Read Tom Barry Online

Authors: Meda Ryan

Tags: #General, #Europe, #Ireland, #History, #Biography & Autobiography, #Guerrillas, #Military, #Historical, #Nationalists

Tom Barry (4 page)

BOOK: Tom Barry
6.37Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

] Denis J. O'Donoghue,
History of Bandon
, p. 22.

] WO35/206, Sir Peter Strickland Papers, Imperial War Museum (IWM).

] Barry,
Guerilla Days In Ireland
, p. 2.

] Tom Barry, author interview. He said that members of the family were ‘all allowed' make their own decisions. His father had a great belief in the army and military matters. Tom spoke with pride of his parents who reared a large family. I could find no evidence for Peter Hart's suggestion that he ‘did not get along' with his father and that this was partially ‘the reason he ran away to join the army'. Peter Hart,
The IRA & Its Enemies
, p. 32, footnote, 48. Contemporaries in Bandon, where I grew up, neither saw nor heard anything to confirm conflict between Tom and his father. Later communication shows a good relationship.

Cork Examiner
, 10/11/1915.

Cork County Eagle
, 22/1/1916.

] Ewan Butler,
Barry's Flying Column,
p. 21.

] Tom Barry author interview; Tom Barry to Kenneth Griffith and Timothy O'Grady,
Curious Journey
, pp. 86, 87; also
RTÉ Sound Archives
, AA2782/, n.d.

2 - Caught up in the Movement

The people of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland went to the polls in a general election in December 1918. Tom Barry was outside Le Harve. The Great War had ended – a war in which ap­proximately 50,000 men of Irish birth and many more of Irish blood had given their lives.

Two men whose lives entwined with Tom Barry's life were Eamon de Valera and Michael Collins. American born De Valera defended Boland's Mills during the 1916 Easter Rising. After capture he escaped death but was sen­tenced to a term of penal servitude. In the summer of 1917 he was released, but was again im­prisoned in May 1918. During his release in November 1917 he was elected pre­sident of Sinn Féin and of the Irish Volunteers, the military wing of the Sinn Féin movement which later became known as the Irish Re­pub­lican army (IRA).

In November 1913 at the foundation meeting of the Irish Volun­teers Eoin MacNeill stated that ‘British politics are controlled by British interests, and com­­plicated by problems of great impor­tance to the people of Great Britain.' The Volunteers, he said, ‘will form a prominent element in the national life under a national gov­ernment.'
On election day 1918, De Valera and other can­di­­dates were in jail; nevertheless Sinn Féin fought every seat in Ireland except two and won 73 out of the 103 seats they contested. On Tues­day, 21 January 1919, those elected Sinn Féin Members not in jail met in Dublin to form the First Dáil Éire­ann, thereby setting up the government of the Irish Republic. Of the 73 Sinn Féin MPs elected to Westminster 36 were in prison and the rest refused to take their seats in Westminster when the new parliament assembled on 4 Feb­ruary 1919.

A neighbour of Tom Barry's, Michael Collins, a 1916 Rising par­ti­cipant, be­came minister of finance and minister of home affairs in the First Dáil, later, pre­sident of the supreme council of the Irish Re­publican Brotherhood (IRB), and director of intelligence. The IRB wanted total separation from Britain and complete autonomy for Ireland, but was prepared in the interim to co-operate with Home Rulers. How­­ever, in 1913 events superseded compromise – the for­mation in January of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) to resist Home Rule im­ple­­mentation, and in November the formation of the Irish Volunteers to meet nationalist demands. The Home Rule Bill (Third) for Ire­land was signed on 18 September 1914, but by agree­ment with the Ulster Unionists and the Irish Par­liamentary Party it was suspended for the duration of the First World War and the ques­tion of a legislative parliament for Ireland, in British govern­­­ment dis­cussions since 1866, remained unresolved.

Meanwhile in West Cork local Volunteers were secretly meet­ing, drilling and recruiting new members.
Tom Barry, the ex-British soldier, was back in Ban­don. Immediately he began to study more Irish history to discover why the Irish nation had to rise up against England in 1916. When he had read the com­muniqué about the exe­cution of the 1916 leaders while in Mesopotamia he found it ‘a rude awakening, guns being fired at the people of my own race by soldiers of the same army with which I was serving.'
Yet back in Ireland since Feb­ru­ary 1919, he was constantly seen in the company of the British army per­son­nel stationed at Bandon and fraternised with ex-British soldiers in an Oliver Plunkett Street premises. Actions such as this were held against him when he tried to join the IRA and indeed his critics con­demned him for such deeds, but he maintained that he went with the spirit of those who had fought with him. (He was not officially discharged from the British army until 31 March 1920.)

