Executions during the Irish Civil War
Overview
 
The executions during the Irish Civil War took place during the guerrilla phase
Guerrilla Phase of the Irish Civil War
The Guerrilla Phase of the Irish Civil War began in August 1922, when the forces of the Irish Free State took all the fixed positions previously held by the Anti-Treaty or Republican forces....

 of the Irish Civil War
Irish Civil War
The Irish Civil War was a conflict that accompanied the establishment of the Irish Free State as an entity independent from the United Kingdom within the British Empire....

 (October 1922 – May 1923). This phase of the war was bitter, and both sides, the government forces of the Irish Free State
Irish Free State
The Irish Free State was the state established as a Dominion on 6 December 1922 under the Anglo-Irish Treaty, signed by the British government and Irish representatives exactly twelve months beforehand...

 and the anti-Treaty Irish Republican Army
Irish Republican Army (1922–1969)
The original Irish Republican Army fought a guerrilla war against British rule in Ireland in the Irish War of Independence 1919–1921. Following the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty on 6 December 1921, the IRA in the 26 counties that were to become the Irish Free State split between supporters and...

 (IRA) insurgents, used executions and terror in what developed into a cycle of atrocities. From November 1922, the Free State government embarked on a concerted policy of executing
Capital punishment
Capital punishment, the death penalty, or execution is the sentence of death upon a person by the state as a punishment for an offence. Crimes that can result in a death penalty are known as capital crimes or capital offences. The term capital originates from the Latin capitalis, literally...

 Republican prisoners in order to bring the war to an end.
Encyclopedia
The executions during the Irish Civil War took place during the guerrilla phase
Guerrilla Phase of the Irish Civil War
The Guerrilla Phase of the Irish Civil War began in August 1922, when the forces of the Irish Free State took all the fixed positions previously held by the Anti-Treaty or Republican forces....

 of the Irish Civil War
Irish Civil War
The Irish Civil War was a conflict that accompanied the establishment of the Irish Free State as an entity independent from the United Kingdom within the British Empire....

 (October 1922 – May 1923). This phase of the war was bitter, and both sides, the government forces of the Irish Free State
Irish Free State
The Irish Free State was the state established as a Dominion on 6 December 1922 under the Anglo-Irish Treaty, signed by the British government and Irish representatives exactly twelve months beforehand...

 and the anti-Treaty Irish Republican Army
Irish Republican Army (1922–1969)
The original Irish Republican Army fought a guerrilla war against British rule in Ireland in the Irish War of Independence 1919–1921. Following the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty on 6 December 1921, the IRA in the 26 counties that were to become the Irish Free State split between supporters and...

 (IRA) insurgents, used executions and terror in what developed into a cycle of atrocities. From November 1922, the Free State government embarked on a concerted policy of executing
Capital punishment
Capital punishment, the death penalty, or execution is the sentence of death upon a person by the state as a punishment for an offence. Crimes that can result in a death penalty are known as capital crimes or capital offences. The term capital originates from the Latin capitalis, literally...

 Republican prisoners in order to bring the war to an end. Many of those killed had previously been allies and in some cases close friends (during the Irish War of Independence
Irish War of Independence
The Irish War of Independence , Anglo-Irish War, Black and Tan War, or Tan War was a guerrilla war mounted by the Irish Republican Army against the British government and its forces in Ireland. It began in January 1919, following the Irish Republic's declaration of independence. Both sides agreed...

 1919–1921), of those who ordered their deaths in the civil war. In addition, government troops summarily executed prisoners in the field on several occasions. The executions of prisoners left a lasting legacy of bitterness in Irish politics.

Context

The use of execution by the Irish Free State in the civil war was relatively harsh compared to the British record. In contrast with 77 official executions by the Irish Free State government, the British had executed only 24 IRA volunteers and the IRA had condemned to death a few dozen enemies during the 1919–21 War of Independence. One of the reasons for the draconian Free State policy from October 1922 was the death of Michael Collins
Michael Collins (Irish leader)
Michael "Mick" Collins was an Irish revolutionary leader, Minister for Finance and Teachta Dála for Cork South in the First Dáil of 1919, Director of Intelligence for the IRA, and member of the Irish delegation during the Anglo-Irish Treaty negotiations. Subsequently, he was both Chairman of the...

, the commander of Free State forces in an ambush on 22 August. Collins had hoped for a speedy reconciliation of the warring Irish nationalist factions, demanding that Republicans must 'accept the People's Verdict' but then could 'go home without their arms... We want to avoid any possible unnecessary destruction and loss of life. We do not want to mitigate their weakness by resolute action beyond what is required'.

After his death, however, the Free State government, led by W. T. Cosgrave, Richard Mulcahy
Richard Mulcahy
Richard James Mulcahy was an Irish politician, army general and commander in chief, leader of Fine Gael and Cabinet Minister...

 and Kevin O'Higgins
Kevin O'Higgins
Kevin Christopher O'Higgins was an Irish politician who served as Vice-President of the Executive Council and Minister for Justice. He was part of early nationalist Sinn Féin, before going on to become a prominent member of Cumann na nGaedheal. O'Higgins initiated the An Garda Síochána police force...

