Civil War Executions
By: A.J. Mullowney
|Eighty years ago, in December 1922, the Curragh Camp was the scene of a terrible tragedy; it was the execution, by firing squad, of seven young men in the Military Detention Barracks, now the Curragh Prison. The full story of the events of the week from 13 December 1922, when the men were arrested, to 19 December 1922, when they were executed, is not now known. All of the people involved are dead, and with them their stories. It appears that all official records of the executions have been lost or destroyed.|
events took place during the Civil War. Successful military operations
by the Free State forces had led, by the end of 1922, to the cessation
by the anti-treaty side of conventional operations and they had resorted
to guerrilla warfare directed against supply lines and communications.
The Curragh Camp was occupied by the Free State Army while a small
column of Irregulars, as those supporting the anti-treaty side in arms
were termed, operated in the vicinity of Kildare town. Most of this
small column were railway employees and they largely confined their
operations to trying to disrupt the operation
of the railway line in the vicinity of Kildare town.
The Leinster Leader of 23 December 1922 reported that a column of ten men had operated against railways, goods
trains and shops in the vicinity of Kildare for some time. Five of them had apparently taken part in an attempt to disrupt communications by derailing engines on 11 December. Two engines had been taken from a shed at Kildare and one of them had been sent down the line into an obstruction at Cherryville, thereby blocking the line. It was also alleged that goods trains had been looted and shops robbed in the locality. The same column was also reported to have taken part in an ambush of Free State troops at the Curragh siding on 25 November.
On 13 December the men were surprised in a dug-out at a farmhouse at Moore’s Bridge, on the edge of the Curragh plains, by Free State troops. In the dug-out were ten men, ten rifles, a quantity of ammunition, and other supplies. The men were arrested and conveyed to the Curragh. The proprietress of the farmhouse was also arrested and lodged in Mountjoy Prison. Controversy surrounds the circumstances of the death of Thomas
Behan, one of the men. One version ha it that his arm was broken when he Wa:
being apprehended and he wa~ subsequently killed by a blow of a rifl butt on the head, at the scene of the raid when he was unable to climb on th~ truck that conveyed the men to the Curragh. The official version was thai he was shot when attempting to escape from a hut in which he was detained in the Curragh Camp.
||Sometime between 13-1 8 December seven of the men were tried before a military court. They were found guilty of being in possession of arms without authority and sentenced to death. The day before their execution the seven men were ministered to by Father Donnelly, chaplain in the Curragh.|
The seven men executed
• Joseph Johnston (18)
• Patrick Mangan (22)
• Patrick Nolan (34)
• Brian Moore (37)
• James O’Connor (24)
• Patrick Bagnall (19)
The execution was carried out by firing squad at
8.30 a.m. on the 19th December
The men were allowed to
write final letters the night before their execution and some of these
were later published in the republican paper Eire,
(The Irish Nation) of 31 March 1923. Letters written by Stephen
White were not published, but one of them I reproduce here with the
permission of his relatives, which is representative of the rest:
HARE PARK PRISON
I am writing this letter, sorry
to say it is my last as I am to die at
8.15 to-morrow, Tuesday. I am sorry I cannot see any of you before I go,
but, I hope by the time you get this to be with my poor Mother In
Heaven, with God’s help. I hope you will all say a prayer for me. I
never saw Jimmie since the night we were arrested, but, thank God it is
me instead of him that was to go. He will be more use to you than I
would, and tell him if ever he gets out, which, with the help of God, he
will, to start work and give up this game as it is not worth it.
have been treated all right since we came here and we were all with the
Priest to-day, and will be with him all night. I am sorry I cannot see
you all to hid you Good bye “, but, I suppose we will all meet the other side,
will bid you all a last “Good bye’~ and pray for me.
GOOD BYE, FATHER.
men were buried in the grounds of the Detention Barracks but their
remains were later exhumed and lay in state in the Courthouse in Kildare
town before being re-buried in Grey Abbey Cemetery, Kildare in 1924. A
gravestone was subsequently erected over their grave and a monument
August 2002 two nephews of Stephen White visited Kildare and the Curragh
Camp to revisit the scenes of the episode. Stephen White, a son of the
Jimmie mentioned in the letter, from England and Paul White, son of
another brother, Michael, from Canada met for the first time in 50
years. They visited the Curragh Prison, Moore’s Bridge, Grey Abbey
Cemetery and the monument in Kildare town square. They are anxious to
make contact with anyone who has any information regarding the events of
1922 and to establish contact with any relations who might still be
living in the Kildare area.
terrible events of the Civil War affected some local people for many
years. Eighty years later it is fitting to remember the episode as a
part of our