New research by a Kerry historian has identified at least 31 Free State soldiers from Kerry who died during the Irish Civil War. Drawing on information contained in recently published archive material and other sources, Owen O’Shea has compiled a list of the Kerry natives who died in combat or accidents while on duty as members of the Free State army in 1922 and 1923.
A total of 23 Kerry soldiers were killed in combat either in their native county or other parts of the country, four soldiers died in accidents – usually involving firearms – while three soldiers were deliberately killed by their army colleagues. Another died in circumstances which are unclear.
The men who died in killings or accidents in their native county comprise almost 30% of the total estimated 86 members of the Free State Army who lost their lives in Kerry during the conflict.
Previous assessments have underestimated the number of those from Kerry who died in the service of the Free State Army. But now, thanks to new material, particularly the records held in the Military Service Pensions Collection, a clearer picture of the extent of fatalities involved can be produced.
Many of these men joined the Free State army in Kerry after the war began in the summer of 1922 and most were very young. The average age of those who died, where an age can be determined, was just 21.
The vast majority of those who died met their deaths at the hands of the anti-Treaty IRA in ambushes, shootings or explosions, including the three Kerry natives who were blown up at Knocknagoshel on 6 March 1923, Michael Galvin, Laurence O’Connor and Paddy ‘Pats’ O’Connor.
Two brothers, Tom and John O’Connor-Scarteen died in the same incident at their home in Kenmare in September 1922 while three soldiers died in accidents which usually involved the accidental discharge of a weapon by a fellow soldier.
Three soldiers from Kerry were murdered by their own army. Private Daniel Sugrue, a native of Tralee, was shot by his superiors in the basement of the Great Southern Hotel in Killarney in March 1923 because it was alleged he was smuggling food and information to IRA prisoners.
Private Cornelius O’Shea from Mary Street, Tralee was fatally shot dead by a superior officer at The Basin in Tralee in September 1922 amid suspicions that he was supplying information to anti-Treatyites. Elsewhere, Lt Daniel O’Leary from Ballyhar was shot during what was described as a mutiny in the ranks in Drimoleague in County Cork.
Sources: Military Service Pension Collection, Military Archives; Irish Newspaper Archive, 1922-23; Tom Doyle, The Civil War in Kerry (Mercier Press, 2008); Owen O’Shea, No Middle Path: The Civil War in Kerry (Merrion Press, 2022)
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