Civil War in North Kildare
Sept. – Dec. 1922

Part II. The Battle of Pike Bridge

Published in the Liffey Champion, 19th November 2022

Readers may also want to review part I, The Leixlip Anti-Treaty Column.

The Battle of Pike Bridge during the Civil War on the 1st of December 1922 was described by the media at the time as one of the most notable military engagements fought since the commencements of the present conflict. It took place between Maynooth and Leixlip, in the following townlands: Collinstown, Blakestown, Railpark, Donaghmore, Barrogstown and Ballygoran. The encounter was between large contingents of National army and an anti-Treaty Active Service Unit known locally as the Leixlip Column. It resulted in six fatalities, one National army soldier killed in action and the subsequent execution of five anti-treaty activists.

Events leading up to the encounter began three days earlier in Baldonnell Aerodrome. Despite the failure by anti-Treaty forces to capture Baldonnell in early October, the Leixlip Column kept up their contacts with friendly National army personnel based in the aerodrome. However, in late November intelligence received by Paddy Mullaney, officer commanding the Leixlip Column, indicated that the friendly soldiers in the garrison would not be on guard duty in the future. Mullaney acted quickly and with the aid of the friendly soldiers successfully raided the blockhouse in Baldonnell taking away a large quantity of armaments and ammunition, including one Lewis gun with spare parts, ammunition, and three rifles. Some of the friendly soldiers deserted and joined the column at this time linking up with comrades who had deserted some weeks earlier.

On the same day the column also raided several premises in Maynooth which included Joseph Dawson’s shop and the post office run by Alexander Caulfield.

The army authorities acted promptly and later that night established a temporary National Army post of 17 men under Captain Joe Ledwith at Maynooth train station. In addition to curtailing any further raids in the town the unit were also tasked with searching trains travelling to and from Dublin.

Pike Bridge.

The following morning Vice-Commandant Christopher Lynam and two other National army soldiers left Lucan Barracks with rations for the Ledwith party, but the lorry broke down close to Collinstown House halfway between Leixlip and Maynooth. Within a short time, at 9:30 am, they were ambushed by a party of the Leixlip Column. The three soldiers initially escaped and after concealing their weapons headed in the direction of Pike Bridge. In the pursuit that followed their attackers commandeered a car and overtaking the soldiers managed to overpower Lynam and one of his men. However, the third soldier escaped and on reaching Maynooth raised the alarm.

The Leixlip Column had earlier occupied Grangewilliam House which is situated about half a mile south of Pike Bridge. The two captured soldiers were taken to the house and kept under guard in a room.

Captain Ledwith in Maynooth on receiving the details from the soldier who had escaped capture, immediately contacted army units in Dublin, Naas, Trim and Lucan requesting reinforcements.

A small party of six National Army troops who had been travelling on a train through Maynooth, had in their possession a machine gun. Ledwith requisitioned the men and with a combined party of 24 men left Maynooth and proceeded by foot to Pike Bridge which is situated one mile east of the town. Their task was twofold, firstly, to attempt the rescue of the two captured soldiers and secondly, to keep the Leixlip Column busy until reinforcements arrived.

On reaching Pike Bridge the National army party immediately came under fire from a section of the Leixlip Column who had taken up positions in Donaghmore Graveyard. This was ideal as a fortification. It is situated in an open field on the Leixlip side overlooking Pike Bridge. While the anti-Treaty party were virtually entrenched in the graveyard which is surrounded by a stone wall, other members of the column were positioned in Grangewilliam House nearby and also in woodland adjoining the house.

Map of the Pike Bridge area.

From a military point of view the Leixlip Column were in a strong defensive position with the Royal Canal blocking off any means to gain access to their defensive positions. The only way to cross the canal was by Pike Bridge which would leave the soldiers exposed to gunfire from the graveyard and the other anti-Treaty positions.

Reinforcements from Dublin Arrive

On receiving word of the alarming news from Ledwith a substantial force of the National army with General Dan Hogan in charge set out from Dublin for the scene. The party consisted of seven officers and 40 men with one Whippet armoured car, one fiat and five tenders. They travelled initially to Lucan where they picked up a guide who would assist them with local knowledge of the area.

On arrival at the scene of the earlier ambush at Collinstown they were joined by a tender of troops from Naas. Meanwhile at this stage Ledwith’s unit had kept the Leixlip Column engaged at Pike Bridge for over an hour.

