“No matter what the future may hold for the Irish nation, the seven years — 1916 to 1923 — must ever remain a period of absorbing interest. Not for over two hundred years has there been such a period of intense and sustained effort to regain the national sovereignty and independence.”
This weekend is a symbolically important one in Ireland, not least as it’s the commemorative weekend of the 1916 rising, but today (April 11th) also marks the 86th anniversary of the execution of the ‘Tuam Martyrs’ during the closing months of the Irish Civil War.
The Civil War began in June 1922 (although in April of the same year a group of 200 anti-Treaty Republicans had occupied the Four Courts in Dublin in defiance of the Provisional government). As with all civil wars, the conflict generated great bitterness and division, and has had long lasting political and social implications which have affected the Country right up to the present day.
In February 1923 Anti-Treatyite, Frank Cunnane, along with the other members of his unit were captured at Cluid, Headford, after a brief gunfight. One of Franks compatriots was killed while attempting to escape. The remaining men, including Frank, were marched to Galway.
On April 11, 1923, Frank, Michael Monaghan (also from Headford), Martin Moylan (from Annaghdown, Co. Galway) and John Maguire (from Cross, Co. Mayo) were executed in Tuam. Two further executions took place in Tuam on the same day – James (or John) Newell (from Galway) and James O’Malley (from Oughterard, Co. Galway).
One month later, on 24 May, 1923, Frank Aiken published the order of cease-fire and ordered the dumping of arms. De Valera also issued a statement to the Anti-Treaty army which said that:
“Further sacrifice on your part would be now in vain and continuance of the struggle in arms unwise in the national interest. Military victory must be allowed to rest for the moment with those who have destroyed the Republic.”
We’ve recounted the events which led to the executions of the men in a little more detail in an earlier blog post here. That earlier post was instigated by the discovery of a letter sent by Frank Cunnane to his mother on the eve of his execution which had been taped to the back of a shelving unit in a friend’s house in Headford. As a result of that post, we received correspondence from several relatives of Frank’s as well as other interested parties.
One of our readers, Alison Larkin, came across our blog while researching some mass cards she found among her Grandmothers things. She very kindly forwarded us copies of the series of Cards which relate to the Tuam Martyrs and others and which we have posted below to mark the anniversary of the executions. She theorizes that her grandmother may have been involved personally with one or was affiliated somehow with all of these men during the War of Independence - a relationship which landed her in jail without a trial after the Treaty, when the country was divided. She was about 18 years old when she was imprisoned.
Her grandmother was still a prisoner at Kilmainham when some of these men were executed. Alison thinks that she may have received some of the cards in a parcel as word that the executions had happened. Either that, or she attended mass for them when she got out. From what Alison can tell it was probably something that was grieved on in private and not at a public mass.
These individual items, small mementos of a deeply traumatic time in Ireland, put our current economic woes in perspective. The fact that Alison’s Grandmother treasured and kept the cards hints at the deep admiration she had for these men and the sacrifice they made. The deep rifts in our communities and families that remained after the Civil War and the pain the war inflicted imbue these objects with a deeper significance.
Alison’s Grandmother’s story is one which could be told in almost any household in Ireland. As far as I can ascertain, for instance, my own Grandfather was imprisoned in Kilmainham along with his future brother-in-law at the same time as Alison’s Grandmother. He allegedly met my Grandmother when delivering news of her brothers health after he was released. Who knows, perhaps he even knew Alison’s Grandmother.
These simple family stories exist at the cusp of living memory, a period in our shared history, the telling of which was glossed over or avoided by our forebears, principally because of the pain and, perhaps, the guilt.
Alison and her sister are making a trip to Ireland in June to revisit Kilmainham jail and to carry out research at the National Archives, as well as visiting their Grandmothers homestead. We wish them luck and hope that their research is fruitful.
The images below are scans of photocopies, so we’ve appended some of the text below the images. Some of the cards are directly relevant to the Tuam Martyrs – if anyone can clarify the identities and backstories of the remaining cards, I’m sure Alison would be very grateful.