The IRB is a small, secret, revolutionary body whose sole object is to “establish and maintain a free and independent Republican Government in Ireland.” Stephens is a Young Irelander and is a lieutenant to William Smith O’Brien at the Battle of Widow McCormack’s Cabbage Patch in Ballingary, County Tipperary, in August 1848. He is wounded three times and is smuggled onto a ship to England and then to France, where he spends the next eight years. Upon his return to Dublin in 1856, he determines to organise a revolutionary movement and that leads to the founding of the IRB.
The IRB becomes known as the Fenian movement in the 1850s and 1860s and is committed to the use of force to establish an independent Irish republic. After organising an abortive rising in March 1867, it suffers deep internal divisions over its leadership and strategy in both the United States and Ireland—whether it is best to strike at England, in Ireland or in Canada. The issue is resolved after a series of failed interventions in Canada in 1866, 1867 and 1871, and after bombings in England that do not lead Ireland closer to independence. The IRB is unable to exploit the weaknesses and divisions in the constitutional movement following Charles Stewart Parnell’s divorce scandal (1890–91).
The IRB is eventually rejuvenated in Ireland about 1907, led by Bulmer Hobson and Tom Clarke, thus preparing the way for all that follows.The governing body is the Supreme Council. Before 1916 this consists of eleven members, and after the 1917 reorganisation it contains fifteen members. When not in session, all powers of the Supreme Council, except for declaring war, devolve onto an executive of three: the president, secretary and treasurer.
The constitution provides for the establishment of a military council, subordinate to the Supreme Council. The seven signatories of the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic constitute the entire military council at the time. The constitution is dedicated to the use of force against England at any favourable opportunity, but this is to be a democratic decision: “The IRB shall await the decision of the Irish Nation as expressed by a majority of the Irish people as to the fit hour of inaugurating a war against England and shall, pending such an emergency, lend its support to every movement calculated to advance the cause of Irish independence, consistent with the preservation of its own integrity,” a clause adopted in 1873 in response to the controversies arising from the 1867 Fenian Rising.
The IRB plans the 1916 Easter Rising but the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Citizen Army make it possible. The establishment of the Irish Volunteers gives the IRB the great opportunity to train and equip its members as a military body for the purpose of securing independence for Ireland by force of arms and securing the cooperation of all Irish military bodies in the accomplishment of its objectives. Numerically the IRB probably never exceeds 2,000 members, but they are all extremely loyal and well trained, and there is very tight security. The executions of 1916 just about wipe out the Supreme Council, and after the prisoners are released, the IRB has to reconstitute itself.
Following the Easter Rising some republicans—notably Éamon de Valera and Cathal Brugha—leave the organization, which they view as no longer necessary, since the Irish Volunteers now perform its function. The IRB, during the Irish War of Independence (1919-21), is under the control of Michael Collins, who is secretary, and subsequently president, of the Supreme Council. Volunteers such as Séumas Robinson say afterwards that the IRB by then is “moribund where not already dead,” but there is evidence that it is an important force during the war.
When the Anglo-Irish Treaty is signed on December 6, 1921, it is debated by the Supreme Council, which votes to accept it by eleven votes to four. Those on the Supreme Council who oppose the Treaty include former leader Harry Boland, Austin Stack and Liam Lynch. Anti-Treaty republicans like Ernie O’Malley, who fought during the Irish Civil War against the Treaty, sees the IRB as being used to undermine the Irish Republic. The IRB becomes quiescent during the Irish Civil War, which ends in May 1923, but it emerges again later that year as a faction within the National Army that supports Minister for Defence Richard Mulcahy against the “Old IRA,” which fought against the recruitment of ex-British Army personnel and the demobilization of old IRA men. This comes to a head with the Irish Army Mutiny of 1924, in the wake of which Mulcahy resigns and other IRB members of the army are dismissed by acting President of the Executive CouncilKevin O’Higgins. The IRB subsequently dissolves itself, although it is not known whether a formal decision is taken, or it simply ceases to function.
Ballyconnell is a small town in western County Cavan. According to the 1911 census it is populated by 125 families, or in the region of 600 people, and is according to local pro-Treaty TDSeán Milroy, “in the values of country towns, a very considerable centre of county life.” Since 1921 it has been wedged up against the new border with County Fermanagh and Northern Ireland to the north and the Arigna Mountains to the south and west. As the Irish Civil War rages south of the border, and with no effective police or military presence, Ballyconnell is particularly vulnerable to the depredations of armed groups of various allegiance.
Cull is part of a contingent of 50-70 anti-Treaty fighters holed up in the Arigna Mountains. As well as guerrilla attacks against the forces of the Irish Free State, one of their most frequent actions, out of necessity, is raids on civilian targets for supplies.
Cull, according to the local newspaper, is holding up Ovens’ hardware and grocery shop in Ballyconnell when he is shot dead by a plain clothes Free State officer. The National Army later derisively refers to “the shooting of a looter named Cull … He and others were raiding in Ballyconnell when a couple of officers who were in the area got in touch with them. This gang of Irregulars have been in the mountains for several months past.”
Cull’s death is by no means the end of Ballyconnell’s troubles. The anti-Treaty column based in the Arigna Mountains, composed of Volunteers from Roscommon, Leitrim and Cavan (which includes Cull’s brother James) and led by Ned Bofin, visits a ferocious revenge on the small town for the death of Cull.
