Republic's precedent for release of prisoners..

An avid reader of histories, Danny Morrison raids the Republic’s bloody origins and argues that Fine Gael had leading members of the old IRA within it’s ranks well into the forties, that is now being hypocritical in its opposition to having Sinn Fein in government. It’s available in today’s print version of Daily Ireland

By Danny Morrison

Last March the IRA prisoners in Castlerea (some serving time in relation to the killing of Gárda Jerry McCabe in 1996) issued a statement. They said that they deeply regretted the death of Jerry McCabe and the wounding of Gárda Ben O’Sullivan during an IRA operation in Adare in June 1996.

“We deeply regret and apologise for this and the hurt and grief we have caused to their families.”

They pointed out that they were “qualifying prisoners” under the terms of the 1998 Belfast Agreement, signed and approved after their conviction, that this had been confirmed by the High Court and Supreme Court and that the government had an obligation to release them.

“They [the government] have refused to do so and are now presenting our release as an obstacle to negotiations and agreement.” Consequently, “we do not want our release to be part of any further negotiations with the Irish government.”

Last year when it emerged that the Dublin government was ready to release the prisoners as part of an overall deal it came in for widespread criticism. So when that deal collapsed over Ian Paisley’s demand for decommissioning to be photographed Bertie Ahern quickly announced that their release was “off the table and would never return.”

It was sheer opportunism and it was cowardly.

However, the party which criticised the Irish government the most – particularly warning against the future release of the prisoners as part of a Sinn Fein/Fianna Fail deal over coalition – is a party which had no problem itself with releasing convicted killers so that it could get its hands on coalition power.

I refer to Fine Gael.

Gárda Jerry McCabe left behind a widow and five children.

But so did Gárda Detective George Mordaunt: a widow and one child.

On the night of 29 October 1942 a cordon of detectives surrounded a house in Donnycarney, Dublin. Inside were IRA men Harry White from Belfast and Maurice O’Neill from Kerry who tried to escape. There was a shoot-out. Mordaunt was killed, O’Neill caught and White escaped. Charged and convicted with the murder of Mordaunt O’Neill was executed by firing squad in Mountjoy Jail one month later. White wasn’t captured and charged until October 1946. He was sentenced to hang on 3 January 1947.

His lawyer was Sean MacBride (a former IRA Chief of Staff) who launched a successful appeal campaign which resulted in White’s sentence being commuted. In fact, just as in the case of Gárda McCabe’s killers, the charge was reduced to manslaughter and White was sentenced to 12 years.

A year earlier – Sinn Fein being fairly marginalised – MacBride, with the support of many IRA sympathisers, set up a political party, Clann na Poblachta, opposed to Fianna Fail. It quickly garnered support. In the February 1948 general election one of its slogans was “Release the Prisoners”. It won ten seats and it and several smaller parties held the balance of power.

Fine Gael entered into discussions with MacBride to persuade him to go into coalition with it to oust Fianna Fail. It was about the only thing the two parties had in common.

MacBride’s price was the release of the political prisoners.

Fine Gael agreed.

MacBride became Minister for External Affairs. The new Minister for Justice, General Sean MacEoin – a Fine Gael TD and former member of the IRA who had once been sentenced to death by the British – freed the IRA prisoners within weeks.

Those released included Thomas MacCurtain, who had been sentenced to death for killing Detective Gárda John Roche, a married man, in Cork in January 1940 (the sentence commuted to penal servitude for life, out of deference to his murdered father, the Lord Mayor of Cork); Harry White, who had been sentenced for the killing of Detective Gárda George Mordaunt; and Liam Rice who had been convicted of the attempted murder of several gárdai.

No doubt some smartass revisionist from Fine Gael or a newspaper of record will attempt to explain that there is no parallel between then and now, no comparisons whatsoever. Perhaps they will tell us that the IRA of the 1940s is distinct from the IRA of today and that’s why, for example, Belfast man Harry White, sentenced for the manslaughter of Mordaunt, was given early release by Fine Gael, while Strabane man Pearse McAuley, sentenced for the manslaughter of Gárda McCabe, must remain in jail.

Fine Gael TD General Sean MacEoin, who was also the party’s presidential nominee in 1945 and 1959, came to the Ministry of Justice with a past which Fine Gael honours. In the Tan War the IRA killed almost 500 members of the RIC. When MacEoin was the leader of an IRA Flying Column in Longford in 1920 he had been responsible for killing up to two dozen of his fellow Roman Catholic Irishmen in the RIC. A small sample includes: 23-year-old John Kelleher from Cork who had only been in the RIC four months; 45-year-old Constable Peter Cooney, a married man, shot in the back whilst returning from leave; and 30-year-old District Inspector Thomas McGrath, a single man from County Limerick, shot through the head by MacEoin when he knocked on MacEoin’s door.

