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 Civil War[edit]

He did not 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. 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. 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".[3]

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.

In the following months 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 JJ O'Connell, a general in the new Free State Army, Collins shelled the Four Courts with borrowed British artillery. O'Connor surrendered after two days of fighting 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.

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 member of parliament 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]

  • Michael Hopkinson, Green against Green - the Irish Civil War.
  • Edward Purdon, The Irish Civil War 1922-23.

Notes[edit]