During the Irish Civil War, five prisoners from Irish Republican Army (IRA) Kerry No. 3 Brigade are killed at Bahaghs, near Cahersiveen, County Kerry, on March 12, 1923. They are taken from a National Army post in the town at gunpoint by Dublin Guard officers under protest from the garrison.
The government and military consistently claim the men died while clearing a land mine although it is generally believed, especially in Republican circles, that the five men were victims of an horrific war crime which saw them shot and strapped to a mine by an Irish Free State death squad.
The victims of the shocking and notorious incident are Michael Courtney Jnr, Eugene Dwyer, Daniel Shea, John Sugrue and William Riordan, all from the Waterville area. The five men are held by Free State troops at Bahaghs workhouse, then in use as a temporary detention centre, following their arrest for irregular activities several days earlier.
In the early hours of March 12 members of the Free State’s Dublin Guard, who had been tasked with defeating irregular forces in Kerry and who had earned a notorious reputation for brutality in the process, arrive at the workhouse and select five of the twenty men in custody there. The five are then brought to an irregular roadblock several miles away where the IRA men are, allegedly, shot in the legs before being laid over a land mine which is detonated by the Free state troops blowing the five men to pieces.
The Bahaghs killings are part of a series of deaths which begin with another horrific incident on March 6, 1923 in which five soldiers are killed by a booby trap bomb at the village of Knocknagoshel. Immediately after the Knocknagoshel incident the Free State commander for Kerry, Maj. Gen. Paddy O’Daly, previously head of Michael Collin‘s Dublin assassination squad, authorises the use of republican prisoners to clear mined roads, as “the only alternative left us to prevent the wholesale slaughter of our men.” Two separate incidents occur the following day in which thirteen additional Republican prisoners are killed by land mines.
When questioned in the Dáil by Labour Party leader Thomas Johnson, the National Army’s commander-in-chief, Gen. Richard Mulcahy, says he accepts the findings of a military court of inquiry which exonerates the troops of all wrongdoing in any of the incidents.
In recent years, previously confidential state papers have been released which shed new light on one of Kerry’s most terrible episodes. The evidence in the file sharply contradicts the official line on the killings and paints a damning portrait of Free State army brutality and subsequent government efforts to cover up three massacres perpetrated by its troops in Kerry.
Further documents prove that a top official in the Ministry of Home Affairs utterly dismissed the findings of a military inquiry into the killings but the cabinet of the day took no action and rejected all claims for compensation by relatives.
Nothing has ever been done in relation to the three Kerry massacres after the executive council decision and, to this day, the true events of Bahaghs, Countess Bridge and, most famously, Ballyseedy have never been revealed.
(Pictured: Irish Republican Army Brigade in County Kerry)