The Dead of the Irish Revolution

Published in Issue 3 (May/June 2021), Letters, Volume 29

A chara,—I very much welcomed the recent publication of O’Halpin and Ó Corráin’s The Dead of the Irish Revolution and I read with interest the review of the book by Pádraig Óg Ó Ruairc (‘Big Book’, HI 29.2, March/April 2021). A comprehensive and accurate reference source for details of all the fatalities that occurred in that period was long overdue and, indeed, at a first perusal, this book seemed to fulfil that requirement. However, just like your reviewer, after closer examination I have serious reservations about the accuracy of the contents.

Your reviewer noted significant errors related to his native county of Clare. I decided to check the entries relating to five incidents that led to fatalities in my native area of Drumcondra in Dublin. To my disappointment, I found no less than nine errors of fact. Perhaps some may be regarded as minor (e.g. an incorrect age of the deceased) but I would contend that in a publication of this nature it behoves the researchers to avoid any error of fact.

Let me cite two examples.

(1) The location of ‘Fernside’, where the gun battle involving Dan Breen and Seán Treacy resulted in three deaths, is given incorrectly three times as 6 Church Avenue. ‘Fernside’ is of course located on Drumcondra Road between St Patrick’s College and Home Farm Road, and a knowledge of its location is essential to an understanding of the action that took place there in October 1920. The house is still there, with the original nameplate on the front railings. The owner, Professor Carolan, did previously live on Church Avenue; perhaps this confused the researchers. In addition, the Professor, one of the fatalities from the incident, is incorrectly listed as having died on 28 October 1920. He died on 27 October 1920; the military enquiry into his death took place on the 28th. Moreover, to say that Carolan sustained his fatal wounds as ‘fire was returned’ completely disregards the Professor’s declaration from his hospital bed that, fifteen minutes after firing had ceased, he was put face to the wall by a British officer and shot from behind.

(2) Michael Magee, who died on 22 January 1921 of wounds sustained during an ambush in Drumcondra the previous day, was not shot in Grace Park Gardens. Magee was shot while trying to escape across the open ground of Clonturk Park. The five IRA men who did make it to Grace Park Gardens were captured and four of them subsequently executed. The book unfortunately gives incorrect ages for two of these men, Patrick Doyle and Thomas Bryan. Doyle was born on 28 August 1889 and was therefore 31 (not 29) when he died. Bryan was born on 9 January 1897 and was 24 (not 22) when he was hanged. Extracting ages from death certificates or prison records is a very unreliable method. It is essential to verify ages by reference to the original birth certificate and cross-checking against other sources like the census records.

So rather than continue to list the errors—and there are more, I am afraid—I must confess that my confidence in the other thousands of entries in the book has been severely shaken by my examination of the few entries relating to Drumcondra.—Is mise,

SEÁN RYAN

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