streets, by John T Thompson in the USA, who had designed it specifically as a “trench broom” for infantry to use when crossing no man’s land. But it had arrived too late for use in WW1 and had therefore not been tested by the time it reached Dublin.
The Thompson was a terrifying development in warfare: it handed rapid automatic firepower at the rate of 700 rounds per minute (previously the reserve of a larger fixed-position machine gun with a crew of two) to a single mobile infantryman. It meant every infantryman had the potential to take out dozens.
Imported by the IRA through contacts in the US military and the Chicago police force, the first three to get here were tested in a cellar in Marino by flying column commander Tom Barry in the presence of IRA leader Michael Collins and Richard Mulcahy, later Defence Minister and leader of Fine Gael.
Impressed, the latter ordered two drum-fed Thompsons to be handed over to 1916 veteran and Howth gun runner Oscar Traynor, who had just lead the famous all-out attack on the Custom House which involved a gun fight between 120 IRA men and an equal number of British auxiliaries.
Traynor took the two Thompsons and promptly set up an ambush on June 16, 1921 overlooking the railway line in Drumcondra at St Brendan’s Road, St Clement’s Road and St Columba’s Road. More IRA men were positioned on a footbridge over the line. Their target was a troop train leaving Dublin containing 300 British soldiers just arrived in Ireland and headed to the Curragh Camp.
As it crawled towards the footbridge at Drumcondra the IRA lobbed two grenades into the carriages and opened up with pistols and one of the Thompsons (the other had jammed).
Before the train escaped the Thompson had discharged more than 60 rounds The British authorities reported just one soldier killed and two others injured but given the state of the train after the attack and the number of ambulances rushed to the scene of their emergency stop at the Phoenix Park, many doubted they were telling the full truth.
Nonetheless international reports of 650-plus Tommy guns intercepted by US customs en route to the IRA, combined with its first outing in the Irish conflict against British troops, had an influential effect in bringing the British into the negotiation process that ended the war.
Several more attacks using Thompsons followed, including one the following month on a troop train at Ballyfermot in which a Thompson gun actually set the train on fire. Perhaps it was no coincidence that hostilities ceased just one month after its arrival and the Treaty was signed by December of that year.
Ironically, it was also a Thompson that fired the first shots of the Troubles in 1969.
Oscar Traynor, who gave the Thompson its first outing in any armed conflict, ended up commanding the anti-Treaty IRA in Dublin during the Civil War that followed, fighting from Barry’s Hotel in the Battle of Dublin. Later, after the war he was elected to the Dáil as a Fianna Fáil TD and became Ireland’s WW2 Minister for Defence. Finally, he was made Minister for Justice.
As he began his political career Traynor bought a house not far from the scene of his ambush at Dollymount Avenue in Clontarf, where he brought up his family. Traynor, born in Abbey Street and the son of a book seller, had also had a career as an international football star, playing in goals with the now-defunct Belfast Celtic.
Later in life he was president of the FAI. Known as a truly honest politician, he died in 1963 just two years after retiring from his ministerial position.
Today Oscar Traynor’s former home Carbery at 14 Dollymount Road has been placed on the market seeking €950,000. It was sold to the present owners by the Traynor family 45 years ago.
While in generally good condition and clean inside, the house is in need of updating all round. Built between the wars, it has the full red-brick frontage which is sought after by buyers of homes from this era as well as a characteristic two-storey bay window column. Old home proportions mean it will appeal to those with large families or anyone requiring a lot of space.
With four bedrooms and 1,690 sq ft, it’s almost twice the size of an average semi as it stands. Also notable is a rear garden of a fifth of one acre which stretches 120 ft long.
It’s currently divided in half by shrubbery for manageability and would be a welcome attribute for those with energetic kids or a penchant for growing their own vegetables – the original purpose of gardens this size.
This also suits those who might want to reconfigure the back of the house and provide a modern kitchen/diner and living-room extension.
The location is on the street that links St Anne’s Park with its famous rose garden at one end, to the Clontarf sea-front promenade at the other. Likely the buyer will give it complete overhaul
The house has its original front door and hall floor-boards.
There’s under-stairs storage, and a door leads in to a living room with timber floor, a mahogany and tile fireplace and interconnecting double doors to the dining room, also with timber floor.
From here double doors lead again to the conservatory. There’s a breakfast room with a tiled fireplace, a kitchen with a double oven and the tiled conservatory leads out to the massive garden.
There’s a shower room with a Triton T90si and a landing upstairs with attic access.
Two of the four bedrooms are large doubles and there’s a family bathroom, also on this floor with another T90si and a separate WC, as was typical of the era.
There’s a garage to the side of the house with access to the rear garden and this could provide an additional reception room. The front garden has parking for four vehicles and you can leave your Thompson in the porch.
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