Today marks the 90th anniversary of the beginning of what was to be the most brutal month of the Civil War in Co. Kerry.
On March 6th, 5 Free State soldiers, including Captains Michael Dunne and Joseph Stapleton of Dublin Brigade, were killed in Knocknagoshel, Co Kerry, by a booby trap mine. The target of the trap was a particular local fellow by the name of Paddy "Pats" O'Connor who, according to the IRA, was a notorious torturer of prisoners. O'Connor joined the Free State army because of the treatment of his father by the local IRA.
The Dublin Guards, who had been in Kerry since the previous August, were commanded by Paddy O'Daly. He was furious over the booby trap and it subsequently became clear that he was responsible for what took place following the Knocknagoshel incident.
At around 2am on March 7th 9 IRA prisoners, many of whom had been tortured, were brought to Ballyseedy wood where they were told that they were to remove an "irregular road block". However, it was clear to the men what was in store for them when they had been shown 9 coffins in the barracks. Each were offered a cigarette and told it be "the last you'll have". They were then tied together to the mined road block and blown up. Some of the men were still alive and were finished off by grenade and machine gun.
Unbeknownst to the Free State troops one man was blown clear and managed to escape. His name was Stephen Fuller (to become a FF TD in 1937). Because the bodies were so badly mangled all nine coffins were filled with the remains of the 8 who perished. This was to lead to a near riot in Tralee when the coffins were handed over the the families at the gates of Ballymullen barracks. The families broke open the coffins to try and identify the remains.
Later on the same day a very similar incident took place at Countess Bridge in Killarney where 5 IRA prisoners where asked to remove a mined road block which was also blown up. Three of the men who lay wounded were finished off by grenade. Again, amazingly, a fifth man named Tadhg Coffey, survived and escaped.
Five days later 5 more men were killed near Bahaghs workhouse in Cahersiveen. In order to prevent any more escapes the men were first shot in the legs. They were then put over a mine and blown up.
When the details slowly emerged about what really happened the Free State government was forced to call an inquiry into what happened. They appointed none other than Major General Paddy O'Daly to oversee the court of inquiry in April. It was never going to be anything other than a whitewash.
One Free State soldier Lt W McCarthy resigned his commission after the incident and called his colleagues “a murder gang”.
Capt Niall Harrington (Author of Kerry Landings) of the Dublin Brigade reported that “the mines used in the slaughter of the prisoners were constructed in Tralee under the supervision of two senior Dublin Guards officers”. But neither he nor Lt McCarthy was ever called to testify.
The families of the dead prisoners where denied any sort of financial compensation by the Free State in the aftermath. Patrick Buckley (IRA intelligence officer) left a wife and 6 children after him.
These events were to leave a lasting legacy of pain and bitterness in Co. Kerry and for generations after politics was was shaped by what happened at Ballyseedy.
Gaelic Football was to play a huge role in someway healing the wounds of the Civil War in Kerry and there are some very good books on the subject.
Ryle Dwyer summed up in his piece below:
How the State turned a blind eye to the Ballyseedy killings | Irish ExaminerWhen the State ignored such outrages from its earliest days, should anyone be surprised that successive governments ignored the clerical paedophile activity and the abuses at the Magdalene Laundries?