seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Knocknagoshel Booby Trapped Mine Attack

Five Free State soldiers, including three officers are killed by a booby trapped mine while clearing a road in Knocknagoshel, County Kerry, on March 6, 1923, during the Irish Civil War. Another soldier is badly wounded. National Army commander Paddy Daly issues a memorandum that Republican prisoners are to be used to clear mined roads from now on.

A party of eight Free State soldiers are sent to investigate a tip-off about an Irish Republican Army (IRA) arms dump. The tip-off is a ruse devised by the local IRA brigade to lure the enemy into a trap. At about 2:00 AM as they move stones to investigate the location where arms are allegedly buried, a mine explodes. Body parts are “strewn in all directions.” Paddy O’Connor, Michael Galvin, Laurence O’Connor, Michael Dunne and Edward Stapleton die instantly and a sixth is so badly injured, his legs are amputated. The IRA members who set the mine are hiding in a dugout about a mile away. The Knocknagoshel explosion represents the highest daily death toll among the Free State army in over six months.

Retaliation is swift and ferocious. Over the following two weeks, nineteen Republican prisoners die in County Kerry at the hands of the Free State. Knocknagoshel prompts an army statement that any future barricades or obstructions on the roads will be removed by republican prisoners. In his letter to officers in the Kerry Command, Brigadier Paddy O’Daly insists that “the taking out of prisoners is not to be regarded as a reprisal, but as the only alternative left us to prevent the wholesale slaughter of our men.” The implementation of O’Daly’s instructions is immediate and hugely repercussive.

On the night after the explosion, and in a move which reverberateds politically for generations, nine republican prisoners in Ballymullen Barracks in Tralee are taken to Ballyseedy on the Tralee to Killorglin road to clear a pile of rubble blocking the road. The nine, who had already been interrogated and abused in revenge for Knocknagoshel, are driven to the scene. It is suggested that one of the reasons these nine are selected from a wider group of prisoners is that they have no known links to the Catholic clergy or hierarchy so as not to antagonise the church which is actively and vocally supportive of the Free State and its leadership.

The army had planted a bomb in the rubble. They tie the prisoners by the wrists and their shoelaces and detonate the device. Eight of the nine are blown to pieces and killed instantly. The ninth, Stephen Fuller of Fahavane, Kilflynn, is thrown a considerable distance by the force of the explosion and, despite his injuries, manages to flee with the only eyewitness account of the incident.

When the dismembered remains of the eight dead men are placed in coffins and returned to their families at Ballymullen Barracks, there follows a “frenzy.” It is alleged that O’Daly orders the army band to play ragtime music as the bodies are handed over to the families at the gates of the barracks. The families react furiously, throwing stones at the soldiers and smashing the army coffins on the ground as they place the deceased in coffins they had brought themselves.

The funerals which follow prompted an outcry of condemnation of the actions of the Free State Army. As a result, it is decided that henceforth, prisoners who die in military custody in the Kerry Command areas will be buried by troops where they die rather than in their own parish. This is, as T. Ryle Dwyer argues, “tantamount to approving the barbarities that we being perpetrated and merely telling the soldiers to cover up their vile acts properly.”

Meanwhile, the police authorities move quickly to absolve themselves of any connections with the deaths at Ballyseedy on the basis that it was not reported to the Civic Guard in Kerry. The area is under an 11:00 PM curfew at the time and no patrols are undertaken after this hour. However, the superintendent Tralee notes, “In any event, in the Ballyseedy area at that time there were a considerable number of Irregulars, which rendered it unsafe for the Guards to patrol there.”

(From: “Body parts were ‘strewn in all directions’ – the bloody climax of the Civil War in Kerry” by Owen O’Shea, http://www.owenoshea.ie, March 7, 2021)


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The Ballyseedy Massacre

The Ballyseedy Massacre takes place near Ballyseedy, County Kerry, on March 7, 1923. Kerry had seen more violence in the guerrilla phase of the Irish Civil War than almost anywhere else in Ireland. By March 1923, 68 Free State soldiers had already been killed in Kerry and 157 wounded – 85 would die there by the end of the war.

The day after five Free State soldiers are killed by a booby trap bomb while searching a republican dugout at the village of Knocknagoshel, Paddy Daly, in command of the Free State’s Kerry forces, announces that prisoners will be used in the future to clear mined roads.

In Ballyseedy, nine Republican prisoners – Pat Buckley, John Daly, Pat Hartnett, Michael O’Connell, John O’Connor, George O’Shea, Tim Tuomey, James Walsh and Steven Fuller – are driven to the remote Ballyseedy Wood near Ballyseedy Cross to be executed. The troops make sure that they are ‘all fairly anonymous, no priests or nuns in the family, those that’ll make the least noise.’ As they are being loaded into the lorry, the Free State Army guards ask them if they would care to smoke, telling them it will be their last cigarette.

