Anti-Treaty nurse drugged guards to aid soldier’s escape

The Waterford files: Bill Lennon faced execution for deserting National Army

County: Waterford
Incident: During the Civil War, National Army laid siege to anti-Treaty forces holding at key locations
Date: July 18th-20th, 1922

A nurse sympathetic to the anti-Treaty side in the Civil War drugged soldiers guarding a man who had deserted the National Army.

Bill Lennon from Clasmore in Co Waterford faced possible execution when he was captured in Dungarvan in early October 1922.

At the time, both carrying arms without a permit and desertion from the National Army were capital offences.


Men who opposed the Treaty “quietly and unobtrusively” set about persuading some of their ex-colleagues who joined the National Army to switch sides, according to a note in the Brigade Activity Records of the Waterford Brigade.

A report of the activities of the 7th battalion stated that the anti-Treaty side had built up an arsenal of weapons. Emboldened by their haul, they were successful in their attempts to get some of their old comrades to switch sides.

One of them was Lennon, who had “rendered good and faithful service as a member of a column operating in west Waterford in pre-truce days”.

By way of atonement, Lennon walked into the battalion headquarters with his National Army rifle, revolver and as much ammunition as he could carry.

Lennon was wounded in an exchange of fire with the National Army and taken to Dungarvan Hospital, where he was treated under armed guard.

“Now came the ticklish part of the job. Some hours previously, the nurse in charge had been interviewed and had agreed to administer a sleeping draft to the enemy officer and also to any or all of the other patients if she deemed it advisable.”

The rescue party evaded the two sentries and spirited Lennon to safety. The 7th battalion report concluded: “So ended an adventure which was in keeping with that spirit of chivalry and comradeship which has been marked characteristic of the IRA.”

One of the biggest engagements of the Civil War was in Waterford city, when the National Army laid siege to anti-Treaty forces holding the city’s General Post Office, Granville Hotel and Adelphi Hotel.

"We were under constant machine gun and rifle fire and 18 pounders for three days and were (owing to lack of sleep and rest), the order being given by GHQ to retreat to Butlerstown Castle which they held for some two weeks and had to surrender after heavy fighting."

Thomas Greehy’s mother was refused a dependent’s allowance for her dead son because he was “illegitimate”.

Greehy was killed in a booby-trap explosion by National Army forces in March 1923.

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