Almost exactly a month later, on the morning of February 5, 1923, at about 7:00 a.m., fifty well-armed anti-Treaty IRA fighters descend on Ballyconnell from the hills in a military lorry and several cars. The guerrillas, armed with rifles and three machine guns, stop the train to nearby Ballinamore so that word cannot get out to adjacent Free State garrisons. They then go in search of those they hold responsible for Cull’s death.
At Oven’s grocery, the proprietor, William Ovens, is shot through the thigh and badly wounded. One of his employees, William Ryan, is dragged out and shot dead. According to the local press, the guerrillas shouted, “Was it you who shot Cull?” at Ryan before they shot him. His 80-year-old father follows the fighters through the streets, shouting “murder, murder.”
Sean McGrath, an Irish language teacher originally from Galway, is also dragged out of bed and shot dead, apparently for no other reason than that he is lodging at the home of Free State supporter John Dunn.
The guerrillas proceed to bomb and burn out three shops, including the car dealership and the Post Office, and to smash the windows of the other premises with shots and rifle butts. The Ulster Bank branch is robbed of £200 and two Ford cars are seized. After a rampage of 35 minutes, the IRA column re-mount their vehicles and head back toward the Arigna Mountains, leaving the little town partially in flames, pockmarked with bullet holes and mourning the death of two of its citizens.
According to the pro-Treaty National Army, “Our troops in Belturbet got word of the raid, and immediately set out in all their transport. They were joined en route by two Fords of troops from Cavan, and all proceeded to Ballyconnell, where they arrived shortly after 9 o’clock. They followed the Irregulars past Ballinamore but failed to get in touch with them.”
(From: “The Tragedies of Ballyconnell” by John Dorney, The Irish Story (www.theirishstory.com), June 19, 2014 | Pictured: The main street of Ballyconnell in the early 20th century)
Mulcahy is second-in-command to Thomas Ashe in an encounter with the armed Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) at Ashbourne, County Meath, during the 1916 Easter Rising, one of the few stand-out victories won by republicans in that week, and generally credited to Mulcahy’s grasp of tactics. In his book on the Rising, Charles Townshend principally credits Mulcahy with the defeat of the RIC at Ashbourne, for conceiving and leading a flanking movement on the RIC column that had engaged with the Irish Volunteers. Arrested after the Rising, he is interned at Knutsford and at the Frongoch internment camp in Wales until his release on December 24, 1916.
Mulcahy supports the Anglo-Irish Treaty of December 1921. Archive film shows that Mulcahy, as Minister of Defence, is the Irish officer who raises the Irish tricolour at the first hand-over of a British barracks to the National Army in January 1922. He is defence minister in the Provisional Government on its creation and succeeds Collins, after the latter’s assassination, as Commander-in-Chief of the Provisional Government’s forces during the subsequent Irish Civil War.
Mulcahy earns notoriety through his order that anti-Treaty activists captured carrying arms are liable for execution. A total of 77 anti-Treaty prisoners are executed by the Provisional Government. He serves as Minister for Defence in the new Free State government from January 1924 until March 1924, but resigns in protest because of the sacking of the Army Council after criticism by the Executive Council over the handling of the “Army Mutiny,” when some National Army War of Independence officers almost revolt after he demobilises many of them at the end of the Irish Civil War. He re-enters the cabinet as Minister for Local Government and Public Health in 1927.
Following the 1948 Irish general election Mulcahy is elected for Tipperary South, but the dominant Fianna Fáil party finishes six seats short of a majority. However, it is 37 seats ahead of Fine Gael, and conventional wisdom suggests that Fianna Fáil is the only party that can possibly form a government. Just as negotiations get underway, however, Mulcahy realises that if Fine Gael, the Labour Party, the National Labour Party, Clann na Poblachta and Clann na Talmhan band together, they would have only one seat fewer than Fianna Fáil and, if they can get support from seven independents, they will be able to form a government. He plays a leading role in persuading the other parties to put aside their differences and join forces to consign the then Taoiseach and Fianna Fáil leader Éamon de Valera, to the opposition benches.
Mulcahy initially seems set to become Taoiseach in a coalition government. However, he is not acceptable to Clann na Poblachta’s leader, Seán MacBride. Many Irish republicans had never forgiven him for his role in the Irish Civil War executions carried out under the Cosgrave government in the 1920s. Consequently, MacBride lets it be known that he and his party will not serve under Mulcahy. Without Clann na Poblachta, the other parties would have 57 seats between them — 17 seats short of a majority in the 147-seat Dáil. According to Mulcahy, the suggestion that another person serve as Taoiseach comes from Labour leader William Norton. He steps aside and encourages his party colleague John A. Costello, a former Attorney General of Ireland, to become the parliamentary leader of Fine Gael and the coalition’s candidate for Taoiseach. For the next decade, Costello serves as the party’s parliamentary leader while Mulcahy remained the nominal leader of the party.
Mulcahy goes on to serve as Minister for Education under Costello from 1948 until 1951. Another coalition government comes to power at the 1954 Irish general election, with Mulcahy once again stepping aside to become Minister for Education in the Second Inter-Party Government. The government falls in 1957, but he remains as Fine Gael leader until October 1959. In October the following year, he tells his Tipperary constituents that he does not intend to contest the next election.