, took the position that the anti-Treaty IRA were conducting an unlawful rebellion against the legitimate Irish government and should be treated as criminals rather than as combatants. O'Higgins in particular voiced the opinion that the use of martial law was the only way to bring the war to an end.

Another factor contributing to the executions policy was the escalating level of violence. In the first two months of the Civil War (July–August 1922), Free State forces had successfully taken all the territory held by Republicans and the war seemed all but over. However, after the Anti-Treaty side resorted to guerrilla tactics in August–September, National Army
Irish Army
The Irish Army, officially named simply the Army is the main branch of the Defence Forces of Ireland. Approximately 8,500 men and women serve in the Irish Army, divided into three infantry Brigades...

 casualties mounted and they even lost control over some of the territory taken in the Irish Free State offensive
Irish Free State offensive
The Irish Free State offensive of July–September 1922 was the decisive military stroke of the Irish Civil War. It was carried out by the National Army of the newly created Irish Free State against anti-treaty strongholds in the south and southwest of Ireland....

. The town of Kenmare
Kenmare
Kenmare is a small town in the south of County Kerry, Ireland. The name Kenmare is the anglicised form of Ceann Mara meaning "head of the sea", referring to the head of Kenmare Bay.-Location:...

, for example, was re-taken by Anti-Treaty fighters on 9 September and held by them until early December.

Legal basis for the executions

On 27 September 1922, three months after the outbreak of war, the Free State's Provisional Government put before the Dáil proposed legislation on setting up military courts – in effect instituting martial law
Martial law
Martial law is the imposition of military rule by military authorities over designated regions on an emergency basis— only temporary—when the civilian government or civilian authorities fail to function effectively , when there are extensive riots and protests, or when the disobedience of the law...

 for the duration of the conflict. The legislation, commonly referred to as the Public Safety Bill, allowed for the execution of men captured bearing arms against the state and aiding and abetting attacks on state forces.

A motion was put to the Dáil by the Minister for Defence on 26 September to amend the army's Emergency Powers Order, that stated:
"(IV.) The breach of any general order or regulation made by the Army authorities; and the infliction by such Military Courts or Committees of the punishment of death, or of imprisonment for any period, or of a fine of any amount either with or without imprisonment, on any person found guilty by any such Court or Committee of any of the offences aforesaid;"


This motion was amended and approved by resolution of the Dáil, after considerable debate. The Republican, or Anti-Treaty, members had refused to take their seats in the Parliament and the opposition to the measures was provided by the Labour Party
Labour Party (Ireland)
The Labour Party is a social-democratic political party in the Republic of Ireland. The Labour Party was founded in 1912 in Clonmel, County Tipperary, by James Connolly, James Larkin and William X. O'Brien as the political wing of the Irish Trade Union Congress. Unlike the other main Irish...

, who likened the legislation to a military dictatorship
Military dictatorship
A military dictatorship is a form of government where in the political power resides with the military. It is similar but not identical to a stratocracy, a state ruled directly by the military....

. W. T. Cosgrave, the head of the Provisional Government, told the Dáil in response, "although I have always objected to the death penalty, there is no other way that I know of in which ordered conditions can be restored in this country, or any security obtained for our troops, or to give our troops any confidence in us as a government".

The final version, passed on 18 October 1922, stated:
"(4) The breach of any general order or regulation made by the Army Council and the infliction by such Military Courts or Committees of the punishment of death or of penal servitude for any period or of imprisonment for any period or of a fine of any amount either with or without imprisonment on any person found guilty by such Court or Committee of any of the offences aforesaid. Provided that no such sentence of death be executed except under the countersignature of two members of the Army Council".


The Order was strengthened in January 1923 to allow execution for many other categories of offence, including non-combatant republican supporters carrying messages, assisting in escapes, using army or police uniforms, and also deserters from the National Army.

After the Civil War the government also felt the need to pass the Indemnity Act, 1923, which stipulated that all sentences passed on military prisoners taken by the Provisional Government's forces, before the passing of the Act, were retrospectively "valid". Two Public Safety Acts were also passed in 1923.

Other social pressures

Soon after the passage of the resolution, several other pressures were brought to bear on republican fighters.

On 3 October, the Free State had offered an amnesty
Amnesty
Amnesty is a legislative or executive act by which a state restores those who may have been guilty of an offense against it to the positions of innocent people, without changing the laws defining the offense. It includes more than pardon, in as much as it obliterates all legal remembrance of the...

 to any Anti-Treaty fighters who surrendered their arms and recognised the government. However there was little response.

On 10 October, the Catholic
Roman Catholicism in Ireland
The Catholic Church in Ireland is part of the worldwide Catholic Church, the Christian Church with full communion with the Pope, currently Benedict XVI...

