General Sean Mc Eoins’ Forge

General Sean Mc Eoins Blacksmith Forge at Ballinalee, County Longford.

History & Info
The Blacksmiths forge of General Sean MacEoin (also known as John Joseph McKeon), is situated just outside the historical village of Ballinalee. McEoin , also known as ‘The Blacksmith of Ballinalee’, is one of the most celebrated military heros of the Irish War of Independence. The eldest son of Andrew Mckeon and Catherine Treacy he was a leader of the Free Irish people, and prominent politically in the peace which followed the signing of the treaty in 1921. He was elected as TD for Longford-Westmeath in the general election of 1921 and upon retiring from the army in 1929 he served as Minister of Justice from 1948-1951 and Minister of Defense from 1954-1957. He also stood unsuccessfully on two occassions as Fine Gael candidate for the Presidency of Ireland. He was Known as the “Blacksmith of Ballinalee” due to the fact that at 19 years of age, upon his fathers death in Feburary 1913, he took over the family blacksmith business in Ballinalee in order to support his mother and siblings.

Mac Eoin was responsible for devising the “Flying Column” military tactic in which his IRA force massed to attack Royal positions and then quickly dispersed. Attacks were successfully carried out at Drumlish and Ballinamuck Barracks, among other places. His heroism and compassion make his life story the stuff of legends. The most famous encounter against the British forces took place at the village of Ballinalee on 3rd November 1920 when MacEoin and his 300 IRA volunteers successfully defended the village against 900 rampaging British troops. It was the only successful defense of a town ro village in all of Ireland and gained McEoin much respect and admiration.

He was captured in a bloody action at Mullingar in April 1921. Although he was unarmed and alone, he was shot trying to escape his abduction from the Dublin train, and sentenced to death by the British. However, MacEoin had in Michael Collins a friend who would not abandon him. A most ambitious attempt to rescue him from Mountjoy prison almost succeeded. It involved the capture of a British army whippet armoured car which was driven straight into the jail by the IRA. The plan did fail but after the truce was declared in July 1921, and Collins led the negotiations in London for the permanent peace, he threatened to break off those negotiations unless MacEoin was freed. DeValera, by the way, strongly opposed this move, fearing that it would endanger the peace talks. In August 1921, Sean MacEoin was released by the British. He married Alice Cooney the next year at St Mels Cathedral in Longford in the presence of Michael Collins, Arthur Griffith and many other distinguished political figures.

Alice was at his side through all his political campaigns, during his service in the Dail and as Minister, and thereafter when he retired to private life in Longford. General Sean Mac Eoin died on the 7th July 1973 and is buried together with his wife Alice in St Emers cemetary in Ballinalee, Co Longford. A memorial statue to honour Mac Eoin was recently unveiled in the village of Ballinalee by Taoiseach Enda Kenny, and a dedicated website detailing his life was also launched :  http://www.seanmaceoin.ie/

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