FREE STATE EXECUTIONS OF 8TH DECEMBER 1922 REMEMBERED.
The 8th December 2021 is the 99th anniversary of the executions, by the Leinster House political administration, of four imprisoned Irish republican soldiers – Richard Barrett (Ballineen, County Cork), Rory O’Connor (Monkstown, Dublin), Liam Mellows (Wexford and Galway) and Joe McKelvey (Stewardstown, County Tyrone) – one republican fighter from each of the four provinces. All four had been captured in the Four Courts in July.
It was an act of revenge by the Free Staters for the death of Leinster House member Sean Hales, killed by the IRA.
The four Irish republicans were in prison at the time that Hales was killed and as such it was known by all concerned that none of them were involved in that shooting. As per Free State legislation at that time, it was an illegal act, as the four were captured before Leinster House passed emergency legislation ‘allowing’ it to carry out such acts.
Liam Mellows wrote his last letters (addressed to his comrades, 5am, and to his mother [letter pictured], 7.30am) on the 8th December, 1922 – he was then executed by a Free State Army firing squad. However, forty-six years after that execution (ie in 1968) more information regarding that deed was made public. The letter to his IRA comrades read – “To my dear comrades in Mountjoy. God bless you, boys, and give you fortitude, courage and wisdom to suffer and endure all for Ireland’s sake.
An poblacht abu!
Liam O Maoiliosa (Liam Mellows)”
In a letter to the media forty-six years after the execution of Liam Mellows (ie on April 24th, 1968) a Free State Army Captain, Ignatius O’Rourke, who was present at the execution of Liam Mellows and the other three men – Dick Barrett, Rory O’Connor and Joe McKelvey – wrote that, a few minutes before Mellows was shot dead he [Mellows] sent for the prison chaplain, a Father McMahon.
Free State Army Captain O’Rourke wrote that “..a few minutes later..” he saw Father McMahon leaving the room (cell) “..accompanied by Liam Mellows, with his right arm around Liam’s shoulders, and they walked along together leading the group as we all walked to the sandbags. Liam and Father McMahon appeared to be in deep, friendly conversation, with no sign of discord, disagreement or argument, just like two men discussing some point in a friendly fashion. They continued to talk until Father McMahon left Liam in the number one position at the sandbags..” (From here – scroll down to post dated Wednesday 22nd September 2004)
Thomas Johnson, the then leader of the State Labour Party, stated re the murder of these four Irish republicans:
“Murder most foul as in the best it is – but this most foul, bloody and unnatural. The four men in Mountjoy have been in your charge for five months. The Government of this country — the Government of Saorstát Eireann – announces apparently with pride that they have taken out four men, who were in their charge as prisoners, and as a reprisal for that assassination murdered them. I wonder whether any member of the Government who has any regard for the honour of Ireland, or has any regard for the good name of the State (sic), or has any regard for the safety of the State, will stand over an act of this kind…”
Rory O’Connor was born in Dublin in 1883 and in his youth he worked as a railway engineer in Canada. After his return to Ireland, he became involved in Irish politics, joined the Ancient Order of Hibernians and was interned after the Easter Rising in 1916.
Liam (William Joseph) Mellows, often spelled ‘Mellowes’, was born in England but grew up in County Wexford. He was active with the IRB and Irish Volunteers, and participated in the Easter Rising in Co Galway, and in the struggle following the Rising. He was elected as a TD to the First Dáil, rejected the Treaty of Surrender and was captured by pro-Treaty forces in July 1922.
Richard Barrett was born in Hollyhill, County Cork, in 1899 and was educated at a local national school before becoming a teacher. He was an IRA brigade staff officer and occasionally acted as brigade commandant of the West Cork Brigade and also managed to organise fund-raising activities for comrades who were ‘on the run’. In 1920 he was appointed quartermaster of the West Cork Brigade but was ”arrested’ in March 1921 and imprisoned in Cork jail, later being sent to Spike Island, County Cork. He escaped during the ‘truce’ of 1921 by row boat alongside Moss (Maurice) Twomey, Tom Crofts and Bill Quirke.
Joe McKelvey was elected to the IRA Army Executive in March 1922 and, the following month, he helped command the occupation of the Four Courts in Dublin in defiance of the new Irish Free State. He was among the most hardline of the anti-Treaty republicans and, briefly, in June 1922, became IRA Chief of Staff.
