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  • Christina Drummond

Constable James Briggs DCM, MM, the Royal Irish Constabulary

Remembering the Fallen: on this day in 1921, Constable James Briggs DCM, MM, the Royal Irish Constabulary, was killed at Kylebeg Cross in the Modreeny townland, County Tipperary, during the Irish War of Independence..

His patrol, consisting of twelve men on bicycles following sixteen others in vehicles, was travelling from Borrisokane to the Petty Sessions at Cloughjordan Courthouse, when they were ambushed mid-way by the IRA’s North Tipperary flying column. (Rather moving was the report that one of them had been singing “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles” as they rode along). The journey was made necessary due to the courthouse at Borrisokane having earlier come under attack by the IRA and thereby rendered unusable. IRA Commandant Sean Gaynor had received information of the convoy from an RIC constable, and planned the exact place for the ambush due to its remote location, plus it was at a bend in the road surrounded by high ground, so it was tactically ideal. Gaynor was unsure as to the credibility of the information as he was not confident that he could trust his informant, so he took over twenty Volunteers with him, armed with rifles and revolvers. When they attacked, the leading RIC vehicle escaped damage and took off for reinforcements. Constable Briggs was killed instantly, three other constables died the following day, and four more were seriously injured but recovered. The IRA ceased firing after half-an-hour, anticipating RIC reinforcements from Nenagh, a town seven miles away; one of them was seen to wear a rosary around neck as he fired. During what became known as the Modreeny Ambush, none of the IRA Volunteers died.

Constable Briggs had joined the RIC early in 1920. During the Great War he had served with the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Scots Fusiliers. He won the Military Medal in August of 1917 for taking control of his unit at Frezenburg, near the village of Zonnebeke in West Flanders, after the commander had been killed. He was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal in October of 1918, the citation for which reads: “For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty during operations east of Ypres. On the 5th October 1918 he located a machine gun post by a daylight patrol and during the night raided it, capturing two heavy and one light machine gun.”

His mother wrote this poignant poem from his memoriam card:

"Oh! why was he taken, so young and so fair, when the earth held so many, it surely could spare? Hard, hard was the blow that compelled us to part, with one so loving, so dear to our hearts. Friends may forget him, his mother will never; he will live in my heart till life's journey is done. Lord, teach me to live that when my life is ended, I'll be met at the gates by my dear hero son."

James, from Garlieston in Scotland, was 29 years old.

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