O’Connor is educated in St. Mary’s College, Dublin, and then in Clongowes Wood College, County Kildare, a public school run by the Jesuit order. It is also attended by the man who later condemns O’Connor to death, his close friend Kevin O’Higgins. He studies experimental physics, logic, and metaphysics. He also attends the College of Science, Merrion Street. He takes a BA (1906) and receives a B.Eng (1911). In 1910, he takes his Bachelor of Engineering and Bachelor of Arts degrees at University College Dublin (UCD), then known as the National University. Prominent in the university’s Literary and Historical Society, he advocates militant constitutional nationalism as one of the many society members active in the Young Ireland branch of the United Irish League.
During the subsequent Irish War of Independence (1919-21) O’Connor is Director of Engineering of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), a military organisation descended from the Irish Volunteers. The specialist skills of engineering and signaling are essential to the development of the 5th Battalion, Dublin Brigade. Its men are forbidden frontline duty as their contribution is regarded as vital, their number too small. But units only expand on an incremental local basis, disappointing General Richard Mulcahy.
O’Connor is also involved in the Republican breakout from Strangeways Prison in Manchester, England, on October 25, 1919. Michael Collins takes a particular interest in the escape, and actually visits Austin Stack in the prison under a false name to finalise the arrangements. IRA men hold up traffic while a ladder is propped up against the outside of a prison wall. In all six prisoners escape, among them Piaras Beaslaí.
On January 10, a meeting is held at O’Connor’s home in Monkstown, Dublin. In attendance are all senior anti-Treaty IRA officers except Liam Mellows. O’Connor is appointed to chair this grouping, known as the Republican Military Council. It is agreed that an IRA convention should be called without delay; failing this, a separate GHQ will be formed. At a further meeting in O’Connor’s office on March 20, a temporary IRA GHQ staff is elected under Liam Lynch as chief of staff. O’Connor remains in charge of engineering.
On March 26, 1922, the anti-Treaty officers of the IRA hold a convention in Dublin, in which they reject the Treaty and repudiate the authority of the Dáil. However, they are prepared to discuss a way forward. The convention meets again on April 9. It creates a new army constitution and places the army under a newly elected executive of 16 men, including O’Connor, that are to choose an army council and headquarters staff. Asked by a journalist if this development means the anti-Treatyites ware proposing a “military dictatorship” in Ireland, O’Connor replies, “You can take it that way if you want.”
On April 14, 1922, O’Connor is one of a number of IRA leaders in a 200-strong force that occupies the Four Courts building in the centre of Dublin in defiance of the Provisional Government. They intend to provoke the British troops, who are still in the country, into attacking them, which they believe will restart the war with Britain and re-unite the IRA against their common enemy. They also occupy other smaller buildings regarded as being associated with the former British administration, such as the Ballast Office and the Freemasons‘ Hall in Molesworth Street, but the Four Courts remains the focus of interest. On June 15, O’Connor sends out men to collect the rifles that belong to the mutineers of the Civic Guards.
Michael Collins tries desperately to persuade the IRA men to leave the Four Courts. At the Third IRA Convention on June 18, the Executive is split over whether the Irish Government should demand that all British troops leave within 72 hours. A motion to this effect, opposed by Lynch, is narrowly defeated, whereupon O’Connor and others leave the meeting to set up a separate GHQ. The IRA effectively splits into two factions opposed to the government.
On June 22, 1922, Sir Henry Wilson is assassinated in London by two IRA men, Reginald Dunne and Joseph O’Sullivan, each a former British soldier. Some now argue that this was done on the orders of Michael Collins, who had been a close friend of Dunne’s in the London Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB). Prime MinisterDavid Lloyd George writes an angry letter to Collins, which includes the line “…still less can Mr. Rory O’Connor be permitted to remain his followers and his arsenal in open rebellion in the heart of Dublin… organizing and sending out from this centre enterprises of murder not only in the area of your Government…”
On June 28, 1922, after the Four Courts garrison has kidnapped J. J. “Ginger” O’Connell, a general in the National Army, Collins gives orders for the shelling of the Four Courts with borrowed artillery lent by Winston Churchill. The shelling leads to the Four Courts catching fire, damaging parts of the building in addition to destroying numerous government documents. O’Connor is one of 130 men that surrender on June 30, some of whom are arrested and imprisoned in Mountjoy Prison. This incident marks the official start of the Irish Civil War, as fighting breaks out openly around the country between pro- and anti-Treaty factions.
On December 8, 1922, along with three other republicans, Liam Mellows, Richard Barrett and Joe McKelvey, captured with the fall of the Four Courts, O’Connor is executed by firing squad in reprisal for the anti-Treaty IRA’s killing of Free State Teachta Dála (TD) Sean Hales. The execution order is signed by Kevin O’Higgins. O’Connor had been best man at O’Higgins’s wedding on October 27, 1921. Their deaths remain a symbol of the bitterness and division of the Irish Civil War. O’Connor, one of 77 republicans executed by the Provisional Government, is seen as a martyr by the Republican movement in Ireland.
On April 10, 1919, the First Dáil announces a policy of ostracism of Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) men. At the time Sinn Féin official policy is against acts of violence. Boycotting, persuasion and mild intimidation succeed against many officers. However others escalate their activities against republicans and in March 1920 Collins asks Dick McKee to select a small group to form an assassination unit.
When The Squad is formed, it comes directly under the control of the Director of Intelligence or his deputy and under no other authority. The Squad is commanded by Mick McDonnell.