As the months (1919)passed Tom moved cautiously into a dif­fe­rent circle of friends in Bandon, though throughout this period mem­­bers of the British forces kept in close contact with him and invited him to meetings in the Young Men's Hall, a type of club for the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) and ex-sol­diers.
Soon afterwards Tom en­rolled in Skerry's College, Cork, where he studied Law, Eng­­lish and Business Affairs. During the first months at Skerry's College, this smart young man was often seen in the early morning, the collar of his coat turned up, as he rushed down Convent Hill making his way to the station for the train to Cork. In the evenings he would often meet his girlfriend Annie O'Leary. The pair would sometimes be seen dancing in the town hall. His relationship with Kathy Hayes had faded, though he remained ‘a good friend' throughout his life. During the War of Independence she became involved with him in the move­ment, and later in life whenever he was in the area, he visited her public house where she lived with her husband and family in Ross­carbery.

As winter set in, he stayed in the Camden Hotel near Patrick's Bridge, Cork, returning home at weekends. While attending Skerry's College he met a young man named Bill Hales. Bill belonged to one of the greatest Nationalist families in West Cork, members of whom were among the founders of the Volunteer movement in the area. This changed Tom's life forever. Tom Hales was brigade commander of the Third West Cork Brigade that had been formed in late 1918. Bill, Seán, Bob and sister Madge were all involved in the move­ment. As the father Robert Hales, a Fenian, sat with his family and neigh­bours, around the fireside in Knocknacurra at night, he'd tell stories of the 1798 Rebel­lion, the famine in Ireland and the Fenian move­ment. Bill invited Tom to come to his home one evening. Here the first seeds of Republicanism were sown, as Tom became a regular visitor to the Hales' family home. (Even though after the Treaty that family was split, and brother fought against brot­her, Tom Barry held them all in high esteem.)

‘The condition of the people was very depressed at that time.' The older members of Tom's family had already left for secure emp­loyment in Liverpool. Tom's father, unable to earn sufficient to sup­port the younger members of the family, would soon leave for Liver­pool. With the aid of a first cousin he got ‘a good job' as a store manager, and later joined the Liverpool police. Then the entire family moved, and Tom was alone. ‘Emigration to other lands was many a person's story at the time. I missed my family, but I had great friends … I was anxious to complete my studies in Skerry's College and get a job.' However, his life shortly changed utterly.

On 21 January 1919 Séamus Robinson, Dan Breen and other Volu­n­teers in Tipperary ambushed police who were escorting coun­cil-men as they were tak­ing gelignite to a quarry. The cargo was secured, but two policemen were killed. Similar incidents to secure firearms took place later throughout the country. There were raids and arrests by the military. The British govern­ment declared Dáil Éireann and other nationalist organisations illegal. Soon it became evi­dent that force would be used to secure the British hold on Ire­land. Volun­t­eers kept secretly drilling and re-organising in tan­dem with raids and arrests by the police. In 1920 large reinforce­ments of Auxiliary mili­tary and Black and Tan forces were poured into Ireland to suppress the elected parli­ament of the people and to reinforce the military police.

Under the leadership of men such as Liam Deasy, Seán Buckley, Charlie Hurley, Seán and Tom Hales, a Volunteer force had been building up in West Cork since before 1916. In fact, a group under the leadership of Tom Hales had set out from the Bandon, Ballinadee and Kilbrittain area to aid in the landing of arms from the
– the ‘Casement' ship – at Tralee bay in April 1916. They had gone past Mill­street in north Cork and were heading for the border of Kerry when a scout arrived to tell them to re­turn home.

After the 1916 Rising, Volunteers in West Cork periodically as­sembled, and towards the end of 1918 and early 1919 a large force existed. Secret drilling continued, but the absence of arms meant that means of obtaining them had to be devised. Though there were incidents, one of the first recorded group actions took place on 10 June 1919 when a party of Volunteers held up Con­stable Bol­ger and five soldiers outside Kilbrittain, and confiscated their rifles and equip­­ment. In many areas in West Cork raids on police barracks and coast­guard stations to obtain arms and ammunition became more frequent.

In November 1919 Maurice Donegan led an assault on a British motor tor­pedo boat in Bantry Bay, and secured a good quantity of arms and ammu­ni­tion; this as well as raids around Kilbrittain, Ban­don, and other West Cork areas formed the basis of armaments for the Cork No. 3 Brigade.

By now the police were using a heavy hand. On 5 June 1920, in West­mins­ter an MP, W. Long, stated that ‘the police have not only shot, but they have shot with extremely good effect citizens ... en­gaged in disloyal conduct and ... hoped that they do it again.'

