civil blood made civil hands unclean...
It was a black, bleak time in Irish history. The Civil War
effectively ended on April 30 when the cease-fire and Dump
Arms order of the new IRA Chief of Staff, General
Frank Aiken, came into effect.
Aiken, who later spent several years as a Fianna Fáil
Minister and Tánaiste, had succeeded to the leadership
of the losing Republican side in the Civil War after the
death of General Liam Lynch only a few weeks previously,
on April 10, 1923.
It had been always for some time that the vastly better
equipped and financed army of the Irish Free State had clearly
won the war in the field. One of the most controversial
and drastic methods used by the three-man Army council of
that Army, which operated at arms length from any
sort of political control, was the policy of executing prisoners
taken in the field for possession of arms or ammunition.
This power was given to the Army by the inter-regum Provisional
Parliament in the new Leinster House 26 county chamber
in October, 1922 ever before the Irish Free State came legally
into existence on 6 December, 1922. As soon as the state
was founded on that date, the new government descended into
more drastic measures by simply executing prisoners who
had been in jail since the surrender of the Four Courts
the previous July, without any trial of any sort, and on
a few hours notice, for offenses committed outside the prison
with which they could not possibly be connected.
The execution of Rory OConnor, Dick Barrett, Liam
Melowes and Joe McKelveey on the 8th December, 1922 has
therefore become part of the Republican lore of martyrdom.
The reality is that the policy of sentencing Republican
prisoners of war to death and then delaying their execution
and then holding them as hostages against the
behaviour of their supporters outside the jails, continued
into the early months of 1923.
The policy consisted of shooting small numbers from specific
counties of IRA Command areas in an increasing litany of
blood that stretched out from Dublin throughout Leinster
and Munster up to the end of January, 1923.
Then there was a lull in February before the horrific tragedies
of Kerry at Ballyseedy and other locations in March
that were further compounded by the execution of three Kerrymen
and a Derryman at Drumboe, Donegal on 14 March 1923.
The Donegal executions were also the first by the Free State
in Ulster. Connacht had also escaped relatively unscathed,
although five members of the IRA Western command were executed
in Athlone on 20 January. Then on 11 April, some six other
Western Command Volunteers - the largest batch since before
Christmas - were executed in Tuam, the capital and very
heart of Connacht in an incident that is as sad and was
as futile as the other acts of blood-letting that took place
in Tralee and Ennis towards the end of the war and indeed
three days after the cease-fire came into effect in the
case of Clare.
There have always been different rumours and spins
put on the Tuam execution of Seamus Ó Máille,
Oughterard, Frank Cunnane, Kilcoona, Headford; John Newell,
Winefort, Headford; John Maguire, Cross, Cong; Michael Monaghan,
Clooneed, Headford, and Martin Moylan, Farmerstown, Annaghdown,
who were shot in the Old Workhouse in Tuam on the morning
after Liam Lynch was shot.
The saddest and most futile bloodletting in the Irish Civil
War came at the end in Clare. For while two Clare volunteers,
Patrick Hennessy and Cornelius McMahon, had been shot in
Limerick on 20 January 1923, the last three executions werecontroversial
in a county that had seen more than its share of bloody
controversy in the previous few months, because
it is claimed that three IRA volunteers involved: Edward
Greaney Reginald Hathaway, a former British soldier who
had thrown in his lot with the cause of the Republic during
the War of Independence and volunteered again to defend
that Republic when the Civil War came along, and James
McInerney had only surrended from their safe cave hideout
after they were assured that they would not be shot if they
And while McInerneys execution in Ennis on April 26
brought the savage nature of the Civil War home to Clare
people in a special way, it had been hoped that this total
of seventy five by new native Irish Free State government
in six short months, would mark the end of the nightmare.
It was not to be, because, on May 2, Chris Quinn and William
Shaughnessy were shot in Ennis, thus bringing the grand
total of blood to seventy seven - three days after the formal
cease-fire had been announced by General Aiken and brought
into operation on 30 April, 1923. That 77 slogan
became a popular rallying-call for Republicans of the Fianna
Fáil variety in later years.
By some sort of mathematical curiosity several Fianna Fáil
electoral victories ended up in their winning 77 seats in
Dáil chambers that consisted of 138 of 147 members
while even Jack Lynchs 84 seats in the new 166 member
Dáil was won in the year 1977!
There is also a theory that the decision to execute some
Republican prisoners in nearly every county and in each
Free State Army Command area was part of a military strategy
by the three-man Army Council, then in charge and operating
at arms length from any responsible political authority.
They wanted to involve the entire local army structure,
so that after the war there would be a shared responsibility
for whatever was done, and more importantly, so that nobody
could claim we were only obeying orders.
As I wrote in Civil War in Connacht (Mercier Press 1999),
Free State apologists claim that the decision to execute
was the fault of those who remained active outside
the prisons. Republican apologists suspect that certain
members of the Free State command in the west had also to
be forced to taste execution blood and half a dozen executions
in an area like Tuam would frighten all but convinced Republicans
that the cause was not worth the risk.
Some Republicans even go so far as to suggest that the line-up
in the Free State firing squad in Tuam was interesting,
that some people were brought in from Mayo - to spread the
fear and the involvement of all - including some officers
of northern origins. Be that as it may, the reality was
that by mid April 1923 the Civil War was almost over and
the ceasefire announcement came into force on 30 April 1923.
Courtesy of the Clare Champion