AP Issue 3 2020 small

31 October 2020

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Kevin Barry – the first of 24 prison executions

Remembering the Past – Kevin Barry Centenary

The execution of Kevin Barry in Mountjoy Prison at 8am on 1st November 1920 was the first prison execution of an Irish Republican by the British government since the execution of the 16 Easter Rising prisoners in 1916. Kevin’s youth and his bravery drew international attention to his fate and to Ireland’s cause. However, he would be the first to point out that he should be remembered along with his IRA comrades executed in the months that followed in Dublin, Cork and Limerick. 

By October 1920 the British government was embarked on full-scale repression across Ireland, but especially in those parts where Irish resistance to its rule was at its most effective. This was outright military rule with British officers based in Dublin Castle, led by General Nevil Macready, authorising repression in the form of reprisals by the Black and Tans, Auxiliaries and regular RIC against the civilian population. In August the Restoration of Order in Ireland Act was passed and it conferred wide powers on the British military including arrest without charge, detention without trial, secret courts-martial and suppression of coroners’ inquests. 

Kevin Barry was one of the first to be subjected to the new court martial regime when his ‘trial’ was held in Marlborough Barracks near the Phoenix Park. (The barracks is now named after Dick McKee, O/C of the IRA’s Dublin Brigade who was murdered in Dublin Castle within a month of Barry’s execution). 

Barry had been captured after a firefight with the British Army on Church Street on 20 September after which all the other members of his IRA unit escaped. He was court-martialled on 20 October. Barry treated the proceedings, presided over by nine British Army officers, with contempt and declared: “As a soldier of the Irish Republic, I refuse to recognise the court.” 

That same evening in his cell in Mountjoy Kevin was told the verdict was guilty and the sentence was death by hanging. This was confirmed a week later and on 28th October the date of execution was fixed for Monday 1st November. 

There were a number of IRA plans to spring Kevin Barry from Mountjoy but they had to be abandoned, such was the heavy security around the jail and the danger to civilians and Volunteers. At 6am on the day of the execution crowds gathered outside the jail in huge numbers for a vigil in support of Kevin. The execution was carried out by the English hangman Ellis at 8am. The chaplain who attended him said Kevin “went to the scaffold with the most perfect bravery”. His last message to the Irish people was simple: 

“The only message I have for anybody is ‘Hold on and stick to the Republic.’” 

In the space of less than eight months between November 1920 and the start of June 1921 the British executed 24 Irish republican prisoners of war. All followed 18-year-old Kevin Barry to the scaffold or the firing squad as courageous soldiers of the Irish Republic. 

British executions of Irish Republican Prisoners of War 1920-1921 

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Kevin Barry print

Kevin Barry 

Dublin, 1 November 1920

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Cornelius Murphy

Cornelius Murphy

Cork, 1 February 1921

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Thomas O’Brien

Thomas O’Brien

Cork, 28 February 1921  

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Daniel O’Callaghan

Daniel O’Callaghan

Cork, 28 February 1921  

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Tan War Medal

John Lyons

Cork, 28 February 1921  

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Timothy McCarthy

Timothy McCarthy

Cork, 28 February 1921  

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Patrick O’Mahony

Patrick O’Mahony

Cork, 28 February 1921  

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John Allen

John Allen

Cork, 28 February 1921  

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Thomas Whelan

Thomas Whelan

Dublin, 14 March 1921 

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Patrick Moran

Patrick Moran

Dublin, 14 March 1921

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Thomas Bryan

Thomas Bryan

Dublin, 14 March 1921

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Patrick Doyle

Patrick Doyle

Dublin, 14 March 1921

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Frank Flood

Frank Flood

Dublin, 14 March 1921

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Bernard Ryan

Bernard Ryan

Dublin, 14 March 1921

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Thomas Traynor

Thomas Traynor

Dublin, 26 April 1921

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Patrick Sullivan

Patrick Sullivan

Cork, 28 April 1921

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Maurice Moore

Maurice Moore

Cork, 28 April 1921

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Tan War Medal

Patrick Ronayne

Cork, 28 April 1921

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Thomas Mulcahy

Thomas Mulcahy

Cork, 28 April 1921

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Patrick Casey

Patrick Casey

Cork 2 May 1921

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Tan War Medal

Daniel O’Brien

Cork, 17 May, 1921

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Tan War Medal

Thomas Keane

Limerick, 4 June 1921

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Edward Foley

Edward Foley

Dublin, 7 June 1921

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Patrick Maher

Patrick Maher

Dublin 7 June 1921

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The Story of Kevin Barry - By Seán Cronin

Kevin Barry book

€6.99

“In Mountjoy Jail one Monday morning...” 

Kevin Barry’s name flashed around the world when the 18-year-old IRA Volunteer was executed in Mountjoy Jail on 1st November 1920. The British government refused all appeals for reprieve but Barry remained defiant and urged his comrades to: ‘Stick to the Republic’ 

The late Seán Cronin’s book is a classic of Irish Republican history writing and is republished for the Centenary or Kevin Barry’s execution.

“His great courage, and the manner in which he died became an inspiration to his comrades who were still fighting the terrorist forces of the British occupation. And it is hoped it will continue to be down the years until the day when this island of ours will be a free and united Nation” – Tom Barry, 1965 Foreword

“Kevin Barry urged his comrades to ‘stick to the Republic’. His commitment was to the Republic of all Ireland, free and united, in which the people would be sovereign. That is still the commitment of Irish Republicans today” – Mary Lou McDonald, 2020 Foreword 

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Contributions from key figures in the churches, academia and wider civic society as well as senior republican figures


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