Men like MacEoin shot and bombed British soldiers and RIC men, killed them where they could – on holiday, on leave, in bed with their wives, at their dinner tables, on patrol and in the barracks.

Fine Gael is proud of IRA men like MacEoin. After all, he brought them to power. He fought the British in his country – though mistakes were often made and innocent people were killed.

It has happened throughout Irish republican history.

And that is why Fine Gael and any other party opposed to the release of the Castlerea prisoners rightly stand accused of double standards and hypocrisy.

For political gain Fine Gael released those convicted of killing guards in the 1940s. And for perceived political gain today – taking a tough stance against Sinn Fein – it refuses to support the release of prisoners in the same category, prisoners committed to peace and the Belfast Agreement.

First published in Daily Ireland today.

  • maca

    Fine Gael might have made mistakes half a century ago, it doesn’t mean we have to repeat them in 2005.

  • peteb

    “No doubt some smartass revisionist from Fine Gael or a newspaper of record will attempt to explain that there is no parallel between then and now, no comparisons whatsoever. Perhaps they will tell us that the IRA of the 1940s is distinct from the IRA of today..”

    Morrison appears to be arguing that we should be drawing comparisons between the position of the IRA in the 1940s and now.. by all means let’s do so.. except.. aren’t Morrison et al also arguing that this is, supposedly, a new era?

    Or is that just for political gain?

  • Shore Road Resident

    Does Morrison think Sinn Fein should now model itself on Fine Gael?

  • El Matador @ El Blogador

    Just because FG released prisoners on a political whim in the forties does not make it right today. Nor does the fact that they put IRA men to death by firing squad or the hangman’s noose make that acceptable.

    Morrison may have a point that FG are being mildly hypocritcal, but today’s politicians can hardly be judged by the stnadards and actions of their predecessors 50 years ago, at a time when the Free State was still in its infancy, and old enmities over the civil war bubbled beneath the surface.

    A lot has happened since then, and today’s actions must be judged by today’s standards. Maybe Det. Mordaunt’s killer shouldn’t have been released, but it is laughable to use it as an excuse to argue for the release of Det. McCabe’s killers.

    Armed robbery is hardly an ‘act of war’- they were just trying to line the pockets of the provos, and are now using their membership of the IRA as a badge of convenience to try and get out under the GFA. They acted like common criminals, so they must face the punishment like common criminals.

  • JD

    This article has got nothing to do with Sinn Fein, it is simply pointing out the blatant double standards and hypocrisy of many twenty-six county revisionists, in this instance Fine Gael. The land of ivory towers is well populated.

  • Joe

    JD’s comments are an example of shrill assertion and denigration as opposed to argument. They merely underscore the weakness of his argument. Only a diehard shinner would insist on the equivalence of PIRA in the recent troubles to the IRA extant in the first half of the last century. The atrocities were worse, too prolonged in the face of opposition of the vast majority of nationalist Ireland whose non-violent civil and church leaders were dimissed and demonized and the naked criminality was too great. I grew up in Dublin in the 1970’s. The terror went for most of my adult life. Every other day there was not just the shootings and bombings in the north and Britain but fund raising bank and post office robberies in the republic by the provos not to mention kidnappings for cash, assassination of the British ambassador, killings of guards and soldiers and other atrocities too numerous to mention. My relatives in England had a terrible time with the backlash against the Irish community there occasioned by the mass murder in two Birmingham pubs in 74 by the provos. Now they are seeking post facto justification for their criminal terror? I think not. Unscrupulous, violent greed in the interests one’s own political ends and domination is just as condemnable if not worse than the greed for riches or any other vice. With regard to history, what the provos have done is undermined the historical legitimacy of militant nationalism of the 1916 to 1923 period.
    To hell with them and their apologists.

  • mucher

    [Play the ball, mucher – edited Moderator]

  • Oilbhéar Chromaill

    It’s interesting reading the evasive and mealy mouthed comments of the Fine Gael supporters on the site who think there’s no equivalence between the Provisional IRA and the IRA in which their own forefathers participated. As if.

  • Belfastwhite


    Your very one sided comments which smack of selective whataboutery have only proved JD’s assertations and indeed you typify the “double standards and hypocrisy of many twenty-six county revisionists”. I wonder can you explain the difference between as you put it the “ligitimate mititarism” of Michael Collins and his Squad” and that of the Provisional IRA and P.O’Neill.

  • mucher

    How can you not play the man when discussing Danny Morrison? His personal life is relevent to the discussion.

  • peteb


    If you haven’t read Slugger’s Commenting Policy.. you should.

  • mucher


    All I will say is that Danny Morrison is in no position to accuse anyone of hypocrisy!

  • JD


    As BW pointed out you have made my point better than I ever could have. You should learn a little more about your own history and possibly speak to the some of the people actually around at the time of the Tan and Civil wars, some of whom may still be Fine Gael supporters.

