19 December 1919: The IRA attempted to assassinate the British Lord Lieutenant on this day. The attack was carried out at Ashtown, in County Dublin. The IRA had been trying to assassinate Lord French for about three months. The IRA ambush party consisted of: Mick McDonnell, Tom Kehoe, Martin Savage[above], Sean Tracey, Seamus Robinson, Sean Hogan, Paddy Daly (Leader), Vincent Byrne, Tom Kilkoyne, Joe Leonard, and Dan Breen.
It was known that Lord French was due to alight from the train station at Ashtown before proceeding in a two car convoy to the Vice Regal Lodge in the Phoenix Park. As he generally travelled in the 2nd car the plan was based around separating the two vehicles through a ruse and then kill the target before the occupants of the other could intervene. It was decided to draw a hay cart some way across the crossroads where Kelly’s Public House* is situated. Once the 1st car had passed by two volunteers would complete the blocking of the road and that would be the signal for the attack. The plan almost came unstuck right at the start as a DMP man appeared on the scene and ordered them to stop. He was knocked unconscious and dragged aside.
There were two cars in Lord French's convoy taking him from the Ashtown railway station to the Vice-Regal Lodge in the Phoenix Park. The ambushers thought he would be in the second car but he was in the first and drove through their blockade. A fierce gun battle then broke out as the ambushers turned their attention on the 2nd car but it quickly became apparent that their intended victim had made good his escape. Two DMP men (D/Sgt Halley and Constable O'Loughlin), the driver of the second car (McEvoy) and one of the attackers (Dan Breen) were wounded.
With all hell breaking loose Martin Savage and another man took position behind the hay cart and opened up. Further members of the Crown Forces had now arrived on the scene and the volunteers were coming under rifle fire. Armed only with revolvers and pistols and a few grenades Savage decided to lob one of the bombs at their opponents but as he attempted to do so a Sgt. Rumbold shot him down. He died in the arms of Dan Breen
At the inquest a few days later the Jury recorded that:
We find that Martin Savage died from a bullet fired by a military escort and we beg to tender our sympathy to the relatives of the deceased.
Martin Savage’s remains were returned to his native Ballisodare, Co. Sligo where he was buried with full honours before a large crowd of local people and sympathisers. In 1948, The National Graves Association erected a memorial to Savage close to the site of the ambush at Ashtown Cross. In recent years due to road widening the memorial was removed to its present location. There is an annual commemoration of his death at the site of the ambush.
* Now the Halfway House