‘You have murdered our brave Liam and Rory,
you have butchered young Richard and Joe –
and your hands with their blood are still gory,
fulfilling the work of the foe…‘
‘THE ARMAGH ACTION.’
This dramatic account of the action was given to one of our representatives in an interview with one of the men who took part.
From ‘The United Irishman’ newspaper, July, 1954.
It was not until the day of the raid that I first met all the men selected to carry out the ‘Armagh Action’.
Some of them I had never seen before, others were familiar as they were attached to the county unit of which I am a volunteer. We had come singly and in groups to the meeting place and in fact I was the last to arrive. After the order to fall in had been given the officer-in-charge spoke –
“Today this unit will make a raid for arms on Gough Military Barracks in Armagh.
As this is one of the biggest British Barracks in the North, your task is not going to be easy and the job is dangerous. Nevertheless, if you adhere to the plan of action which has been prepared, there is no reason why you should fail.
Intelligence has supplied the necessary information regarding the layout of the barracks, the routine of the soldiers inside and so forth. Some contingencies may arise, however, which cannot be provided against in advance, but your general army training has fitted you to deal with such.
Twenty men have been selected to carry out the action. Each one of you will have a particular task but should any of you fail he will endanger the other nineteen. Therefore, do exactly as you are instructed…”
ON THIS DATE (8TH DECEMBER) 101 YEARS AGO : BRITISH ESSEX REGIMENT IN CORK BACK OFF.
On the 8th December 1920, the Flying Column of the IRA’s Cork No. 3 Brigade was under the command of Seán Lehane (pictured), from the Schull Battalion, and Charlie Hurley. Seán was temporarily replacing Tom Barry in that position, and he organised an ambush against the British Essex Regiment on the Clonakilty/Bandon road, near a small town called Gaggin.
Seán was working in the Cork area as an IRA Organiser and had successfully established IRA units in Lisagriffin, Goleen, Leamcon, Glaun, Schull, Skehanore and Ballydehob. He was an experienced operator and, even though the Gaggin men were well trained, they needed experience in the field.
On the day of the ambush, one British Army truck came along the road, as was expected, but the Flying Column left it too late to broadside it with gunfire and only opened-up on it with a few shots once it had passed the intended ambush site.
Charlie Hurley, pictured.
The enemy truck sped quickly away from the scene of danger but stopped about a half a mile down the road ; the British soldiers jumped from the vehicle and ran towards the fields, making their way quickly back to the ambush site. When they got there, the Flying Column had left the area but the Essex men were able to follow their trail. One IRA Volunteer, Lieutenant Michael McLean, 23, from Lowertown, in Schull, was captured, tortured and riddled with bullets, according to a local 16-year-old boy, Denis O’Sullivan, who witnessed the whole scene, and reported that the British soldiers used their bayonets on Lieutenant McLean before they riddled him to death.
The Essex soldiers, no doubt buoyed-up from their ‘kill’, decided to pursue the IRA Column, caught up with it eventually, and opened fire on the Volunteers. The Column formed-up and defended itself and, after a short gun battle, the British soldiers realised that it wasn’t as easy to take on armed IRA men as it was to ‘take out’ one lone Volunteer, so they retreated across the same muddy fields that they had entered the area by, with their tails between their legs. They ran towards their truck and scarpered to the relative safety of Bandon. A “strategic withdrawal”, they called it.
We got this information from various sources – ‘The lorry went to Bandon, which was about 3 miles away. When the column was withdrawing from the ambush position, it was attacked by the party (enemy) who had entered the fields, but our return fire forced them to withdraw. During the attack a member of the column (Michael McLean of Skull Coy.) was killed. He had been guarding the members of a household on the opposite side of the road, and when the column was withdrawing, he was shot while crossing the road to join the main body…a young soldier wanted to shoot him in the yard but my father.. pleaded with him not to shoot the young man on his property. The young soldier said, you shut up or we will shoot you too. A senior officer intervened and told the young soldier to back off. The young man was then taken out of our yard by the soldiers..’
Republicans today are working for the same objective as the brave men and women mentioned above ; a ‘strategic withdrawal’, by Westminster, politically and militarily, from Ireland.