 Hierarchy
Hierarchy
A hierarchy is an arrangement of items in which the items are represented as being "above," "below," or "at the same level as" one another...

 issued a statement condemning the Anti-Treaty fighters, ending with: "All who in contravention of this teaching, participate in such crimes are guilty of grievous sins and may not be absolved in Confession nor admitted to the Holy Communion if they persist in such evil courses." In effect this meant that the unrepenting guilty would be excommunicated, and could not expect a church burial or to pass on to heaven. In a population that was 90% Catholic and considered very observant, this gave a clear moral message at an opportune time for the Provisional Government.

On 15 October, directives were sent to the press by Free State director of communications, Piaras Béaslaí
Piaras Béaslaí
Piaras Béaslaí was a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, a member of Dáil Éireann and also an Irish author, playwright, biographer and translator....

 to the effect that Free State troops were to be referred to as the "National Army", the "Irish Army", or just "troops". The Anti-Treaty side were to be called "Irregulars" and were not to be referred to as "Republicans", "IRA", "forces", or "troops", nor were the ranks of their officers allowed to be given.

From now on, the Free State, equipped with legislation, the support of the Church and of much of the Press was prepared to treat the Republican fighters as criminals rather than as combatants

The first executions and reprisals

On 17 November, in the first use of the powers enacted under the Public Safety Act, five Anti-Treaty IRA fighters who had been captured with arms in county Wicklow
County Wicklow
County Wicklow is a county in Ireland. It is part of the Mid-East Region and is also located in the province of Leinster. It is named after the town of Wicklow, which derives from the Old Norse name Víkingalág or Wykynlo. Wicklow County Council is the local authority for the county...

 were shot by firing squad in Dublin. On 19 November, three more Anti-Treaty IRA men were executed, also in Dublin. On 24 November, Robert Erskine Childers
Robert Erskine Childers
Robert Erskine Childers DSC , universally known as Erskine Childers, was the author of the influential novel Riddle of the Sands and an Irish nationalist who smuggled guns to Ireland in his sailing yacht Asgard. He was executed by the authorities of the nascent Irish Free State during the Irish...

, an acclaimed author and secretary to the Anglo-Irish Treaty negotiations that had created the Irish Free State was executed. He had been captured on 10 November in possession of a pistol, which ironically had been given to him by the Pro-Treaty leader Michael Collins before the split in the Republican movement. Childers was the Republican head of propaganda and it was widely speculated that eight low ranking Republicans were shot before Childers so that it would not look as if he had been singled out for special treatment.

In response to the executions, on 30 November, Liam Lynch
Liam Lynch (general)
Liam Lynch was an officer in the Irish Republican Army during the Irish War of Independence and the commanding general of the anti-Treaty Irish Republican Army during the Irish Civil War.-Early life:...

, Chief of Staff of the anti-treaty IRA, ordered that any member of Parliament (TD
Teachta Dála
A Teachta Dála , usually abbreviated as TD in English, is a member of Dáil Éireann, the lower house of the Oireachtas . It is the equivalent of terms such as "Member of Parliament" or "deputy" used in other states. The official translation of the term is "Deputy to the Dáil", though a more literal...

) or senator who had signed or voted for the "murder bill" should be shot on sight. He also ordered the killing of hostile judges and newspaper editors. On the same day, three more Republican prisoners were executed in Dublin.

On 7 December, Anti-Treaty IRA gunmen shot two TDs, Seán Hales
Sean Hales
Sean Hales was an Irish political activist in the early 20th century. Hales was born in Ballinadee, County Cork, where he and his brothers Tom, Donal and Robert were involved in the Irish Republican Army during the Irish War of Independence.At the 1921 elections Hales was elected to the Second...

 and Pádraic Ó Máille
Pádraic Ó Máille
Pádraic Ó Máille was an Irish politician. He was born in County Galway and was a farmer. He was a founder member of Sinn Féin and of the Gaelic League in Galway. He was a member of the Irish Volunteers from 1917–1921....

, in Dublin as they were on their way to the Dáil. Hales was killed and O'Maille was badly wounded. After an emergency cabinet meeting, the Free State government decided on the retaliatory executions of four prominent Republicans (one from each province
Provinces of Ireland
Ireland has historically been divided into four provinces: Leinster, Ulster, Munster and Connacht. The Irish word for this territorial division, cúige, literally meaning "fifth part", indicates that there were once five; the fifth province, Meath, was incorporated into Leinster, with parts going to...

). Accordingly, on 8 December 1922, the day after Hales' killing, four members of the IRA Army Executive, who had been held since the first week of the war - Rory O'Connor
Rory O'Connor (Irish republican)
Rory O'Connor was an Irish republican activist. He is best remembered for his role in the Irish Civil War 1922-1923, which led to his execution.-Background:...

, Liam Mellows
Liam Mellows
Liam Mellows was an Irish Republican and Sinn Féin politician. Born in England, Mellows grew up in County Wexford in Ireland. He was active with the Irish Republican Brotherhood and Irish Volunteers, and participated in the Easter Rising in County Galway, and the War of Independence...

