Descendants of two of the worst atrocities in the Civil War in Kerry in which both National Army soldiers and anti-Treaty IRA men were blown up in separate explosions are to be invited to a special joint commemoration next month to mark the centenaries of the tragedies.
Kerry Archeological and Historical Society is to mark the deaths of five National Army soldiers blown up by an anti-Treaty IRA landmine at Knocknagoshel and the retaliatory action by the National Army when eight anti-Treaty IRA prisoners were tied to a landmine and blown up at Ballyseedy.
Former minister Jimmy Deenihan was president of the Kerry Archeological and Historical Society when it decided to hold the joint ceremony on March 4th with wreaths due to be laid first at Knocknagoshel and then later at Ballyseedy to mark the centenary of the atrocities in March 1923.
“We plan to invite the descendants of those who were killed or wounded in the two atrocities – we are still working on tracing relatives but it’s not always proving easy as is the case with the family of Pats O’Connor who was the target of the attack by the IRA in Knocknagoshel,” he said.
“He had one brother, who was a priest, but his five sisters all emigrated to America so we are still working on trying to find his relatives while I’m dealing with the relatives of Laurence O’Connor for Lissycurry in Causeway and we’re also working to trace relatives of Michael Galvin from Killarney.”
All three Kerry men were killed along with Capt Edward Stapleton and Capt Michael Dunne of the Dublin Guard while a sixth soldier, Pt Joseph O’Brien, also a member of the Dublin Guard, sustained serious leg and facial injuries and ended up losing both his legs and his eyesight.
“I’ve been trying to track down the descendants of Edward Stapleton and Michael Dunne through National Army records, but the records aren’t great and haven’t yielded a lot yet or them or for the relatives of Joseph O’Brien who survived the explosion but suffered terrible injuries,” he said
Mr Deenihan said the fact that so many of those who died were members of the Dublin Guard infuriated senior Dublin Guard officers David Nelligan and Paddy O’Daly and led to them to order the horrific retaliatory action that saw nine anti-Treaty IRA men taken to Ballyseedy.
The nine men – Patrick Buckley from Scartaglin, John Daly from Castleisland, Pat Hartnett from Listowel, George O’Shea, Tim Tuomey and Stephen Fuller from Kilflynn, James Walsh of Churchill, Michael O’Connell from Castleisland, and John O’Connor from Innishannon, Co Cork – were all prisoners in Ballymullen Barracks in Tralee.
They were taken from the barracks and driven to Ballyseedy where their hands were tied behind their backs, and they were tethered to each other around a mine which was then detonated, and eight of the nine men were killed with Stephen Fuller being blown clear and surviving the blast.
Mr Deenihan said Kerry Archeological and Historical Society members were still working on getting as many relatives of the Ballyseedy victims as possible to attend the commemoration which would also see wreaths being lain at the monument designed by Breton sculptor, Yann-Renard Goulet.
“I would be a good friend of Paudie Fuller and with the Hartnett family who would be good friends with my own family and also the Buckley family – we are also talking with the descendants of the others who died, and we will be doing our best to get as many of them as possible to attend.”
The successive wreath laying ceremonies at Knocknagoshel and Ballyseedy will be non-partisan with the Catholic Bishop of Kerry, Dr Ray Browne, and a representative of the Church of Ireland in the county attending while Kerry historian Owen O’Shea will speak at both locations.
Mr O’Shea, who works as media, communications and customer relations officer with Kerry County Council, is a PhD student at UCD and recently published his well-received study of the Civil War in Kerry No Middle Path.
In his study, Mr O’Shea does not shy away from chronicling the horrors of both Knocknagoshel, which represented the highest daily death toll among the National Army in six months, and Ballyseedy which was the greatest loss by the anti-Treaty IRA of any single incident in the Civil War.
Quoting from newspaper reports of Knocknagoshel, Mr O’Shea said: “Portions of their mangled bodies were found hundreds of yards away. Paddy ‘Pats’ O’Connor was decapitated and died instantly. His head was discovered in a stream by a local schoolgirl, Bridie Lyons.
“A lower limb was found some 100 yards away and it was impossible to know what body parts the different limbs belonged. Sunk deep into all the bodies were portions of stones, gravel and grass … and body parts were strewn in all directions.”
Mr O’Shea also quotes Stephen Fuller’s account of what happened at Ballyseedy, told to Robert Kee for his Ireland: A Television History, and how before being removed from Ballymullen Barracks, Fuller was brought into a cell and shown nine coffins before continuing the story of the atrocity.
“They tied us then, our hands tied behind our back and left about a foot between the hands and the next fellow. They tied us in a circle then around the mine and they tied our legs then and the knees as well with a rope. And then they threw off our caps and said we could be praying away now as long as we like.”
According to Mr O’Shea, the mine was then detonated and while Fuller was blown away and landed in a stream, his comrades were not so fortunate with National Army troops shooting at the dismembered bodies of the other prisoners to ensure that they were all dead.
A National Army officer, Niall Harrington, later dismissed a court of enquiry report into the Ballyseedy massacre that claimed the eight men were killed while clearing an anti-Treaty IRA mine, as “totally untrue” in his posthumously published book A Kerry Landing.
Meanwhile over 20 local, national and international academics, historians and experts will gather in Tralee this weekend to discuss and debate the Civil War in Kerry at a conference entitled History, Memory and Legacy over three days at the Siamsa Tire Theatre in Tralee.
Opening on Thursday evening next with a keynote address from Prof Diarmaid Ferriter of UCD, the conference will hear from a wide array of experts on how and why Kerry came to be synonymous with the worst brutality and bitternesses of the Civil War a century ago.
For further information on the programme of events at the conference can be found here.