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 TimoleagueRoyal 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.
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 playwrightUlick 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.
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.
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.
McGrath is born in Dublin on August 12, 1888. By 1916 he is working with his brother George at Craig Gardiner & Co., a firm of accountants in Dawson Street, Dublin. He works with Michael Collins, a part-time fellow clerk and the two strike up a friendship. In his spare time he works as secretary for the Volunteer Dependents’ Fund.
McGrath is later put in charge of the police Intelligence service of the new Irish Free State, the Criminal Investigation Department (CID). It is modelled on the London Metropolitan Police department of the same name, but is accused of the torture and killing of a number of republican (anti-Treaty) prisoners during the civil war. It is disbanded at the war’s end with the official reason given that it is unnecessary for a police force in peacetime. He goes on to serve as Minister for Labour in the Second Dáil and the Provisional Government of Ireland. He also serves in the 1st and 2nd Executive Councils holding the Industry and Commerce portfolio.
In September 1922 McGrath uses strikebreakers to oppose a strike by Trade Unionists in the Post Office service, despite having threatened to resign in the previous March of the same year when the government threatened to use British strikebreakers.
McGrath resigns from office in April 1924 because of dissatisfaction with the government’s attitude to the Army Mutiny officers and as he says himself, “government by a clique and by the officialdom of the old regime.” By this he means that former IRA fighters are being overlooked and that the Republican goals on all Ireland has been sidelined. He and eight other TDs, who had resigned from Cumann na nGaedheal, resign their seats in the Dáil and form a new political party, the National Party. However, the new party does not contest the subsequent by-elections for their old seats. Instead, Cumann na nGaedheal wins seven of the seats and Sinn Féin wins the other two.
In 1927, McGrath takes a libel case against the publishers of The Real Ireland by poet Cyril Bretherton, a book that claims he is responsible for the abduction and murder of Noel Lemass, the brother of Seán Lemass, in June 1923 during the civil war, as well as a subsequent coverup. He wins the court case. During the 1930s, he and Seán Lemass reconcile and regularly play poker together.
Following his political career, McGrath goes on to become involved in the building trade. In 1925 he becomes labour adviser to Siemens-Schuckert, German contractors for the Shannon hydroelectric scheme near Limerick. He founds the Irish Hospitals’ Sweepstake in 1930, and the success of its sweepstakes makes him an extremely wealthy man. He has other extensive and successful business interests always investing in Ireland and becomes Ireland’s best-known racehorse owner and breeder, winning The Derby with Arctic Prince in 1951.
McGrath dies at his home, Cabinteely House, in Ballsbridge, Dublin on March 26, 1966. Cabinteely House is donated to the state in 1986 and the land is developed as a public park. His son, Patrick W. McGrath, inherits many of his father’s business interests, and also serves as Fine Gael Senator from 1973 to 1977.
(Pictured: Screenshot of a film of Irish politician Joseph McGrath shot in 1922)
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.
The Free State’s Provisional Government puts the “Public Safety Bill” before Dáil Éireann on September 27, 1922, which passes by 41 votes to 18. This is emergency legislation which allows for the execution of those captured bearing arms against the State. The legislation passes to the National Army powers of punishment for anyone “taking part in or aiding and abetting attacks on the National Forces,” having possession of arms or explosives “without the proper authority” or disobeying an Army General Order.
The legislation gives the Military Courts the right to impose the sentence of death, imprisonment or penal servitude on those found to be guilty of such offences, the sentence only requiring the signatures of two officers. By time the bill is a year old, 81 men are executed under its terms and over 12,000 men and women imprisoned.
The reason for such punitive legislation is the dragging on of the Irish Civil War caused by the Anglo-Irish Treaty. A pro-Treaty offensive against the anti-Treaty Irish Republican Army (IRA) in the summer of 1922 appears to have won the war for the government but the anti-Treatyites or republicans subsequently fall back on guerrilla tactics which the newly formed Free State or National Army have great difficulty in suppressing. Ernest Blythe, the Minister for Finance in the Provisional Government, later recalls, “there was for some time a feeling that the Civil War would speedily end as major resistance was broken, but actually it began to assume a chronic character.”
In the week preceding the Dáil’s motion, on September 21, six National Army soldiers are killed in a prolonged engagement with Republican fighters near Ballina, County Mayo. On the same day, the Free State barracks in Drumshambo, County Leitrim, is attacked and taken and one soldier is killed. On September 22, a National Army soldier is killed and several soldiers and three civilians injured in a gun and grenade attack by Republicans on Free State troops on Eden Quay in central Dublin. And on the day of the Bill itself coming before the Dáil, in County Kerry several hundred anti-Treaty IRA guerrillas attack the town of Killorglin and are only repulsed after 24 hours of fighting, when Free State troops arrive from Tralee.
At the time and since, the legislation passed in 1922 is known as the Public Safety Bill. However, no such Bill or Act can be found in the records of the Irish state. The Provisional Government have no legal right under the Treaty to enact new legislation without royal assent, the King being represented in the person of the Governor-General. And in theory the Provisional Government’s powers do not apply after the Treaty formally passes into law on December 6, 1922.