THE NOT SO IRISH NEWS…
Rita Smyth examines the editorials of the Northern newspaper, ‘The Irish News’, for the first six months of 1987.
Her analysis shows how the paper reflects the political attitudes of the Stormont Castle Catholics (who dominate the SDLP*) and the conservative values of the Catholic Hierarchy, especially Bishop Cahal Daly.
(From ‘Iris’ magazine, October 1987.)
(‘1169’ comment – *…and who now fill the ranks of other Stoop-like political parties in Stormont and Leinster House.)
In June, a statement by Nicholas Scott indicating his “willingness to look at the plight of prisoners in our society” provided scope for an even wilder flight of fantasy ; “It should be possible now to concentrate on opening the prison gates…it is time to give the prisoners back to their families..” (June 6th).
Unfortunately, ‘The Irish News’ newspaper seems to mean only those prisoners detained at the ‘pleasure’ of the British Secretary of State ; they express the hope that Scott’s vague promise and the promise of a new code of conduct * for the RUC“..will change completely the political climate..” (June 6th).
And in June, following the election, Lord Hailsham’s retirement was claimed to remove “..the main stumbling block to the removal of the Diplock Courts..” (June 15th).
To the dismay of ‘The Irish News’ and its backer, it is not just (P)Sinn Féin who “..cannot concede that nationalists are now in a better position than before..the old oppressions still pertain..” (May 27th). “Catholics still believe, rightly or wrongly, that discrimination is as rampant as ever..” (May 13th).
And while squatting may have been justified some years ago, the fact that 40% of available housing in Derry is squatted is only a reflection of the squatters’ “selfish disregard for their neighbours.” This, after all, is 1987 and “..there is no need to squat” (February 10th).
Discrimination in employment is also not the problem it was ; “The end of that totalitarianism – unionist hegemony – has meant that British governments have sought to move towards a fair deal..” (June 20th).
(‘1169’ comment * ; “Put manners on them”, you mean..?)
ON THIS DATE (8TH DECEMBER) 98 YEARS AGO : FREE STATE ARMY STRIKE-BREAKERS WIN FOR THE BOSSES.
On the 8th December 1923 – 98 years ago on this date – a strike by farm workers in Waterford was crushed by the Free State Army.
The workers were on starvation wages but were attempting to improve their situation with the help of the ‘Irish Transport and General Workers Union’ but were forced to capitulate by State troops ; the trade union involved were almost broken by the actions of the State and some of the workers were re-hired by farm owners on terms and conditions dictated by the bosses. Other workers – those judged by farm owners to be the militant ones – were not taken back at all.
The farm owners and their State militia operated their business ventures successfully, and the likes of Shandon Creamery and Dungarvan Co-op were kept on the go, which delighted the then State Minister for Agriculture, Patrick Hogan (Cumann na nGaedheal), a poacher-turned-gamekeeper, who was on record for wanting ‘to keep farm wages and social welfare payments low..’.
The State (ab)used its political and military power in favour of land-owners and against those who worked that land to try and make a living for themselves and their families –
“One Sunday when I was communing with myself, having no one else to consult with, the telephone rang. The man on the line said there was a strike of farm laborers and that they had taken over possession of his town. I said so what and he said quite a lot what. To this he added that I was now “the competent military authority” responsible for law and order and that I had better do something about it quick. I told Power to fall in the right half company, ready the three tenders and have the men bring their bayonets with them.
It was one of those country towns consisting mainly of one long street running up the side of a hill. More than half way up this hill a dark mass of men was gathered. Dismounting the forty men from the trucks we fell them in, fixed bayonets and advanced up the street.
Two lines of twenty men each, bayonets to the front, not a hair out of place, boots crashing on the street. So we advanced steadily up the town. Halt. A dark glaring man, seemingly the leader, was standing in front of the farm laborers, his eyes staring me.
“What is going on here, my man,” said I, in my best officer manner.
“Fuck you”, said he.
The Sergeant Major moved from my side and felled him with a blow. Some of the men broke ranks and knocked down a few of the strikers with their rifle butts. A pause and a boy rushed forward to confront me. Calling me by name he said bitterly “What is the matter with you? I thought you would be the last person in the world to do this to us.”
