Martyrdom for Kevin Barry, but no pension for his mother

Military archive reveals mother of medical student executed in 1920 was refused pension

Senior archivist Cécile Gordon, project manager of the Military Service Pensions Collection, and Capt Daniel Ayiotis in the Military Archives at Cathal Brugha Barracks, Dublin. Photograph: Colin Keegan, Collins

Senior archivist Cécile Gordon, project manager of the Military Service Pensions Collection, and Capt Daniel Ayiotis in the Military Archives at Cathal Brugha Barracks, Dublin. Photograph: Colin Keegan, Collins

 

The widowed mother of Kevin Barry was turned down for a pension from the State because she was not a dependant of her son at the time of his death.

Barry was executed in Mountjoy Jail in November 1920 for his part in an ambush in Church Street, Dublin in which three British soldiers were killed.

The refusal of a pension for his mother, Mary Barry, is among the files relating to 1,576 veterans of the Irish Revolution, covering the period 1916-1923, which are being made available online today by the Military Archives. It is the fourth such release since 2014.

His mother’s application is one of 510 applications arising out of service in either the pre-independence IRA or the National Army (post-independence) to be released.

A medical student at the time, Barry was hanged despite a worldwide plea for clemency. His name endured through the ballad Kevin Barry, in which he would be forever immortalised as “just a lad of eighteen summers” and a “martyr for old Ireland”.

In 2001 a State funeral was held for Barry and nine other former IRA volunteers who were executed in Mountjoy Jail. They were reburied in Glasnevin Cemetery.

Dependant’s allowance

However, the State refused Kevin Barry’s mother Mary a dependant’s allowance when she applied to the Department of Defence for one in 1937.

The Barrys had been a middle-class family – few would have had the resources to send their children to medical school in 1920.

Kevin Barry: executed in Mountjoy Jail in November 1920 for his part in an ambush in Church Street, Dublin in which three British soldiers were killed
Kevin Barry: executed in Mountjoy Jail in November 1920 for his part in an ambush in Church Street, Dublin in which three British soldiers were killed

But Mrs Barry’s application in 1937 paints a different picture.

She applied to the department on the basis that the family premises in Fleet Street, Dublin was also her home and was in a bad state of disrepair. She had no capital to fix it and could not live off the proceeds of a lease.

Correspondence from Dublin Corporation confirmed that the structure was in danger of falling down and would need urgent repairs.

She apologised for her late application and admitted that she had not needed State help before then.

Kevin Barry’s high profile meant the application went to ministerial level. The name of the minister is not mentioned in the file, but a handwritten note is marked “urgent”.

Dairy farm

The Department of Defence, in assessing her means, found that her family owned a 100-acre dairy farm in Co Carlow and a dairy shop in Dublin’s Fleet Street and described her as “living comfortably” off the income from both.

In any event, the board, which adjudicated on the application, turned her down. It held that Mrs Barry was not dependent on her son when he died in 1920 and therefore did not qualify for a pension.

Also included in the pension files, released today, are those relating to the families of 66 men executed by the Free State government during the Civil War, 343 anti-Treaty Civil War casualties and 300 women.

Among the files relating to the War of Independence were those of Philip Cosgrave (brother of WT Cosgrave and uncle of Liam Cosgrave) and Leo Burdock, the founder of the well-known fish and chips shops. His pension file details his involvement in an ambush of Black and Tans in Dublin city centre.

See militaryarchives.ie