    “I grew up in Dublin in the 1970’s.”

    Maybe if you had grown up during the 1916-23 period, that you identified, you might have seen the stark realities of war and the atrocities committed by all sides, rather than revisionist version of history through your rose tinted glasses.

    I grew up in the six counties during the 1970’s and I saw the realities of conflict as they played out around me rather than hear RTEs highly sensored version. This experience as well as a reasonably informed knowledge of the history of this country tells me war is brutal, there are no saints and sinners in a conflict situation and responsibilty lies on all of us to endeavour to shape a peaceful future.

  • Nic

    Sweet Jaysis, how can anyone take dem boyos seriously any more? Trying to “move forward” and forget all the nasty stuff on the one hand (mentioning McCartney or the Bank Raid is tut-tutted as “unhelpful”), but some obscure part of a coalition deal over fifty years ago is a precedent why the extremely controversial McCabe killers should be let free to enjoy the rich fruits of their labours in the bosom of their families and admirers? I tell ya wha’, dem lads must have some mighty smelly dirt indeed on Adams/McLaughlin/Ferris to keep putting themselves back on the agenda like that…

  • martin

    [martin, play the ball – edited Moderator]

    Michael Collins does not really impress me—He sent lads barely in their 20’s around with lists of names and addresses of Policemen-the Ciaro gang and others to be killed–while he a man in his 30s didnt even go out with them.

  • brendan, belfast

    so Fine Gael are hypocrites because they are changing their views – 50 years on – on the issue of prisoners.

    what does that make Sinn Fein, the IRA and the REpublican movement?

    Ten years ago they were blowing up London and murdering cops in Lurgan. does the charge of hypocristy apply? or should we simply all accept that they have now moved beyond the use of violence to further their aims?

    Maybe Fine Gael have moved beyond their policy of expedient prisoner releases as part of a quest for power.

  • Joe

    Apropos previous comments I am not a Fine Gael (or a PD) supporter). I think because one is from Belfast does not give special wisdom in these matters. PIRA was putatively acting in the name of the whole Irish nation – they cannot rely on purely local factors in Belfast to justify their campaign. As someone from Dublin I am just an entitled to comment on the PIRA as someone from Belfast. We were directly affected by it. It was the PIRA who introduced widespread armed robbery, kidnapping, shooting and blowing up Gardai to the 26 counties as well as the assassination of diplomats accredited to Dublin. What authority did 1916 give the PIRA to do this let alone all the killings and bombings in the north, the UK and the continent? It had its problems but we had a decent, peaceful civilised society here until all of this was introduced. These were almost unheard of crimes in the twenty-six counties from independence until the early 1970s. I recall the full celebrations we had in school in Dublin in ‘66 for the 50th anniversary of 1916. It was hardly mentioned in ‘76 so disfigured had the cause of militant republicanism been by the terror particularly the idea of an elite vanguard blazing the trail to “freedom” by violence. Constantly invoking 1916 and Collins in support of the more than three decades of terror by PIRA does not wash. I am with Fr. Reid in believing that 1916, the Collins assassinations squad and all the rest were a mistake. But even if one allows them there were big differences between the earlier period and the PIRA campaign. There was widespread support of at least a large minority for the independence struggle post Easter 1916 though support began to decline after the outbreak of the War of Independence. The point was that the peaceful alternatives were much fewer and less developed in the earlier period; there was or had been recently a great war in Europe v the 1970s when the post-war generation succeeded with great and painstaking effort in building a peaceful Europe – a peace that was only really broken by PIRA and ETA. (RAF etc were really small cults and Arab terror was not an indigenous European phenomenon) The Republic of Ireland was a successful political and economic entity by the late 1960s – its diplomacy and engagement in conjunction with the elected nationalists from the north provided a way forward politically for necessary change to come to north. The context was utterly different in the 1970s compared to earlier. Morally the Irish people as a whole and by any objective measure did not support the PIRA campaign. That should have been enough for them. But PIRA had to help destroy say Sunningdale by stepping up murder and mayhem. It might have had a chance even in the teeth of loyalist opposition if there had been peace from the nationalist side. Not only was the PIRA campaign empathically rejected by the electorate in both the republic and the majority northern nationalists, the moral high ground which say the civil rights movement enjoyed was lost. The highest catholic authority, the Pope himself appealed “on his knees” at Drogheda for them to stop in 79. But the same Danny Morrison, jointly with Adams, knew better and destroyed the hopes of so many with their rude dismissal of his plea. Mr. Morrison seems now to be forensically going through the annals to find this or that inconsistency or matter of detail to justify the PIRA or more often to decry those who stood against them. But in my view and the view of many others the cause is irretrievably tainted by all the bloodshed, murders and associated immorality – all in breach of the standards of civilised living and decency. No amount of appealing to earlier eras will change that.

