Part 5: 'England Executes Prisoners of War'

Patrick Moran, who might have escaped, but didn't want to appear to be guilty.

 The bloodletting continues as British military authorities dismiss a rising chorus of outrage and execute six IRA Volunteers in one morning, three days prior to St. Patrick's Day. Even the Papacy came to admire the faith of the condemned.

By Kieron Punch

On Monday, 14th February, Patrick Moran was presented with an opportunity to escape from Kilmainham. Security was not tight in the prison and for several days Moran, Ernie O'Malley and Frank Teeling (the only "Bloody Sunday" participant to be caught by the British) had been attempting to cut through a padlock on an outer gate using bolt-cutters, but without success.

When the bolt finally gave way, O'Malley went to inform Moran that the escape was "On," only to be told that Moran had had a change of heart. He explained that any attempt to get away would be interpreted by the British as an admission of guilt and that "I won't let down the witnesses who gave evidence for me." He did, however, promise to start a concert in order to distract the guards.

All Photos Courtesy of
Kilmainham Jail Museum

Unable to persuade his comrade to join him, O'Malley next planned to release Frank Flood and the other 1st Battalion men, only to find that they were not in their cells. That morning they had insulted one of the prison officers who retaliated by sending them to punishment cells on a lower level. O'Malley had to content himself releasing Simon Donnelly, vice-commandant of the 3rd Battalion, Dublin Brigade, who joined him and Teeling in their successful bid for freedom.

Tom Barry commanded many ambushes like the one these men participated in during the War of Independence. Read his story in Guerilla Days in Ireland 

Within weeks of the escape, Moran and Whelan had been found guilty of murder and the other five Volunteers had been convicted of "high treason by conspiring with others to levy war against the King and with attacking with explosives, the forces of the King." The death sentence was passed against all seven men.

Once again a massive protest campaign began. The Archbishop of Dublin argued that as there was insufficient evidence of guilt against Moran and Whelan, and as no lives had been lost in the Drumcondra attack, the death penalty was unjustified. Trade Union activists mobilised support for Paddy Moran, who had been a leading member of the Grocers Assistants Trade Union.

The soul of Ireland will grow as far apart from the possibility of friendship with Great Britain as Earth is from the Pole Star.

The Kingston Branch of the National Union of Railwaymen pressed their Parliamentary representative, Mr J. H. Thomas M. P., to intercede "In view of the overwhelming evidence of the innocence of Patrick Moran...".

The well-known author and economist, George Russell, published an appeal asking the British people to consider the effect of the proposed executions on Irish public opinion, "If these penalties are allowed to be inflicted, if the evidence of dozens of witnesses is to be set aside, the soul of Ireland will grow as far apart from the possibility of friendship with Great Britain as Earth is from the Pole Star. Humanity is judging the character of British justice by its actions in Ireland today. Take heed what its verdict will be."

Thomas Bryan

Despite this stark warning the British Administration turned a deaf ear to all intercessions. On Friday, 11th March, the General Military Headquarters in Dublin confirmed the sentences on the five men convicted of the Drumcondra ambush. Thomas Bryan, Patrick Doyle, Frank Flood and Bernard Ryan were to be hanged on Monday, 14th March, along with Patrick Moran and Thomas Whelan, who had already had their sentences confirmed. In the case of Dermot O'Sullivan, it was announced that the Lord Lieutenant had commuted the sentence to penal servitude for life, on account of his youth.

Frank Flood

On March 13, a series of desperate appeals for clemency were made by the Lord Mayor of Dublin, who telegraphed, not only Prime Minister Lloyd George but also the King. By late that evening, though, the Mayor issued a statement saying that he had been informed in official quarters that there was no hope for the men as the Government had decided that the law should take its course.

Bernard Ryan

In the final hours before their deaths, the young men (the youngest was 19, the eldest 28) were visited by a nun, Mother Patricia Dodd, who was full of admiration for their remarkable composure and religious convictions. This was a trait shared by all of the men executed in Mountjoy and had the effect of changing the attitude of the Papacy in relation to the Irish insurgeants. Mother Dodd reported that Patrick Moran had felt he was assured of the "highest, highest place" in heaven, while Thomas Whelan said, "I have just told my mother that as a Priest starts a new life at ordination, so, on Monday, I will start a new life that will last forever." Bernard Ryan spoke to her of his young wife, whom he had "loved for years and only married now, when he could keep her."

A vast crowd, including relatives of the condemned men, began to assemble in front of Mountjoy shortly after the Curfew Order expired at 5 a.m. Thanks to the efforts of Frank Robbins, a trade union activist and former member of the Irish Citizen Army, a call was issued on behalf of the Irish Labour Party and Trade Union Congress for all workers to abstain from work until 11 o'clock, as a sign of respect. This permitted many working men and women, who would otherwise have been unable to attend, to help swell the crowd at Mountjoy. Once again a procession of women marched from St. Stephen's Green to the prison carrying banners proclaiming, "England executes Prisoners of War" and "They murder the innocent in vengeance."

