Just one year and two days after Ireland achieved a level of independence, four of the men who fought in the War of Independence against British forces are executed by Irish government edict. It was just one more horrible chapter in a vicious civil war fought between erstwhile friends. The anti-Treaty rebels executed in Mountjoy jail in reprisal for the assassination the previous day of pro-treaty TD Sean Hales were Liam Mellows, Rory O’Connor, Joe McKelvey and Richard Barrett. The men had been in custody for five months and had nothing to do with the killing of Hales. Even among pro-Treaty TDs the executions evoked horror. By any normal standards the four were simple prisoners of war. The government believed (it now seems incorrectly) that the killing of Hales was the start of an execution campaign against government ministers. In a desperate effort to stop such activity, the decision was taken to take vicious reprisal.
Accused of vindictiveness by some of the Dail critics, Minister for Justice Kevin O’Higgins reacted with passion. “There was never an act done through personal vengeance, and never an act done through hot blood. We have no higher aim than to place the people of Ireland in the saddle in Ireland, and let them do their will, but we will not acquiesce in gun-bullying, and we will take very stern and drastic measures to stop it. Personal spite, great heavens! Vindictiveness! One of these men was a friend of mine.” Rory O’Connor was best man at O’Higgins’ wedding the previous year!
Photo: De Valera, Kevin O’Higgins and Rory O’Connor at O’Higgin’s wedding