  • GurnyGub

    Well said. ‘Smartass revisionists’ indeed. The nerve. My father came north in the forties and was a proud republican and pro old ira. After the civilian carnage by pira, his opinion of them? “Hoors’ gets”.

  • JD

    “I am just an entitled to comment on the PIRA as someone from Belfast.” (BTW I am not from Belfast)

    Of course you are, but I have to say that this self righteous pap about the good old IRA flies in the face of the historical reality.

    It is a matter of historical record that both the Tan War and especially the Irish Civil war was more brutal and viscious than anything seen in later armed campaigns fought against the British. A book titled ‘the Good Old IRA’ details the actions taken by the IRA, at that time, including the many deaths of civilians, the bank robberies, the killing of priests, children and Gardai/RIC. This is the bloody history of our country out of which very few of our generations have come unscathed. However it is inaccurate and disengenious for members of one of the few generation largely untouched by conflict to point to a previous campaign, of which they know little, and say that was noble while pointing to another and saying horrendous. All war is horrendous that is were the hypocrisy lies.

  • Joe

    I did not say there was anything noble about the earlier period. Basically SF say “look at 1916 – we are just carrying on the same tradition – if you accept 1916 than you must accept our campaign was ok.” Firstly as I said before I think 1916 was a mistake above all in retrospect because it gave birth to the notion of that the Government of Ireland subsisted in the IRA who could then throw out all rules and norms in its efforts to force its will on the rest of us by means of terror. But this notion was rejected in the case of the recent Provo campaign by the actual Irish people as opposed to the mystical Irish people in republican theology. Secondly, the more 1916 is invoked by the Provos and their apologists the more 1916 itself is called into question as a valid political paradigm. If 1916 justifies the Provos then maybe 1916 itself was wrong. But there were plenty of people who accepted 1916 but rejected the Provos. This was the mainstream nationalist view in ROI and on the part of the SDLP. The Provos were rejected by the democratic nationalist parties in both the ROI and NI which enjoyed majority support. Opponents of the Provos included veterans of the period like Tom Barry. Furthermore the leaders of 1916 like Collins in 1921 and the irregulars in 1923 stopped when the violence had become futile. The Provos kept up their atrocities and the associated criminality to finance them year after bloody year for over 35 years. There was no deterministic inevitably about the Provo campaign – it was a deliberate unprincipled campaign of terror and hate not just against Britain and the unionists but also against democratic nationalist Ireland. The moral thing is to reject them. There is no double standards in that.

  • CJ

    Well said Joe. Its time people in the south stopped clinging to the misguided notion that 1916 was morally justified because it was indirectly responsible for independence. Without the ill-judged British response, it would have been just another failed rebellion, which Irish history is all to full of

  • Ringo

    1916 was an unmitigated disaster by any measure. It was unwanted, unwarranted, unsuccessful, undemocratic and led by a man who’s ideological obsessions would have rendered him impotent in a democracy. The 1916 proclamation is irrelevant today, in fact it never bore any relation to reality. It is easy write well meaning words, it is a completely different issue to match those words with deeds. And no one on this island has so spectacularly ignored the flowery language of the proclaimation as the Provisional IRA – nobody suffered more at their hands than their fellow Irishmen.

    1916 was just another failed rebellion. It is just that it was easier to find consensus on 1916 than it was on the war of independence because of the ensuing civil war and partition.

  • martin

    Tragedies of Kerry
    by Doherty McArdle

    Much of the story of what happened in Kerry in those years remains due to the efforts of Doherty McArdle, author of the Irish Republic, who broke the silence which surrounded official and unofficial state murders in Kerry in publishing her pamphlet ‘Tragedies of Kerry’ in 1924. It is still a much sought-after publication with many editions selling out within days of publishing.
    Mirroring the tactics of Britain’s Black and Tans in the previous two years, the new state undertook to terrorize the republican people of Kerry into submission (very few Kerry Volunteers of the Tan War period went with the Free State). For having the gall to challenge the legitimacy of the new state, many men in County Kerry and in other areas around Ireland were to pay with their lives.

    Rather than try to tackle Kerry republicans head-on, the Free State soldiers, in a classic military maneuver, succeeded in landing 500 soldiers in Fenit behind the republican positions, thus encircling them on 2 August 1922. More landed a week later. Even though it was Liam Lynch’s view on 17 September that “the development of the campaign has been more rapid and satisfactory in Kerry than anywhere else”, and the fact that the IRA would succeed on several occasions in putting several hundred Volunteers in the field, the future did not auger well.

    As other republican positions fell around the country, the IRA was fighting a rearguard action, heavily outnumbered, starved of funds, weaponry and equipment and in the main living on the run. The safe house they used previously and the people they depended on in the past were known to their former comrades who were trying to get them in their sights. It was only a matter of time before they had to withdraw from the field in the face of an army which was well-paid, equipped by the British and with orders from Michael Collins, Richard Mulcahy, Arthur Griffith and Kevin O’Higgins, to spare nobody and be as ruthless as required. The Free State soldiers involved in unofficial executions only mirrored the state policy of official execution, only they didn’t bother going through the pretense of court cases.

