AN appeal for tracing a Borders family has been made from the descendants of Irish policemen killed in an IRA attack almost a century ago.

Among the 11 Royal Irish Constabulary officers who died in the Dromkeen ambush was a 23-year-old officer from Galashiels.

Henry Smith had only been in Ireland for a month before the fatal attack.

Next February, to commemorate the centenary of the ambush, descendants of the killed officers hope to hold simple ceremonies at the graves of each of the men.

Although the Peeblesshire News, with help from Scottish Borders Council and the Borders Family History Society, has been able to locate Henry’s grave at Eastlands Cemetery, it remains unknown if there are any surviving family members.

In the family plot are Henry’s father, Thomas, who had died in 1905, Henry’s sister, May, who died aged just 13 in 1915, and his mother, Julia (nee Pentelton), who died aged 75 in 1942.

Thomas Foody, whose great-uncle Patrick Foody was killed in the attack, is hoping that acts of remembrance will be held at each grave on February 3, 2021.

He told us: “Of the 11 constables who were killed, five were Irish, four English and two Scottish.

“Samuel Adams came from Lanark and Henry Smith from Galashiels – we feel it is important to remember these men who had only come to Ireland a month or two earlier.

“They came here to join a police force not knowing they would soon lose their lives in a civil war.

“It would be a great day for the families if we could remember all of these men who were killed on that day.”

As civil unrest intensified in Ireland following the Easter Uprising of 1916, the Irish War of Independence was declared three years later.

To bolster the Royal Irish Constabulary a recruitment drive across England, Scotland and Wales led to almost 10,000 men enlisting.

The majority of the men who began crossing the Irish Sea in 1920 were unemployed former soldiers from World War I.

By the start of 1921 almost half of the RIC in the trouble spots was made up of British recruits, becoming known as Black and Tans due to the colour of their uniforms.

Henry Smith arrived in Ireland at the start of January 1921 and, like other Black and Tans, he was sent to the south-west where Republican militia was most active.

Samuel Adams from Lanark had only arrived a month earlier.

By this time guerilla tactics by Republican volunteers had led to sporadic gun fights and deaths of policemen and others connected to the British Government across much of the country.

But as 1920 drew to a close, reprisals from Royal Irish Constabulary and British recruits were becoming more and more brutal.

On St Stephen’s Day in 1920 the already hated Black and Tans captured around 100 IRA volunteers at a party in County Limerick.

The following beatings and humiliation handed out to the Republican activists inflamed an already hostile environment.

On January 21 a new British government policy to execute anyone found with a gun also led to the shooting of five prisoners at Cork.

The IRA was looking for revenge – and it came on February 3.

The East- and Mid-Limerick Flying Columns established that a convoy with payroll was sent from the New Pallas RIC headquarters in East Limerick to Fedamore on the first Thursday of every month.

And the two-vehicle convoy used the same 11-miles route each time.

On Thursday, February 3, 1921 around 45 IRA volunteers took their well-planned positions behind walls on either side of a long straight road at Dromkeen House - many in the graveyard of a redundant church..

Barricades were also to be set up at either end of the straight to prevent escape.

At around 2.30pm the two RIC lorries arrived at Dromkeen.

In the ensuing ambush two of the RIC, constable Cox and district inspector Sanson, who weren’t in uniform, managed to escape across fields and seek help.

But most of the others in the two lorries were killed relatively quickly in the grenade and bullet attack, offering little in the way of resistance.

As the firing ended, it was found that Henry Smith and 24-year-old Arthur Pearce, who came from Liverpool, were seriously wounded, but still alive.

Both men were taken to a nearby farmhouse and a priest was brought in to provide the men comfort.

RIC statements provide details of the wounded men being taken from the road.

They state: “When the last shot had been fired the attackers seized the police rifles and ammunition, and disappeared.

“The people (civilians) then rushed out, and were horror stricken at the sight which met their eyes

“The wounded were taken to Mr English’s and Mr McCarthy’s, where the women did all that was possible to make them comfortable and stop the flow of blood.

“Mr English said that after the fight he came out of his house and heard cries coming from behind the wall, and on going over he saw a man there.

“He asked was he a Catholic, and on the wounded man replying that he was, Mr English sent for Father Nolan, who came up immediately and attended him.

“After Father Nolan had finished, Mr English, with help of Mrs Keys and Miss McCarthy, assisted the constable over the wall and took him into the kitchen.

“He was wounded through the lung, under the right arm, and died on the way into Limerick.”

When Crown forces arrived at Dromkeen they found the two wounded constables in the nearby farmhouses were still alive.

Conflicting reports suggest the men either died on their way to Limerick or later in the hospital.

The official RIC incident report states: “During the night the wounded constables died in the military hospital Limerick and their condition from the outset being hopeless.

“The constables who succumbed to their wounds were Arthur Pierce [sic], 24 years, a native of Liverpool with two months’ service, and Harry [sic] Smith, 22, a Scotchhman [sic], with one month’s service.“

In total 11 policemen were killed during the Dromkeen Ambush.

In the aftermath of the attacks, British soldiers burned down the houses of several families they suspected of involvement in the IRA operation.

But the ambush was seen as a moral victory for the Republican movement.

Just two months later Ireland was partitioned to create two countries, and a ceasefire was declared in the July of the same year.

The Anglo-Irish Treaty, which formally ended British rule in most of Ireland, was signed on December 6, 1921.

But the eventual peace and independence for the Republic of Ireland had come at a cost with hundreds of deaths on either side during the two-year War of Independence.

In February, 2009 around 2,000 people attended the unveiling of a monument erected at the site of the Dromkeen ambush to honour the leaders and volunteers of the East and Mid Limerick brigades of the IRA.

During the ceremony Father Liam Ryan said that he not only wanted honour the Irish freedom-fighters but also the 11 RIC men as well.

He told the gathering: "The 11 men who died here never knew what they were fighting for, and certainly never knew what they died for.

“That is sad, that is tragic, that is a terrible waste of human life.”

The 11 men killed at Dromkeen on February 3, 1921 were Constable Samuel Adams, 21, Constable George William Bell, 21, Constable John Joseph Bourke, 30, Constable Michael Doyle, 31, Constable Patrick Foody, 44, Constable William Hayton, 21, Constable William Kingston, 36, Constable Sydney Millin, 24, Constable Bernard Mollaghan, 43, Constable Arthur Pearce, 23, and Constable Henry Smith, 23.

It is hoped that all 11 men will be remembered next February during simple ceremonies at their graves.

If you know of any living relatives of Henry Smith, please contact Tommy Foody at