#onthisday in 1919 – Sinn Fein member, Robert Barton, escapes from Mountjoy Jail, courtesy of some excellent planning by Michael Collins which involved smuggling a file into the prison.

Robert Barton was born in Co Wicklow into a wealthy Irish Protestant land-owning family; namely of Glendalough House. He was the double first cousin of and close friend of Robert Erskine Childers and would later be best man at the wedding of Robert Erskine Childers and Molly Osgood.

He became an officer in the Royal Dublin Fusiliers on the outbreak of the First World War. He was stationed in Dublin during the 1916 Easter Rising and came into contact with many of its imprisoned leaders in the aftermath while on duty at Richmond Barracks. Disgusted and appalled by the cold-blooded, barbaric execution of the Rebel leaders, he immediately resigned his commission and joined the Republican movement with the Irish Republican Army and Sinn Féin.

Arrested in February 1919 for sedition, Michael Collins organised his escape from Mountjoy Gaol. He smuggled him in a file with which to saw through the bars of his ground-floor cell and arranged for a party of volunteers to throw a rope ladder over the twenty-foot prison wall and then catch him in a blanket when he jumped from the top. Barton was then taken to the home of Collins’ friend, Batt O’Connor.

Apparently, a man with a sense of humour, he left a note for the Mountjoy governor stating that the accommodation was not to his liking!

He travelled to London with Michael Collins, Arthur Griffith and the rest of the delegation for the Anglo-Irish peace talks. While a signatory to the infamous treaty which left a large portion of the nation under foreign occupation, he bitterly denounced it on his return to Dublin, joining Éamon de Valera and the anti-treaty forces in the Civil War.

In the years following the end of the Civil War, he enjoyed a long career as a senior statesman in a variety of government roles. In 1950, at the age of 69, he married for the first time to Rachel Lothrop Warren, the daughter of Fiske Warren of Massachusetts. Rachel Warren was niece of Molly Childers, the widow of the martyred Robert Erskine Childers. The wedding took place in Boston. They had no children.

At the time of his passing, he was the last living signatory of The Treaty. After his passing, Glendalough House was inherited by Bobby Childers, the younger brother of the late Uachtarán na hÉireann Erskine Hamilton Childers.

Photo: Arthur Griffith, Robert Barton, Michael Collins at Treaty Negotiations.

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