The original “Twelve Apostles” are Mick McDonnell, Tom Keogh, Jimmy Slattery, Paddy Daly, Joe Leonard, Ben Barrett, Vincent Byrne, Sean Doyle, Paddy Griffin, Eddie Byrne, Mick Reilly and Jimmy Conroy. After some time The Squad is strengthened with members Ben Byrne, Frank Bolster, Mick Keogh, Mick Kennedy, Bill Stapleton and Sam Robinson. Owen Cullen, a member of 2nd Battalion, is driver for a short time, and Paddy Kelly of County Clare for a short time. They are employed full-time and received a weekly wage.
Sometimes, as occasion demands, The Squad is strengthened by members of the IRA Intelligence Staff, the Active Service Unit, munition workers and members of the Dublin Brigade, TipperaryFlying Column men, Dan Breen, Séumas Robinson, Seán Treacy and Seán Hogan, and also Mick Brennan and Michael Prendergast of County Clare. The IRA Intelligence Staff consists of the Director of Intelligence Michael Collins, the Deputy Director of Intelligence Liam Tobin, the Second Deputy Director of Intelligence Tom Cullen, the Third Director of Intelligence Frank Thornton, and members Joe Dolan, Frank Saurin, Ned Kelleher, Joe Guilfoyle, Paddy Caldwell, Paddy Kennedy, Charlie Dalton, Dan McDonnell and Charlie Byrne. The munitions workers include Mat Furlong, Sean Sullivan, Gay McGrath, Martin O’ Kelly, Tom Younge and Chris Reilly.
Other members include Mick Love, Gearoid O’Sullivan, Patrick Caldwell, Charlie Dalton, Mick O’Reilly, Sean Healy, James Ronan, Paddy Lawson, John Dunne, Johnny Wilson and James Heery. Seán Lemass and Stephen Behan, the father of Irish writers Brendan and Dominic Behan, have also been listed as members of the Apostles. There is no hard evidence to support the inclusion of many of the names, but those who subsequently serve in the Irish Army have their active service recorded in their service records held in the Military Archives Department in Cathal Brugha Barracks, Rathmines. Andrew Cooney is also reported to have been associated with The Squad. Stephen Behan’s involvement is first made public in 1962, when the BBC broadcasts an episode of This Is Your Life dedicated to Behan. During the broadcast, remaining members of the squad joined Behan on the set of the show.
Following “The Dog” Smith’s assassination, The Squad continues to target plainclothes police, members of the G Division of the Dublin Metropolitan Police, and, occasionally, problematic civil servants. Organisationally it operates as a subsection of Collins’ Intelligence Headquarters. Two of the executions by The Squad are the killing on January 21, 1920 of RIC Inspector William Redmond of the DMP “G” Division and on March 2, 1920 a British double agent John Charles Byrnes.
One of the Apostles’ particular targets is the Cairo Gang, a deep-cover British intelligence group, so called since it has either been largely assembled from intelligence officers serving in Cairo or from the Dublin restaurant called The Cairo, which the gang frequents. Sir Henry Wilson brings in the Cairo Gang in the middle of 1920, explicitly to deal with Michael Collins and his organization. Given carte blanche in its operations by Wilson, the Cairo Gang adopts the strategy of assassinating members of Sinn Féin unconnected with the military struggle, assuming that this will cause the IRA to respond and bring its leaders into the open.
The most well-known operation executed by the Apostles occurs on what becomes known as Bloody Sunday, November 21, 1920, when British MI5 officers, linked to the Cairo Gang and significantly involved in spying, are shot at various locations in Dublin with fourteen killed and six wounded. In addition to the The Squad, a larger number of IRA personnel are involved in this operation. The only IRA man captured during the operation is Frank Teeling. In response to the killings, the Black and Tans retaliate by shooting up a Gaelic football match between Dublin and Tipperary at Croke Park, the proceeds from which are for the Irish Republican Prisoners Fund. Fourteen civilians are killed including one of the players, Michael Hogan, and 68 are wounded. The Hogan stand at Croke Park is named after Hogan.
The elimination of the Cairo Gang is seen in Dublin as an intelligence victory, but British Prime MinisterDavid Lloyd George comments dismissively that his men “… got what they deserved, beaten by counter-jumpers…”. Winston Churchill adds that they were “.. careless fellows … who ought to have taken precautions.”
Some members of The Squad are hanged in 1921 for the killings on Bloody Sunday, including Thomas Whelan and Patrick Moran. Moran had killed a vet, Patrick MacCormack, who seems to have been an innocent victim.
In May 1921, after the IRA’s Dublin Brigade takes heavy casualties during the burning of the Custom House, The Squad and the Brigade’s Active Service Unit are amalgamated into the Dublin Guard, under Paddy Daly. Under the influence of Daly and Michael Collins, most of the Guard take the Free State side and join the National Army in the Irish Civil War of 1922–23. During this conflict some of them are attached to the Criminal Investigation Department and are accused of multiple assassinations of Anti-Treaty fighters. They are also involved in several atrocities against Republican prisoners, particularly after the death of Collins, due to many of them having personal ties with him.
Bill Stapleton goes on to become a director in Bord na Móna, Charles Dalton and Frank Saurin become directors in the Irish Sweepstakes. In October 1923, Commandant James Conroy is implicated in the murder of two Jewish men, Bernard Goldberg and Emmanuel ‘Ernest’ Kahn. He avoids arrest by fleeing to Mexico, returning later to join the Blueshirts. A later application for an army pension is rejected. The killings are the subject of a 2010 investigative documentary by RTÉ, CSÍ: Murder in Little Jerusalem.
