Kevin Barry was 18 years old when he was hanged in Mountjoy Jail on 1 November 1920. His death at such a young age is possibly the most poignant in Irish history. He is one of a group of IRA members executed in 1920-21 collectively known as ‘The Forgotten Ten’.
Barry’s execution outraged nationalist public opinion in Ireland and its diaspora, largely because of his age. The timing of the execution, only days after the death by hunger strike of Terence MacSwiney, the republican Lord Mayor of Cork, brought public opinion to fever-pitch. His treatment and death attracted great international attention and attempts were made by U.S. 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. Due to his refusal to inform, Barry became one of the most celebrated Irish republicans.
He was born in 1902 in Dublin and grew up both in the capital and in Co Carlow. He enrolled in Belvedere College in 1916 and joined the Irish Volunteers. In 1919 he enrolled in Dublin University to study medicine. The War of Independence was developing and Barry, as Section Commander, played his part in various raids around Dublin city.
‘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 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 The Wolfe Tones, The Dubliners and The Irish Brigade.
Photo credit: 1916 Easter Revolution in Colour