Kevin Barry and the Irish War of Independence
An Irish Soldier
Kevin Barry became active as a soldier in Dublin as a 15 year old lad. At age 18 he was caught by the British Soldiers and received the death penalty. He was hanged in Mount Joy Jail in November 1920.
This is the story of a medical student in University College Dublin who died fighting for the freedom of his country.
The Black and Tans
Dublin of 1920 was a terrifying city to live in if you were Irish because Britain made the laws in Ireland then. If a person was heard to speak in Irish they would be arrested and jailed. The people of Dublin were not even safe in their own beds. At any time of day or night any home could be raided by the Black and Tans, the house torn apart or the occupants arrested and interrogated.
There was also a curfew at night with only the sound of the British army lorries along the dark streets looking for trouble. The people in their houses would hold their breaths until the lorries passed their street praying that they would not stop outside where a brutal raid would begin.
Irish War of Independence
This is the Dublin that Kevin Barry grew up in as a young lad. It is why he became a soldier at 15 years of age to fight for Irish freedom in 1920 during the Irish War of Independence. Kevin Barry was hanged by the British Government in Dublin when he was only 18 years old.
Men, women, and children all made sacrifices during The Irish War of Independence. Irish men were taken from their homes by the British soldiers and later found dead in a field or back alley. This was the atmosphere that the men of the volunteers were fighting in. The Irish people had seen 16 men executed four years earlier after the 1916 Easter Rising. Their families were refused their bodies after the executions for a Christian burial . Their bodies were hastily dumped in a hole, dug at the back of Arbour Hill Prison .
Quick lime was added so there would be no possibility of the families claiming the bodies later.This is now a National Monument in Arbour Hill, Dublin, Ireland. There is a ceremony held every year to celebrate their fight and sacrifice for Irish freedom.
The Black and Tans
Black and Tans in Ireland
At the beginning of the year more British soldiers came to keep order in Ireland. They were recruited from the many demobbed soldiers of the First World War in England. These men could not settle back into civilian life or regular jobs.
Those recruited were offered £1 a week, which was very good pay at the time, and the chance to ‘fight’ the Irish. There was a shortage of uniforms so they had to do with a mixture, of dark green jackets and khaki trousers. The Balmoral – cum – Beret was very distinctive. So they became known in Ireland as the Black and Tans. By November 1920 they were in Dublin for over six months and the regular British soldiers were starting to follow their lead of brutality.
Kevin Barry a Soldier at the age of 15
The Irish Volunteers had approximately 15,000 men, but very little guns or ammunition. They carried out a series of raids from 1918 onwards to capture the arms from the British soldiers. At the time of his arrest Kevin Barry was studying medicine at University College Dublin
He was first in ‘C’ Company of the 1st Battalion and later transferred to ‘H’ Company.
His commander was Captain Seamus Kavanagh. Kevin’s first duties were to deliver orders on his bike all over the Dublin City. He then progressed to taking part in the raids on the soldiers for guns. He was an experienced Volunteer when he was captured despite only being eighteen years old.
Studying to Become a Doctor
Barry won a Dublin Corporation Scholarship to U C D by getting an Honours in middle grade when he was only 16 with honours in senior grade the following year. His captain in the Volunteers had asked him not to go on the raid because he knew he had an exam at 2:00 pm that same day. But Kevin insisted that he would be alright and would back in plenty of time.
Church Street Ambush
On September 20th 1920, British soldiers drove up to Church Street in Dublin 7. They were there to collect their ration of bread from Monks's Bakery for Collinstown Camp. This is now the site of Dublin Airport. Earlier that morning four Irish Volunteers had taken over the office in the Bakery disconnecting the phone. They waited in the surrounding side streets for about 16 other volunteers were in key positions. Kevin Barry, Sean O’Neill, and Bob O’Flanagan were waiting in position to attack the lorry.
The British soldiers were loading up the lorry when they heard ‘ Drop your rifles, put up your hands.’ They were attacked by a group of twenty Irish Volunteers. All but one soldier dropped their rifles. He fired a shot at the Volunteers and a gun battle erupted. Private Harold Washington was killed instantly and two other British soldiers, Private Marshall Whitehead and Private Thomas Humphries died later.
The Young Lad Under the Lorry
Most of the Irish Volunteers ran through the streets and got away. Bob O’Flanagan had been shot in the head but jumped into a cab. Another Volunteer picked up Bob’s cap afraid it would identify him. It had some of Bob’s scalp still inside it.
The British soldiers quickly loaded up their dead and wounded. They were ready to drive off when an old woman shouted at them to be careful as there was a young lad under the lorry. They jumped out and grabbed the boy.
The Young Lad was Kevin Barry
His gun had jammed when he first began to shoot. He fixed it, and then began shooting at the soldiers again. But it jammed a second time. He was lying on the ground concentrating on trying to fix the gun when he realised the battle was over and the rest of the Volunteers has escaped. He quickly dived under the lorry so the soldiers would not see him.