We pushed the strikers back to the end of the street and held them there at the bayonet point. Then a truck came up with the labour organiser who was to preside at their meeting. He glared also. I told him if everything was going to be orderly they could hold the meeting, otherwise no meeting. He angrily assented and we marched off quite a ways to the old Union buildings nearby so as to be in call. From here we heard cheers but no other sounds of trouble.
I sat on a stone wondering what the boy meant. ‘You and Us…’ Then it began to dawn on me. No wonder they were mad. In the past, lancers had ridden them down, redcoats had marched against them, bluecoats had marched against them, now men in green jackets were putting them back in their place. Poor landless men, people of no property, betaghs…” (from here.)
Hopefully, there were many Free State soldiers ‘sitting on stones, wondering what the boy meant..’ –
‘By 1923 the government (Leinster House) was redirecting its policy of treating republicanism as nothing more than mindless anarchy against what it was calling ‘labour irregularism’. It also recruited an army (Free State) unit known as the ‘Special Infantry Corps’ to act as ‘armed police’ in farm strikes.
The idea was that the ‘Special Infantry’ would save the army and the Garda Síochána from attracting the odium that went with that sort of work…farmers formed a self-styled ‘White Guard’ and assaulted the parish secretaries of the union. The government sent in the ‘Special Infantry Corps’, and admitted their job was to protect the farmers…’ (from here.)
The ‘Special Infantry Corps’ (SIC) was a unit of the Free State Army, founded in January 1923 and disbanded in December of that same year. Its objective was to concentrate on strike-breakers and sit-in protests by workers.
It was composed of about 4,000 men and was commanded by Patrick Dalton, a poacher-turned-gamekeeper. Instead of fighting armed republicans, Dalton and his outfit were actually instructed to ignore the IRA and go after ‘land grabbers, strikers and other social protesters..’ –
‘In May 1923 a strike was called in Waterford over farm labourer’s wages. It has been described as “probably one of the most bitter industrial disputes to ever take place in Ireland”. The strike was launched over attempts to cut the already dismally low wages of farm labourers. On the one side was the Irish Farmers Union (IFU) and on the other the Irish Transport and General Workers Union (ITGWU). There were sympathetic strikes in Waterford city and unions refused to carry butter from farms involved in the strike. Employers co-operated in breaking the strike. They shared labour and transport and supported each other in various ways.
As the strike went on, it grew increasingly bitter as both sides turned to violence. It was claimed that some farmers were forced by the IFA to oppose the labourers. A farmer who had settled with the strikers had his farm sabotaged. Farmers set up a local ‘Farmers Freedom Force’ to intimidate strikers. In response a ‘Labour Flying Column’ was set up. There were stand offs with the local IRA…by June it was less of a strike and was instead “evolving into a class conflict”. 600 (Free State) soldiers from the newly formed ‘Special Infantry Corps’ were sent to aid the farmers…’ (from here.)
The State soldiers in the ‘SIC’ were paid less than their colleagues in the State Army and their officers were frequently men who had been moved out of jobs in Intelligence and other sensitive posts for their poor performance or indiscipline in the State Army reorganisation of January 1923. They were the military arm of a Free State apparatus which favoured the ‘Captains of Industry’ over the rights of workers.
Free State ‘Black and Tans’, if you like.
From ‘The United Irishman’ newspaper, March, 1955.
“Look towards the North and see the tyrants smitten,
and by your deeds let Emmet’s epitaph be written.”
Such he spoke to them, then raised his hand on high
and the lightning flashed, illuminating earth and sky.
Seven men appeared by his side and flanked on left and right
by soldiers of the IRA – noble, strong and quiet ;
seven men, tenderly and proudly with reverent loving care,
handed the spirit of Ireland to those men flanking there.
Tone, Pearse, Connolly, Ceannt, MacDonagh, MacDermott, Plunkett, Clarke,
The IRA bearing the living spirit of Ireland through the dark.
By HJ McConville, 30 Moreland Road, East Brunswick, N10, Victoria, Australia.
(END of ‘Redemption’ ; NEXT – ‘Today Is The Day To Join The Republican Movement’, from the same source.)
ON THIS DATE (8TH DECEMBER) IN…
…1896 ; Death of women’s rights activist, Isabella Tod, in Belfast.