, Richard Barrett
Richard Barrett (Irish Republican)
Richard Barrett was a prominent Irish Republican Army volunteer who was executed during the Irish Civil War in 1922.-War of Independence:...

 and Joe McKelvey
Joe McKelvey
Joe McKelvey was an Irish Republican Army officer who was executed during the Irish Civil War. He participated in the anti-Treaty IRA's repudiation of the authority of the Dáil in March 1922 and was elected to the IRA Army Executive...

 - were executed in revenge. This was arguably an unlawful act, as the four Republicans had been captured before the Dáil passed the legislation authorising executions. Later on the same day the Dáil debated the executions and approved by a vote of 39-14. One of the poignant aspects of the incident was that O'Connor and Kevin O'Higgins were formerly close friends, and O'Connor had been best man at O'Higgins' wedding just a few months previously. Historian Michael Hopkinson reports that Richard Mulcahy had pressed for the executions and that Kevin O'Higgins was the last member of cabinet to give his consent.

Seán Hales was the only TD to be killed in the war. However, Republicans continued to attack elected representatives in reprisal for executions of their men. On 10 December, the house of TD Sean McGarry
Sean McGarry
Seán McGarry was a 20th century Irish nationalist and politician. A longtime senior member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood , he served as its president from May 1917 until November 1918 when he was one of a number of nationalist leaders arrested for his alleged involvement in the so-called...

 was burned down, killing his seven year old son. In addition, homes of Senators were among the 192 burned or destroyed by the IRA in the war. In February 1923, Kevin O'Higgins' elderly father was murdered by Republicans at the family home in Stradbally. W.T. Cosgrave's home was also burned and an uncle of his was assassinated.

Official executions

In all, the Free State formally sanctioned the execution of between 77 and 81 anti-treaty fighters during the war. Republican historian Dorothy Macardle
Dorothy Macardle
Dorothy Macardle was an Irish author and historian. Her book, The Irish Republic, is one of the more frequently cited narrative accounts of the Irish War of Independence and its aftermath...

 popularised the number 77 in Republican consciousness, but she appears to have left out those executed for activities such as armed robbery. Those executed were tried by court-martial
Court-martial
A court-martial is a military court. A court-martial is empowered to determine the guilt of members of the armed forces subject to military law, and, if the defendant is found guilty, to decide upon punishment.Most militaries maintain a court-martial system to try cases in which a breach of...

 in a military court and had to be found guilty only of bearing arms against the State.

After the initial round of executions, the firing squads got underway again in earnest in late December 1922. On 19 December, seven IRA men from Kildare were shot in the Curragh Camp, Co. Kildare. and ten days later, two more were shot in Kilkenny
Kilkenny
Kilkenny is a city and is the county town of the eponymous County Kilkenny in Ireland. It is situated on both banks of the River Nore in the province of Leinster, in the south-east of Ireland...

. Most of those executed were prisoners held in Kilmainham and Mountjoy Gaols in Dublin, but from January 1923, Kevin O'Higgins argued that executions should be carried out in every county
County
A county is a jurisdiction of local government in certain modern nations. Historically in mainland Europe, the original French term, comté, and its equivalents in other languages denoted a jurisdiction under the sovereignty of a count A county is a jurisdiction of local government in certain...

 in order to maximise their impact. Accordingly, in that month, 34 prisoners were shot in such places as Dundalk
Dundalk
Dundalk is the county town of County Louth in Ireland. It is situated where the Castletown River flows into Dundalk Bay. The town is close to the border with Northern Ireland and equi-distant from Dublin and Belfast. The town's name, which was historically written as Dundalgan, has associations...

, Roscrea
Roscrea
Roscrea is a small heritage town in North Tipperary, Ireland. The town has a population of 4,910. Its main industries include meat processing and pharmaceuticals. It is a civil parish in the historical barony of Ikerrin...

, Carlow
Carlow
Carlow is the county town of County Carlow in Ireland. It is situated in the south-east of Ireland, 84 km from Dublin. County Carlow is the second smallest county in Ireland by area, however Carlow Town is the 14th largest urban area in Ireland by population according to the 2006 census. The...

, Birr
Birr
Birr is a town in County Offaly, Ireland. Once called Parsonstown, after the Parsons family who were local landowners and hereditary Earls of Rosse. It is also a parish in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Killaloe....

 and Portlaoise, Limerick
Limerick
Limerick is the third largest city in the Republic of Ireland, and the principal city of County Limerick and Ireland's Mid-West Region. It is the fifth most populous city in all of Ireland. When taking the extra-municipal suburbs into account, Limerick is the third largest conurbation in the...

, Tralee and Athlone. From 8–18 February, the Free State suspended executions and offered an amnesty in the hope that anti-treaty fighters would surrender. However, the war dragged for another two months and witnessed at least twenty more official executions.

Several Republican leaders narrowly avoided execution. Ernie O'Malley
Ernie O'Malley
Ernie O'Malley was an Irish Republican Army officer during the Irish War of Independence and a commander of the anti-treaty IRA during the Irish Civil War. O'Malley wrote three books, On Another Man's Wound, The Singing Flame, and Raids and Rallies. The first describes his early life and role in...

