Richard Barrett (Irish republican)
|Born||17 December 1889
Knockacullen (Hollyhill), County Cork, Ireland
|Died||8 December 1922
Mountjoy Prison, Dublin, Ireland
Richard "Dick" Barrett (17 December 1889 – 8 December 1922) was a prominent Irish Republican Army volunteer who fought in the War of Independence and on the Anti-Treaty side in the Irish Civil War during which he was captured and later executed on 8 December 1922.
War of Independence
Richard Barrett was born 17 December 1889 in Knockacullen (Hollyhill), Ballineen, County Cork, son of Richard Barrett, farmer, and Ellen Barrett (née Henigan). Educated at Knocks and Knockskagh national schools, he entered the De La Salle College, Waterford, where he trained to be a teacher. Obtaining a first-class diploma, he first taught at Ballinamult, County Tipperary but he returned to Cork in early 1914 to take up a position at the Upton industrial school. Within months he was appointed principal of Gurrane National School. Devoted to the Irish language and honorary secretary of Knockavilla GAA club, he did much to popularise both movements in the southern and western districts of Cork.
He appears to have been a member of the Cork Young Ireland Society but by 1917 he was involved with the Irish Volunteers and Sinn Fein, in which role he attended the Sinn Fein Ard-Fheis in October 1917 at the Mansion House and the Irish Volunteers Convention at Croke Park immediately afterwards. A description of the Convention by Richard Walsh;
"The Volunteer Convention was held in a building in Croke Park, known as the Pavilion, (the) end portion of this building was filled with hay. The large number of delegates seated themse1ves where convenient on portions of an open stand and around on the hay. Planks and forms were also used for seats. At the end of the building where the hay was a group of men assembled, of whom it could be said they were the men of destiny in the Ireland of our time. The Chairman of the Convention was Eamon de Valera. Behind him, lying on the pile of hay, were Michael Collins, Cathal Brugha, Austin Stack, Dermot Lynch, Eamon Duggan, Dermot O'Hegarty, Michael Staines, Liam Lynch of Cork, Terence McSwiney of Cork, Ernest Blythe, Joe McKelvey, Dick Barrett, Frank Barrett of Clare, Mick Brennan and one of his brothers of Clare, Sean MacEntee of Belfast, James Keaveney, Sligo, Alec McCabe of Sligo, Dory O'Connor, Dick McKee, Oscar Traynor, William M. O'Reilly and some of the McQuills of Dundalk, Brian O'Higgins, Laurence O'Toole, etc. All the prominent men in the republican physical force movement of that time were present."
He was an active IRA brigade staff officer and occasionally acted as brigade commandant of the West Cork III Brigade during the War of Independence. Dick also managed to organise fund raising activities for the purchasing of weapons and comrades on the run. In July 1920, following the arrest of the Cork III Brigade Officer in Command Tom Hayes and Quartermaster Pat Harte, Dick was appointed Brigade quartermaster. He was arrested at the end of April 1921 and imprisoned in Cork jail, later being sent to Spike Island, County Cork.
As one of the senior officers held in Spike Island, Dick was involved in many of the incidents that occurred during his time there. After the truce was declared on 11 July 1921, some prisoners went on hunger strike but Dick called it off after a number of days on instructions from outside as a decision had been made that able-bodied men were more important to the cause.
In November, he escaped by row boat alongside Moss (Maurice) Twomey, Henry O'Mahoney, Tom Crofts, Bill Quirke, Dick Eddy and Paddy Buckley.
Irish Civil War
Following the Irish War of Independence, Barrett supported the Anti-Treaty IRA's refusal of authority to the Dail (civil government of the Irish Republic declared in 1919). He was opposed to the Anglo-Irish Treaty, calling for the elimination of English influence in Ireland. In April 1922 under the command of Rory O'Connor, Barrett, along with 200 other hard-line anti-treaty men, took over the Four Courts building in the centre of Dublin in defiance of the new Irish government. They wanted to provoke British troops, who were still in the country, into attacking them. They hoped this would restart the war with Britain and re-unite the IRA against their common enemy. Michael Collins tried desperately to persuade O'Connor and his men to leave the building before fighting broke out. In June 1922, after the Four Courts garrison had kidnapped J.J. O'Connell, a general in the new Free State Army, Collins shelled the Four Courts with borrowed British artillery in what became known as the Battle of Dublin. O'Connor surrendered following two days of fighting, and Barrett with 200 or so anti treaty IRA members, was arrested and held in Mountjoy Gaol Prison. This incident sparked the Irish Civil War – as fighting broke out around the country between pro and anti treaty factions.
After the assassination of Michael Collins a horrific era of tit-for-tat revenge killings ensued. The Government implemented martial law and enacted the necessary legislation to set up military courts. In November, the government began to execute Anti-Treaty prisoners, including Erskine Childers. In response, Liam Lynch, the Anti-Treaty Chief of Staff, gave an order that any member of the Dáil who had voted for the 'murder legislation' was to be shot on sight.
On 7 December 1922, TD Sean Hales was killed by anti-Treaty IRA men as he left the Dáil. Another TD Pádraic Ó Máille was also shot and badly wounded in the incident. An emergency Cabinet meeting was allegedly held the next day to discuss the assassination of Hales at which it was proposed that 4 prominent members of the Anti-Treaty side currently held as prisoners be executed as a reprisal & a warning, and the 4 names put forward were Richard, Rory O'Connor, Liam Mellows and Joe McKelvey. It has been alleged that they were chosen to represent Munster, Connaught, Leinster and Ulster respectively but none of the 4 were actually from Connaught. The executions were ordered by Justice Minister Kevin O'Higgins. On 02:00am on 8 December 1922, Richard Barrett was awoken along with three other Republican leaders, and informed that they were to be executed at 08:00am that morning in revenge.
Bloody ironies would stack one upon the other. Barrett was a member of the same IRA brigade as Hales during the Anglo-Irish War and both were childhood friends. Rory had been best man at O'Higgins' wedding a year earlier; The rest of Sean Hales’s family had remained staunchly anti-Treaty, and publicly denounced the executions. In reprisal for O'Higgins' role in the executions, the Anti-Treaty IRA murdered his father and burned his family home in Stradbally, County Laois. O'Higgins himself would die by an unidentified assassin's hand on 10 July 1927 (See also Executions during the Irish Civil War).
The executions stunned Ireland but, in terms of halting the Anti-Treaty assassination policy, they had the desired effect. The Free State government nonetheless continued to execute enemy prisoners and 77 official executions had taken place by the end of the war.
Barrett is now buried in his home county Cork following the government's exhumation and re-interment. A monument was erected by old comrades of the West Cork Brigade, the First Southern Division, IRA, and of the Four Courts, Dublin, garrison in 1922 which was unveiled on 13 December 1952 by An Tanaiste, Sean Lemass.