He would have got away with it if the old woman had not shouted for the soldiers to be careful. They dragged him out and threw him into the back of the lorry beside the dead soldier. The Irish crowd that had gathered turned on the woman calling her a traitor. She tried to tell them that she did not realise what she was saying until it was too late, and was only afraid that the lorry would run over the lad.
Auxiliaries and Black and Tans in Ireland
Raided Houses and Shops
There was chaos after the ambush. More regular British soldiers and Black and Tans arrived and closed off the streets. They raided nearby houses and shops. The crowd that had gathered ran for cover as they knew the British soldiers were looking for trouble.
They searched the onlookers and wanted to know the names of the other men. The shop owners closed their doors knowing that the ambush would be used as an excuse for the Black and Tans to loot and damage the area.
Letter Written by Kevin Barry
Kevin Barry meanwhile was at the Barracks being questioned. He told them his address as 58 South Circular Road and his occupation as a medical student. First they told him he would be let go free if he gave the names of the other men involved.
He refused. They then began to torture him with six men in the room. He was threatened with a bayonet in his stomach and his back. When this did not work he was thrown to the ground and two of the soldiers kicked him. His arm was twisted behind his back while another soldier put his foot on his back and began to dig him.
This according to Kevin Barry himself went on for over five minutes. He needed hospital treatment for his arm for four or five days afterwards. When he was transferred to Mountjoy Prison his arm was still in a sling. The prison officers at Mountjoy Prison in Dublin were all Irish and were sympathetic to Kevin.
They allowed his mother to visit him in prison under an assumed name as they knew the British would not allow her in to see him if they knew who she was. They treated him well while he was there.
The British Army had Control of the Court
A new law called the ‘Restoration of Order in Ireland Act’ came about on August 9, 1920, approx. six weeks before the Ambush. This practically gave the Army total power over the law in Ireland. It was decided that Kevin Barry would be tried under this new law by Secret Court Martial. The jury was made up of nine officers and a Brigadier - General called Onslow.
Kevin refused to have a defence lawyer because he would not recognise a British Court. Kevin Barry was charged with three counts of murder. The evidence proved that the bullet taken from one of the dead soldiers was a 45 calibre.
All the witnesses stated that Kevin Barry was using a 38 calibre. The trial lasted one day. At 8 o’clock that night Kevin Barry was told he was found guilty and was sentenced to be hanged. The execution was set for November 1. There were five or six attempts to rescue him by the Irish Volunteers but they failed.
People Began To Cry
The prayers grew louder and people began to cry for Kevin Barry . A few hours before his death Kevin Barry was allowed to see his family and friends. On the morning of the execution there was a large crowd of men, women and children praying for Kevin outside Mountjoy Jail.
He had spent the night in the cell with a warder and two soldiers. He wrote a letter to his friends and family. He went to bed at midnight and slept until he was woken at 6.am. Kevin then had mass and Communion in the cell. The hangman from England and his assistants came into the cell a few minutes before 8.00 am. His arms were tied together.
Hanged in Mountjoy Jail
He walked between the two priests towards the Hang House. The others followed behind him. At 8.00 am Mountjoy Prison bell rang. The prayers grew louder and people began to cry. A few minutes later a prison official posted a sign on the door.
It read, 'The sentence of the law passed on Kevin Barry, found guilty of murder, was carried into execution at 8.00 o’clock this morning.'
Irish War of Independence in 1920
When the old woman saw the headline that Kevin Barry had been hanged at just 18 years old, she screamed, ‘Oh Christ! So they have hanged that child.’ She felt so guilty that she had a nervous breakdown. Kevin Barry was buried in the grounds of Mountjoy Prison at 1:30 pm that day. A simple cross marked the grave.
Nine more Irish Volunteers were hanged at Mountjoy Jail while fighting for Irish freedom during the Irish War of Independence by the British Government until Ireland became a free state.
State Funeral in Dublin in 2001
In October 2001, the remains of Kevin Barry and the bodies of nine other Irish Volunteers who had been executed and buried at Mountjoy Prison were exhumed.
They were given a State Funeral with nine of them being buried at Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin. The other one, Patrick Maher was buried in Limerick. The Taoiseach of Ireland, Bertie Ahern said during his speech at the burial ceremony that “…. Ireland was discharging a debt of honour that stretches back eighty years…."
- Evening Herald Newspapers of November 22th and 24th 1920.
- The Story of Kevin Barry. Sean Cronin 2001.
- Kevin Barry and his Time Glendale 1989.
- The Story of Kevin Barry. National Publications Committee 1971.
- Kevin Barry the first matry of the Black and Tan War. PJ Bourke 1959.
- Hanged in Ireland: The Forgotten 10 Executed 1920 to 1921 Blackwater Press 2001.
- Ireland Since The Famine FSL Lyons. 1973.
- 1916 As History. The Myth of Blood Sacrifice. C. Desmond Greaves 1971.
- The Irish Republic. Dorothy Macardle 1968.