, captured on 4 November 1922, was not executed because he was too badly wounded when taken prisoner to face a court martial and possibly because the Free State was hesitant about executing an undisputed hero of the recent struggle against the British. Liam Deasy
Liam Deasy
Liam Deasy was an Irish Republican Army officer in the Irish War of Independence and the Irish Civil War of the 1920s.Deasy was born in Bandon in County Cork in 1898....

, captured in January 1923 avoided execution by signing a surrender document calling on the anti-treaty forces to lay down their arms.

The Anti-Treaty side called a ceasefire on 30 April 1923 and ordered their men to "dump arms", ending the war, on 24 May. Nevertheless, executions of Republican prisoners continued after this time. Four IRA men were executed in May after the ceasefire order and the final two executions took place on 20 November, months after the end of hostilities. It was not until November 1924 that a general amnesty was offered for any acts committed in the civil war.

In highlighting the severity of the Free State's execution policy, however, it is important not to exaggerate its extent. The Free State took a total of over 12,000 Republicans prisoner during the war, of whom roughly 80, less than 1% were executed. How those who were executed were chosen from the others captured in arms is unclear, however many more men were sentenced to the death penalty than were actually shot. This was intended to act as a deterrent to anti-Treaty fighters in the field, who knew that their imprisoned comrades were likely to be executed if they kept up their armed campaign.

Unofficial killings

In addition to the judicial executions, Free State troops conducted many extrajudicial killings of captured Anti-Treaty fighters. Such activity was perhaps inevitable in a war that was defined by killings and reprisals on both sides. However, from an early point in the war, from late August 1922 (coinciding with the onset of guerrilla warfare), there were many incidents of National Army troops killing prisoners.

In Dublin, there were a number of killings carried out by the new (police) Intelligence service, the Criminal Investigation Department
Criminal Investigation Department (Ireland)
The Criminal Investigation Department in the Irish Free State was an armed, plain-clothed counter-insurgency police unit that operated during the Irish Civil War. It was organised separately from the unarmed Civic Guard police force...

 (CID), which was headed by Joseph McGrath
Joseph McGrath (politician)
Joseph McGrath was an Irish politician and businessman. He was a Sinn Féin and later a Cumann na nGaedheal Teachta Dála for various constituencies in Dublin and County Mayo and developed widespread business interests.-Political career:McGrath was born in Dublin in 1887...

 and was based in Oriel House
Oriel House, Westland Row
Oriel House, Westland Row is a building at the intersection of Westland Row and Fenian Street in Dublin.It was the headquarters of Dunlop Rubber, and the address at which the original pneumatic tyre patent was draughted in 1893 'for the wheels of Velocipedes and other Vehicles'.During the Irish...

 in Dublin city centre. By 9 September, a British intelligence report stated that "Oriel House" had already killed "a number of Republicans" in Dublin. In a number of cases, Anti-Treaty IRA men were abducted by Free State forces, killed and their bodies dumped in public places; republican sources detail at least 25 such cases in the Dublin area. There were also allegations of abuse of prisoners during interrogation by the CID. For example, Republican Tom Derrig had an eye shot out while in custody.

County Kerry
County Kerry
Kerry means the "people of Ciar" which was the name of the pre-Gaelic tribe who lived in part of the present county. The legendary founder of the tribe was Ciar, son of Fergus mac Róich. In Old Irish "Ciar" meant black or dark brown, and the word continues in use in modern Irish as an adjective...

, where the guerrilla campaign was most intense, would see many of the most vicious episodes in the civil war. On 27 August, in the first such incident of its type, two anti-treaty fighters were shot after they had surrendered in Tralee, County Kerry. One of them, James Healy, was left for dead but survived to tell of the incident. Republicans also killed prisoners. After their successful attack on Kenmare
Kenmare
Kenmare is a small town in the south of County Kerry, Ireland. The name Kenmare is the anglicised form of Ceann Mara meaning "head of the sea", referring to the head of Kenmare Bay.-Location:...

 on 9 September, the Anti-Treaty IRA separated National Army officer Tom "Scarteen" O'Connor and his brother from the 120 other prisoners and shot them dead. There were a steady stream of similar incidents after this point in County Kerry, culminating in a series of high profile atrocities in the month of March 1923.

Also in September, a party of nine anti-treaty fighters was wiped out near Sligo
Sligo
Sligo is the county town of County Sligo in Ireland. The town is a borough and has a charter and a town mayor. It is sometimes referred to as a city, and sometimes as a town, and is the second largest urban area in Connacht...

 by Free State troops. Four of them, (including Brian MacNeill, the son of Eoin MacNeill
Eoin MacNeill
Eoin MacNeill was an Irish scholar, nationalist, revolutionary and politician. MacNeill is regarded as the father of the modern study of early Irish medieval history. He was a co-founder of the Gaelic League, to preserve Irish language and culture, going on to establish the Irish Volunteers...