    With all the talk of apologies for Bloody Sunday, the Famine, the government in Dublin should be mindful that not only has there never been an apology for the state’s execution of 77 prisoners in a period of six months, but there has never been an official admission that the state’s soldiers were involved in summary executions across the country for the duration of what is now known as the Civil War.

    In Kerry, the barbarity began 25 days after the Fenit landing. Sean Moriarty and James Healy were captured and marched through Tralee to Balloonagh Convent where both were shot. Healy survived, but Moriarty was riddled.

    Seventeen-year-old Bertie Murphy was next to die. He had been captured with a rifle in his possession. For five days they used him as a shield to try to avoid attack from his IRA comrades and forced him to dismantle barricades in the area in case they were booby-trapped. On 19 September, while under guard in the Great Southern Hotel Killarney, word came in of an IRA ambush. Bertie was thrown down the steps of the hotel and shot dead by an officer. Officially he died in an ambush in Brennan’s Glen.

    Following the failure of republicans to recapture Killorglin the prisoners were to be transferred to Tralee. En route all the prisoners except one, Jack Galvin, were forced to remove felled trees from the road. When they returned to the trucks he was missing. Next day his body was found behind a tree in Ballyseedy Wood where the trucks had halted.

    John Lawlor was unlucky to be captured wounded during an engagement in Ballyheighue. He was shot dead and dumped at the church gate on the morning of October 31.

    On 2 November Michael O’Sullivan and Danny Connor held a party of 40 Free State soldiers under Captain ‘Tiny’ Lyons at bay for two hours outside Headford, before being wounded. Connor succeeded in making good his escape. Unarmed and wounded, O’Sullivan was executed.

    On 11 November Patrick Lynch of Moyrisk was unarmed when he was shot dead at his house. At Currahane Sands beyond Ardfert a drunken raiding party succeeded in capturing Eugene Fitzgerald at his aunt’s house. On the journey to Tralee jail his left leg was broken and crushed to a pulp and he was shot through the side in an attempt to get him to reveal the whereabouts of the local IRA column. He died from his wounds a few days later on 16 January 1923.

    Under the hay in Mrs. Lyons’ barn in the same area was where Michael Sinnot (1 and James O’Connor (19) had their dug-out. On 13 February a local lad and two others were arrested and beaten to inform on the whereabouts of the two in the dug-out. The young lad, Greer, broke and agreed to show the locations. The two Volunteers were riddled as they slept in their dug-out. Thomas O’Sullivan of Ballineanin was summarily executed while wounded on 18 February.

    But for an accident what actually happened at Ballyseedy Cross, County Kerry, 75 years ago might never be known. Officially nine IRA prisoners were blown up by mines attached to barricades on the Killorglin Road. The truth was more horrific and the deaths at Ballyseedy Cross on 7 March came to symbolize the excesses of the new state.

    The events of those dark days in Kerry can be summed up by the statement of the commander of the Free Staters in January 1923, Paddy Daly: “Nobody asked me to take any kid gloves to Kerry and I didn’t take them”.

    Nine prisoners, Stephen Fuller, John Daly, George Shea, Timothy Twomey, Patrick Hartnett, James Connell, John O’Connor, Patrick Buckley and James Walsh, were taken from Tralee to be killed. It was concluded afterwards that the barbaric execution was a form of reprisal for the IRA’s blowing up of a torturer Lieutenant O’Connor along with two captains and two privates at Knocknagashel earlier in March. Reprisals against republican prisoners, instituted by the Free State government in Mountjoy Jail in 8 December 1922 had become a systematic practice in their jails in the next few months.

    John Daly was captured on 4 February and beaten so badly that his spine was irreparably damaged. Michael Connell was arrested at a local dance in the middle of February. James Walsh was a local IRA leader and Patrick Buckley was a former RIC man who handed the barracks over to the local IRA before the truce in 1921. George Shea, Tim Twomey, John Shanahan and Stephen Fuller were captured in a dug-out on 21 February and interrogated in Ballymullen Barracks, Tralee. ‘Interrogation’ involved being blind-folded, arms tied to the side and beaten about the head and back with a hammer by David Neligan, one of the many of Collins’s Squad drafted into the area to exact revenge on republicans. When this failed, shots were fired close to their heads, Before their ‘trial’ Fuller was shown nine coffins in the barracks. Shanahan collapsed from his injuries and this saved him when his comrades were taken out.

    The nine prisoners were put on a lorry with a heavy escort and driven along the Castleisland Road until they reached a log across the road. Here they were strapped to a mine at the log and this was detonated by the soldiers before they threw a few grenades and fired at the remains of the dead.