The Lady was born in Edinburgh and educated at home by her mother, Maria Isabella Waddell, who was from County Monaghan. In the 1850s she moved with her mother to Belfast and contributed to several newspapers, including ‘The Northern Whig’ and the ‘Dublin University Magazine’. She founded ‘The North of Ireland Women’s Suffrage Society’ which later became ‘The Irish Women’s Suffrage Society’ but it’s there that this blog parts company with Isabella – she was a committed unionist and devoted the rest of her life to resisting even a ‘Home Rule’ outcome re Westminster’s intrusion in Ireland!
…1920 ; Pictured – the original warrant issued under the ‘Defence Of The Realm Act’ (DORA) to seize and occupy a premises in Church Street, Belmullet, County Mayo (‘to seize and take possession of the premises at 9am on 11th day of December 1920’), dated the 8th December 1920, and signed by ‘Royal Irish Constabulary District Inspector’ Edward James Stevenson.
RIC DI Stevenson was killed in the Carrowkennedy Ambush on the 2nd June, 1921. The IRA stated after that operation that “Stevenson did not hear the shot that killed him. He was hit right in the centre of the forehead and had three wounds in the left breast and two in the right shoulder..”.
…1921 ; (Listed as having occurred on Thursday, 8th December 1921, but records indicate that it took place on Wednesday, 14th December 1921 -) A Mr Michael Crudden, who was on his way home from Mass, was shot by a lone gunman in the Marrowbone area of Belfast. Mr Crudden and his brother were walking up Glenview Street when a shot rang out. His brother was not injured, but Michael was hit in the spine and died a short time later in the Mater Hospital, on the Crumlin Road in Belfast.
A loyalist, John Porter, from Ballycarry Street, was later charged with murder. Michael Crudden’s ‘sin’ was that he was a Catholic.
…1922 ; William Harrington (23), the Intelligence Officer for ‘D Company’, 1st Battalion, Kerry Brigade IRA, had joined the Movement in 1916. On the 8th December, 1922, he was in the Rink, Basin Road, in Tralee, as were hundreds of other people, as a parish sale-of-work was being held to raise funds for the poor of the area. A small amount of that money would have been donated to the local families of IRA prisoners.
A five-man party of armed Free State operatives – at least two or three ‘red caps’ (military police) and Free State Army men – entered the hall, drew their pistols and fired into the air. The crowd – men, women and children – panicked, understandably, and William Harrington approached the Staters and began remonstrating with them over their conduct. Lieutenant Joseph Parsons stepped towards Harrington and shot him dead, in front of hundreds of witnesses.
A State ‘inquiry’ into the shooting was held afterwards and it was decided that Parsons did nothing wrong ; he denied firing the shot but witnesses came forward and the ‘court’ then declared that “the killing was malicious”. But still Parsons and his men walked away unhindered.
William Harrington had worked as a builders labourer and was the only child of a widow. He is buried in the family plot in Rath Cemetery in Tralee.
…1922 ; After the battle of Ballyvourney, the Free State Army began an offensive on the known IRA stronghold of Kealkil, Bantry, County Cork. The Staters were hoping to retrieve an armoured car which the local IRA had liberated from them and to capture those responsible. It was about three miles from Kealkil that the IRA and the Staters came into contact with each other and a gun battle, which lasted for about two hours, ensued. During that exchange, two IRA Volunteers were killed – John Dwyer and George Dease.
…2002 ; On the 8th December, 2002, hundreds of anti-war demonstrators marched on Shannon Airport in protest at the continued use of the airport by the US Air Force in preparation for possible war in the Gulf. Between 300 and 500 protestors held a demonstration over the continued use of the airport by the US armed forces. They were faced by 100 gardai, including members of the riot squad, backed up by the garda helicopter and dog unit. One banner read – ‘Get Bush Out Of Here’, another stated ‘Get Real, Bertie, No More War.’
In 2001, following the Twin Towers attack in New York, Bertie Ahern, the then State ‘Taoiseach’, flew to America and offered the then US President George W. Bush the unlimited use of Shannon Airport ‘in defence of US terrority’ and, since then, Leinster House politicians have been accomplices in assisting the US Army and the CIA in their so-called ‘War On Terror’.
Mr Michael D. Higgins, the current Free State President, took part in that protest (pictured, above, third from right, front row) but, since then – apparently – has changed his mind on that issue as he now has a State platform from which to object to the matter but has yet to do so.
Thanks for the visit, and for reading,