“Another martyr for old Ireland …”

Clive Sulish

          Socialists and Socialist Republicans gathered outside the General Post Office in Dublin on Thursday (Nov 1st) to honour the memory of Volunteer Kevin Barry on the 98th anniversary of his execution. Copies of his portrait were on display with candles lit and the ballad honouring his memory was sung.

Display of images of Kevin Barry and lit candles outside the GPO at the event. (Photo: D.Breatnach)

          The event was organised by the Irish Socialist Republicans organisation. Asked about the reason for the commemoration and speaking on behalf of the organisation, Pádraig Drummond said “It is important to honour people in our history who have played an important role, who have displayed characteristics worthy of emulation such as resolution, courage and loyalty. People like Kevin Barry are more worthy of interest for the youth of today than clothing brands or pop idols.”`

Gathering to beign the vigil outside the GPO (Photo: D.Breatnach)

 

Some members of the public stopped in passing to listen to the song or to engage picketers in conversation.

People carrying out the vigil (Photo: D.Breatnach)

 

At the time of Kevin Barry’s execution the whole of Ireland was under a centuries-old British occupation and the defeat of the Easter Rising was three years in the past, most of its leaders executed and prisoners released. The first World War had ended. But the Irish Volunteers had reorganised and the War of Independence had begun in January of 1919. The ICA had seen a partial reorganisation and Cumann na mBan had never disbanded and, though it had suffered a few notable resignations, had experienced no split. The UK General Election of December 1918 had delivered a huge majority in Ireland to the newly-organised nationalist-republican coalition of Sinn Féin and in January of 2019 the successful SF delegates set up the Dáil, the first independent Irish Parliament, in defiance of the rule that all delegates elected in a UK election attended the Westminster Parliament in London.

On the same day in a separate development, the War of Irish Independence had begun. To wage war against the British occupation, the Irish Volunteers needed arms so some of its operations were carried out in order to seize arms from the occupiers. Kevin Barry joined the IRA at 15 in Dublin and not much later the IRB and had been on a number of successful raids to seize weapons.

Kevin Barry portrait graffiti of some years on wall in Dublin city centre.
(Photo: D.Breatnach)

On 20th September 1920 his unit was to ambush a British unit collecting bread from a bakery and relieve them of their weapons. Collecting bread rations from Patrick Monk’s Bakery at 79-80, Upper Church Street, near the corner of North King Street, Dublin.

Barry was a medical student and had an examination scheduled for that day which he expected to attend after the operation. Having attended mass that morning, he joined the unit in nearby Bolton Street and when the British Army lorry arrived the volunteers, armed with pistols, ordered the soldiers in the back to drop their rifles, which they did. However a shot rang out, possibly from the front of the lorry and the volunteers opened fire but Barry’s gun jammed twice and he jumped under the truck, being left behind when his comrades retreated. He was discovered and arrested. All five of the British soldiers in the rear of the lorry had been hit and one, 15 years of age, was dead – another two died later.

Kevin Barry attested that he had been beaten up when captured and tortured for information later in Army custody. On 20th October he was tried by military tribunal under the provisions of the Restoration of Order Act of August that year. Brigadier-General Onslow presided on the tribunal and Barry had legal representation who, after Barry announced he would not recognise the court, withdrew. The sentence of the court, given to the Volunteer in his Mountjoy Prison cell that evening, was death by hanging. The sentence became publicly known on the 28th and a fierce campaign began to save his life, not only in Ireland. Terence McSwiney, author, playwright, Lord Mayor of Cork and IRA Volunteer, had died after a hunger strike of 74 days on 25th October and public opinion, especially in Ireland, was highly excited. Nonetheless, Kevin Barry was hanged on November 1st 1920, eighteen years of age. According the priest who accompanied him the gallows, who was not a republican, he went calmly to his death.

On 14 October 2001, the remains of Barry’s body and others were given an Irish state funeral and moved from Mountjoy Prison to be re-interred at Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin. A stained glass window in his honour was unveiled in 1934 at the Earlsford Terrace address of University College Dublin and was later moved to their new address in the Belfield Camput and restored in 2007.

The Ballad of Kevin Barry, which was sung at the commemoration by Diarmuid Breatnach, was composed around the time of the Volunteer’s execution and has been very popular in Ireland and among the Irish diaspora abroad. The author is unknown despite efforts by his family and others to trace him or her but there were some indications that it had been composed in Glasgow. The song has been recorded by many performers, including non-Irish singers Paul Robeson and Leonard Cohen.

End 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s