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


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The Hanging of IRA Soldier Kevin Barry

Kevin Gerard Barry, an 18-year-old Irish Republican Army (IRA) soldier, is executed by the British Government on November 1, 1920, during the Irish War of Independence. He is sentenced to death for his part in an attack upon a British Army supply lorry which results in the deaths of three British soldiers.

Barry’s execution inflames nationalist public opinion in Ireland, largely because of his age. The timing of the execution, only seven days after the death by hunger strike of Terence MacSwiney, the republican Lord Mayor of Cork, brings public opinion to a fever-pitch. His pending death sentence attracts international attention, and attempts are made by United States and Vatican officials to secure a reprieve. His execution and MacSwiney’s death precipitate an escalation in violence as the Irish War of Independence enters its bloodiest phase, and Barry becomes an Irish republican martyr.

Barry is born on January 20, 1902, at 8 Fleet Street, Dublin, to Thomas and Mary (née Dowling) Barry. The fourth of seven children, two boys and five sisters, he is baptised in St. Andrew’s Church, Westland Row. As a child he attends the National School in Rathvilly, County Carlow, and the O’Connell Schools in Dublin, before enrolling in the Preparatory Grade at St. Mary’s College, Dublin, in September 1915. He remains at that school until May 31, 1916 when it is closed by its clerical sponsors. With the closure of St. Mary’s College, he transfers to Belvedere College, a Jesuit school in Dublin.

In October 1917, during his second year at Belvedere, Barry joins Company C, 1st Battalion of the Dublin Brigade of the Irish Volunteers. When Company C is later reorganized he is reassigned to the newly formed Company H, under the command of Captain Seamus Kavanagh. The following year he is introduced by Seán O’Neill and Bob O’Flanagan to the Clarke Luby Club of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), and at some point in time he is sworn as a member of this secret society which is led by Michael Collins.

Two Dublin Volunteers notice that a British army lorry guarded by an armed party of soldiers makes twice weekly trips to Monk’s Bakery on Church Street to obtain bread. Based on these observations, John Joe Carroll of Company H conducts a reconnaissance of the bakery. In addition to its main entrance on Church Street, he observes that the bakery yard is also accessible by a corridor leading from a shop on North King Street. He concludes that this makes the bakery an attractive site for an ambush.

On the morning of September 20, 1920, Barry goes to Mass, then joins a party of IRA volunteers on Bolton Street in Dublin. Their orders are to ambush a British army lorry as it picks up a delivery of bread from the bakery, and capture their weapons. The ambush is scheduled for 11:00 AM, which gives him enough time to take part in the operation and return to class in time for an examination he has at 2:00 PM. The truck arrives late, and is under the command of Sergeant Banks.

Armed with a .38 Mauser Parabellum, Barry and members of C Company are to surround the lorry, disarm the soldiers, take the weapons and escape. He covers the back of the vehicle and, when challenged, the five soldiers comply with the order to lay down their weapons. A shot is then fired, possibly a warning shot from an uncovered soldier in the front. Barry and the rest of the ambush party then open fire. His gun jams twice and he dives for cover under the vehicle. His comrades flee and he is left behind. He is then spotted and arrested by the soldiers. One soldier is killed and two other later die of their wounds.

The War Office orders that Barry be tried by court-martial under the Restoration of Order in Ireland Act 1920, which received royal assent on August 9, 1920. Barry is charged on three counts of the murder of Private Marshall Whitehead. In accordance with military procedure the verdict is not announced in court. He is returned to Mountjoy Prison. Later that night the district court-martial officer enters his cell and reads out the sentence: death by hanging. The public learns on October 28 that the date of execution has been fixed for November 1.

Barry is hanged on November 1, 1920, after hearing two Masses in his cell. Canon Waters, who walks with him to the scaffold, writes to Barry’s mother later, “You are the mother, my dear Mrs. Barry, of one of the bravest and best boys I have ever known. His death was one of the most holy, and your dear boy is waiting for you now, beyond the reach of sorrow or trial.”

Barry’s body is buried at 1:30 PM, in a plot near the women’s prison. His comrade and fellow-student Frank Flood is buried alongside him four months later. A plain cross marks their graves and those of Patrick Moran, Thomas Whelan, Thomas Traynor, Patrick Doyle, Thomas Bryan, Bernard Ryan, Edmond Foley and Patrick Maher who are hanged in the same prison before the Anglo-Irish Treaty of July 1921 which ends hostilities between Irish republicans and the British. The men are buried in unconsecrated ground on the jail property and their graves are unidentified until 1934. They become known as the Forgotten Ten by republicans campaigning for the bodies to be reburied with honour and proper rites. On October 14, 2001, the remains of these ten men are given a state funeral and moved from Mountjoy Prison to be re-interred at Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin.


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The Execution of Rory O’Connor

rory-o-connorRory O’Connor, Irish republican revolutionary, is executed by firing squad on December 8, 1922 in reprisal for the anti-treaty Irish Republican Army‘s (IRA) killing of Irish Free State member of parliament Sean Hales.

O’Connor is born in Kildare Street, Dublin on November 28, 1883. He is educated at St. Mary’s College, Dublin and then in Clongowes Wood College, a public school run by the Jesuit order and also attended by James Joyce, and his close friend Kevin O’Higgins, the man who later condemns him to death.

In 1910 O’Connor takes his Bachelor of Engineering and Bachelor of Arts degrees in University College Dublin, then known as the National University. He goes to work as a railway engineer in Ireland, then moves to Canada, where he is an engineer in the Canadian Pacific Railway and Canadian Northern Railway, being responsible for the construction of 1,500 miles of railroad.

After his return to Ireland, O’Connor becomes involved in Irish nationalist politics, joins the Ancient Order of Hibernians and is interned after the Easter Rising in 1916.

During the subsequent Irish War of Independence (1919-1921) O’Connor is made Director of Engineering of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) – a military organisation descended from the Irish Volunteers.

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.