At approximately 2 o’clock the reinforcements arrived at the bridge and immediately came under fire. One man in the second vehicle Private William Gilmore was seriously wounded. Private Crowley another soldier describes the activity:

‘…immediately when the first lorry came under fire, the patrol stopped and the soldiers leaped down from their lorries and leaving four of the party to protect the vehicles, jumped the ditch at the roadside and hurried to their comrades assistance.’

The firing had come from Donaghmore Graveyard where their attackers, a section of the Leixlip Column, had a clear view of the main Leixlip / Maynooth road.

The Royal Canal running parallel with the main road acted as a defensive buffer between the two opposing parties. But with superiority in numbers the National army troops within a short time forced the anti-Treaty party to withdraw from the graveyard. At that point the latter joined up with their comrades at Grangewilliam House and in the adjoining wood.

Donaghmore Graveyard.

A plan of action by the National army was now devised which aimed to surround the Leixlip Column by outflanking them in the area of Grangewilliam. Dividing into two groups, one party was sent back to Collinstown House where they crossed the canal at Deey Bridge and proceeded by Kilmacredock to an area at the back of Grangewilliam. Another party, under Commandant Charles Saurin and Captain John Trayers with a Whippet armoured car complete with rotating machinegun, successfully crossed Pike Bridge under fire from the anti-Treaty force and made its way to the side of Grangewilliam House.

The extent of the fire power at this stage was immense. The exchanges by both sides armed with machine guns, rifles and automatic pistols and with armoured cars operating had never been witnessed previously in Kildare.

As the National army advanced in the direction of the house two soldiers part of Ledwith’s unit became separated from the main group. Newspaper accounts gave the following graphic details of two soldiers engaged in battle:

…while crawling forward face downwards in a field which offered a fairly clear view from the wood and the house, both were observed. Fire was opened on them from the direction of the house. [Private Joe] Moran was hit during the first volley and rolled over on his back, shot through the head. His companion still under fire crept over to him, ‘he never spoke a word but just lay quiet still on his back’. Some of the attackers came out of the house and the wood and called on the him to put his hands up. He was then taken prisoner, his captors also removing his dying companion’s rifle and equipment.

With the firing continuing at fever pitch communication was opened between the two sides, with Ledwith, making contact with Mullaney in an unsuccessful effort to obtain the release of the three prisoners in Grangewilliam House.

Grangewilliam House.

At this point additional troops from Mullingar, Baldonnell, Lucan and Dublin were converging on the area. Mullaney had miscalculated the extent of National army reinforcements and eventually realising the danger, withdrew the column from the house taking the prisoners with them. However, as they headed cross-country the burden of the prisoners was too much and they were abandoned. But the retreating men were being closely pursued and found themselves completely outflanked by a big body of highly mechanised troops with an armoured car and a tender patrolling the roads.

According to Mullaney, ‘every side we turned we met a bunch of them’. Effective armoured car use also played a part with one blunt description describing how an armoured car cut the top off a bank where the column were taking cover. At 4 o’clock as the National army circle gradually narrowed the entire Leixlip Column were spotted by a party, under Commandant Saurin and Captain Trayers, at Ballygoran less than one and a half miles south from Grangewilliam.

According to a National army officer:

With ten men I pushed my way along from where fire came from. It was like a chapter from a Red Indian novel we crept along under cover until we suddenly saw about twenty men – three of them in uniform. We hesitated about firing but one of them turning around saw us and immediately they opened fire. We replied of course and it was all over in ten minutes. They all surrendered with their arms and ammunition.

Three of the Leixlip Column: Jack O’Connor, William Wyse and Thomas Kealy were wounded. The fight, which began at Collinstown in the morning had lasted on and off for at least six hours with continuous firing for more than two hours. The following 22 men were captured:
Patrick Mullaney, Terrence Brady, Francis Brennan, Thomas Cardwell, John Curley, James Dempsey, Leo Dowling, John Gaynor, Bertie Hawney, Sylvester Heaney, Thomas Kealy, Charles Kelly, James Kelly, Thomas McCann, Patrick Nolan, Thomas O’Brien, Jack O’Connor, Michael O’Neill, Anthony O’Reilly, Laurence Sheeky, Tim Tyrrell, William Wyse.

Many of the prisoners which included Mullaney, had been arrested previously, with Mick O’Neill and Thomas Kealy having escaped from Dundalk, Thomas Cardwell from Lucan and James Dempsey from Newbridge six weeks previously. The arms captured included: one Thompson gun, one Lewis machine gun, twenty-one rifles, one Mauser automatic pistol, five revolvers, five bombs and over 1,000 rounds of ammunition.

