Credit: Public Domain

ON THIS DAY: 1 NOVEMBER 1920: Kevin Barry was hanged in Mountjoy Prison

Kevin Gerard Barry was the first Irish republican to be executed by the British since the leaders of the Easter Rising. He was a 18-year-old medical student who had won a merit-based scholarship given annually by Dublin Corporation, which allowed him to become a student of medicine at UCD. Born on Fleet Street, Dublin, the fourth of seven children.

Barry’s execution outraged nationalist public opinion¬†in Ireland and its diaspora. The timing of the execution, only days after the death by hunger strike of Terence MacSwiney, the republican Lord Mayor of Cork, enraged people.

The affidavit, drawn up in Mountjoy Prison days before his execution, describes his treatment when the question of names was repeated:

“He tried to persuade me to give the names, and I persisted in refusing. He then sent the sergeant out of the room for a bayonet. When it was brought in the sergeant was ordered by the same officer to point the bayonet at my stomach … The sergeant then said that he would run the bayonet into me if I did not tell … The same officer then said to me that if I persisted in my attitude he would turn me out to the men in the barrack square, and he supposed I knew what that meant with the men in their present temper. I said nothing. He ordered the sergeants to put me face down on the floor and twist my arm … When I lay on the floor, one of the sergeants knelt on my back, the other two placed one foot each on my back and left shoulder, and the man who knelt on me twisted my right arm, holding it by the wrist with one hand, while he held my hair with the other to pull back my head. The arm was twisted from the elbow joint. This continued, to the best of my judgment, for five minutes. It was very painful … I still persisted in refusing to answer these questions… A civilian came in and repeated the questions, with the same result. He informed me that if I gave all the information I knew I could get off.”

His treatment and death attracted international attention and attempts were made by U.S. and Vatican officials to secure a reprieve.

A friend who visited him in Mountjoy prison after he received confirmation of the death sentence on 1st November, said:

“He is meeting death as he met life with courage but with nothing of the braggart. He does not believe that he is doing anything wonderfully heroic. Again and again he has begged that no fuss be made about him.”

They were ignored and Kevin Barry was hanged in Mountjoy prison on 1 November after hearing two Masses in his cell. Canon Waters, who walked with him to the scaffold, wrote to Barry’s mother later:

“You are the mother, my dear Mrs Barry, of one of the bravest and best boys I have ever known. His death was one of the most holy, and your dear boy is waiting for you now, beyond the reach of sorrow or trial.”


Bolton Street after the ambush


Kevin Barry 


Women praying outside Mountjoy Goal for Kevin Barry


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