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A Review By Kieron C. Punch
On Sunday, November 21, 1920, as deaths escalated on both sides during the Irish War for Independence, members of the IRA's Dublin Brigade, along with Michael Collins' "Squad," entered various Dublin addresses and, in a pre-emptive strike, shot dead 14 British secret-service agents, regimental officers and auxiliary cadets.
Although hundreds of men would be arrested on suspicion of complicity in the killings, only two would be convicted and executed for their alleged involvement. The two, Thomas Whelan, from Clifden, County Galway, and Patrick "Paddy" Moran, from the townland of Crossna, County Roscommon, were hanged in Mountjoy Prison on March 14, 1921, side by side.
In her extensively researched and movingly written book, "Executed for Ireland: The Patrick Moran Story," May Moran chronicles the life and death of her uncle Paddy. What makes her book stand out from other biographies of the leading figures in Ireland's struggle for freedom is her access to, and use of, the Moran family archive of photographs, mementos and numerous letters written by Paddy Moran, which were lovingly preserved by his sister Bridget.
May Moran skillfully uses these sources to reveal the character of a man who was the epitome of an IRA Volunteer, and sets Paddy Moran's transformation from grocer's assistant in Boyle, County Roscommon, to trusted IRA commander, firmly in the context of Ireland's transformation from restive peace to open insurrection.
Paddy Moran's growing involvement in militant nationalism followed a path walked by many contemporary young Irishmen. From active involvement in the Gaelic Athletic Association and the Gaelic League, he progressed to membership in the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Republican Brotherhood. He also involved himself in trade union activities, proving that for him, the Irish Republic was not just an abstract, romantic notion, but a chance to improve the working and social conditions of the Irish people in the best traditions of James Connolly.
Moran's leadership qualities and organizing ability ensured that he would rise through the ranks of the Irish Volunteers. The Easter Rising (ƒir’ Amach na C‡sca) saw him serving in the garrison of Jacob's biscuit factory as Adjutant of the Dublin Brigade's D Company, 2nd Battalion, under the command of Thom‡s MacDonagh.
After the collapse of the Rising, Paddy Moran was deported to Knutsford Prison, Cheshire, then transferred to Fron-goch Internment Camp in Wales, where the British had imprisoned Volunteers rounded up from every corner of Ireland. There, in the "University of Revolution" that the prisoners established, the most committed and most able of the Republican movement drew the blueprint of the forthcoming asymmetric guerrilla war, which they would lead.
The interior of Fron-goch prison.
After his release from Fron-goch, Moran helped reorganize the Irish Republican Army, and the resumption of hostilities with Britain. He became captain of D Company, and allegedly served as a contact between Michael Collins and Collins' agents in Britain as the agents travelled between Holyhead in Wales and Dun Laoghaire, where Paddy Moran then worked and lived.
With meticulous attention to detail, and evident pride, the author recounts her uncle's activities during these years. Still, May Moran's book is no uncritical eulogy, nor one-sided absolution. Her use of numerous official sources from British and Irish archives, which are referenced in the extensive endnotes, testify to her fairness and balance, but her impartiality is most apparent in her coverage of Bloody Sunday, which forms the heart of the book.
Paddy Moran was arrested in the sweeps that followed Bloody Sunday (in Irish: Domhnach na Fola), November 21, 1920, and sentenced to death in the murder of the notorious "Cairo Gang" agents Lieutenant Peter Ames and Captain George Bennett, who were gunned down at 38 Upper Mount Street.
For 80 years, most historians, and the Moran family, believed that Paddy was innocent of any involvement in the IRA's actions on Bloody Sunday. They also believed that his trial was a travesty of justice, in which the evidence of numerous witnesses who claimed that Paddy Moran was at Mass in Blackrock at the time of the shootings was ignored by the prosecution.
May Moran reveals, however, that while Paddy was indeed innocent of the deaths of Ames and Bennett, he did, in fact, command a detachment of 13 men from D Company who raided the Gresham Hotel and shot dead Lieutenant Colonel Leonard Aidan Wilde and Captain Patrick J. McCormack.
In discussing the assassination of these men, and the other deaths that occurred on Bloody Sunday, the author avoids giving her own opinions but presents the facts and allows the reader to determine the justice of each killing. What is clear, though, is that Paddy Moran's conscience was troubled by the possibility that McCormack, who had apparently been demobilized from the army several months earlier, may have been unjustly killed. Moran shared these doubts when his brother Jim, the author's uncle, visited him in the condemned cell on the eve of his execution.
'... always hold your heads high, because I die a martyr not a criminal, as they would paint me.'
Many historians have told the story of Paddy Moran's brief imprisonment, and subsequent execution, along with that of Thomas Whelan and four other IRA Volunteers. All other accounts, however, lack the intimacy and pathos that May Moran brings to the tragedy through her use of the letters her uncle Paddy wrote to family and friends in his last weeks, days and hours.
Paddy Moran's final letter to his parents hints, not only at his calm acceptance of his fate but also at the indomitable spirit he shared with his condemned comrades. He wrote, "Do not worry for me, pray for me instead and shed no tears and always hold your heads high, because I die a martyr not a criminal, as they would paint me."
The author concludes her book with a chapter that recalls the long campaign by relatives to have the remains of Moran and nine others hanged by the British during the 1919-1921 war removed from the grounds of Mountjoy Prison. This culminated in a State service of remembrance for the men on October 14, 2001, followed by reinterment of Paddy Moran and eight others (including Kevin Barry), with full military honors, in Glasnevin Cemetery. The tenth, Patrick Maher, was reburied in Ballylanders, County Limerick, in accordance with the wishes of his family.
Speaking at the graveside in Glasnevin, then-Taoiseach Bertie Ahern stated, "Their sacrifice is not being forgotten by the people of Ireland, and it never will." May Moran's book will help ensure that that promise remains unbroken. WGT
"Executed for Ireland: The Patrick Moran Story" by May Moran.
Paperback Price: $19.72
The Mercier Press Ltd., 2011
This feature was edited by Liam Murphy and Gerry Regan and produced by Joe Gannon.
Copyright © 2011 by Kieron Punch and GAR Media LLC. This article may not be resold, reprinted, or redistributed without prior permission from the author. Direct questions about permissions email@example.com.