Just eighteen years later, he would become the first Irish rebel to be executed by British authorities in the 1919-1921 War of Independence.
On the morning of 20 September 1920, Kevin Barry went to Mass, and received Holy Communion; he then joined a party of IRA volunteers on Bolton Street in Dublin. Their orders were to ambush a British army truck as it picked up a delivery of bread from the bakery, and capture their weapons. The ambush was scheduled for 11:00 A.M., which gave him enough time to take part in the operation and return to class in time for an examination he had at 2:00 P.M.
Barry’s death is considered a watershed moment in the Irish conflict. His execution outraged public opinion in Ireland and throughout the world, because of his youth. The timing of his death was also crucial, in that his hanging came only days after the death on hunger strike of Terence MacSwiney – the Republican Lord Mayor of Cork – and brought public opinion to fever-pitch. His treatment and death attracted great international attention and attempts were made by U.S., British, and Vatican officials to secure a reprieve. His execution and MacSwiney’s death precipitated a dramatic escalation in violence as the Irish War of Independence entered its most bloody phase.
Barry is also commemorated in an eponymously titled song that every Irish school boy had drilled into him by the Christian Brothers. The song has been covered by numerous Irish bands including Wolfe Tones and the Dubliners.