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18 September 2008 Edition

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Remembering the Past: Executed IRA men reinterred


IN September 1948, it was announced that the Irish Government had agreed to hand over to their relatives the bodies of the six IRA Volunteers executed in Mountjoy and Portlaoise prisons between 1940 and 1944. The decision was made following representations from the National Graves Association (NGA), the organisation responsible for the care of the final resting places of republicans.
With the end of strict war-time censorship and the death on hunger and thirst strike of Seán McCaughey in Portlaoise Prison in May 1946, there was growing awareness of the extent of repression under the de Valera Government during the Second World War. Little information about the executions had been allowed out of the prisons and so news of the reinterments was a revelation to many people.
The first executions were those of Patrick McGrath of Dublin and Thomas Harte of Lurgan in September 1940. They had been arrested at a safe house in Dublin after a gun battle with the Garda Special Branch in which two detectives were fatally wounded. McGrath was a veteran of the 1916 Rising while Harte was just 25 years old. Tried by the Military Tribunal under the Offences Against the State Act, they were executed by firing squad in Mountjoy.
Dick Goss of Dundalk was arrested in County Longford after an exchange of fire with soldiers and gardaí. No one was killed yet Goss was sentenced to death by the Military Tribunal and executed in Portlaoise in August 1941.
In March 1942, George Plant of Tipperary was executed and, the following November, Maurice O’Neill of Kerry was executed in Mountjoy.
The last to be executed was IRA Chief of Staff Charlie Kerins of Tralee, who was hanged in Mountjoy in December 1944.
All six Volunteers were given republican funerals.

GEORGE PLANT: Acquitted, then executedOf special interest was the funeral of George Plant. He had been executed after a grotesque perversion of justice. The Special Court – sitting with Free State Army officers as ‘judges’ – acquitted him of the killing of an alleged informer but he was immediately rearrested. Fianna Fáil Justice Minister Gerard Boland transferred the case to the Special Military Court. Tried twice for the same offence on the basis of unsworn statements not backed by evidence on oath, Plant was convicted and sentenced to death. He was shot by firing squad in Portlaoise.
A veteran of the Tan War and the Civil War, George Plant came from a Church of Ireland family. His body was brought from the prison grave in Portlaoise to Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin where prayers were read by two clergymen over the coffin draped with the Tricolour and accompanied by an IRA guard of honour. He was received in St Mary’s Church of Ireland in Clonmel the next day. On Sunday, 19 September, George Plant was buried in St Johnstown churchyard, Fethard, County Tipperary.
At the graveside, John McGrath of the NGA said:
“George Plant worshipped at a shrine different to the majority of his fellow countrymen, but like his illustrious co-religionists, Wolfe Tone, Emmet, the Brothers Sheares, and many more, he fearlessly trod the path that they trod to their doom in the cause of Ireland’s freedom.”
The six IRA Volunteers executed in prison by the de Valera Government were reinterred on 17, 18 and 19 September 1948, 60 years ago this week.

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