The Irish Citizen Army also becomes involved in the battle, supporting the anti-Treaty IRA in the O’Connell Street area. The fighting begins with an assault by Provisional Government forces on the Four Courts building, and ends in a decisive victory for the Provisional Government.
On April 14, 1922 about 200 Anti-Treaty IRA militants, with Rory O’Connor as their spokesman, occupy the Four Courts in Dublin, resulting in a tense stand-off. They want to spark a new armed confrontation with the British, which they hope will bring down the Anglo-Irish Treaty, unite the two factions of the IRA against their former common enemy and restart the fight to create an all-Ireland Irish Republic. At the time the British Army still has thousands of soldiers concentrated in Dublin, awaiting evacuation.
Winston Churchill and the British cabinet have been applying pressure on the Provisional Government to dislodge the rebels in the Four Courts, as they consider their presence a violation of the Treaty. Such pressure falls heaviest on Michael Collins, President of the Provisional Government Cabinet and effective head of the regular National Army. Collins, a chief IRA strategist during the War of Independence from Britain, has resisted giving open battle to the anti-Treaty militants since they occupied Four Courts in April. His colleagues in the Provisional Government Cabinet, including Arthur Griffith, agree that Collins must mount decisive military action against them.
In June 1922 the Provisional Government engages in intense negotiations with the British Cabinet over a draft Constitution that seeks to avert the impending civil war. They particularly seek to remove the requirement of an oath to the British Crown by all members of the Dublin government, a key point of contention with anti-Treaty partisans. However, the conservative British Cabinet refuses to cooperate. The pro-treaty element of Sinn Féin wins the elections on June 16.
Following the assassination of Sir Henry Wilson in London on June 22, 1922 and the arrest by Four Courts troops of National Army Deputy Chief of Staff Gen. J. J. “Ginger” O’Connell, British pressure on the Provisional Government intensifies. The British now threaten to invade and re-occupy all of Ireland. On June 27 the Provisional Government Cabinet agrees on an ultimatum to the Four Courts garrison to evacuate or face immediate military action.
Churchill offers a loan of British artillery for use by the National Army, along with 200 shells from their store of 10,000 at Kilmainham, three miles away. It is possible that some British special troops are also covertly loaned. Two 18-pounder field guns are placed on Bridge Street and Winetavern Street, across the River Liffey from the Four Courts complex. After an ultimatum is delivered to the anti-Treaty garrison in the early hours of June 28, the National Army commences the bombardment of Four Courts.
No authoritative record exists regarding the order to commence bombardment. Historians tend to attribute the order to Collins, but some biographers dispute this. Anti-Treaty survivors allege that they are preparing for an 8:00 a.m. evacuation when the bombardment begins at 4:00 a.m.
Inside the building are 12 members of the Irish Republican Army Executive, including Chief of StaffJoe McKelvey, Director of Engineering Rory O’Connor, Quartermaster General Liam Mellows and Director of Operations Ernie O’Malley. The garrison consists of roughly 180 men drawn from the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the IRA’s 1st Dublin Brigade, commanded by Commandant Paddy O’Brien, armed for the most part only with small arms apart from one captured armoured car, which they name “The Mutineer.” The members of the IRA Army Executive are the political leaders of the garrison, but serve as common soldiers under the command of O’Brien. The Anti-Treaty side fortifies the Four Courts to some extent, planting mines around the complex and barricading the doors and windows, but their leadership orders them not to fire first, in order to retain the moral high ground, and so the Free State troops are allowed to surround the Four Courts.
After the first day’s bombardment proves ineffective, the British give the Free State two more 18-pounder cannon and proffer 60-pounder howitzers along with an offer to bomb the Four Courts from the air. Collins turns down the latter two offers because of the risk of causing heavy civilian casualties. On June 29, Free State troops storm the eastern wing of the Four Courts, losing three killed and 14 wounded and taking 33 prisoners. The republicans’ armoured car is disabled and abandoned by its crew. Early the next day O’Brien is injured by shrapnel and O’Malley takes over military command in the Four Courts. By this time the shelling has caused the Four Courts to catch fire. In addition, orders arrive from Oscar Traynor, the anti-treaty IRA commander in Dublin, for the Four Courts garrison to surrender, as he cannot reach their position to help them. O’Malley rules this order invalid, as the Four Courts is a GHQ operation. However, in view of the rapidly deteriorating situation, at 3:30 p.m. on June 30, O’Malley surrenders the Four Courts to Brigadier GeneralPaddy Daly of the Free State’s Dublin Guard unit. Three of the republican garrison die in the siege.
Several hours before the surrender, the Public Record Office of Ireland (PRO) block located in the western block of the Four Courts, which is used as an ammunition store by the Four Courts garrison, is the centre of a huge explosion, destroying Irish state records going back to the Anglo-Norman conquest. Forty advancing Free State troops are badly injured. Assigning blame for the explosion remains controversial. It is alleged by the National Army Headquarters that the Anti-treaty forces deliberately booby-trapped the PRO to kill advancing Free State troops. Tim Healy, a government supporter, later claims that the explosion is the result of land mines laid before the surrender, which explode after the surrender. However, a study of the battle concludes that the explosion is caused by fires ignited by the shelling of the Four Courts, which eventually reach two truckloads of gelignite in the munitions factory. A towering mushroom cloud rises 200 feet over the Four Courts.
