IRA tried to kidnap Prince of Wales in 1922

IRA wanted to swap Prince Edward for volunteers held under sentence of death

IRA volunteers tried to kidnap the Prince of Wales in an attempt to have a death sentence commuted, the military pensions archives which have been released today reveal.

John Joseph Carr was involved in the plan which was meant to save Reginald Dunne and Joseph O' Sullivan, two former British Army veterans turned IRA volunteers, convicted of the murder of the Chief of the Imperial Staff General Sir Henry Wilson in June 1922.

The men were immediately captured and sentenced to death, the execution due to take place on August 1st.

Carr had been born in London and served in the Royal Flying Corps during the first World War.


He inherited his nationalist tendencies from his Irish father and was imprisoned as an anti-treaty activist in Athlone in 1922. In return for his freedom, he offered to return to London to kidnap a member of the British establishment, an action the IRA hoped could be used to force the British to commute the death sentences on both men.

A plan was hatched to kidnap Edward, Prince of Wales, the future King Edward VIII at the Cowes Regatta in July 1922.

He told the military pensions board: "The rough plan of rescue evolved around the possibility that, should a member of the royal English family be kidnapped, and this kidnapping be kept from the press, negotiations should be carried on with the British Government for a remission of the sentence imposed, to a possible lunacy charge."

Carr travelled to London. He borrowed £100 from his mother to buy a car for the operation and enlisted the help of a taxi driver Jerry Leydon also to provide transport.

Carr and another IRA volunteer, Denis Kelleher proceeded to Cowes on the Isle of Wight where the Prince of Wales was staying with the very wealthy Anglo-German bankers, the Baring family.

However, their operation was quickly rumbled, as Carr recalled. “Unfortunately, in making the necessary questions, Kelleher’s accent was commented on by the policemen with the result that we considered the attempt jeopardised.”

They then switched their attentions to the Anglo-Irish peer the Earl of Arran. He was to be held on a barge on the River Thames and Carr was chosen as jailer. That plan too failed. “Due to unforeseen circumstances this attempt was abandoned within a quarter of an hour of its completion.”

Wilson was shot dead outside his London home after the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty by suspected anti-treaty activists. He had been a fierce opponent of the treaty and was a military adviser to the new Northern Ireland Government. Republicans blamed him for escalating state violence against Catholics in the North.

The assassination caused widespread outrage in the British government and Winston Churchill threatened to send the British Army back into Ireland to deal with anti-treaty forces who were occupying the Four Courts. Under pressure, Michael Collins borrowed two field guns from the British and shelled the Four Courts, an action which started the civil war.

Carr joined the volunteers in 1919. He and his brother Denis successfully smuggled guns into Ireland on board ferries from London to Dublin. Their commanding officer was Sam Maguire, the man after whom the Sam Maguire Cup is named.

Carr recalled that the boats were unloaded in Dublin by sympathetic stevedores. Twice a week he and his brother sent arms to Ireland including a Maxim machine gun.

At one stage a relative of his, who was the British officer in charge of a British Army base in Liverpool, gave Carr and his brother a tour of the base with a view to a later raid by volunteers based in the city.

Carr and his brother were arrested in May 1921 by the British police and detained until the general amnesty in December 1921. He then joined the anti-treaty forces in Mayo and was arrested and detained in Athlone. “I hit on a plan for affecting my release without sacrificing my honour,” he wrote.

He promised, in return for his release, to travel immediately to London to help organise the plan to save the lives of Dunne and O’Sullivan.

Both men were executed on August 10th. At his trial, Dunne blamed Wilson for the “Orange terror” and told the jury: “You may, by your verdict, find us guilty, but we will go to the scaffold justified by the verdict of our own consciences.”

After the end of the civil war, Carr emigrated to the United States. He was given an IRA pension for five and a half years service.

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Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times