Part 5: 'England Executes Prisoners of War'
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.
|Patrick Moran, who might have escaped, but didn't want to appear to be guilty.|
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.
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.
|All Photos Courtesy of
Kilmainham Jail Museum
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.
|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
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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 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 soul of Ireland will grow as far apart from the possibility of friendship with Great Britain as Earth is from the Pole Star.|
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."
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.
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.
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."
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.
Look for Part 6, "Ireland's Madness," next month.
More on Ireland's Struggle for Freedom
Some historical background of the era in Ireland, from IrelandStory.com.
Irish Prisons Service Profile of Mountjoy Jail
A brief history of the Black and Tans, from the Irish Cultural Society of the Garden City Area
Republican History and Information, compiled by Jackie Dana
This page was produced by Joe Gannon, with research assistance from Gerry Regan.
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