Kevin Barry: Part 2: 'An Example Has To Be Made'

Outrage grows throughout Ireland as 18-year-old Kevin Barry is sentenced to hang for his role in the raid that took the lives of three British soldiers.

Just before he faced the hangman
In his dreary prison cell,
British soldiers tortured Barry
Just because he would not tell
The names of his brave companions.
Another thing they wished to know
"Turn informer or we'll kill you!"
Kevin Barry answered "no!".

-- From the song "Kevin Barry"
Irish Prisons Service
The gate of 151-year-old Mountjoy Prison, where British authorities held Kevin Barry.

Kevin Barry had been one of three Volunteers to approach the lorry from the rear. He was armed with a .38 Parabellum that jammed as soon as the shooting began. He quickly freed the jam but as he squeezed the trigger to fire his fifth round, it jammed again, forcing Kevin to kneel down in an attempt to free the mechanism. Although Volunteers had cut the telephone lines from Monk's offices prior to the attack to prevent a call for reinforcements, a picket of the Lancashire Fusiliers in the vicinity heard the shots and rushed to their comrades' assistance, forcing the Volunteers to dash away to safety. It was at this moment that Kevin, still struggling with his gun, realised that his colleagues were gone and so he dived for cover under the lorry, hoping to slip away later in the confusion. Unfortunately for him he was spotted, seized and driven away to the North Dublin Union, leaving behind one dead and two mortally wounded soldiers.

Courtesy of Abbey Tours
Dublin Castle, seat of British power in Ireland, where Kevin Barry's fate would be sealed.

It was during his interrogation at the ex-workhouse that Barry was tortured at the instigation of one of the Lancashire Fusiliers' officers, in an attempt to obtain the names of his fellow raiders. The Right Honourable J. H. Thomas would later read Barry's affidavit, detailing the torture, in the House of Commons. Records show that Kevin was treated for his injuries by Dr. Hackett, the Prison Medical Officer at the Bridewell.

By a remarkable coincidence the attack at Monk's Bakery occurred on the same day as two other serious incidents which were turning-points in the nature of the "Tan War." At Rineen, in west Clare, a Royal Irish Constabulary patrol was wiped out when their Crossley Tender was ambushed. That night, lorry loads of "Tans" and regular RIC descended on the nearby towns of Lahinch, Miltown Malbay, and Ennistymon, where they indulged in burning, looting and killing. On the other side of the country, the village of Balbriggan was sacked by "Black and Tans" following the killing of Head Constable Burke, who had been celebrating his promotion to District Inspector.

With the situation threatening to escalate out of control, the authorities in Dublin Castle decided that the time was right to make a severe example. As Kevin Barry was the first "rebel" to be captured in an armed attack, he became the scapegoat and was held for trial by Court Martial under the new "Restoration of Order Act."


Although two soldiers stated that they had witnessed Barry shooting Private Harold Washington, the soldier who had died at the scene of the ambush, Kevin was actually charged with the murder of Private Marshall Whitehead who had died while undergoing surgery for stomach wounds at King George V Hospital. Trial was set for Wednesday, October 20, at Marlborough Barracks, and on the appointed day the Court convened at 10 a.m. under Brigadier-General Onslow. Kevin, however, arrived 25 minutes late due to the breakdown of the armoured-car in which he was being transported from Mountjoy Prison. While the armoured car lay immobile on the North Circular Road, Barry's escort, who expected a rescue attempt at any minute, were in a state of near panic ... and with good reason! At that moment a party of Volunteers under Dick McKee, Commandant of the Dublin Brigade, was attempting to seize another armoured car which would be used to intercept Barry. The mission was unsuccessful due largely to the reluctance of the Volunteers to fire upon the one-armed officer in command of the vehicle. This was the first of five attempts to free Kevin that were initiated during the last few days of his life.

When the proceedings eventually commenced at Marlborough Barracks, Kevin announced, "As a soldier of the Irish Republic, I refuse to recognise the court" and nonchalantly began to read a newspaper. Nevertheless, the trial proceeded with 16 witnesses giving evidence for the prosecution, although none of these witnesses could directly link Barry with the death of Private Whitehead. It was also pointed out that the bullet removed from the soldier was of .45 calibre, while it was accepted that Barry had been armed with a .38 Parabellum, but the result of the Court martial was a foregone conclusion. Barry had been identified as a member of the ambush party and under the law he was as guilty of murder as the man who had actually shot Whitehead.

Following military protocol, the verdict was not released in Court. It was not until 8 o'clock that evening that a Warder entered Kevin's cell in Mountjoy Prison and informed him that he had been sentenced to death.

For several days after Barry's conviction, the attention of the Irish public was not directed toward him but rather toward Brixton Prison, England, where Terrence MacSwiney, Lord Mayor of Cork and Commandant of Cork No. 1 Brigade, IRA, was entering the final stages of a hunger strike. When MacSwiney died on October 25, after 74 days without food, the great outpouring of national emotion was channelled into the campaign to obtain a reprieve for the 18-year-old lad in Mountjoy.


Deputations from a wide variety of organisations and political groups, in both Britain and Ireland, began to forward appeals to the British authorities begging clemency on Barry's behalf. T. P. O'Connor and Joe Devlin from the Irish Parliamentary Party contacted Prime Minister Lloyd George, while the Chief Secretary for Ireland, Sir Hamar Greenwood, was approached by the British Labour Party with a view to making representations to the King, but without effect. Meanwhile, influential newspapers, such as the "Manchester Guardian" and the "Westminster Gazette," echoed the growing unease within liberal Britain. The latter publication stated that, "We hope that the prerogative of mercy will be used in the case of the lad Kevin Barry, who lies under sentence of death in Dublin. He is only 18, and his execution would be a painful and distressing act."

The majority of appeals were similar to that made by the "Westminster Gazette" in that a reprieve was sought on account of Barry's youth. Dublin Castle, however, pointed out that Private Whitehead was only one year older than Kevin and that in Cork the IRA had recently killed two 17-year-old soldiers. The "Sunday Times" stated, "An example has to be made."

Part 3: 'Proud To Die for the Republic'


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