At this stage in the battle troops on each side still have a sense of kinship with the other, as most of them had fought together in the Irish Republican Army during the Irish War of Independence. By appealing to friends on the Free State side, several anti-Treaty leaders among the Four Courts garrison, notably Ernie O’Malley and Seán Lemass, escape from captivity to continue the fight.
Despite the Free State force’s success in taking the Four Courts, fighting continues in Dublin until July 5. On June 29 anti-Treaty IRA units from the Dublin Brigade led by Oscar Traynor have occupied O’Connell Street, part of Parnell Square, York Street and some of other locations to try to distract Free State attention from their attack on the Four Courts. Not all the IRA units in the capital are prepared to fight against the new Irish government, however, and their numbers are probably about 500 throughout the city. Their numbers are supplemented by about 150 Citizen Army men and women who bring with them arms and ammunition dumped since the insurrection of Easter 1916.
The republicans occupy the northeastern part of O’Connell Street, with their strong point at “the block,” a group of buildings that the Anti-Treatyites had connected by tunneling through the walls. They had also taken over the adjoining Gresham, Crown, Granville and Hammam hotels. Their only position on the western side of the street is in the YMCA building. Additionally, they have an outpost south of the River Liffey at the Swan Pub on Aungier Street. Oscar Traynor apparently hopes to receive reinforcements from the rest of the country, but only Anti-Treaty units in Belfast and Tipperary reply and both of them arrive too late to take part in the fighting.
The Provisional Government troops, commanded by General Tom Ennis, start by clearing out the outlying anti-treaty garrisons, which is accomplished by July 1. They then draw a tighter cordon around O’Connell Street. Artillery is used to drive the Anti-Treaty fighters out of positions on Parnell Street and Gardiner Street, which gives the Free State troops a clear field of fire down O’Connell Street.
The republican outpost in the YMCA is eliminated when Free State troops tunnel underneath it and detonate a bomb. Traynor’s men in “the block” hold out until artillery is brought up, under the cover of armored cars, to bombard them at point-blank range. Incendiary bombs are also planted in the buildings. Traynor and most of his force make their escape when the buildings they are occupying catch fire. They mingle with civilian crowds and make their way to Blessington.
Left behind is Republican leader Cathal Brugha and a rear guard of 15 men, who stay behind in the Hammam Hotel after Traynor and most other IRA men have left. At 5:00 p.m. on July 5, when the fires make the hotel untenable, Brugha orderes his men to surrender. He, however, stays behind, only to emerge from the building alone, armed with a revolver. He is shot in the thigh by Free State troops and dies later from blood loss. There are some further sporadic incidents of fighting around the city as Free State troops disperse anti-treaty IRA groups.
Cathal Brugha is the last casualty in the Battle of Dublin, which costs the lives of at least 80 people (15 anti-Treaty IRA Volunteers, 29 National Army soldiers, one British Royal Air Force serviceman and 35 civilians) and over 280 wounded. In addition, the Free State takes over 450 Republican prisoners. The high civilian casualties are doubtless the result of the use of heavy weapons, especially artillery, in a densely populated urban area.
When the fighting in Dublin dies down, the Free State government is left firmly in control of the Irish capital and the anti-treaty forces disperse around the country. Round-ups after the fighting result in more Republican prisoners and the death of prominent anti-Treaty activist Harry Boland who is shot dead in Skerries, Dublin, on July 31.
Oscar Traynor, Ernie O’Malley and the other anti-Treaty fighters who escape the fighting in Dublin regroup in Blessington, around 30 km southwest of the city. An anti-Treaty IRA force from County Tipperary had arrived there but too late to participate in the Dublin fighting. Instead, this force heads south and takes a string of towns, including Enniscorthy and Carlow, but quickly abandons them when faced with superior Free State forces. Most of the Republicans then retreat further south to the so-called Munster Republic, territory southwest of a line running from Limerick to Waterford. This in turn is taken by the Free State in an offensive from July to August 1922.
Four of the Republican leaders captured in the Four Courts, Rory O’Connor, Liam Mellows, Joe McKelvey and Richard Barrett, are later executed by the government in reprisal for the Anti-Treaty side’s killing of TDSeán Hales. The street where Cathal Brugha is killed is later renamed Cathal Brugha Street in his honour.
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)
Gearóid O’Sullivan, soldier and politician, is born on January 28, 1891 at Coolnagrane, near Skibbereen, County Cork, fourth son among six sons and three daughters of Michael O’Sullivan, farmer, of Loughine, and Margaret Sullivan (née McCarthy) of Coolnagrane.
Christened Jeremiah but known in later life as Gearóid, O’Sullivan is an outstanding pupil at national school and secondary school in Skibbereen. Encouraged by his teachers, he acquires a love of the Irish language. Not yet ten, he joins the Gaelic League in Skibbereen in October 1900. He takes part in the Oireachtas debates of 1909. In 1911 he qualifies at St. Patrick’s College, Dublin, as a national school teacher and teaches at Kildorrery, County Cork, but returns to Dublin in 1912 to take up a post at St. Peter’s National School, Phibsborough. He takes an honours degree in Celtic studies at University College Dublin (UCD) (1913), an H.Dip.Ed. (1914), and an M.Ed. (1915). At the same time, he is an organiser and teacher with the Gaelic League, a member of its Keating branch at Parnell Square, Dublin, and a founder of the League’s “fáinne” proficiency badge.
