I wonder if those who watched the State funerals of the men executed in Mountjoy Jail realised that two Athy families were represented among the pallbearers. Peter Maher was one of the men who carried the remains of his grand-uncle, Kevin Barry, while Danny Flood helped to shoulder the remains of his uncle, Frank Flood.
Kevin Barry, the eighteen year old medical student from Fleet Street in Dublin and with family ties in Tombeagh, Hacketstown, Co. Carlow was the first person since 1916 to be executed by the British under the Martial Law Regulations. Despite worldwide appeals for clemency he was hanged on 1st November, 1920. Frank Flood from Summerhill Parade, Dublin who was also an active member of the Republican Movement was court martialled following his arrest and hanged in Mountjoy Jail on 14th March, 1921. Both Kevin Barry and Frank Flood had attended O’Connell Schools in Dublin and were believed to be friends. At the time of their execution both were university students and so far as I can ascertain they were the only students executed by the British during that period.
The late Todd Andrews in his autobiography, “Dublin Made Me”, published by Mercier Press in 1979 knew both Barry and Flood as students in University College Dublin and recounted how Kevin Barry’s execution after an intense campaign to save his life aroused bitter anti-British feelings throughout the country. He noted somewhat sadly however that “whilst Kevin Barry’s death passed into the Nation’s mythology, Frank Flood’s name is scarcely remembered”.
Both young men were from Dublin and the links forged between them as schoolmates and later as members of the republican movement were strengthened when members of their respective families came to live in Athy some years after their executions.
Kevin Barry was a good friend of Athy’s Bapty Maher, and several letters from Barry to Maher have survived to this day. In one of those letters quoted in Donal O’Donovan’s book, “Kevin Barry and his times”, reference is made to a visit which Barry and his older sister Kathleen attempted to make on Eamon Malone from Barrowhouse while he was a prisoner in Mountjoy Jail. Malone who later married Miss Dooley of Duke Street, Athy was the effective leader of the Irish Republican Army in the Athy and Barrowhouse area. Bapty Maher to whom Kevin Barry wrote that letter was an Athy man whose mother operated an undertaking business in Leinster Street. He was later to marry Kevin Barry’s sister Sheila and their grandson Peter Maher was one of the pallbearers for the removal of Kevin Barry’s remains last Sunday.
Frank Flood was a lieutenant in the Dublin Brigade and a former classmate of Kevin Barrys while both were attending O’Connell’s School in Dublin. Several of his brothers were also involved in the republican movement. Frank Flood was captured at Clonturk Park while attempting to leave the scene of an IRA ambush. He was subsequently court martialled and sentenced to death. The Court Order was carried out at Mountjoy on 14th March, 1921. One of his brothers, Tom Flood, was captured following the burning of the Custom House, Dublin on 25th May, 1921. Fortunately for him he suffered an acute appendicitis on the eve of his trial as a result of which it had to be postponed. A truce was declared some days before the date fixed for his trial and as a result Tom Flood escaped the fate which befell his younger brother Frank just months previously.
Tom Flood was later a Commandant in the Free State Army during the Civil War and played a very prominent part in military actions in the Munster area during the 1922/1923 period. He subsequently married and settled in Athy acquiring licensed premises from Mrs. Eileen Butler in March 1926. In the June 1934 local elections Thomas Flood was elected a member of Athy Urban District Council and was re-elected in 1942 and again in 1950. I have not found his name listed in the Minute Books of the Urban Council following the June 1945 Election but as I have only been able to locate the names of eight Councillors it is quite possible that Tom Flood was also re-elected that year. He died on 9th October 1950.
It was surely a happy coincidence which saw family members of Kevin Barry and Frank Flood living in the same town, long after the two patriots had passed on to their eternal reward.
During the week Kevin Myers wrote in his usual eloquent manner in the Irishman’s Diary in the Irish Times decrying the decision to grant a State Funeral to the ten men hanged in Mountjoy Jail over more than eighty years ago. He saw the ceremony as reviving the “myth of single-sided Nationhood” which failed to recognise the suffering and losses of the opposing side. During the course of the moving ceremony on Sunday last, Cardinal Cathal Daly acknowledged the double-sided nature of war when he prayed for the young British soldiers who were killed during the Irish War of Independence. This was I feel an honest acknowledgment that we Irish do not have a monopoly of suffering resulting from armed conflict and helped in a small way to address the feelings of those who might believe that we think otherwise.
Returning to the paths which brought Barry and Flood together both before and since their deaths, one cannot but be struck by the courage which marked their involvement in the fight against the greatest military power in the world. Britain had come through the first World War having suffered huge casualties but having at the same time revitalised and reshaped its military operations so as to better face future conflicts. Frank Flood and Kevin Barry and their colleagues in the Irish Republican Army showed enormous courage and bravery in opposing the British Army of the time.
Another brave man if in a strictly non military sense who died in 1922 was Kilkea born Ernest Shackleton, the great polar explorer. His exploits in the Antarctic during several expeditions beginning with Scott’s expedition of 1901 and ending with his own death at South Georgia in 1922 marked him out as a man of extraordinary courage. The Heritage Centre in Athy has been fortunate to have on display material and artifacts relating to Shackleton’s exploits and to have acquired even further Shackleton material in recent weeks. The weekend of 26th to 28th October will see the opening of an Ernest Shackleton Autumn School in Athy during the course of which a series of lectures will be given by a number of eminent speakers. Programme details are available in the Heritage Centre and I would strongly urge anyone interested in all aspects of our history to take the opportunity to attend the Autumn School which will be held in the Town Hall.
William Nolan wrote to me recently from England but unfortunately omitted to give his address. As I know he reads my column I would ask if he would contact me again.