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.
The war was barely a month old when Boland fetched up in the Grand Hotel with Joe Griffin, anti-Treaty IRA Director of Intelligence, in Skerries and signed in under his own name despite being one of the most wanted men in Ireland at the time. This was a mistake as it had only been a few days since a letter had been found on anti-Treaty TD Seán T O’Kelly from Boland urging him to go to America and use Boland’s old contacts to procure weapons for the anti-Treaty IRA. The fight, Boland told him, was likely to be “long drawn-out”.
On the morning of 30 July 1922, Free State troops entered Boland and Griffins’s bedroom in the hotel. What happened next is unclear. We only have the account of his killers who said he was shot in the stomach while resisting arrest. He died two days later in St Vincent’s Hospital, Dublin
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.
Boland asked to be buried beside Cathal Brugha in Glasnevin Cemetery, which was done on 4 August, 1922, after a Republican funeral led by the women of Cumann na mBan and attended by thousands.
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.
Image | Michael Collins, Mr Dunphy and Harry Boland, at a GAA hurling match at Croke Park, Dublin 1921