    Miraculously, one man survived uninjured, through his clothes were burnt off him. His comrades had borne the brunt of the explosion and he had been thrown clear. His name appeared on one of the nine coffins containing what remains of a soldier scraped up and which the Free State released to the relatives. Such was the furor when they opened the coffins and they saw the mutilated remains of their loved ones that the Free State authorities issued the following proclamation on 21 March:

    “Prisoners who die in military custody in the Kerry Command shall be interred by the troops in the area in which the death has taken place.”

    Stephen Fuller succeeded in getting to the IRA dug-out behind May Dalaigh’s house at Cnocan and his account was given to the newspapers by John Joe Sheehy. Fuller’s family were hounded for decades afterwards; he was never forgiven for surviving or for telling the truth.

    On the same day at Countess Bridge in Killarney four prisoners from the Great Southern Hotel Barracks were blown up and machine-gunned; another, Tadhg Coffey, succeeded in escaping. The dead were Stephen Buckley of Rathdrinagh, Dan Donoghue of Lacca, Tim Murphy of Rathbrean and Jer Donoghue. Another man, the tailor in the barracks who had befriended the prisoners, Sugrue, was executed by the soldiers when they returned to the barracks.

    Five days later, Dan Shea, John Sugrue, Willie Riordan, Eugene Dwyer and Mike Courtney, who had been arrested while attending a wake were brought from Bahaghs Workhouse Barracks, Cahirciveen and blown up by soldiers of Collins’s Dublin Guards, who were responsible for many of the atrocities in the Kerry area.

    One Free State officer, Lieutenant McCarthy, later gave an account of what occurred and resigned from the army. He said:

    “There was no attempt to escape, as the prisoners were shot first and then put over a mine and blown up. It was a Free State mine, laid by themselves. It is a murder gang that is going around trying to keep on the war.”

    On 11 March Frank Grady was shot dead while under escort by Captain ‘Tiny’ Lyons. Two days later Seamus Taylor of Glencar who had been captured in his mother’s house, was brought to Ballyseeedy Wood after a day’s ‘interrogation’ and riddled. On 15 March, the day after Grady and Taylor were buried, John Kevins of Beaufort was wounded while buying cigarettes and died later being refused proper medical aid which had been proffered. Another Beaufort man, Jeremiah Casey was found dead having been lured to the barracks on some pretext.

    Bob McCarthy of Monaree was burned in the Workhouse in Tralee the day after he was captured and brutalized on 25 March, Two days later James Walsh of Currow was another victim of the roadside execution at the cross of Glountrane. The next night Jack Fleming, who had been captured earlier, was taken from Ballymullen Barracks where he died. Two other unarmed Volunteers were gunned down after surrendering in the Derry na Feena area on 6 April, George Nagle and Conway O’Connor.

    On 13 April John Linnane was shot in the face when emerging from a dug-out which was being searched by Free Staters. On the 24th Daniel Murphy was taken to a field near his home in Knocknagashel and executed.

    The story of Aero Lyons and his five comrades and how they stood siege for three nights and three days in Clashmealcon Caves captures the determination of Kerry republicans and the barbarity of the Free State forces. Surrounded in Drumfort’s Cave, named after a Fenian who hid there in 1867, seven Volunteers held off a huge Free State contingent. Two of the Volunteers, Tommy McGrath and Patrick O’Shea died when they fell into the sea as they were trying to get reinforcements.

    Trapped in the cave the other Volunteers braved a barrage of fire bombs, grenades, and rifle fire as well as the Atlantic wind and the raging sea which was threatening to engulf their cave, before emerging to negotiate terms. A rope lowered to bring up ‘Aero’ Lyons was severed as he reached the cliff edge. When he hit the rocks below, he was riddled by the soldiers. The remaining four were taken up and three, Jim McEnery, Rudge Hathaway, and Edward Greaney were executed seven days after Aero died. The remaining one, Jimmy McGrath, who had been tortured before leading the soldiers to the caves was let go. Kerry republicans paid a heavy price for standing with the Republic against the barbarism of the Free State 75 years ago. Their deaths and the way they died shall not be forgotten, but remembered to show the extremes which the fledgling state would stoop to prop up herself and the determination of republicans to resist its illegal rule and to defend the ideals of the Republic.

  • Yoda

    1916 was an unmitigated disaster by any measure. It was unwanted, unwarranted, unsuccessful, undemocratic and led by a man who’s ideological obsessions would have rendered him impotent in a democracy.


    It’s easy to criticise, so what would you think should have happened?

    I take it that you see no room in history for any group that strives to bring about social change?

    “Democracy” is often bandied about as if it were some sort of moral absolute, as if it had nothing to do with violence or coercion.

    There’s no doubting democracy’s benefits, but it too has often been quite violent, discriminatory, stupid and slow to change without pressure. Violence is a political tool.

