Part 6: 'Death With No Tremblings'
The hanging of six volunteers whets the IRA's desire for revenge, quashing any talk of negotiation. An ambush in Dublin takes the life of two British auxiliaries, but IRA soldier Thomas Traynor is caught, tried, and executed. He leaves behind his wife and ten children.

 

By Kieron Punch

On the day after the executions, the following poem, by Sir William Watson, titled, "Ireland's Madness," appeared in the Freeman's Journal and the London Daily News.

"Is it all folly, yonder, hour by hour,
To choose, not peace, but strife, and there to dare
The lion couched in his unnative lair,
The world famed lion, mighty to devour ?
Oh, that some folly as splendid were a flower,
Not, on all shores but those, so wonderous and rare !
Common as weed in Ireland everywhere
That splendid folly blooms, and hath the power
To make a mere slight boy not only face
Death with no tremblings, with no coward's alarms,
But like a lover woo it to his arms,
Clasp with a joyous and rapt embrace
Death's beauty, death's dear sweetness, death's pure grace,
And count all else as nought besides death's charms."

Arthur Griffith

The immediate effect of the executions was to ensure that the war would drag on. Prior to the hangings, there had been a whiff of peace in the air but the deaths in Mountjoy meant that any talk of compromise was unacceptable to not only the hard-line Republicans, but the moderates as well.

Acting President of Sinn Fein, Arthur Griffith, himself a prisoner in Mountjoy, had expressed this attitude March 13th when he replied to communications concerning the possibility of opening negotiations. "Any peace proposals as between the British Government and Ireland should be addressed not to that Government's prisoner, but to Dail Eireann. The fact that the British Government proposes to kill six of my fellow prisoners in the gaol tomorrow indicates that it desires no peace."

"The British Government proposes to kill six of my fellow prisoners ..."

Another effect of the executions was that the IRA was filled with a desire to strike back at the British forces and attempted to do so on the evening following the hangings. A trap was laid in Great Brunswick Street when an armoured-car and two Tenders, carrying 16 Auxiliaries, arrived to carry out a raid at No. 144.

The street lamp opposite had been extinguished, and when the convoy halted, pistols were fired from the door of No. 144 and from the surrounding roofs, windows and street corners, killing two of the Auxiliaries. An officer then noticed a man running past the armoured-car, followed him and pulled him down. The man had in his hand a revolver containing five live rounds and an additional six live rounds were discovered in his pockets. The captured man proved to be Thomas Traynor, a bootmaker who had originally hailed from Tullow, Co. Carlow, but who had participated in the Easter Rising as part of the Boland's Mill garrison. He was married and was the father of 10 children.

Courtesy of Kilmainham Jail Museum
Thomas Traynor, who "met his death bravely."

On Tuesday, April 5th, Traynor was brought before a court martial in Dublin City Hall and charged with the murder of Auxiliary Police Cadet Francis Joseph Farrell. Traynor's flimsy defence was that he had been asked to go to Great Brunswick Street to deliver a revolver to a man there, but he had not participated in the attack. With such a strong case against Traynor, there was little surprise when, on Thursday, April 21st, General Headquarters, Dublin, announced that he had been judged guilty of murder. The statement added that sentence of death had been confirmed by the Commander-in-Chief, General Nevil Macready, with the date of execution set for the following Monday, the 25th.

On the day after the announcement, an incident occurred in Tipperary that offered hope that Traynor would escape the gallows. District Inspector Gilbert Potter, of the RIC station in Cahir, was driving along the road between Clogheen and Cahir, unaware that an IRA flying column was in the vicinity. He was captured, and a courier was immediately sent to Dublin Castle to discuss exchanging Potter for Traynor. This offer was rejected by the British, who made a counter-proposal that they would release any four named prisoners from internment in return for the RIC officer. The IRA chose to ignore this offer.

Learn more about Kevin Barry and all the other men who took on an Empire, and then each other, in Who's Who in the Irish War of Independence & Civil War

With his fate thus sealed, Thomas Traynor "met his death bravely" at 8 a.m. the following Monday. Only a small crowd congregated outside Mountjoy, but Traynor's wife was one of them, and she collapsed upon seeing the notice announcing her husband's death posted on the gates.

Two days later, District Inspector Potter was also executed. This unfortunate man had proved very popular with his IRA captors, who permitted him to write a farewell letter to his wife. Potter handed his diary, gold watch, and a signet ring to Dan Breen, commander of the firing squad, who returned the belongings to Potter's family. Many years later, Breen met Potter's son who told him that by a strange coincidence, he and Thomas Traynor's son had commanded destroyers in the same flotilla in the Far East during World War II.

The last execution of Republicans took place in Mountjoy six weeks after the death of Traynor. Patrick Maher and Edmund "Ned" Foley were hanged for the killing of Sergeant Wallace of the RIC. This slaying occurred during one of the most dramatic episodes of the entire war; the rescue of Sean Hogan from Knocklong railway station in May 1919.

Part 7: 'Fight On, Struggle On'

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This page was produced by Joe Gannon, with assistance from Gerry Regan.

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Tags: Europe, Execution, IRA, Ireland, War

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