Kerry had seen more violence in the guerrilla phase of the Civil war than almost anywhere else in Ireland. By March 1923, 68 Free State soldiers had already been killed in Kerry and 157 wounded – 85 would die there by the end of the war.
The day after Five Free State soldiers were killed by a booby trap bomb while searching a republican dug out at the village of Knocknagoshel, Paddy Daly, in command of the Free State’s Kerry forces, announced that in future prisoners would clear mined roads.
In Ballyseedy, Co Kerry, nine Republican prisoners: Pat Buckley, John Daly, Pat Hartnett, Michael O’Connell, John O’Connor, George O’Shea, Tim Tuomey, James Walsh and Steven Fuller, were driven to the remote Ballyseedy Wood near Ballyseedy Cross to be executed. The troops made sure that they were, ‘all fairly anonymous, no priests or nuns in the family, those that’ll make the least noise’. As they were being loaded into the lorry, the Free State Army guards asked them if they would care to smoke, telling them it would be their last cigarette.
They were taken to a remote location near the banks of the River Lee, where a large log stretched across the Castleisland Road. The Republicans were all tied to the log alongside a mine which was then detonated. Several of the Republicans, however, survived the initial explosion. The Free State soldiers then proceeded to throw a number of grenades and shoot at them ensuring they were dead.
They succeeded in killing all but Steven Fuller. The force of the explosion hurled him clear across the road. Falling, dazed, but conscious that he was alive and unhurt he quickly realised that the blast had even burst apart the cords used to tie him. As the soldiers came out from their cover after the detonation he crawled along the shelter of the ditch into the river at the roadside, escaping to a nearby IRA hideout.
For days afterwards the birds were eating human flesh off the trees at Ballyseedy Cross.
Eight anti-treaty volunteers and prisoners were killed in the explosion. The exact details are murky. Official government sources state that the men were killed while clearing mines left by anti-treaty forces. Conversely anti-treaty sources claim the men were attached to a mine which was then detonated in retaliation for an explosion the previous day which killed six government forces in Knocknagashel (30 miles away). If anyone believed that the explosion at Ballyseedy had been an accident, they would have trouble explaining the deaths of nine more Republican prisoners in the next four days.
There was no way of knowing how many men had been killed. Eight prisoners of war were murdered that night at Ballyseedy Cross. Nine coffins were sent back to Tralee the next day. What were the people of Tralee to do with that ninth coffin? A mother wailed: ‘But my son was six feet tall. How can he come home to me in such a small coffin? They would not let the mother open that coffin.
For three generations following the Irish civil war, the country was riven by the pain and anguish of the violent conflict. Ballyseedy is just one example of the horrors inflicted.
Photo: Ballyseedy Monument, (Yann Goulet, Sculpter), Tralee, Co Kerry