) were later found to have been shot at close range in the forehead, indicating that they had been shot after surrendering.

The Ballyseedy Massacre and its aftermath


March 1923 saw a series of notorious incidents in Kerry, where 23 republican prisoners were killed in the field (and another 5 judicially executed) in a period of just four weeks.

The killings were sparked off when five Free State soldiers were killed by a booby trap
Booby trap
A booby trap is a device designed to harm or surprise a person, unknowingly triggered by the presence or actions of the victim. As the word trap implies, they often have some form of bait designed to lure the victim towards it. However, in other cases the device is placed on busy roads or is...

 bomb while searching a republican dug out at the village of Knocknagoshel
Knocknagoshel
Knocknagoshel, officially Knocknagashel , is a village in County Kerry, Ireland. According to the 2006 census, the population of the village was 760.-History:...

, county Kerry, on 6 March. The next day, the local Free State commander authorised the use of Republican prisoners to clear mined roads. Paddy Daly
Paddy Daly
Paddy Daly sometimes referred to as Paddy O'Daly, served in the Irish Republican Army during the Irish War of Independence and subsequently held the rank of Major-General in the Irish National Army in the period 1922 to 1924.-Easter Rising:...

 justified the measure as, 'the only alternative left to us to prevent the wholesale slaughter of our men'. National Army troops may have interpreted this as permission to take revenge on the anti-treaty side.

The following day, 6/7 March, nine Republican prisoners were taken from Ballymullen barracks in Tralee to Ballyseedy
Ballyseedy
Ballyseedy is a townland in County Kerry, Ireland. It was historically situated in the parish of Ballyseedy, within the barony of Trughanacmy. The townland contains a number of notable landmarks, including Ballyseedy Wood, a bridge over the Ballycarty River and a ruined Protestant church...

 crossroads and tied to a landmine
Land mine
A land mine is usually a weight-triggered explosive device which is intended to damage a target—either human or inanimate—by means of a blast and/or fragment impact....

 which was then detonated, after which the survivors were machine-gunned. One of the prisoners, Stephen Fuller
Stephen Fuller
Stephen Fuller was an Irish Fianna Fáil Party politician who served as TD for the Kerry North constituency.Fuller served in the Irish Republican Army during the Irish War of Independence . He opposed the Anglo-Irish Treaty in 1922 and fought in the Anti-Treaty IRA during the Irish Civil War...

, was blown to safety by the blast of the explosion. He was taken in at the nearby home of Michael and Hannah Curran. They cared for him and, although badly injured, he survived. Fuller later became a Fianna Fáil
Fianna Fáil
Fianna Fáil – The Republican Party , more commonly known as Fianna Fáil is a centrist political party in the Republic of Ireland, founded on 23 March 1926. Fianna Fáil's name is traditionally translated into English as Soldiers of Destiny, although a more accurate rendition would be Warriors of Fál...

 TD
Teachta Dála
A Teachta Dála , usually abbreviated as TD in English, is a member of Dáil Éireann, the lower house of the Oireachtas . It is the equivalent of terms such as "Member of Parliament" or "deputy" used in other states. The official translation of the term is "Deputy to the Dáil", though a more literal...

. The Free State troops in nearby Tralee had prepared nine coffins and were surprised to find only eight bodies on the scene. There was a riot when the bodies were brought back to Tralee, where the enraged relatives of the killed prisoners broke open the coffins as a statement of contempt for the Free State and its troops, and in an effort to identify the dead.

This was followed by a series of similar incidents with mines within twenty four hours of the Ballyseedy killings. Five Republican prisoners were blown up with another landmine at Countess Bridge near Killarney
Killarney
Killarney is a town in County Kerry, southwestern Ireland. The town is located north of the MacGillicuddy Reeks, on the northeastern shore of the Lough Lein/Leane which are part of Killarney National Park. The town and its surrounding region are home to St...

 and four in the same manner at Cahersiveen. Another Republican prisoner, Seamus Taylor was taken to Ballyseedy woods by National Army troops and shot dead.

On 28 March, five IRA men, captured in an attack on Cahersiveen on 5 March were officially executed in Tralee. Another, captured the same day, was summarily shot and killed. Thirty two anti-Treaty fighters died in Kerry in March 1923, of whom only five were killed in combat Free State officer Niall Harrington has suggested that reprisal killings of republican prisoners continued in Kerry right up to the end of the war.

The Free State unit, the Dublin Guard
Dublin Guard
The Dublin Guard was a unit of the Irish Republican Army, in the Irish War of Independence and then of the Irish National Army during the Irish Civil War 1922-23.-Foundation:...

, and in particular their commander Paddy Daly
Paddy Daly
Paddy Daly sometimes referred to as Paddy O'Daly, served in the Irish Republican Army during the Irish War of Independence and subsequently held the rank of Major-General in the Irish National Army in the period 1922 to 1924.-Easter Rising:...