So technically speaking the Public Safety Bill is not a law but simply a resolution passed in the Dáil. However, since there was, as yet no Governor-General who could give his assent and as the government felt the situation was too grave for legal niceties, the legislation setting up military courts was passed anyway. It is not until August 1923, when the Free State passes an Act of Indemnity for all actions committed during the Irish Civil War and also pass new, formal special powers legislation – The Emergency Powers Act – that retrospectively legalises what it had enacted in the autumn of 1922.
After an amnesty of two weeks, in which anti-Treaty fighters could surrender without consequences, the legislation comes into force in mid October. Republicans at first do not believe that the government is serious about enforcing what its foes term “the Murder Bill.” It is in practice nearly two months before it is used in earnest.
On November 17, 1922, four IRA men who had been captured in Dublin are shot by firing squad. By the end of the week, Erskine Childers, who had served as secretary to the delegation which signed the Treaty but later organized Republican propaganda against it, is also dead. He had been captured at his home in County Wicklow on November 11 in possession of a small pistol Michael Collins had given him before he departed for Treaty negotiations in London. He is sentenced and shot on November 24. On November 30 another three Republican prisoners are executed in Dublin.
The legislation passed on September 27, 1922 may well have helped, as its supporters claimed, to break anti-Treaty resistance and to bring the Irish Civil War to an end. However it also helped to convert the conflict into a feud as bitter and as personal as a vendetta.
(From: “The passing of legislation allowing for executions during the Irish Civil War” by John Dorney, The Irish Story (www.theirishstory.com), September 27, 2013 | Photo: Richard Mulcahy, shown inspecting soldiers in Dublin, argued that permitting official executions would prevent National Army troops from carrying out unofficial killings)
Following the creation of Fianna Fáil and their entry into the Irish Parliament Dáil Éireann, Flannery becomes affiliated with Sinn Féin, who had voted to retain their abstentionist policy towards the Dáil and their refusal to acknowledge it as the legitimate government of Ireland. Sinn Féin tasks him with drumming up support for the party in New York. However, following the start of the Great Depression he finds it difficult to focus on politics in the face of mounting poverty. By 1933 finding support for Sinn Féin and the IRA becomes particularly tough when Fianna Fáil expands greatly the range of people eligible for military pensions, which under the previous government had been biased against members of the Anti-Treaty IRA. For the next 40 years Flannery works for the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company.
Upon the onset of The Troubles in Northern Ireland, Flannery is once again drawn into the world of Irish Republicanism. In a response to the mounting violence, he sets up the Irish Northern Aid Committee, or as it became better known as, NORAID. The official purpose of NORAID is to provide funds to the families of imprisoned Irish Republicans and victims of violence. However, opponents level the accusation against the organisation that it is also providing funding directly to the Provisional Irish Republican Army, and perhaps even also supplying firearms.
In 1970 Flannery travels around America and sets up 62 chapters of NORAID. In 1971 he says, “The more coffins sent back to Britain, the sooner this will be all over,” referring to British soldiers.
In 1982 Flannery is indicted, with four other members of NORAID, for arms smuggling, but all defendants are acquitted after their legal defence is able to successfully argue their actions had been sanctioned the CIA.
In 1986 Flannery quietly resigns from NORAID following the decision by Sinn Féin to drop its abstentionist policy in the Republic of Ireland and to recognise Dáil Éireann as the legitimate governing body of Ireland.
Flannery opposes the Northern Ireland peace process, believing that Sinn Féin and the Provisionals have “sold out,” and believes the removal of British troops from Northern Ireland is the only starting point upon which negotiations can begin.
Flannery dies at the age of 92 in New York City on September 30, 1994. He is buried in Mount Saint Mary’s Cemetery in Flushing, Queens, New York.
O’Connor does not accept the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921, which establishes the Irish Free State and abolishes the Irish Republic declared in 1916, which he and his comrades had sworn to uphold. On March 26, 1922, the anti-treaty officers of the IRA hold a convention in Dublin in which they reject the Treaty compromise and repudiate the authority of the Dáil, the elected Irish Parliament. Asked by a journalist if this means they are proposing a military dictatorship in Ireland, O’Connor replies, “you can take it that way if you want.”
On April 14, 1922, O’Connor, with 200 other hardline anti-treaty IRA men under his command, takes over the Four Courts building in the centre of Dublin in defiance of the new Irish government. They want 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. Michael Collins tries desperately to persuade O’Connor and his men to leave the building before fighting breaks out.
On June 28, 1922, after the Four Courts garrison has kidnapped JJ “Ginger” O’Connell, a general in the new Free State Army, Collins shells the Four Courts with borrowed British artillery. O’Connor surrenders after two days of fighting and is arrested and held in Mountjoy Prison. This incident sparks the Irish Civil War as fighting breaks out around the country between pro and anti treaty factions.
