Today is the 91st anniversary of the infamous Ballyseedy massacre in County Kerry. It is perhaps the most notorious but by no means the only incident during the Free State’s campaign of terror during the counter revolution of 1922-23.
County Kerry had proven to be a tough nut for the Free State forces to crack during the counter revolution, which is a testimony to the calibre of Republican activists in Kerry during that period. By March 1923, the Free Staters had devised a plan to strike terror into Republicans in Kerry and indeed elsewhere. With IRA brigades in County Kerry being divided into three areas, the Free Staters decided to stage a massacre in each area to strike fear throughout Kerry.
The Free Staters started with Tralee. After midnight on the 6th of March, nine Republican prisoners were taken from a barracks in Tralee, being told that they were being brought out to remove a mine. The prisoners were in poor shape, having been brutalised by Free State troops during interrogations. They were escorted by lorry three miles away to Ballyseedy, where they were brought to a roadside and bound together around a log which contained a landmine. Knowing what was coming, the nine men bade each other farewell before the mine was detonated.
Eight of the men were gruesomely blown to pieces, with one of them miraculously being blown to safety. He managed to crawl to a river at the roadside and was able to observe the Free Staters returning to finish their grisly deed. They threw grenades among the bodies and raked them with gunfire. There could be no correct head count made among the mutilated remains, but they could not have imagined that anyone could have survived. They went back to their barracks and listed the nine men as being ‘killed accidentally’ while removing a mine planted by ‘Irregulars’. Their lie was only exposed when the survivor recovered from his ordeal and was able to tell the tale.
Ballyseedy was unfortunately only the beginning. The following morning five Republican prisoners were taken out for a repeat of Ballyseedy in Killarney, but again there was a miracle and one man lived to tell the tale. On March 12th, five more Republican prisoners were blown to pieces in Caherciveen. There were no survivors this time but a disgusted Free State officer insisted on telling the truth. The truth was to come to light on each occasion. There was more misery for Kerry on March 14th when three Kerry Republicans were executed in Drumboe Castle along with a comrade from Derry.
The Free State was a state which was born as a result of a terror campaign against Republicans during this period. They undermined the Irish Republic and willingly went to war to do England’s dirty work. It is very hurtful to reflect on this period in our history and see what Irishmen were capable of doing to each other. It may be forgotten by some and in some cases even unknown, but anniversaries such as that of Ballyseedy today are a stark reminder of our dark past. Despite all that has been endured, Ireland remains occupied and unfree today. What is needed is a reinvigoration of the patriotic spirit of the Irish people as we approach some very important centenaries. There is still much work to be done to ensure that martyrs like those who perished at Ballyseedy did not die for nothing.