Denis Sheerin the story of a Freedom Fighter by James Reddiough
The Military Service Pensions Collection has made it possible for historians to chronicle the lives of people who took part in the fight for freedom and this is true of the person in this essay Denis Sheerin who was a very active volunteer in the battles with the British and the Free State forces from 1920 – 1923 in particular. He attained the Rank of Quarter Master of the North Mayo Brigade in 1920. This year 2018 marks 40 years since his death.
The military service pension was awarded to those people whom it was deemed based on their application had taken an active part in the War of Independence and the Civil War. There were two acts one in 1923 and the other in 1934 to broaden out the terms of the pension. The records are now available on – line and are a valuable source for local and national historians.
Denis Sheerin was born in the townland of Coolalagh in the Coolegrane area of Foxford in North Mayo to large family of small farmers in January 1898 and he left the area when he was 19 to work in Swinford where he joined the local company of Volunteers under the command of one Bernard Egan where he saw active service during the Easter Rising by being involved in drilling but he escaped internment and then left for Ballina in June 1917 where he joined the Ballina Company of the Irish volunteers and he took up residence at 3 St. Mary’s Villas off Lord Edward Street in the town. He would remain with the Ballina Volunteers until the ceasefire that ended the Civil War in May 1923. He was on the Republican side during the Civil War. He was at the Callow ambush in August 1922 and also at Drumsheen in September 1922 and the raid of Churchpark near Foxford in the shadow of the Ox Mountains in the early hours of the 7th November 1922 – a very distinguished record indeed!
He took part in many ambushes around the north Mayo district and these are detailed in his application for the pension and by others including Stephen Donnelly in his Witness Statement to the Bureau of Military History in 1956. Sheerin’s application for the pension was made in 1935 and he was granted one on the basis of his involvement. He was at ambushes in his native Foxford at places like Belgarriff and Callow both wars included for 1920 and 1922. Before this he had been at training camps both inside and outside Mayo at the Glensmole Mountains in Wicklow and proved himself a dedicated volunteer at all times. He was also at ambushes in Bonniconlon, Ballina, Ballycastle, Heathfield and Culleens.
There is a long list of engagements for the Tan War and the most notable being the follow up to the ambush at Culleens in CO. Sligo and also the engagements at Clydagh in the Glen near Ballycastle and the ambush at Heathfield also. They covered the west of the Moy area and were referred to as the No. 1 Active Service Unit of the North Mayo Brigade.
Sheerin was imprisoned twice during the Civil war and this would have been at the start in July 1922 and later in 1923 but he escaped on the first occasion and spent some time in captivity the second time. Gaol was a harsh experience under the hands of the Western Command of the Free State forces.
Later in the 1940’s he held the rank of Lieutenant and Captain in the newly formed LDF or local defence force now the reserve force during the war period called the Emergency and he was based in Columb Barracks in Mullingar and was captain of the local company in Ballina at Belleek Manor and then in Mullingar. There is a picture of the local group in drill at Belleek grounds and manor.
Denis was married twice and he lived in Bray after 1952 when he left Ballina and put his property in Ballina up for sale he spent some time working as an usher in the e Department of Justice and then retired. He would spend his final days in a nursing home in Bray the Fitzwilliam Nursing Home and he died in St. Columcille’s Hospital in Loughlinstown, Co. Dublin on the 1st May 1979 aged 81. He had two sons from both marriages.