On December 8, 1922, along with Liam Mellows, Richard Barrett and Joe McKelvey, three other republicans captured with the fall of the Four Courts, Rory O’Connor is executed by firing squad in reprisal for the anti-treaty IRA’s killing of Free State member of parliament Sean Hales. The execution order is given by Kevin O’Higgins, who less than a year earlier had appointed O’Connor to be best man at his wedding, symbolising the bitterness of the division that the Treaty has caused. O’Connor, one of 77 republicans executed by the Cumann na nGaedheal government of the Irish Free State, is seen as a martyr by the Republican movement in Ireland.
Mellows returns to Ireland to become Irish Republican Army “Director of Supplies” during the Irish War of Independence, responsible for buying arms. At the 1918 general election of December, he is elected to the First Dáil as a Sinn Féin candidate for both East Galway and for North Meath. He considers the Anglo-Irish Treaty as signed to be a betrayal of the Irish Republic. A conference of 9 TDs is deputed to meet privately on January 5, 1922 to resolve the dispute and to achieve a unified front by compromise. The four other anti-Treaty TDs say there is agreement but Mellows does not, and is seen thereafter by pro-Treaty TDs as one of their most implacable opponents. The following day the Dáil votes to approve the Treaty by a majority of 64 to 57.
Mellows is one of the more strident TDs on the approach to the Irish Civil War. In June 1922, he and fellow republicans Rory O’Connor, Joe McKelvey and Richard Barrett, among others, enters the Four Courts, which has been occupied by anti-Treaty forces since April. However, they are bombarded by pro-Treaty Free State forces and surrender after two days. Mellows has a chance to escape along with Ernie O’Malley, but does not take it. Imprisoned in Mountjoy Gaol, Mellows, O’Connor, McKelvey and Barrett are executed by firing squad on December 8, 1922, in reprisal for the shooting of TD Seán Hales. Mellows is buried in Castletown cemetery, County Wexford, a few miles from Arklow. An annual commemoration ceremony is held at his grave site, in which a wreath is laid by a member of the Liam Mellows Commemoration committee.
Mellows is commemorated by statues in Oranmore and Eyre Square in Galway, in the official name of the Irish Defence Forces army barracks at Renmore and in the naming of Mellows Bridge in Dublin. Mellows Avenue in Arklow is named in his honour. He is also commemorated in the names of two hurling clubs, one in Galway and one in Wexford, and by Unidare RFC in Ballymun and their “Liam Mellows Perpetual Cup.”
McKelvey is born into a nationalist family in Stewartstown, County Tyrone. He has a keen interest in the Gaelic Athletic Association and the Irish language. He studies as an accountant and gains some of the qualifications necessary for this profession, but never fully qualifies. He works for a time at the Income Tax Office on Queen’s Square in Belfast and later finds work in Belfast’s engineering industry with Mackies on Springfield Road. He joins the Irish Republican Brotherhood and the Irish Volunteers, which after 1919, become known as the Irish Republican Army (IRA). He is a founding member of the O’Donovan Rossa Club, Belfast, founded in 1916 on the Falls Road. Each year the club honours him with a juvenile hurling blitz, an invitational competition which is participated in by clubs throughout Ireland.
McKelvey participates in the Irish War of Independence (1919–1921) against the British, in which he commands the IRA’s Belfast Brigade. On August 22, 1920, he helps to organise the killing of Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) Detective Oswald Swanzy in Lisburn. The killing itself is carried out by IRA men from Cork, but McKelvey arranges a taxi to carry the assassins to and from the scene and disposes of their weapons. In reprisal for this shooting, 300 Catholic homes in Lisburn are burned out. McKelvey is forced to lie low in Dublin for some time after these events.
In March 1921, the IRA is re-organised by its leadership in Dublin into Divisions and McKelvey is appointed commander of the Third Northern Division, responsible for Belfast and the surrounding area. In May 1921, McKelvey’s command suffers a severe setback, when fifty of his best men are sent to County Cavan to train and link up with the IRA units there, only to be surrounded and captured by the British Army on Lappanduff hill on May 9. In most of Ireland, hostilities are ended with a truce declared on July 11, 1921.
McKelvey is alone among the leadership of the Belfast IRA in going against the acceptance of the Anglo-Irish Treaty. Most of his comrades support Michael Collins‘ assurances that, although the Treaty accepts the partition of Northern Ireland from the rest of the country, this is only a temporary concession which will be dealt with later. McKelvey does not accept this. As a result, he leaves his command as head of the IRA Third Northern Division and joins the Anti-Treaty IRA in Dublin.
In March 1922, McKelvey participates in the anti-Treaty IRA‘s repudiation of the authority of the Dáil, the civil government of the Irish Republic declared in 1919, and is elected to the IRA Army Executive. In April 1922 he helps command the occupation of the Four Courts in defiance of the new Irish Free State. This action helps to spark the civil war between pro- and anti-Treaty factions. McKelvey is among the most hardline of the anti-Treaty republicans and briefly, in June 1922, becomes IRA Chief of Staff, replacing Liam Lynch.
On June 28, 1922, the new Irish Free State government shells the Four Courts to assert its authority over the militants defending it. The Republicans in the Four Courts surrender after two days of fighting and McKelvey is captured. He is held for the following five months in Mountjoy Prison in Dublin.