The Forgotten Ten: Kevin Barry: 'Just a Lad of 18 Summers'


18 year-old Kevin Barry, soon to martyred in Ireland's cause. Courtesy of Kilmainham Jail Museum.

Ten IRA volunteers, fighting for their fledgling nation, met their fate more than 80 years ago at the end of a British noose, and until this month lay buried in Mountjoy Prison. Kieron Punch relates each of their stories, starting with 18-year-old Kevin Barry.

Part 1: 'Just a Lad of 18 Summers'

In Prison we are the jailers
On trial their judges
Persecuted the punishers,
Dead their conquerors.

--- Eoin MacNeil

By Kieron Punch

In the first light of November 1st, 1920, people began to make their way towards the gates of Dublin's Mountjoy Prison. Women clutching Rosary beads and bare-headed men holding prayer books were gathering there to hold vigil for a young Irish soldier who was about to pay, with his life, for the shooting of a young British soldier. Many in the crowd were fulfilling the promise made by Michael Collins, Sinn Fein Minister of Finance and IRA Director of Intelligence, that "there would be no more lonely scaffolds in our time."

Before long the crowd had swelled in number with the arrival of a large party from the Republican women's organization, Cumann na mBan, who had marched in protest across the city from St. Stephen's Green. They added their prayers to the sounds of women sobbing and men cursing the circling British aeroplanes and patrolling armoured-cars.

" ... NO MORE LONELY SCAFFOLDS IN OUR TIME"

At 8 o'clock the prison bell began to toll and the crowd fell to their knees in the mud. The bell's mournful peel was mirrored by the rise and fall of sound coming from the crowd as they uttered their responses to the prayers of the Rosary. Shortly afterwards, an official posted a notice on the prison gate. It stated, "The sentence of law passed on Kevin Barry, found guilty of murder, was carried into execution at 8 o'clock this morning."

Kevin Gerald Barry's body was placed in a roughly painted pine coffin. It was carried by four warders to a grave that had been prepared in a little laurel plantation to the left of the main entrance gates and close to the women's prison. There, Canon Waters and Father MacMahon performed the Catholic funeral rites and Kevin was laid to rest. Before a Truce ended the Irish War of Independence, some eight months later, nine more soldiers of the fledgling Irish Republic would share his fate and share his grave-site in the laurel plantation. Their names were; Thomas Bryan, Patrick Doyle, Frank Flood, Bernard Ryan, Patrick Moran, Thomas Whelan, Thomas Traynor, Edward Foley and Patrick Maher.

The early Autumn months of 1920 witnessed an escalation of the conflict in Ireland, which was fought between the British Administration, supported by the regular Army and the Royal Irish Constabulary, and Sinn Fein which was supported by the guerilla Volunteers of the Irish Republican Army. The arrival of the "Black and Tans" in March, to supplement the dwindling numbers of RIC, and the creation of the Auxiliary Division in July, heralded a new ruthlessness that was to transform the "disturbances" into a war. The arrest, trial and execution of IRA Volunteers would soon add fuel to the smouldering fire.

Courtesy of the National Library of Ireland
An Irish Volunteer recruiting poster from the Dublin area, perhaps the very one that inspired Kevin Barry to join.

Kevin Barry was born at 8 Fleet Street, Dublin, on January 20th, 1902, the fourth of a family of two boys and five girls. He was only 15 years old when he joined the Irish Volunteers in October 1917 and was assigned to "C" Company, 1st Battalion of the Dublin Brigade, later transferring to "H" Company, which was commanded by Seamus Kavanagh. During this period of his life, Kevin was a member of Belvedere College, where he proved to be a gifted student, winning a Dublin University scholarship to University College Dublin to study medicine. Among Kevin's friends at the National University were Frank Flood, Tom Kissane and Mick Robinson, who were fellow members of "H" Company and who were to participate with Kevin in a growing number of IRA activities.

The major objective for the IRA at this time was to obtain the weapons necessary to prosecute the war. Most raids, therefore, were planned with this objective in mind. Kevin's qualities as a leader became apparent to his senior officers as a result of his actions during raids on the Shamrock Works and Marks of Capel Street which were successful in securing weapons, ammunition and explosives. As a result, Barry was promoted to Section Commander and hand-picked by Peadar Clancy, vice commandant of the Dublin Brigade, for a special operation.

"... IT WAS BARRY WHO LED THE RUSH ..."

On June 1st, 1920, the "picked-men" of the 1st Battalion raided the King's Inns, which was being used as an outpost of the British garrison based in the North Dublin Union. At a critical moment of the operation, it was Barry who led the rush into the guardroom, where the military was overpowered. This highly successful raid netted 25 rifles, two Lewis guns, a large quantity of ammunition and resulted in the capture of 25 British soldiers. It is worth noting that on this occasion, as on many previous IRA attacks, all of the prisoners were released unharmed.

Patrick Monk's bakery stood at the junction of Upper Church Street and North King Street, Dublin. On three occasions each week, a ration party from 2nd battalion, Duke of Wellington's Regiment, based at Collinstown Camp, would arrive at the bakery to collect a supply of bread. Seamus Kavanagh, Kevin Barry's commanding officer, had sought permission for his "H" Company to attack the military escort and capture their weapons but permission was refused due to the close proximity of the North Dublin Union, which housed a battalion of the Lancashire Fusiliers. Seamus persisted with his requests and eventually received the "go-ahead," with September 20 being set as the date for the attack.

Terry Golway tells the story of Kevin Barry and other Irish heroes in "For the Cause of Liberty: A Thousand Years of Ireland's Heroes."

Kavanagh assembled a raiding party of 26 Volunteers and drilled them for the operation with plans drawn on blackboards. Although Kevin had an exam at 2 o'clock, he persuaded Kavanagh to let him participate in the attack as he was confident he could still make it back to University in time to sit the test. At half past eleven, a little later than usual, the military lorry drew up outside Monk's, and Sergeant Banks, accompanied by one or two soldiers, entered the bakery. Almost immediately a group of armed Volunteers approached the remainder of the escort and ordered them to drop their weapons and put up their hands. One of the soldiers, however, picked up his rifle and began firing, which resulted in the "hold-up" degenerating into a "shoot-out."

Part 2: 'An Example Has To Be Made'

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Tags: Freedom, Irish, Struggle

Comment by Rónán Gearóid Ó Domhnaill on September 20, 2013 at 12:31pm

if I am not mistaken the house where he was born was demolished during the Celtic Tiger era.


Founding Member
Comment by Nollaig 2016 on September 20, 2013 at 12:33pm

They demolished a lot of history during that era.

Comment by Rónán Gearóid Ó Domhnaill on September 20, 2013 at 1:07pm

money and boorishness don't go well together. The plan was also to erase 16 Moore Street from existence but too many people objected. 

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