The British Essex Regiment with 40 officers and 971 other ranks arrived in Co. Cork with Companies A, B, C, D. In March 1920 two platoons of D Com­pany (The Essex) under the command of Major A. E. Percival arrived in Ban­don. Major Percival became one of Tom Barry's deadly enemies. With the men of his force he used the stron­gest methods to terrorise the people of West Cork. According to Kathleen Keyes McDonnell, ‘Long before we knew his name, he had struck terror into the whole countryside, swinging two guns at once with dash and swagger, glorying in his power and ingenuity; he had no match at all in this part of the country ... Fortunately for this coun­try there was then living in Bandon a young man, recently de­mobi­lised from the British army, who was destined to become one of the greatest guerrilla leaders in the War of Inde­pen­dence. Percival had now met his match ... this man was Tom Barry.'

One day Tom and a companion were stopped by British forces in the Laurel Walk, Bandon, and Tom was taken off to the barracks. Ap­parently, ‘he got a bit of a hiding'. This, it seems, was to obtain in­formation about the IRA that he would have been expected to have acquired from the Hales family. Whether it was also meant as a warn­ing, it certainly had that effect on Tom. The result was, that a ‘chan­ged' Tom Barry emerged. He admitted he was held up ‘several times and questioned about people by pups who had seen no war. The arrog­ance of the conqueror, the invader made me realise some day if there was a fight coming I would be on the side of Ireland'.

Shortly after this incident he approached Seán Buckley, bri­gade intelligence officer, and asked if he would be accepted in the IRA. Natu­rally, be­cause of Tom's past history, the West Cork IRA officers were reluctant to con­sent without first having him ‘checked'. Seán Buckley told him to com­plete his studies in Skerry's College until the end of the summer term, and mean­while perhaps he could do some in­telligence work for them, particularly in the Ban­don area. On 2 July 1919 Seán Buckley enlisted Tom to assist him in intelligence work. From August ‘onwards (outside his other activities)' Tom gave ‘ex­tremely valuable information about the British Military and Police forces and their moves,' Seán Buckley wrote. ‘His work helped us in a great measure to main­tain the IRA without losses during a very difficult period … He took as grave risks' during this period ‘as he did in later times when he commanded the men of West Cork in action.'

One evening towards the end of November 1919, Tom with Mick O'Herlihy and a few Bandon Volunteers went to the ‘Kilbrit­tain district' to secure men so that the Bandon police ‘who were beat­ing the people with trench tool handles' could be dislodged. Tom and Mick O'Herlihy asked Con Crowley, Cork No. 3 bri­­­gade staff captain for ‘the loan of two revolvers which I gave them,' Con wrote. Barry, Herlihy, Con Crowley and Tom Hales entered Bandon on several nights ‘armed with revolvers'. Barry, from his intelligence work with Seán Buckley knew the men to target. ‘Their forthright actions halted, at least temporarily, the frightening activities,' ac­cord­ing to Tom Hales. Soon Barry became engaged in the securing of arms and ‘was always one of the men carrying a revolver' while en­gaged ‘in his important Intelligence work'.

On Wednesday, 3 May 1920, the first batch of prisoners, 15 men from Tip­perary, arrived at Cork jail. On the same night Terence Mac­Swiney, the lord mayor of Cork, following a meeting in the Hales house in Knocknacurra, es­caped arrest by jumping through the back window as the military ap­proach­ed the house. MacSwiney had pre­viously dismissed the warning given by Tom Hales not to sleep in the house; Tom himself and Seán went to a hide-out for the night.

But in August Terence MacSwiney was arrested in Cork City Hall. He went on hunger-strike in Brixton Prison, thus focusing world attention on the Irish cause. He died in October 1920 on the seventy-fifth day of his hunger-strike.

In July Barry's friend Tom Hales with Pat Harte, brigade quarter­master, were arrested. Having failed to get information from them the police handed them over to Percival and the Essex torture squad from whom they received one of the worst torture treatments in the War of Independence. They were strip­ped, dragged for miles after a lorry, their hair was pulled out and their nails were pulled off with pincers. Finally Pat Harte was transferred to a men­tal hospital and re­mained insane until his death a few years later. Tom Hales, who kept his sanity but suffered severely, was sentenced to penal ser­vitude and held in Pentonville Jail, where he was kept until after the Treaty was signed. In the British account Ewan Butler notes that there is no mention of the torture, only that ‘reliable information was a matter of extreme difficulty' that ‘scanty details pieced together from cap­tured documents had to suffice.

As an explanation for Tom Barry's change of attitude Charlie O'Keeffe re­calls, ‘I know that the torture of Hales and Harte had a profound effect on Barry. At the time it was easy to turn a person. I re­­member in my own case I was in Newcestown at the sports. It was the same Sunday that young Galvin was shot during an ambush at Lissarda near Crookstown. When I heard that, coming back, it an­noyed me so much that I decided there and then to join the move­ment.'

BOOK: Tom Barry
6.37Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

The Grieving Stones by Gary McMahon
Runaway Miss by Mary Nichols
Eraser Lilac by Keith, Megan
St Mungo's Robin by Pat McIntosh
The 92nd Tiger by Michael Gilbert