, were widely held to be responsible for these killings. They, however, claimed that the prisoners had been killed while clearing roads by landmines laid by Republicans. When questioned in the Dáil by Irish Labour Party leader Thomas Johnson
Thomas Johnson (Irish politician)
Thomas Johnson was an Irish nationalist and Irish Labour Party leader. He was elected a Teachta Dála for Dublin County to the Third Dáil at the 1922 general election and was the leader of the Labour Party until 1927...

, Richard Mulcahy
Richard Mulcahy
Richard James Mulcahy was an Irish politician, army general and commander in chief, leader of Fine Gael and Cabinet Minister...

, the National Army's commander-in-chief, backed up Daly's story. A military Court of Enquiry conducted in April 1923 cleared the Free State troops of the charge of killing their prisoners.

It has since emerged, however, that the prisoners were beaten, tied to explosives and then killed. At Cahersiveen, the prisoners were reportedly shot in the legs before being blown up to prevent them escaping. Two Free State officers, Lieutenants Niall Harrington and McCarthy (who both resigned over the incidents) later stated that not only were the explosives detonated by the Free State troops, they had also been made by them and laid there for this purpose. Documents released in late 2008 show that the Free State Cabinet was aware that the Army's version of events was flawed. An investigation concluded that the prisoners had been killed by a party of National Army soldiers from Dublin known as the 'visiting committee' and that those at Cahersiveen had been beaten and shot before being blown up.

What exactly prompted this outbreak of vindictive killings in March 1923 is unclear. While the National Army troops in Kerry were clearly enraged by the killings of their comrades at Knocknagoshel, a total of 68 Free State soldiers had been killed in the county and 157 wounded up to that point. A total of 85 would die in Kerry before the war was over. Why the deaths at Knocknagoshel prompted such a savage response remains an open question. However, it has never been proven that the National Army atrocities of March 1923 were authorised by the Free State government or the National Army high command.

In addition to the bloody events in Kerry, two similar episodes took place elsewhere in the country in the same month.

On 13 March, three Republican fighters were judicially executed in Wexford
Wexford
Wexford is the county town of County Wexford, Ireland. It is situated near the southeastern corner of Ireland, close to Rosslare Europort. The town is connected to Dublin via the M11/N11 National Primary Route, and the national rail network...

 in the south east. In revenge, Bob Lambert, the local Republican leader, had three National Army soldiers captured and killed.

On 14 March at Drumboe Castle
Drumboe Castle
Drumboe Castle is located in County Donegal, Ireland. It is infamous for being the location of the Drumboe massacre during the Irish Civil War....

 in County Donegal
County Donegal
County Donegal is a county in Ireland. It is part of the Border Region and is also located in the province of Ulster. It is named after the town of Donegal. Donegal County Council is the local authority for the county...

, in the north west, four anti-Treaty IRA fighters, Charles Daly (26), Sean Larkin (26), Daniel Enwright (23), and Timothy O' Sullivan (23), who had been captured and held in the castle since January, were summarily shot in retaliation for the death of a National Army soldier in an ambush.

The end of the war

Even after the war had ended in May 1923, Free State troops continued killings of anti-Treaty fighters. For example, Noel Lemass, a captain in the anti-Treaty IRA, was abducted in Dublin and shot by Free State forces in July 1923, two months after the war had ended. His body was dumped in the Dublin Mountains, near Glencree
Glencree
Glencree is a valley in the Wicklow Mountains in eastern Ireland. It is the second closest valley in the mountains to Dublin city, the first being Glencullen. The river Dargle flows down the valley, which rises to a height of abut 400 metres...

, where it was found in October 1923. The spot where his body was found is marked by a memorial erected by his brother Seán Lemass
Seán Lemass
Seán Francis Lemass was one of the most prominent Irish politicians of the 20th century. He served as Taoiseach from 1959 until 1966....

 - a future Taoiseach
Taoiseach
The Taoiseach is the head of government or prime minister of Ireland. The Taoiseach is appointed by the President upon the nomination of Dáil Éireann, the lower house of the Oireachtas , and must, in order to remain in office, retain the support of a majority in the Dáil.The current Taoiseach is...

 of Ireland. There are no conclusive figures for the number of unofficial executions of captured anti-treaty fighters, but Republican officer Todd Andrews
Todd Andrews
Christopher Stephen "Todd" Andrews was an Irish political activist and public servant. He participated in the Irish War of Independence and Civil War as a political and military activist in the Irish Republican movement. Todd Andrews never ran for election and was never a government minister...

 put the figure for "unauthorised killings" at 153.

Effects

Arguably the Government policy of executions did help to end the Civil war. After the executions in reprisal for the killing of Seán Hales, there were no further attempts to assassinate members of Parliament. The Anti-Treaty leaders were also aware that continuing the war would mean exposing their prisoners to further executions. This was probably a factor in Frank Aiken
Frank Aiken
Frank Aiken was a commander of the Irish Republican Army and later an Irish politician. A founding-member of Fianna Fáil, Aiken was first elected to Dáil Éireann in 1923 and at each subsequent election until 1973...

 calling a halt to the anti-Treaty campaign in April 1923.

