Seán Hales, Irish political activist and member of Dáil Éireann from May 1921 to December 1922, is born in Ballinadee, Bandon, County Cork, on March 30, 1880.
Hales is born John Hales, eldest child of five sons and four daughters of Robert Hales, a farmer, and Margaret (née Fitzgerald) Hales. He is educated at Ballinadee national school and Warner’s Lane school, Bandon. After leaving school he goes to work on his father’s farm. He plays hurling with Valley Rovers GAA club and is the Munster champion in the 56-lb. weight-throwing competition. From an early age he follows in his father’s footsteps and becomes involved in the republican movement.
Hales joins the Irish Volunteers in 1915 and becomes captain of the Ballinadee company in 1916. Arrested under the Defence of the Realm Act after the 1916 Easter Rising, he is imprisoned in Frongoch internment camp in Wales. After his release, in April 1917 he becomes executive of the short-lived Liberty League promoted by Count George Plunkett. When the League merges with Sinn Féin, he helps reorganise the Volunteers. With his brothers, Tom, William, and Donal, he continues his father’s fight on behalf of evicted tenants and becomes involved with the anti-British Bandon People’s Food Committee and the anti-landlord Unpurchased Tenants’ Association. He helps in the Sinn Féin takeover of The Southern Star newspaper and is a member of the new board of directors. In 1919 he becomes battalion commander of the first (Bandon) battalion 3rd Cork Brigade of the Irish Republican Army, the name by which the Irish Volunteers increasingly became known. He leads the attack on Timoleague Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) barracks in February 1920, and the ambush of an Essex Regiment patrol at Brinny in August 1920. The military patrol at Brinny manages to surprise the ambushers and Lieutenant Tim Fitzgerald of Bandon is the first Volunteer to be killed in action in west Cork. Hales then commands the assault on two truckloads of British troops at Newcestown Cross in which a British officer is killed and several soldiers are wounded.
Hales is appointed section commander of the west Cork flying column in 1920 and takes part in the major action at Crossbarry on March 19, 1921. In retaliation for the burning of the Hales home in March 1921, he leads a contingent of Volunteers and burns Castle Bernard, the residence of the Earl of Bandon. The occupant, Lord Bandon, is held hostage until General Strickland, the British OC in Cork, guarantees he will not execute Volunteers in Cork prison. The British authorities yield and there is an end to the policy of executing prisoners of war in the Cork area.
At the 1921 Irish elections, Hales is elected to the Second Dáil as a Sinn Féin member for the Cork Mid, North, South, South East and West constituency.
At the 1922 Irish general election, Hales is elected to the Third Dáil as a pro-Treaty Sinn Féin Teachta Dála (TD) for the same constituency. He receives 4,374 first preference votes (7.9%). Shortly afterward, the Irish Civil War breaks out between the pro-Treaty faction, who are in favour of setting up the Irish Free State and the anti-Treaty faction, who would not accept the abolition of the Irish Republic.
On December 7, 1922, Hales is killed by anti-Treaty IRA men as he leaves the Dáil. Another TD, Pádraic Ó Máille, is also shot and badly wounded in the incident. His killing is in reprisal for the Free State’s execution of anti-treaty prisoners. In revenge for Hales’ killing, four republican leaders, Joe McKelvey, Rory O’Connor, Liam Mellows and Richard Barrett, are executed the following day, December 8, 1922.
Hales is given a military funeral to the family burial place at St. Patrick’s cemetery, Bandon.
According to information passed on to playwright Ulick O’Connor, an anti-Treaty IRA volunteer named Owen Donnelly of Glasnevin is responsible for the killing of Hales. Seán Caffrey, an anti-treaty intelligence officer told O’Connor that Donnelly had not been ordered to kill Hales specifically but was following the general order issued by Liam Lynch to shoot all deputies and senators they could who had voted for the Public Safety Act (September 28, 1922) which established military courts with the power to impose the death penalty.
A commemorative statue of Hayes is unveiled at Bank Place in Bandon in 1930.