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 

As soon as the chaplains had finished celebrating Mass for the prisoners, the executioner, John Ellis, and his assistant began their grim task. Patrick Moran and Thomas Whelan were hanged at 6 a.m. followed by Thomas Bryan and Patrick Doyle at 7 o'clock. Frank Flood and Bernard Ryan, the two youngest, joined their comrades in death an hour later. No bell was tolled to announce the executions and no black flag was raised. The first indication that the sentences had been carried out was when a notice was posted outside the prison, shortly after 8 o'clock. Relatives made a formal request for the bodies, but the request was refused.


Part 6: 'Death With No Tremblings'


Irish Rebel Maurice Meade: May You Live in Interesting Times

"The Blacksmith" Hammers the Auxies at Clonfin, Longford

Dillon’s Cross Ambush and the Burning of Cork City

Corkmen Capture Mallow Barracks

Ballymahon Barracks Attack: Arming the Boys of Longford

The Listowel Mutiny: “Shoot on Sight”

The Ballymacandy Ambush: "I would not turn off my road for any Shin...

Seán Treacy at War: Tipperary 'Far Away'

“Paddy” O’Brien and the Rathcoole ambush: Vengeance Is “Mine”

The Scramogue Ambush: Roscommon Steps Up

The 1st Brigade Cork Volunteers and the Coolnacahera Ambush

Michael Brennan and the East Clare Brigade at the Glenwood Ambush

100 Years Ago: The Piltown Ambush (1 November 1920)

Liam Lynch, Civil War Martyr: “It never should have happened”

Tipperary’s Dan Breen: The Hardest Hard Man.”

'Greyhound on Train': Rescuing Seán Hogan at Knocklong

The Clonbanin Ambush: “To Hell With Surrender!”

George Lennon: Waterford Rebel

George Lennon & the Piltown Ambush

The Kilmallock Barracks Attack: Burning Down the House in Limerick

The Tureengarriffe Ambush: Cork & Kerry Strike a Blow

The Tourmakeady Ambush: Shrouded By the “Fog of War” in Mayo

The Headford Ambush: Time Runs Out in Kerry

Cataclysm in Cork: The Battle of Clonmult

“The Scourge of Tralee”: Stalking the “The Major”

The Dromkeen Ambush: Down Into the Mire in County Limerick

The Rineen Ambush: Hell Comes to County Clare

The Carrowkennedy Ambush, June 2, 1921: Revenge is a Dish Best Serv...

Tom Barry: 'We May Have Great Men, But We’ll Never Have Better'

The Battle of Crossbarry: ... 'Who Piped Old Ireland Free'

The Kilmeena Ambush, May 19, 1921: Seeds of Victory in a Defeat

'Nigh Comeragh's Rugged Hills': Ambush at The Burgery

The R.I.C. In An Untenable Position, Part 1: Trauma at The Burgery

The Lispole Ambush -- Averting Disaster on the Dingle Peninsula

Patrick White: A Clareman's Tragic Death on Spike Island

'And To Watch the Sunbeams Dancing O’er the Wicklow Mountains High'

Always Remember ~ Cumann na mBan

War of Independence -- How the Nuns of Kylemore Saved My Father's Life

Terence MacSwiney: Irish Martyr

Walking to Work Through a Battle Zone

Review of 'Emmet Dalton - Somme Soldier, Irish General, Film Pionee...

Ballinalee, County Longford: The Village of Generals

The Anglo-Irish Treaty: Seed of 'The Troubles'

Shot While Attempting To Escape

Easter Rising to Irish Civil War Archive Available Online

Michael Collins: Saga of Heroism Against Daunting Odds

A Short History of Michael Collins, Ireland's 'Big Fellow'

Great Irish Romances: Michael Collins and Kitty Kiernan

Kitty and Michael: a revolutionary courtship

The Tan Who Was Hanged By His Own Side

Liam Lynch: Victim of the Irish Civil War

1916 and the Rebels' Priests

After The Rising … 'Fron-goch and the Birth of the IRA'

Ernie O'Malley: Mayo-Born Freedom Fighter and Writer

The Wild Geese Virtual Síbín with Cormac O'Malley

Evidence Abounds: British Leaders OK'd Mayhem

The Price of Freedom

The West Cork Trail: Scenes From the Anglo-Irish and Civil Wars, 19...

How I Learned That Grandad Executed Erskine Childers

Leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising: Éamon de Valera

Erskine Childers: Author, Irish Gunrunner, Churchill's Bête Noire

The Scum of England, or Ordinary Men? A Review of DJ Kelly's 'Runni..



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

Copyright © 2012 GAR Media LLC. This article may not be resold, reprinted, or redistributed without prior permission from the author. Direct questions about permissions to

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Tags: Europe, Execution, IRA, Ireland, War


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