Cross Border Smuggling in the 1940s and 1950s.

Rare things smuggled – 5-10-1940. Five tons of onions were seized by an R.U.C. Customs patrol at the Border near Clones. They were being unloaded from a lorry on the Monaghan side and carried across to a horse and cart on the other side.

A smuggling secret – 7-12-1940. At Derrylin Petty Sessions there were several successful prosecutions for possession of cigarettes which had come from Eire. The Customs Officer, Mr. Dickson, pointed out a secret of his trade by showing that in the words “W. D. & H. O. Wills” printed on every cigarette, the “&” had no tail above the downward stroke on the Northern Ireland cigarette, while a tail was visible on the Free State “&”. At the same court numerous cyclists were summonsed for offences. The fines imposed were:- not having a mask on the headlamp, 5s with 2s costs; no rear light 3s with 3s costs; not having more than one brake 2s with 2s costs; no bell 1s with 2s costs.

Smuggling eggs – 7-12-1940. The importation of eggs to the Six Counties was prohibited at the weekend. It had lately developed into a lucrative enterprise for 26 county poultry producers with eggs at 4d per dozen more north of the Border. About 6 to 8 dozen Ballyshannon producers regularly exported to Belleek. Pettigo poultry farmers are in a sorry plight as there is not a registered egg dealer within 18 miles on the Donegal side and they had previously sold all their eggs in Northern Ireland. Large seizures of eggs taken across the Border were made in Belleek and Pettigo since and the bringing of turkeys across the Border for sale is likely to be similarly prohibited.

Faithful friends in smuggling – 14-12-1940. Faithful dog at Belleek. A small farmer with his donkey and cart containing three pigs were apprehended at Belleek by Six Counties customs. The farmer was allowed to go home but the donkey and cart with pigs was detained in a yard in the village while the Customs investigated their suspicion that they were smuggled. The farmer’s dog which had accompanied them could not be persuaded either by coaxing or coercion to leave the donkey and cart and spent the night with them. Next day the pigs were forfeited but the donkey and cart released and the dog accompanied his inseparable companion home.

A smuggling battle – 6-4-1940. The scene of the “battle” between 90 flour smugglers and fourteen Guards and Customs men, was mountainous Moneygashel, near Blacklion, two or three miles from Cuilcagh Mountain and about a mile from the Shannon Pot, the source of Ireland’s largest river. The authorities were lying in wait near Moneygashel School awaiting a party of fourteen men who had crossed from Leitrim into Fermanagh to obtain flour which was about 8 shillings a sack cheaper in Northern Ireland. It was then stashed near the border and conveyed south by teams of donkeys across fields and bye-ways until the smugglers met the county road at Moneygashel.

On the night of the 27th the authorities lay in wait but never expected the huge convoy of over 100 donkeys and mules each carrying one or two hundredweights of flour and attended by about 90 men armed with sticks. When they were challenged the men were determined to break through and hand to hand combat began under a cloud covered moon with donkeys rushing too and fro braying, and men swearing and shouting. The apparent leader was on horseback and encouraged his men as he slashed at the fourteen engaged on behalf of the State. The narrow roadway hampered the attackers and eventually the authorities began to get the upper hand and at this juncture the attackers grabbed additional ammunition from the stone ditches and forced the authorities back. Still they held the roadway and in the morning when the smugglers had melted away seventy donkeys were gathered up and over two tons of flour apart from a huge amount spilled over the road and fields.

All of the Customs men took sick leave the following day as nobody was unscathed while Sergeant T. J. Rocks, who was in charge of the party was confined to his bed with a large gash to his head in which three stitches had been inserted. Many arrests have been made.

Big time smuggling – 11-11-1950. Big Belleek Seizure. On Sunday Sergt.  Cordher and Constables. Forde and Mc Alinden seized a Ford 8 car with 9,300 cigarettes, 15lbs of butter and other articles from John Johnston, New Lodge Road, Belfast. The goods were in the upholstery of the car. Released on bail of £300 and a surety for the same amount. Garrison police seized 3,000 cigarettes on the Kiltyclogher border.

Bare faced smuggling – 20-12-1958. Belleek man fined £100 on Customs charge at Ballyshannon – Detained pending payment of penalty. Patrick Greenan, Commons, Belleek, was fined £100 for importing 3cwt of wheaten flour to Eire. He and Andrew Duffy were seen wheeling two wheelbarrows containing goods down Belleek Street. They were observed by Constable Mc Kee of Belleek RUC who informed Seamus Hogan APO, Cloghore Customs Post. Charges against John James Greenan, Clyhore and J. J. Greenan and Sons, Ltd, Cloghore were dropped.

Smuggling fines were generally in the region of £100 and this was invariably out of the reach of the person caught and from around this area they would be sent to serve a prison sentence, generally of six months, to Belfast’s Crumlin Road. From Belleek the two local taxi men, Gilpin Irwin and Jimmy Greenan got the job alternately of running the guilty party to the Crumlin Road Jail in Belfast. On this occasion Jimmy had the run and the prisoner with two policemen as escorts set off for Belfast after the court in Belleek. Jimmy was a man fond of a drink and obviously the two police were also and they stopped first in Lack, then Omagh and Ballygawley and did not get to the prison until 9 where they found it closed for the night. The prisoner would have to be lodged in a barrack cell in Belfast and lodged in prison the next morning. This was done and Jimmy and the two policemen had a convivial night in Belfast. In the morning when they went to the barrack to collect their prisoner and take him to the prison they found he was gone. Someone had paid the £100 fine, he had been traced to his barrack cell, freed, given a train ticket to return to the loving bosom of his family and while they stood there looking at each other he was on his way home. As Jimmy and the two policemen rounded the corner of Belleek’s street there was their former prisoner waving at them – home before them. The two policemen received a severe caution and could have lost their jobs and Jimmy was not awarded another prisoner transfer from Belleek for over a year.

Along the Border in a short stretch between Pettigo and Scraghy there were seven country shops on the Southern side who all flourished during the time of smuggling. On shop called Haughey’s did a roaring trade in cigarettes and tobacco. It was believed that at the weekends it did a trade as good as a shop on O’Connell Street in Dublin. It was a one room shop that served only one customer at a time. Nobody wanted anyone else to know their business – how much of any item they were buying.

And finally another odd smuggling offence – 1-4-1939. Corsets. A fine of £100 with a strong recommendation to the Revenue Commissioners that it be greatly reduced was imposed on Miss Annie Jane Mills at Pettigo Court. She was charged with having being knowingly concerned in the evasion of payment of customs duty on corsets imported by her. She had been in the drapery business in the South and had come back to Pettigo to look after her aged mother and had an agency for a brand of corsets but got little sale for them as they were too expensive.


One comment on “Cross Border Smuggling in the 1940s and 1950s.

  1. Jan Hart says:

    Childhood memories! I remember now being told by my parents c. 1955 about the cigarette smuggling across the border! A favoured hiding place was behind the car door panel. This went on on a regular basis and I am relieved not to see my parents names cited in this article!

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