Last letters of executed republican released to mark centenary

‘I shouldn’t have written to you at all only it is the eve of our execution’ - Barney Ryan (20)

On the morning of March 14th 1921 six men were hanged in Mountjoy Jail for their involvement in the War of Independence.

The six were among the "Forgotten 10" who were reinterred in Glasnevin Cemetery in a State ceremony in 2001.

One of them, Kevin Barry, the youngest to die, was certainly not forgotten and has been the subject of a world-famous song, books and plays.

The rest, though, are mostly only remembered by their descendents. Thomas Bryan (24) came to public attention through the Who Do You Think You Are programme. Bryan was married to Boy George's great-aunt Annie Glynn.

Glynn was pregnant when her husband was arrested and her baby died just four days before he was executed.

He was executed for his part in an attempted IRA volunteers ambush in Drumcondra, Dublin during the War of Independence. There were no enemy fatalities as a result of the ambush at the Tolka Bridge on January 21st 1921, but four men were found guilty of high treason and executed.

Another who was executed was Bernard “Barney” Ryan who was just 20 when he went to the gallows.

He was fostered at birth by a family on Royal Canal Terrace. His foster mother was Annie Ryan and he stayed with the family all his life.

Some of his last letters have come to light and are now being published for the first time.

They were written to a female friend of his, Una Gannon. Given the rather formal tone, they don't appear to have been lovers.

They have been in the possession of her grandson Stephen O’Shea who has now shared them with The Irish Times in advance of the centenary on Sunday.

‘Next on the list’

After they were sentenced to death in February 1921, there was hope that tentative peace talks between the British Government and Sinn Féin to end the War of Independence would lead to a reprieve.

On March 10th O'Shea wrote to Gannon stating that Paddy Moran's death sentence had been confirmed. Moran from Crossna, Co Roscommon was sentenced to death for his part in Bloody Sunday. He protested his innocence in vain.

“We are next on the list but our fate hangs in the balance,” Ryan writes.

A day later, one of their number Dermot O'Sullivan was reprieved as he was just 17, but the sentences of death were confirmed on the rest of them by the general officer commanding (GOC) in Ireland Sir Nevil Macready.

“Excuse this uncivilised note, but it is only written to tell you the worst has come. Young Sullivan was reprieved and we’re off on Monday. So if you don’t get any more news from me, all I ask is your prayers so slán leat.”

Two days later he apologised for his “awful note sent to you on Friday as it was written in a hurry after the confirmation case”.

He added: “We are having a great time here getting anything we want and I can’t say we are sorry we are going.

“Remember me to all my friends... I have no more news and I shouldn’t have written to you at all only it is the eve of our execution.

“Seven o’clock is the time for Boyle and I, six for Moran and Whelan. Eight for Bryan and Flood and all I can say now is slán leat and pray for us.”

The others to be executed on March 14th, 1921 were Thomas Whelan (22) from Clifden, Co Galway who was hanged for his part in Bloody Sunday, Patrick Doyle (29), who participated in the Drumcondra ambush along with Frank Flood (19).

Flood, like Kevin Barry, was an engineering student at UCD and a friend of Barry who was studying medicine there, but he is much less well known.

Flood asked that he be buried beside Barry in Mountjoy Prison. In 2018 Drumcondra Bridge was renamed Frank Flood Bridge.