The Government should amend the record of Dáil Éireann to reflect the reality of what happened during the Civil War at Ballyseedy in Co Kerry when nine anti-Treaty IRA prisoners were tied to a landmine and blown up, with eight being killed, a leading historian has argued.
Dr Mary McAuliffe of University College Dublin (UCD) said the current Dáil record from 1923 when then Minister for Defence, Gen Richard Mulcahy, exonerated the Kerry Command of the National Army of any wrongdoing at Ballyseedy does not accord with what is known to have happened.
“I would not advocate interfering with the record of Richard Mulcahy’s statement to the Dáil on Ballyseedy because that is an important historical document – it’s a record of the cover-up that happened so it should not be erased from the Dáil record,” said Dr McAuliffe.
“But what needs to be done is that the record should be amended to reflect what actually happened at Ballyseedy and that could be done quite simply by reading into the Dáil record the statement of Stephen Fuller, who survived the atrocity, as a corrective to Mulcahy’s statement,” she added.
Dr McAuliffe was speaking during a panel discussion at a centenary conference in Tralee on the Civil War in Kerry entitled History, Memory and Legacy where the deaths of five National Army soldiers in a trap mine at Knocknagoshel and the retaliatory actions of the National Army were discussed.
In the wake of the Knocknagoshel killings on March 6th, 1923, officers of the National Army in a retaliatory action tied anti-Treaty IRA prisoners to landmines at Ballyseedy, Countess Bridge near Killarney and Bahaghs near Cahersiveen and detonated the mines, killing some 17 prisoners.
The killings were raised in Dáil Éireann on April 17th, 1923, by Labour leader, Thomas Johnson, who said an official inquiry under Maj Gen Paddy O’Daly, which exonerated his men of any wrongdoing in the deaths of the prisoners, caused “a good deal of dissatisfaction among the people of Kerry”.
Mr Johnson said that within a day of five National Army soldiers being killed in the trap mine at Knocknagoshel, an order was given by senior officers in the National Army to use anti-Treaty IRA prisoners to clear any other barricades in case they similarly contained trap mines.
“Within twenty-four hours three such operations took place. Men were taken from the prison and found the next morning blown up by mines. Now, the rightness of this particular method is open to very grave question,” said Mr Johnson.
“It is confessed that there is danger in the removal of barricades but ... we have no right to assume, the Dáil have no right to assume, and the military authorities have no right to assume that every prisoner who has been arrested is guilty of an offence.
“They were not tried, but prisoners were taken out of the prisons to undergo this risk, and, according to the case made by the military authorities, the risk proved so tremendous that somewhere approaching a score of men were killed.”
But Gen Mulcahy was adamant that the National Army had behaved appropriately as he stood over the findings of the inquiry team led by Maj Gen O’Daly, which had exonerated the Kerry Command of any wrongdoing in the three explosions at Ballyseedy, Countess Bridge and Bahaghs.
“I, as I stated in my answer, am quite satisfied that the occurrences were thoroughly investigated, and that the findings were correct. As far as the Kerry officers were concerned, very few who know them, and very few, I think, of the civil population in Kerry will question their desire for discipline.
“They have my fullest confidence from that point of view. I have the fullest confidence that the honour of the Army is as deeply rooted in them as it is in any of us here at Headquarters or in any member of the Government.
“On the question of the charges that are being levied in connection with this matter, I am convinced that there is no foundation in fact for them; and on the question of using prisoners for this particular class of work, we cannot avoid using prisoners for this particular class of work if we are going to make the roads in Kerry safe for the people.”
Dr McAuliffe said to correct the Dáil record would be a simple matter of reading into the record the account given by survivor, Stephen Fuller, when he told how prisoners were selected at Ballymullen Barracks in Tralee and brought to Ballyseedy where they were tied to a landmine by their captors.
“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.”
Dr McAuliffe said 100 years on from Ballyseedy, which happened on the night of March 6th/7th 1923, was an appropriate time to amend the record. She pointed out that Taoiseach Leo Varadkar had already acknowledged as much during a Dáil debate in November 2011 when he revealed he had visited Ballyseedy and described what happened there as “an atrocity and those people killed without trial by the first Government were murdered”.