PRODUCED BY SINN FEIN TRALEE CO KERRY ,DATE UNKNOWN
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ANOTHER PIECE OF IRISH HISTORY FOR THE COLLECTOR OF SUCH ITEMS
The Ballyseedy Massacre and its aftermath
March 1923 saw a series of notorious incidents in Kerry, where 23 republican prisoners were killed in the field (and another 5 judicially executed) in a period of just four weeks.
The killings were sparked off when five Free State soldiers were killed by abooby trapbomb while searching a republican dug out at the village ofKnocknagoshel, county Kerry, on 6 March. The next day, the local Free State commander authorised the use of Republican prisoners to clear mined roads.Paddy Dalyjustified the measure as, 'the only alternative left to us to prevent the wholesale slaughter of our men'. National Army troops may have interpreted this as permission to take revenge on the anti-treaty side.
The following day, 6/7 March, nine Republican prisoners were taken from Ballymullen barracks and tied to alandminewhich was then detonated, after which the survivors were machine-gunned. One of the prisoners,Stephen Fuller, was blown to safety by the blast of the explosion. He was taken in at the nearby home of Michael and Hannah Curran. They cared for him and, although badly injured, he survived. Fuller later became aFianna FáilTD. The Free State troops in nearbyTraleehad prepared nine coffins and were surprised to find only eight bodies on the scene. There was a riot when the bodies were brought back to Tralee, where the enraged relatives of the killed prisoners broke open the coffins as a statement of contempt for the Free State and its troops,and in an effort to identify the dead.
This was followed by a series of similar incidents with mines within twenty four hours of the Ballyseedy killings. Five Republican prisoners were blown up with another landmine at Countess Bridge nearKillarneyand four in the same manner atCahersiveen. Another Republican prisoner, Seamus Taylor was taken to Ballyseedy woods by National Army troops and shot dead.
On 28 March, five IRA men, captured in an attack on Cahersiveen on 5 March were officially executed in Tralee. Another, captured the same day, was summarily shot and killed. Thirty two anti-Treaty fighters died in Kerry in March 1923, of whom only five were killed in combatFree State officer Niall Harrington has suggested that reprisal killings of republican prisoners continued in Kerry right up to the end of the war.
Memorial to the Irish Republican soldiers executed by Free State forces at Ballyseedy, County Kerry.
The Free State unit, theDublin Guard, and in particular their commanderPaddy Daly, were widely held to be responsible for these killings. They, however, claimed that the prisoners had been killed while clearing roads by landmines laid by Republicans. When questioned in theDáilbyLabour PartyleaderThomas Johnson,Richard Mulcahy, the National Army's commander-in-chief, backed up Daly's story. A military Court of Enquiry conducted in April 1923 cleared the Free State troops of the charge of killing their prisoners.
It has since emerged, however, that the prisoners were beaten, tied to explosives and then killed. At Cahersiveen, the prisoners were reportedly shot in the legs before being blown up to prevent them escaping. Two Free State officers, Lieutenants Niall Harrington and McCarthy (who both resigned over the incidents) later stated that not only were the explosives detonated by the Free State troops, they had also been made by them and laid there for this purpose.Documents released in late 2008 show that the Free State Cabinet was aware that the Army's version of events was flawed. An investigation concluded that the prisoners had been killed by a party of National Army soldiers from Dublin known as the 'visiting committee' and that those at Cahersiveen had been beaten and shot before being blown up.
What exactly prompted this outbreak of vindictive killings in March 1923 is unclear. While the National Army troops in Kerry were clearly enraged by the killings of their comrades at Knocknagoshel, a total of 68 Free State soldiers had been killed in the county and 157 wounded up to that point. A total of 85 would die in Kerry before the war was over. Why the deaths at Knocknagoshel prompted such a savage response remains an open question. However, it has never been proven that the National Army atrocities of March 1923 were authorised by the Free State government or the National Army high command.
In addition to the bloody events in Kerry, two similar episodes took place elsewhere in the country in the same month.
On 13 March, three Republican fighters were judicially executed inWexfordin the south east. In revenge, Bob Lambert, the local Republican leader, had three National Army soldiers captured and killed.
On 14 March atDrumboe CastleinCounty Donegal, in the north west, four anti-Treaty IRA fighters, Charles Daly (26), Sean Larkin (26), Daniel Enwright (23), and Timothy O' Sullivan (23), who had been captured and held in the castle since January, were summarily shot in retaliation for the death of a National Army soldier in an ambush.
The end of the war
Even after the war had ended in May 1923, Free State troops continued killings of anti-Treaty fighters. For example,Noel Lemass, a captain in the anti-Treaty IRA, was abducted inDublinand shot by Free State forces in July 1923, two months after the war had ended. His body was dumped in theDublin Mountains, nearGlencree, where it was found in October 1923. The spot where his body was found is marked by a memorial erected by his brotherSeán Lemass- a futureTaoiseachof Ireland. There are no conclusive figures for the number of unofficial executions of captured anti-treaty fighters, but Republican officerTodd Andrewsput the figure for "unauthorised killings" at 153.
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