Joe Ledwith.

Tim Tyrrell.

The division among comrades from the War of Independence days is best exemplified by the opposing factions in this encounter. Joe Ledwith of the National army and Tim Tyrrell of the Leixlip Column were both members of the Maynooth Company that participated in Easter Week while Paddy Mullaney and one of his prisoners, Commandant Lynam were both residents of Leixlip.

Five of the column Terrence Brady, Leo Dowling from Suncroft, Sylvester Heaney, Anthony O’Reilly, from Celbridge and Laurence Sheeky when captured were wearing National army uniform. They had deserted their posts in Baldonnell and were subsequently executed.

General Hugo MacNeill, senior officer on the ground during the advance on Grangewilliam House acknowledged to Mullaney, following his capture that ‘you fought a damn good clean fight’. Evidently, MacNeill was giving recognition for the largely conventional engagement by the Leixlip Column who had stood their ground and fought while not harming their prisoners.

The capture of Mullaney, ended the career of the most successful military activist in Kildare during the Irish Revolution. It led to a virtual collapse of organised resistance to the National army in the local area.

ADDENDUM, Centenary event, 2023

On the 8th of January 2023, a wreath-laying ceremony was held at Pike Bridge remembering all six fatalities who died as a result of the Civil War encounter. It was organised by members of the local community to mark the centenary and acknowledge both sides equally. The event adhered to government guidelines regarding marking Civil War centenaries.

Peter Nevin representing the local community laid a wreath and addressed the gathering emphasising that the ceremony remembered all who died as a result of the Pike Bridge encounter. He acknowledged that:

We have reached a level of acceptance of this war [the Civil War] and are prepared to respect the sincerity and bravery of the people involved without prejudice to the objectives of either side. The men who died as a result of this battle, fought bravely in the belief that their solution of Ireland’s future, whether it be on the basis of the Treaty or to continue to seek a Republic. Bravery has no boundaries and it would seem right to believe that in this spirit of reconciliation and understanding that all six men gave their lives for what they believed to be right for Ireland.

He also paid tribute to a local lady Bridget Mary O’Neill who ran to the assistance of Private Joseph Moran of the National army in the wood field as he lay dying, waving a white sheet to indicate her mission amid a hail of gun fire.

The ceremony concluded with Fr. John Nevin MHM (Mill Hill Missionaries), also a native of the district, leading the gathering in prayers for the six men.

Masses in two locations were also offered for the six fatalities. On the 7th of January, Canon Christopher Walsh, a nephew of Paddy Mullaney, celebrated a Mass in his parish in England.

Likewise, on the 14th of January a Mass, which was organised by Leixlip History Club, was offered by Fr. Michael Chimvalenji in Leixlip Parish Church.

The tragic event at Pike Bridge was one of the few encounters during the Civil War where fatalities were from the two opposing sides. The ceremonies on the 7th, 8th and 14th of January are unusual as individuals from both sides in the Civil War divide were honoured equally.


  1. Anti-Treaty IRA report, 30 Nov. 1922 (IMA, S/12008/6)
  2. Official figures of Baldonnell garrison, 12/13 Nov. 1922,
  3. Post-truce claims, Minister for Local Government, Aug. 1923 (NAI, FIN/COMP/2/9/107)
  4. Irish Times, 2 Dec 1922
  5. Irish Independent, 2 Dec 1922
  6. Leinster Leader, 9 Dec. 1922
  7. Paddy Mullaney interview, p. 38 (UCDA, O’Malley notebooks, P17/b/106)
  8. Mick O’Neill interview, p. 48 (UCDA, O’Malley notebooks, P17/b/107)
  9. Michael Hopkinson, Green against Green (Dublin, 2002), p. 220
  10. James Durney, Civil War in Kildare (Cork, 2011), pp 103–7
  11. Christopher Lee, “A damn good clean fight.’ The Last Stand of the Leixlip Flying Column
    (archived as of 7 Oct 2022)
  12. Seamus Cullen, Kildare: The Irish Revolution (Dublin, 2020), pp 125–6, 128
  13. Seamus A. Cummins, ‘Mullaneys Men’ The rise and fall of the anti-Treaty forces in North Kildare, Grangewilliam 1922 (Naas, 2022), pp 25–32, 34–6