Civil War executions among files released by pensions archive

Latest tranche includes documents on a 10-year-old combatant in the conflict

Birr Castle, Co Offaly. Three executions at the castle feature in the latest documents released by the Military Service Pensions Collection. File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

Birr Castle, Co Offaly. Three executions at the castle feature in the latest documents released by the Military Service Pensions Collection. File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

 

The savagery of the Civil War is laid bare in the latest documents released by the Military Service Pensions Collection, including files on 66 of the 77 on the anti-Treaty side who were executed.

The latest tranche relates to 343 anti-Treaty IRA casualties of the conflict, including one of the youngest combatants, a 10-year-old boy who was shot in the head, and the victim of a National Army landmine whose mother was refused a pension because her son was illegitimate.

Edmund Quirke, from Bansha, Co Tipperary, was killed in an attack by the National Army on his father’s house on February 18th, 1923. Four other anti-Treaty IRA volunteers were killed in the same attack.

Quirke was working as a despatch rider at the time for his commanding officer Dan Breen. He is listed as either 10 or 11 in the files.

His widowed father claimed for a pension following Quirke’s death, but was turned down as he was not a dependant of his son.

The files have also been released for Thomas Greehy, who was killed by a trip mine planted in an IRA arms dump by National Army forces.

The force of the blast in Tallow, Co Waterford, in March 1923 blew Greehy’s head and right arm off.

The dependants’ application of his mother, Bridget Greehy, was rejected by the pensions board because her son was an “illegitimate child and is consequently ineligible for the grant of an award under the Act”.

Among the files released on the 66 executed were ones relating to a British army deserter.

Reginald Walter Stenning, from Oxfordshire, first came to Ireland with the Lancashire Regiment.

He deserted to the IRA during the War of Independence and fought against the Black and Tans.

Later, he joined the anti-Treaty side in the Civil War and was executed by the Free State Government in April 1923 at Tralee, Co Kerry.

His mother was refused a pension because it was deemed that she was not dependent on him.

Bitterness

The bitterness felt for years after the Civil War ended by those who had been on the anti-Treaty side is evidenced by a letter from Seán McGuinness, the officer who had commanded the Offaly IRA brigade.

McGuinness wrote to the Military Service Pensions Board about the execution of three men, William Conroy (20), Patrick Cunningham (22) and Colum Kelly (18), at Birr Castle in January 1923.

The three had been expelled from their IRA active service unit for some minor misdemeanours.

McGuinness wrote that the men returned to Tullamore, where they “remained unemployed and I presume penniless and without a smoke”.

He claimed they were executed by the Free State for a “few minor robberies”, though the court records show they were summarily executed for armed robbery.

McGuinness suggested that “their crime was nothing compared with that of the great betrayal of the Republic by the authority responsible for the killing of these three youths”.