Kevin Barry is probably one of the most famous names in republican history but it was not enough to earn his mother any payment for his death. She applied in November 1937 for a special allowance owing to the loss of her son, who was hanged on November 1, 1920.
His sentence was for his role in an attempted IRA raid for arms on a British army truck that resulted in three soldiers’ deaths in Dublin six weeks earlier. The 18-year-old medical student became a figurehead in the publicity campaign for Irish independence, and his story inspired ballads and poems.
However, it was not until 17 years after his death that Mary Barry decided to write to Defence Minister Frank Aiken to see if she was eligible for some pension or other payment under any of the various acts passed since 1923 to compensate those who took part in the War of Independence, or their families. A copy of her letter, dated the day after her son’s 17th anniversary, is contained in the associated file that comes into the public domain almost 80 years later.
“I wonder if I am too late to apply for a pension in respect of my son Kevin Barry. I did not apply sooner because I could manage without it but I find myself compelled now to try if it is not too late,” she wrote.
She said her home in Dublin’s Fleet Street was her way of living but would soon need rebuilding, at a cost of £2,000 to £3,000. Mrs Barry had a dairy shop at the property, part of which was sublet.
“I have no capital and do not feel able at my age to undertake the worry and responsibility of building and letting and paying interest on so large a debt,” she wrote.
It took more than two years for the case to be finalised, not an unusual delay in the administration of such files. On January 18, 1940, the secretary of the Department of Defence’s finance branch issued a decision to Mrs Barry, outlining that the minister could not make an award.
“He is not satisfied on the evidence that you were dependent on the deceased,” the typed standardised form stated.
In similar cases, but where dependency was proven, family members did receive a gratuity once-off lump-sum payment. As well as the fact that Kevin Barry was not earning while studying medicine at University College Dublin, the investigation of her claim found that she had a 100-acre farm in Co Carlow.
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