There is no doubt that the executions and assassinations of the Civil War left a poisonous legacy of bitterness on both sides of Irish politics. The Free State's official executions of 77 Anti-Treaty prisoners during the civil war was recalled by Fianna Fáil
Fianna Fáil
Fianna Fáil – The Republican Party , more commonly known as Fianna Fáil is a centrist political party in the Republic of Ireland, founded on 23 March 1926. Fianna Fáil's name is traditionally translated into English as Soldiers of Destiny, although a more accurate rendition would be Warriors of Fál...

 (the political party that emerged from the anti-Treaty side in 1926) members with bitterness for decades afterwards. In the Irish republican tradition, those IRA members executed in the civil war became martyr
Martyr
A martyr is somebody who suffers persecution and death for refusing to renounce, or accept, a belief or cause, usually religious.-Meaning:...

s and were venerated in songs and poems. (For example, the Republican ballad "Take It Down From The Mast
Take It Down from the Mast
Take it Down from the Mast is an Irish Republican song written by Dominic Behan during the 1950s. Although it officially refers to the period of the Irish Civil War , it was written as a direct attack on those who acknowledged the Government of Ireland at the time of its writing.The flag in...

").

As a result of the executions in the civil war, many Republicans would never accept the Free State as a legitimate Irish government, but rather as a repressive, British-imposed state. This attitude was partially alleviated after 1932, when Fianna Fáil
Fianna Fáil
Fianna Fáil – The Republican Party , more commonly known as Fianna Fáil is a centrist political party in the Republic of Ireland, founded on 23 March 1926. Fianna Fáil's name is traditionally translated into English as Soldiers of Destiny, although a more accurate rendition would be Warriors of Fál...

, the party who represented the bulk of the Republican constituency, entered government peacefully and introduced a new constitution in 1937. The Free State officially became the Republic of Ireland
Republic of Ireland
Ireland , described as the Republic of Ireland , is a sovereign state in Europe occupying approximately five-sixths of the island of the same name. Its capital is Dublin. Ireland, which had a population of 4.58 million in 2011, is a constitutional republic governed as a parliamentary democracy,...

 in 1949.

Kevin O'Higgins
Kevin O'Higgins
Kevin Christopher O'Higgins was an Irish politician who served as Vice-President of the Executive Council and Minister for Justice. He was part of early nationalist Sinn Féin, before going on to become a prominent member of Cumann na nGaedheal. O'Higgins initiated the An Garda Síochána police force...

, whom republicans felt was most directly responsible for the enactment of the Public Safety Act, with its sanction of executions, himself fell victim to assassination by the IRA in 1927 - becoming one of the last victims of the Civil War era violence in Ireland. Richard Mulcahy
Richard Mulcahy
Richard James Mulcahy was an Irish politician, army general and commander in chief, leader of Fine Gael and Cabinet Minister...

 became a leader of Fine Gael
Fine Gael
Fine Gael is a centre-right to centrist political party in the Republic of Ireland. It is the single largest party in Ireland in the Oireachtas, in local government, and in terms of Members of the European Parliament. The party has a membership of over 35,000...

 but never became Taoiseach
Taoiseach
The Taoiseach is the head of government or prime minister of Ireland. The Taoiseach is appointed by the President upon the nomination of Dáil Éireann, the lower house of the Oireachtas , and must, in order to remain in office, retain the support of a majority in the Dáil.The current Taoiseach is...

 in 1948 because of his role in the Civil War.

In fiction

The 2006 film The Wind That Shakes the Barley
The Wind That Shakes the Barley (film)
The Wind That Shakes the Barley is a 2006 Irish war drama film directed by Ken Loach, set during the Irish War of Independence and the Irish Civil War...

climaxes with an IRA guerilla being executed by a firing squad commanded by his own brother, who supports the Free State. This was inspired by the case of Sean
Sean Hales
Sean Hales was an Irish political activist in the early 20th century. Hales was born in Ballinadee, County Cork, where he and his brothers Tom, Donal and Robert were involved in the Irish Republican Army during the Irish War of Independence.At the 1921 elections Hales was elected to the Second...

 and Tom Hales(Irish republican) who were both leaders, but on opposing sides of the war.

See also

  • Chronology of the Irish Civil War
    Chronology of the Irish Civil War
    This is a timeline of the Irish Civil War, which took place between June 1922 and May 1923. It followed the Irish War of Independence , and accompanied the establishment of the Irish Free State as an entity independent from the United Kingdom....

  • Free State Intelligence Department – Oriel House
    Free State Intelligence Department – Oriel House
    Irish Free State Army Intelligence Department - Oriel House Criminal Investigation DepartmentThis article on the activities of the Irish Free State Army Intelligence Department, and the Criminal Investigation Department at Oriel House, Westland Row, is based on information culled from extant files...

  • Irish Civil War - Roll of Honour Video

External links

The source of this article is wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The text of this article is licensed under the GFDL.
 
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