From February 1920, O’Sullivan replaces Collins as adjutant general of the IRA, a position he retains until the Anglo–Irish Treaty of December 1921 (which he supports), resuming it a month later as a lieutenant general of the new National Army, responsible for personnel and promotions. He is also elected to Dáil Éireann for Carlow–Kilkenny in 1921 and again in 1922, retiring in 1923. His intellectual and organisational abilities guarantee that his position within the army is safe after the death in August 1922 of Collins, to whom he owes much for his initial rise to prominence. On August 28 he is appointed to the newly created army council, whose most draconian prerogative becomes the military execution of republican prisoners.
After the Irish Civil War (1922–23), wholesale demobilisation of officers and other ranks takes place, but O’Sullivan and his council colleagues Richard Mulcahy, Seán Mac Mahon, and Seán Ó Murthuile survive the fiscal axe. Their privileged position angers some officers, led by Major GeneralLiam Tobin, alarmed at the rate of demobilisation and the state’s apparent abandonment of Collins’s republican ideals. Through the Irish Republican Army Organisation, they deplore the devaluation of their pre-treaty IRA service and the retention of certain former British Army officers and instructors. O’Sullivan’s brief time as adjutant general places him in the role of personnel manager. As the Defence Forces (Temporary Provisions) Act, 1923, transforms the National Army into the defence forces of an Irish dominion, he is clearly in the sights of those who disagree with how these forces took shape.
As demobilisation continues and former British personnel become more evident, O’Sullivan and his colleagues become targets of suspicion that a hostile IRB clique had controlled the army council since its formation after the death of Collins. Exaggerated or not, such claims precipitate the army crisis of March 1924, in which O’Sullivan personally orders a raiding party under Colonel Hugo MacNeill to arrest its leaders. To defuse the crisis, he and his army council colleagues are forced to stand down, while the arrested dissidents are summarily retired. The subsequent army inquiry (April–June 1924) absolves him and his colleagues of any wrongdoing, but their active military careers are over. O’Sullivan, however, is for some time secretary of the military service pensions board.
Civilian life treats O’Sullivan well, as he enters a legal career and in 1926 is called to the bar. In 1927 he is appointed Judge Advocate General and remains so until 1932. After the assassination of Minister for JusticeKevin O’Higgins in July 1927, he fills the vacated Dublin County seat in a by-election in August, retaining it at subsequent elections until 1937. In August 1928 he is a Free State delegate to the Empire Parliamentary Association conference in Canada. Openly supporting Gen. Eoin O’Duffy and the short-lived ‘Blueshirts’ vanguard of the fledgling Fine Gael party during 1933–34, he pointedly refuses to surrender his legally held revolver when gardaí demand it as a precaution against a feared Blueshirt coup d’étât. In 1937 he becomes a barrister on the western circuit, and in 1940 commissioner for special purposes of the income tax acts, a post he holds for life.
O’Sullivan lives at St. Kevin’s Park, Dartry, Dublin, where he dies at the age of 57 on March 26, 1948. His military funeral to Glasnevin Cemetery, with his coffin draped in the same flag that had covered the coffin of Michael Collins, reflects his high national profile.
In 1922, O’Sullivan marries Maude Kiernan, sister of Kitty Kiernan and daughter of Peter and Bridget Kiernan, whose family is closely involved with the Irish political leadership, notably Michael Collins and Harry Boland. After Maude’s death he marries Mary Brennan of Belfast. They have three daughters and a son, all of whom survive him. O’Sullivan is commemorated in County Cork by a plaque at Skibbereen town hall.
O’Connell is born to Jeremiah Ambrose and Winifred O’Connell. He is nicknamed “Ginger” because of his red hair. His father is a national school inspector, so the family lives in Sligo, Derry, Longford and Belfast, and he attends a succession of primary schools. He studies at University College Dublin (UCD) where he receives a BA and a first class MA. He is a member of the Literary and Historical Society at UCD, and has an interest in boxing.
O’Connell is living in Cavan with his father, his sister Mary Margaret, his brother John Aloysius and two servants, Mary Burke and Rose Anne O’Reilly, at the time of the 1911 census, when he is 23. He is working as a Solicitor’s Apprentice, can read and write as well as speak both English and Irish, and is single. His mother is not living as it is recorded that his father is a widower.
O’Connell spends some time in the United States Army, serving with the 69th New York Infantry Regiment between 1912 and 1914. He returns to Ireland in 1914 and joins the Irish Volunteers, becoming Chief of Inspection in 1915. He travels the country organising volunteer corps, as well as contributing to the Irish Volunteer’s journal and delivering lectures on military tactics to both the Volunteers and Fianna Éireann. He also delivers a series of lectures about the famous Irish battles to the Gaelic League in Dublin. He is not a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) as he believes that soldiers should not be a part of secret societies.
During the Irish War of Independence, O’Connell is a member of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) headquarters staff, as Assistant Director of Training and, after the killing of Dick McKee in 1920, as Director of Training. He coordinates, and is the principal lecturer, for a training course for military officers. The course is run clandestinely in the premises of the Topographical Society on Gardiner Street in Dublin. A sympathetic doorkeeper allows the group in at night when the society is not present. Topics delivered by O’Connell include tactics, ordinance and engineering.
