Rory O'Connor (Irish republican)

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Rory O'Connor (28 November 1883 – 8 December 1922) was an Irish republican activist. He is best remembered for his role in the Irish Civil War 1922-1923, which led to his execution.

Background[edit]

O'Connor was born in Dublin November 28, 1883 and executed as a reprisal on December 8, 1922. He was born in Kildare Street, Dublin, and educated in St Mary's College, Dublin and then in Clongowes Wood College, a public school run by the Jesuit order and also attended by James Joyce, and by the man who would later condemn Rory O'Connor to death, his best friend Kevin O'Higgins.

O'Connor took his Bachelor of Engineering and Bachelor of Arts degrees in the then National University in 1910, and worked as a railway engineer in Ireland, then moved to Canada, where he worked as an engineer in the Canadian Pacific Railway and Canadian Northern Railway, being responsible for the building of 1,500 miles of railroad.[1] He returned to Ireland in 1915 at the request of Joseph Plunkett work for Dublin Corporation as a civil engineer, he joined the ultra-Catholic nationalist organisation the Ancient Order of Hibernians and served in the Easter Rising in 1916 in the GPO as intelligence officer; he was wounded by a sniper during reconnaissance at the College of Surgeons.[2]

The War of Independence[edit]

During the subsequent Irish War of Independence 1919-1921 he was made Director of Engineering of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) - a military organisation descended from the Irish Volunteers. The specialist skills of engineering and signaling were essential to development in 5th battalion Dublin brigade. Although the men were forbidden frontline duty as their contribution was vital, their number too small. But units only expanded on an incremental local basis, disappointing Gen Richard Mulcahy.[3]

Events leading to the Civil War[edit]

Revealed in a conversation with Liam Archer, O'Connor refused to accept the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921, which established the Irish Free State and which was ratified by a narrow vote by Dáil Éireann, but which abolished the Irish Republic declared in 1916 and 1919, which O'Connor and his comrades had sworn to uphold. Oh we must work it for all its worth. If I could get enough to support me I would oppose it wholeheartedly.[4]

On 26 March 1922, the anti-treaty officers of the IRA held a convention in Dublin, in which they rejected the Treaty compromise and repudiated the authority of the Dáil, the elected Irish Parliament, but were prepared to discuss it. It is not recorded what O'Connor's role was to be, when the Convention met again on 9 April, but a new army constitution was ratified and created a new GHQ.[5] Asked by a journalist if this meant they were proposing a 'military dictatorship' in Ireland, O'Connor replied, "you can take it that way if you want".[6]

On 14 April 1922 O'Connor, with 200 other anti-treaty IRA men under his command, took over the Four Courts building in the centre of Dublin in defiance of the Provisional Government. They wanted to provoke the British troops (who were still in the country) into attacking them, which they thought would restart the war with Britain, and re-unite the IRA against their common enemy. They also occupied other smaller buildings thought to be associated with the former British administration, such as the Ballast Office and the Freemasons' Hall in Molesworth Street, but the Four Courts remained the focus of interest. On 15 June, O'Connor sent out men to collect the rifles that belonged to the mutineers of the Civic Guards, who had been treated badly by the Dail government, and finally received arrears of pay. The arming of the Courts garrison was deliberately designed to reassert the independence of the army.[7] But the army of O'Malley and Robinson was drifting towards a 'military dictatorship' anyway never possessing a common mind.[8]

In the following months Michael Collins tried desperately to persuade O'Connor and his men to leave the building before fighting broke out. At the Third IRA Convention, the executive was hopelessly split over whether to demand all British troops leave within 72 hours. The motion was defeated, but the IRA split into two factions opposed the Dail government; one moderate and conciliatory[9] and the other extreme.[10] On 22 June Sir Henry Wilson was assassinated: Lloyd George wrote to Collins Still less can Mr Rory O'Connor be permitted to remain his followers and his arsenal in open rebellion in the heart of Dublin...organizing and sending out from this centre enterprises of murder not only in the area of your Government... In June 1922, after the Four Courts garrison had kidnapped Ginger O'Connell, a general in the new Free State Army, Collins shelled the Four Courts with borrowed British artillery. 130 men and O'Connor surrendered after two days of fighting on 3 July and was arrested and held in Mountjoy Prison. This incident sparked the Irish Civil War - as fighting broke out around the country between pro and anti treaty factions.[11]

Execution[edit]

On the 8th of December 1922, along with three other republicans Liam Mellows, Richard Barrett and Joe McKelvey captured with the fall of the Four Courts, Rory O'Connor was executed by firing squad in reprisal for the anti-treaty IRA's killing of Free State TD Sean Hales. The execution order was signed by Kevin O'Higgins, who, less than a year earlier, had appointed O'Connor to be best man at his wedding, symbolising the bitterness and division which the Civil War had caused. O'Connor, along with the other 76 executed republicans, was subsequently seen as a martyr by the Republican Movement in Ireland.

Commemoration[edit]

"Rory O'Connor Place" in Arklow is named in his honour. There is also a pub in Crumlin, Dublin named after him, and a residential road in Deansgrange, Dún Laoghaire (County Dublin), called "Rory O'Connor Park". Upon his execution, the socialite Joan de Sales La Terriere named her son in his honour.

Sources[edit]

  • Costigan, G, 'The Anglo-Irish Conflict 1919-1922: The War of Independence or systematized murder?', University Review (1968), vol.5 (1), p. 64-86.
  • Cottrell, P, The Irish Civil War 1922-1923 (Botley, Oxford 2008)
  • Foster, G, 'Republicans and the Irish Civil War', New Hibernian Review (2012) p. 20-42.
  • Hart, P, IRA at War 1916-1923 (OUP 2005)
  • Hopkinson, Michael, Green against Green: the Irish Civil War (Dublin 1988)
  • Hopkinson, M, The Irish War of Independence (Dublin and Montreal 2002)
  • Macardle, Dorothy, The Irish Republic 1911-1923 (London 1937)
  • Purdon, Edward, The Irish Civil War 1922-23 (The Mercier Press Ltd 2000) ISBN 1856353001

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ http://bureauofmilitaryhistory.ie/reels/bmh/BMH.WS0527.pdf#page=2
  2. ^ http://bureauofmilitaryhistory.ie/reels/bmh/BMH.WS0907.pdf#page=51
  3. ^ Townshend, C, "The Republic", p.188.
  4. ^ University College of Dublin Archives P53/344.
  5. ^ Townshend, C , "The Republic" p.392.
  6. ^ Article quoting this phrase; accessed Dec 2009
  7. ^ Townshend, "The Republic", pp.388-90.
  8. ^ Florrie O'Donoghue, "No Other Law", p.129.
  9. ^ Led by Liam Lynch, Sean Moylan, and Liam Deasy.
  10. ^ Led by Tom Barry and Joe McKelvey
  11. ^ Macardle, "Irish Republic" pp.679-81.