    And not surprisingly, violence has sometimes been the only language democracy speaks and understands.

    Violence is often used by democratic institutions that condemn the use of violence by anyone else. From the pint of view of violence, a democracy is a state that reserves the right to brutalise and hurt its own people. It just doesn’t tend to like anyone else doing it.

    Violence isn’t going anywhere. It will always be with us.

  • Joe

    “It’s easy to criticise, so what would you think should have happened?”

    Its not easy for an Irish person to criticize 1916. It takes a bit of pluck given how it is revered. Usually it invites sneers of west brit etc.

    “I take it that you see no room in history for any group that strives to bring about social change?”

    Are you saying the only way to bring about social change is by armed insurrection with great destruction of life and property on all sides? Its relatively easy to begin a cycle of violence. Where it leads to and the sort of people who emerge to direct it is a different matter. All too often it gives way to a cycle of violence for its own sake and sheer bloodlust. The question also presupposes that there was no other means of bringing about social change in Ireland in 1916. There were the political parties such as the Labour Party, the Home Rule Parliamentary party of Redmond, Griffith’s non-violent Sinn Fein as well as a host of what today would be called NGOs eg. Gaelic League, Credit Union movement, GAA, the trade unions etc. There were also free elections to local authorities with real power and a thriving free press. Apart from the delay in home rule and the complications arising from the Ulster crises the place was fairly free by European standards, arguably more so since there was no conscription. There was also grim poverty but did independence solve that overnight? The oppressions of previous centuries such as the land issue, laws against Catholics and suffrage rights had been addressed.

    ” Democracy is often bandied about as if it were some sort of moral absolute, as if it had nothing to do with violence or coercion. “

    Its not a moral absolute but in practice it means that government is representative of the people being governed; that the people appoint the government and that people can change the government peacefully. It usually means also that the losers accept the results and that those who want change have to wait until they can persuade a reasonable number of people to agree with them. One of the essences of democracy is that the State has a monopoly of armed force. This can be abused as can the power of majority but in a highly developed democracy with a high standard of governance it is the best type of political organisation that there is and worth defending.

    “Violence is a political tool”

    But is it right or does that matter? I’m sure the authors of the Kingsmill and Darkley massacres would have agreed with that statement. But so would Lennie Murphy and Michael Stone. What’s sauce for the IRA goose can be sauce for the loyalist gander. Where does it end? Might there be other ways of doing things that don’t leave a heap of corpses? Or is that what you prefer?

    “Violence isn’t going anywhere. It will always be with us.”

    Regrettably true human nature being what it is but that does not invalidate democracy. A democracy can successfully counter the likes of terrorism, organised crime and other sources of violence.

  • Belfastwhite

    Joe maybe you can tell us what was democratic about this event in Irish history?

    This is from An Phoblacht, 11 December 1997:

    State Executions

    By Wayne Sugg

    On 8 December 1922 IRA Volunteers Rory O’Connor, Dick Barrett and Joe McKelvey were taken from their cells in Mountjoy Jail and executed by a Free State firing squad in reprisal for the IRA’s assassination of government member Sean Hales and the injuring of his colleague Pádraig O’Maille the previous day.

    The execution of these four Republicans was carried out under the Army Emergency Powers Bill. This bill, known as the `Murder Bill’ by republicans, was passed by the Free State regime on 15 October after being proposed by Richard Mulcahy, Minister for Defence and seconded by Eoin McNeill, Minister for Education. The bill gave military courts a wide range of powers including that of execution for offences such as possessing arm or aiding and abetting attacks on Free State forces.

    The first time the new powers were used to their full effect was on 17 November when four young Volunteers, James Fisher, Peter Cassidy, John Gaffney and Richard Twohig were executed in Kilmainham Jail for possession of arms. These first executions were believed by republicans to prepare the way for the execution of Erskine Childers who, as Director of Propaganda, had been a thorn in the Free State’s side since the outbreak of the Civil War.

    Childers had been captured on 10 November at his cousin Robert Barton’s house in County Wicklow. He was convicted by a military court of the unlawful possession of a handgun, a handgun which had been given to him the year before by Michael Collins. Childers was executed on 24 November.

    In response to the first executions IRA Chief of Staff Liam Lynch, issued a general order on 30 November authorising IRA units to target members of the Free State regime who voted for the Army Emergency Powers Bill and other supporters of the Free State government. The only TD shot dead under this general order was Seán Hales, who was shot dead by Volunteer Owen Donnelly of the Dublin Brigade.

    The fact that Mellows, O’Connor, Barrett and McKelvey were singled out for the state’s reprisal surprised people on both sides in the conflict. None of these men had been active in the war since the surrender of the Four Courts garrison where they had all been members of the Executive Coucil. Rory O’Connor and Liam Mellows had actively tried to prevent Civil War through the army unity talks in May. Whoever selected the men significantly chose one from each province: McKelvey (Ulster), Barrett (Munster), Mellows (Connaught), O’Connor (Leinster); and ensured that all were members of the IRB.