In the IRA split after Dáil Éireann ratifies the Anglo-Irish Treaty, O’Connell takes the pro-Treaty side. He is made Deputy Chief of Staff in the National Army. On June 26, 1922, he is kidnapped by anti-treaty forces in reprisal for the arrest of an anti-treaty officer. His kidnapping is a precipitating factor in the formal outbreak of the Irish Civil War, when government pro-treaty forces two days later attack anti-treaty forces occupying the Four Courts. He survives the fighting and spends the rest of the civil war as General Officer Commanding the Curragh Command.
Following the Irish Civil War, the National Army is reorganised, and as part of that O’Connell is demoted from general to colonel. He subsequently holds a variety of positions: chief lecturer in the army school of instruction (1924–1929); director of no. 2 (intelligence) bureau (1929–1932); OC Irish Army Equitation School (March–June 1932); quartermaster-general (1932–1935) and director of the military archives (1935–1944). He also publishes articles on Irish and foreign military history and tactics in his time as a military historian. He marries Gertrude McGilligan, and they have two children together – one son and one daughter.
O’Connell dies of a heart attack at the age of 56 on February 19, 1944.
Through planning and participating in raids and gunrunning episodes, Barrett comes into close contact with many GHQ staff during the Irish War of Independence, thereby ensuring his own rapid promotion. He is an active Irish Republican Army (IRA) brigade staff officer and occasionally acts as commandant of the West Cork III Brigade. He also organises fundraising activities for the purchase of weapons and for comrades on the run. In July 1920, following the arrest of the Cork III Brigade commander Tom Hales and quartermaster Pat Harte, he is appointed its quartermaster. He is arrested on March 22, 1921 and imprisoned in Cork jail, later being sent to Spike Island, County Cork.
As one of the senior officers held in Spike Island, Barrett is involved in many of the incidents that occur during his time there. After the truce is declared on July 11, 1921, some prisoners go on hunger strike but he calls it off after a number of days on instructions from outside as a decision had been made that able-bodied men are more important to the cause. In November, Barrett escapes by row boat alongside Moss (Maurice) Twomey, Henry O’Mahoney, Tom Crofts, Bill Quirke, Dick Eddy and Paddy Buckley.
Following the Irish War of Independence, Barrett supports the Anti-Treaty IRA‘s refusal to submit to the authority of Dáil Éireann (civil government of the Irish Republic declared in 1919). He is opposed to the Anglo-Irish Treaty and calls for the total elimination of English influence in Ireland. In April 1922, under the command of Rory O’Connor, he, along with 200 other hardline anti-treaty men, take over the Four Courts building in the centre of Dublin in defiance of the new Irish government. They want to provoke British troops, who are still in the country, into attacking them. They hope this will restart the war with Britain and reunite the IRA against their common enemy. Michael Collins tries desperately to persuade O’Connor and his men to vacate the building. However, on June 28, 1922, after the Four Courts garrison had kidnapped J. J. O’Connell, a general in the new National Army, Collins’s soldiers shell the Four Courts with British artillery to spark off what becomes known as the Battle of Dublin. O’Connor surrenders following two days of fighting, and Barrett, with most of his comrades, is arrested and held in Mountjoy Gaol. This incident marks the official outbreak of the Irish Civil War, as fighting escalates around the country between pro- and anti-treaty factions.
After the death of Michael Collins in an ambush, a period of tit-for-tat revenge killings ensues. The government implements martial law and enacts the necessary legislation to set up military courts. In November, the government begins to execute Anti-Treaty prisoners, including Erskine Childers. In response, Liam Lynch, the Anti-Treaty Chief of Staff, gives an order that any member of the Dáil who had voted for the ‘murder legislation’ is to be shot on sight.
On December 7, 1922, Teachta Dála (TD) Sean 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. An emergency cabinet meeting is allegedly held the next day to discuss the assassination of Hales. It is proposed that four prominent members of the Anti-Treaty side currently held as prisoners be executed as a reprisal and deterrent. The names put forward were Barrett, O’Connor, Liam Mellows and Joe McKelvey. It is alleged that the four are chosen to represent each of the four provinces – Munster, Connacht, Leinster and Ulster respectively, but none of the four is actually from Connacht. The executions are ordered by Minister for JusticeKevin O’Higgins. At 2:00 AM on the morning of December 8, 1922, Barrett is awoken along with the other three and informed that they are all to be executed at 8:00 that morning.
Ironies stack one upon the other. Barrett is a member of the same IRA brigade as Hales during the Anglo-Irish War, and they were childhood friends. O’Connor had been best man at O’Higgins’ wedding a year earlier. The rest of Sean Hales’ family remains staunchly anti-Treaty, and publicly denounces the executions. In reprisal for O’Higgins’ role in the executions, the Anti-Treaty IRA kills his father and burns his family home in Stradbally, County Laois. O’Higgins himself dies by an assassin’s hand on July 10, 1927.
The executions stun Ireland, but in terms of halting the Anti-Treaty assassination policy, they have the desired effect. The Free State government continues to execute enemy prisoners, and 77 official executions take place by the end of the war.
Barrett is now buried in his home county, Cork, following exhumation and reinternment by a later government. A monument is erected by old comrades of the West Cork Brigade, the First Southern Division, IRA, and of the Four Courts, Dublin, garrison in 1922 which is unveiled on December 13, 1952 by the TánaisteSeán Lemass.