But today marks the 90th anniversary of one of a series of outrages committed by the Irish army for which nobody was ever heldresponsible, or even apologised.
The outrages were committed following the deaths of Captains Michael Dunne and Joseph Stapleton of Dublin Brigade, who were killed, along with three other Free State soldiers, in Knocknagoshel, Co Kerry, by a booby trap mine on Mar 6, 1923. Free State troops retaliated with a fury in the following days.
Nine Republican prisoners were taken from Ballymullen Barracks, Tralee, the following day. Capt Ned Breslin, the officer in charge of the Free State detail, offered each of the prisoners a cigarette, saying it would be “the last you’ll have”. He told them they going to be blown with a mine, the way the soldiers had been killed at Knocknagoshel.
At Ballyseedy Cross, the prisoners were tied together around a pile of stones in which a mine had been placed earlier. They apparently thought the soldiers really wanted them to make a break so that they could shoot them “trying to escape”.
When the mine went off, Stephen Fuller was blown clear.
“I made for the ditch,” he said.
“They opened rapid machine gun fire and I thought they were firing at me.”
But while shooting to make sure all the men on the ground were dead, they failed to see Fuller escaping.
The same night, there was a comparatively similar incident at Countess Bridge, Killarney, where five prisoners were taken from jail and told to remove a pile of stones in which a mine had been placed. After the mine was detonated, three of the prisoners lay wounded, and the Free State troops finished them off with a grenade. Amid the confusion one of the prisoners, Tadhg Coffey, escaped.
Five days later, Free State troops made sure none of the five prisoners they collected in Caherciveen would escape. They shot each man in both legs before throwing them over a land mine and then blowing them up.
The official explanation in each instance was the men were killed by Republican mines while clearing roadblocks. Some of the Free State troops were also supposedly wounded each time. At the Bahaghs outrage, near Caherciveen, the only wounds on the Free State side were to Lt W McCarthy’s sense of decency. He was so revolted by what happened that he resigned his commission and denounced his colleagues as “a murder gang”.
Yet the Government turned a blind eye to the outrages by appointing Maj Gen Paddy O’Daly, the officer in charge of the troops in Kerry, to preside over a court of inquiry, which convened on Apr 7, 1923. Many suspected O’Daly had ordered the massacres.
“Evidence taken at the Court of Inquiry”, Henry Frighil, secretary of the Department of Justice, reported to justice minister Kevin O’Higgins on Jan 8, 1924, “can scarcely be regarded as having in all the circumstances much value”. Frighil advocated the army personnel involved be charged, or that there should at least be “a full investigation into the episode at which all available witnesses would be present and properly examined”.
Capt Niall C Harrington of the Dublin Brigade reported that “the mines used in the slaughter of the prisoners were constructed in Tralee under the supervision of two senior Dublin Guards officers”. But neither Capt Harrington nor Lt McCarthy was ever called to testify.
Eamonn Coogan, deputy Garda commissioner, noted Willie Riordan and his four colleagues taken from the Bahaghs Workhouse were shot, thrown on a mine, and blown up.
Maurice Riordan, of Waterville, Co Kerry, made a claim for compensations for the death of his son, Willie, 18. But the Free State government essentially decreed that all Republican prisoners were fair game.
“Prima facia [sic] evidence of complicity in an attack against the State on the part of an applicant for compensation or of the reason in respect of whom compensation is claimed is a bar to the claim,” the cabinet decided on Jan 22, 1924.
“The onus of preparing evidence in respect of any alleged excesses by the troops during the period of hostility rests upon the party who considers himself aggrieved.” In other words, the State was not going to take action.
Patrick Buckley, one of the victims of the Ballyseedy Massacre, had a wife and six children. “They have no visible means of obtaining a livelihood,” Coogan wrote.
The secretary of the compensation committee promised that he and his colleagues “will be very careful to guard against making any recommendation for payment of compensation when there has been any ‘default’ on the part of the applicant or the person injured”.
When the State ignored such outrages from its earliest days, should anyone be surprised that successive governments ignored the clerical paedophile activity and the abuses at the Magdalene Laundries?