They are taken to a remote location near the banks of the River Lee, where a large log stretches across the Castleisland Road. The Republicans are all tied to the log alongside a mine which is then detonated. Several of the Republicans, however, survive the initial explosion. The Free State soldiers then proceed to throw a number of grenades and shoot at them ensuring they are dead.

They succeed in killing all but Steven Fuller. The force of the explosion hurls him clear across the road. Falling, dazed, but conscious that he is alive and unhurt he quickly realises that the blast had even burst apart the cords used to tie him. As the soldiers come out from their cover after the detonation he crawls along the shelter of the ditch into the river at the roadside, escaping to a nearby Irish Republican Army (IRA) hideout. For days afterwards the birds are eating human flesh off the trees at Ballyseedy Cross.

Eight anti-treaty volunteers and prisoners are killed in the explosion. The exact details are murky. Official government sources state that the men were killed while clearing mines left by anti-treaty forces. Conversely anti-treaty sources claim the men were attached to a mine which was then detonated in retaliation for an explosion the previous day which killed six government forces in Knocknagashel, 30 miles away. If anyone believes that the explosion at Ballyseedy had been an accident, they would have trouble explaining the deaths of nine more Republican prisoners in the next four days.

There is no way of knowing how many men had been killed. Eight prisoners of war are murdered that night at Ballyseedy Cross. Nine coffins are sent back to Tralee the next day. What are the people of Tralee to do with that ninth coffin? A mother wails, “But my son was six feet tall. How can he come home to me in such a small coffin?” They will not let the mother open that coffin.

For three generations following the Irish Civil War, the country is riven by the pain and anguish of the violent conflict. Ballyseedy is just one example of the horrors inflicted.

(From: Stair na hÉireann | History of Ireland, https://stairnaheireann.net/, Photo: Ballyseedy Massacre Monument, Curraghmacdonagh, County Kerry)


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Death of Dan Keating, Last Survivor of the Irish War of Independence

dan-keatingDaniel “Dan” Keating, lifelong Irish republican and patron of Republican Sinn Féin, dies in Knockbrack, County Kerry on October 2, 2007. At the time of his death he is Ireland’s oldest man and the last surviving veteran of the Irish War of Independence.

Keating is born on January 2, 1902 in Castlemaine, County Kerry. He receives his education in local schools, including the Christian Brothers’ School in Tralee. Tralee is also the place where Keating does his apprenticeship. During this time he becomes a skillful Gaelic football player in his native Kerry.

Keating joins Fianna Éireann in 1918. In 1920, during the Irish War of Independence, he joins the Boherbee B Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Kerry Brigade, Irish Republican Army (IRA). He first brings a firearm of a Liverpool Irish soldier of the British Army into a public house in which he works. On April 21, 1921, Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) Constable Denis O’Loughlin is shot dead in Knightly’s public house in Tralee. Keating, Jimmy O’Connor and Percy Hanafin are suspected of the killing and are forced to go on the run. On June 1, Keating is involved in an ambush between Castlemaine and Milltown which claims the lives of five RIC men. On July 10, a day before the truce between the IRA and British forces, his unit is involved in a gun battle with the British Army near Castleisland. This confrontation results in the deaths of four British soldiers and five IRA volunteers.

Keating opposes the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty and fights on the anti-treaty side in the Irish Civil War. He is involved in operations in counties Kerry, Limerick, and Tipperary, before his flying column is arrested by Free State Forces. Keating spends seven months in Portlaoise Prison and the Curragh prison before being released in March 1923.

Keating remains an IRA member for a long time after the Civil War. He is arrested several times during the 1930s on various charges. He is active in London during the 1939/1940 IRA bombing campaign.

In 1933, Keating is involved in an attempt to assassinate the leader of the Irish Blueshirts, Eoin O’Duffy, during a visit to County Kerry. The attack is to happen at Ballyseedy, where Free State forces had carried out the Ballyseedy Massacre during the Irish Civil War. However, the plot fails when the person travelling with O’Duffy refuses to divulge in which car O’Duffy would be riding.

Keating subsequently returns to Dublin and works as a barman in several public houses. He retires and returns to his native Kerry in 1978, living out the rest of his life with relatives in Knockbrack. Until his death he refuses to accept a state pension because he considers the 26-county Republic of Ireland an illegitimate state which usurps the 1916 Irish Republic.

“All the talk you hear these days is of peace. But there will never be peace until the people of the 32 counties elect one parliament without British interference.”

In 2002, Keating refuses the state’s standard €2,500 award to centenarians from President Mary McAleese. After former IRA volunteer George Harrison dies in November 2004, Keating becomes patron of Republican Sinn Féin until his own death. At the time of his death at the age of 105 on October 2, 2007, he is the oldest man in Ireland. He is buried in Kiltallagh Cemetery, Castlemaine.