A newly discovered photograph of Kevin Barry, published today for the first time, shows the 15-year-old schoolboy playing rugby at Lansdowne Road in 1917. Three years later he was dead, hanged at Mountjoy Gaol for his role in a deadly ambush of British soldiers in central Dublin during the War of Independence .
The image depicts Barry about to score a try for his school, Belvedere College, and help defeat Blackrock College in the Leinster Schools Rugby Junior Cup final.
The photograph has been in private ownership for nearly a century but has now been consigned to auction at Fonsie Mealy Auctioneers which specialises in rare books and historical memorabilia. The vendor is a descendant of Kevin Barry’s and the photograph will be sold at auction in Dublin this summer.
Photographs of Kevin Barry are exceedingly rare. The best-known is a head and shoulders shot used on a postage stamp in 1970. It reputedly depicts him wearing a Belvedere College hurling team jersey, a sport in which he also excelled.
Kevin Barry was born in Dublin in 1902. His family had a farm in Co Carlow and a dairy in Fleet Street, Dublin. He attended primary school in Rathvilly, Co Carlow and then went to St Mary's College in Rathmines before transferring to Belvedere College. During his second year at the school he secretly joined the IRA.
In 1920, Barry, then a medical student at UCD, was sentenced to death by a military court martial for his involvement in an ambush which caused the deaths of three British soldiers at North King Street on September 20th. The soldiers were collecting bread from a bakery for delivery to Collinstown Aerodrome.
Barry’s execution, by hangman John Ellis on November 1st, 1920, outraged Irish public opinion and is commemorated in a popular ballad which described him as “just a lad of 18 summers”.
The three British soldiers who died in the ambush included Pte Harold Washington from Salford in Lancashire who was aged just 16, although some sources claim he was 15 and had lied about his age to join the army.