    The morning after Hales’ death a cabinet meeting unanimously authorised the execution of the four men; Kevin O’Higgins TD and Joe McGrath TD were the last to give their consent.

    A 20-strong firing party carried out the executions, ten standing, ten kneeling. In charge of the firing party was Colonel Hugo McNeill, nephew of Eoin McNeill and Colonel Hugh Gunn ( who had been a personal friend of McKelvey’s). Rory O’Connor died instantly, as most of the fire was aimed at him. At one stage his clothes burst into flames which caused hysteria amongst the firing party. When the firing subsided murmuring was heard from one of the men lying on the ground. It was Joe McKelvey, badly injured. He called on McNeill to shoot him. McNeill fired two shots into McKelvey, one to the chest, and one to the head.

    Some of Ireland’s most active military leaders during the Tan War now lay dead, gunned down by men who they had once stood side by side with during that struggle. These shameful acts, which would continue throughout the Civil War, took place 75 years ago this week.

  • Joe

    I’m well aware of Ballyseedy, the 77, Rory O’Connor, Erskine Childers etc. and other events / atrocities. I don’t need to be informed of them by “Republican News”. I don’t necessarily defend them. There were excesses to say the least. The line from those involved (and I spoke to people on both sides) was firstly this was counter terror – a newly independent parliamentary democracy was being attacked from within. eg. the sabotage of bridges, railways, Post Office robberies and burnings and other destruction of property, killings of members of the new guards and army. etc. This at a time when the pro-treaty government, was taking over the country from the British and trying to restore order at a time when they had were trying to arrange and army and a policy force almost from scratch. The Treaty was endorsed by the Dáil and the Government had one a subsequent election albeit there were issues around that result. Events took a very grave turn when the irregulars starting killing TDs in order to deprive the Government of a Dáil majority that way. This was when the counter-terror stepped up and there were what were really extra judicial killings. Several points: Unless the pro-Treaty side had been very firm and ruthless in the prosecution of the war they would have lost. They saw themselves as defending the nascent state and all of society from republican warmongers who would have brought utter ruin. To paraphrase Barry Goldwater extremism in the defence of democracy might be somewhat excusable. Ballyseedy was a local excess in response to irregulars cutting down trees laying them across roads and booby trapping them to kill the security forces who would arrive to move them away. I am not saying anything of this was justified or necessary. We can’t say now without getting into counterfactuals. At any rate they did succeed in prevailing in the civil war and allowed the State to begin its life. The counter-terror, in my view, does not invalidate the subsequent State. Martin Mansergh remarked recently that the Iraqi State is having an inauspicious beginning just like our State but that this did not doom it to ultimate failure. They were different times with different standards – e.g. the death penalty was still in use then and military courts survived up until the 1960’s. It should be noted that once the war ended the Government was quite magnanimous – prisoners were released fairly soon and there was no harassment except for those who remained active in the then IRA. The Cosgrave government established peace and stability and relinquished power to the bitter foes peacefully in 32. That was the action of deomocrats. They were prepared to give up power after loosing an election – they were not prepared to yield it to republican violence. I think it is important to note that democracy is not pacifist. It has to defend itself from internal subversion or external repression and depending on the threat it may have to use very strong means but properly constrained today by eg. human rights legislation and the Geneva Conventions rules for military conflicts.

  • Yoda

    “Violence is a political tool”

    But is it right or does that matter? I’m sure the authors of the Kingsmill and Darkley massacres would have agreed with that statement. But so would Lennie Murphy and Michael Stone. What’s sauce for the IRA goose can be sauce for the loyalist gander. Where does it end? Might there be other ways of doing things that don’t leave a heap of corpses? Or is that what you prefer?

    Is it “right”? In what sense? Realistically, it happens all the time, and no amount of complaining about it will stop that. Morally, one can justify violence in all sorts of ways. In short, I don’t get the question.

    Where does it end? It doesn’t. The best we can hope for in NI is nonsectarian violence, and I’m not even sure that that will be 100% achievable.

    I consider myself a political realist, which removes the easy option of pacifism. Taking the gun out of politics is the prudent political move at this point in time.

    Of course I welcome a reduction in the heap of corpses.

    I’ve no intention of killing anyone, but then again, I do not expect everyone to think like me.

    The best I can do is make the case for prudent political behaviour, so spare me your bathos.

  • Joe

    If we agree that we want to avoid more dead bodies in the streets or country ditches people of good will and moral sensibility should reject the use of violence as a political tool even in the face of provocation and rely on peaceful and democratic means only. As I see it justifying IRA violence as Danny Morrison is inclined to do degrades moral sensitivity to violence and leaves the way open for a resumption of an IRA campaign in some guise in the future.