Along with his close comrades Michael Collins and Éamon de Valera, Harry Boland was probably the most influential Irish revolutionary between 1917 and 1922. His sway extended to almost every aspect of republican activity. Already prominent as a hurler before 1916, he was convicted and imprisoned after an energetic Easter Week. He subsequently became Honorary Secretary of Sinn Féin, T.D. for South Roscommon in the First Dáil, President of the Irish Republican Brotherhood’s Supreme Council, and a republican envoy in the United States between May 1919 and December 1921. He broke with Collins over the Treaty, but became the chief intermediary between the factions. Boland was shot by soldiers of the Free State Army when they attempted to arrest him at the Skerries Grand Hotel. Two Free State Army officers entered his room and Boland, unarmed, was shot and mortally wounded.
Boland’s influence was the product of charm, gregariousness, wit, and ruthlessness. After his rebel father’s early death, Boland’s mother raised him in a spirit of intransigent hostility to Britain. Yet he was also stylish, cosmopolitan, and humane. His celebrated contest with Collins for the love of Kitty Kiernan is perhaps the most intriguing of all Irish political romances. Attractive yet elusive, his personality helped shape the Irish revolution.
Boland’s death affected Collins deeply. Soon after, Collins was killed at an ambush at Béal na Bláth, Co Cork. The Skerries Grand Hotel later became a secondary school for boys, managed by the De La Salle Brothers. There is a commemorative plaque on site explaining that Boland was killed in action there.
Harry’s brother Gerald Boland was a prominent member of Fianna Fáil and was later a minister of Justice. His nephew Kevin Boland served as a minister and was implicated in the arms crisis. His resignation from Fianna Fáil and the subsequent loss of his seat marked the end of an era for the Boland political dynasty.
His nephew Harry Boland was a basketball player who competed in the 1948 Summer Olympics in London. He died on 18 December 2013 at the age of 88.
Photo: Michael Collins, Mr Dunphy and Harry Boland, at a GAA hurling match at Croke Park, Dublin 1921