Research on the War of Independence in Kerry can throw up some extraordinary stories involving civilians who came close to being caught up in the vicious fighting between the forces of the Crown and the Irish Republican Army a century ago. The story of the niece of Bram Stoker, author of the internationally renowned novel Dracula, who escaped an IRA ambush in Kerry in 1920, is one such remarkable tale.
In the summer of 1920, the IRA campaign against the Royal Irish Constabulary and the Black and Tans was growing in intensity. The ambush was being increasingly employed by the IRA as a tactic of warfare. It had the element of surprise and capitalised on IRA members superior knowledge of their local terrain as well as the intelligence they and the women of Cumann na mBan gathered on the movements of the police.
On Monday, 16 August 1920, several IRA companies in mid-Kerry prepared to ambush a party of Black and Tans – newly arrived in Ireland and in County Kerry – as they travelled on the main road at Beaufort between Killorglin and Killarney.
Among those involved in the planned ambush were Dan Allman of Rockfield (who died in the Headford Junction Ambush of March 1921) and his brother Pat, Jimmy Cronin and Dan Mulvihill of the Milltown IRA, Tommy Woods, Jackie Brosnan, Pa (Mac) Sullivan and brothers Batt and Patrick Riordan of the Firies Company as well as the Daly brothers of Knockaneacoolteen, Tom and Charlie (who was killed in Donegal during the Civil War).
The plan had been to fell a tree on the main Killarney to Killorglin near Beaufort Bridge to block the path of a patrol of Black and Tans and trap them in an ambush. On the morning of the attack however, it was agreed not to block the road but to use a slip road by the bridge to roll an obstacle into the path of the patrol when they were spotted on their advance from Killarney.
The steep slip road on a hill towards Pallas and Lahard, which joined the main road near Beaufort Bridge, was selected to place a horse cart which, at the right time, would be rolled down the hill into the path of the Black and Tans to block their vehicle. This sort of entrapment of police patrols by the placement of obstructions on a roadway was commonplace and, when successful, afforded the attackers the opportunity to fire on their targets.
As they waited for the enemy in the trees overlooking the road, Dan Mulvihill noticed a party of civilians on horseback below the IRA vantage point who were travelling from the Killarney direction and across Beaufort Bridge. Among them was the American writer, journalist and adventurer, Negley Farson and his wife, Enid Eveleen (née Stoker), a niece of the author of Dracula, Bram Stoker.
The couple had been staying with friends at Flesk Castle in Killarney and were most likely on their way to The Reeks in Beaufort, home of the McGillycuddy of the Reeks, whose mother, Agnes, was married to Enid’s uncle, Dr George Stoker. A quarter of a century later, Farson recounted the episode in his autobiography, The Way Of A Transgressor:
‘We went up on horseback through the Gap of Dunloe – riding within three yards of a Sinn Féin ambush that an hour later bushwhacked some British officers.’
The attack didn’t go quite exactly as the American author recalled however. The officers weren’t ‘bushwhacked’ at all. As the Black and Tans approached in their motorcar from Killarney, the signal was given and the cart was released down the hill but it only rolled for a few feet before getting stuck in the ditch and coming to a halt.
The Tans drove onwards and escaped a grenade thrown in the direction of their car by Tom Daly. With the attack a failure, the IRA men scattered in expectation of a police sweep of the district.
In later years, Dan Mulvihill, one of the IRA members involved, recalled that he read Dracula and that he ‘liked it.’
For this and other stories of the War of Independence in mid-Kerry, check out my book on the Ballymacandy Ambush which was published by Merrion Press in 2021: