The Blueshirts, a quasi-fascist organisation in the 1930s, had a small but active presence in County Kerry during 1933 and 1934. Their bombastic leader, Eoin O’Duffy was the subject of an audacious assassination attempt in Tralee in October 1933 and was on the receiving of violence during a Blueshirt meeting in the town.
The most violent incident of this period in Kerry occurred when O’Duffy attended a meeting of the newly established United Ireland Party (Fine Gael) in Tralee on 6 October 1933. When they learned of the meeting, the local IRA planned an audacious attempt to assassinate O’Duffy on his way to Tralee. According to one of those involved in the plot, Dan Keating, the order was given by John Joe Sheehy of Tralee.
The location where the assailants assembled, Ballyseedy, was the site of the infamous massacre of eight republican prisoners in March 1923 as the Civil War plumbed its shocking depths in Kerry. Keating recalled:
We decided anyway to take him [O’Duffy] out of it, the IRA in Kerry. Six of us assembled in Ballyseedy … I was up in the railway station [in Tralee] and Christy Leen was on the roadside to give me the number of the car when it’d come. The reception party was Johnny O’Connor, John Duggan, my brother Tadhg and Josie Hassett – they were well armed, they had a Thompson machine-gun and two rifles, he wouldn’t escape.
Keating claimed that the attempt was foiled when IRA man, Stephen Coughlan (later a Labour TD for Limerick) phoned through the wrong registration number: ‘his conscience got the best of him,’ recalled Keating ‘and he decided to give the wrong number. And Duffy escaped into town.’
As O’Duffy and the General Secretary of the Blueshirts, Ned Cronin, walked to the Foresters Hall where the meeting was due to be held, violence erupted at Bridge Street. The pair were struck several times. O’Duffy was struck on the head with a hammer and was bleeding profusely.
Several people with hurleys, taken from Caball’s cycle shop in Lower Rock Street, jostled the party. Contrary to what O’Duffy would claim afterwards, the gardaí did move in to pull him away from his assailants. As other delegates made their way to the convention, they were attacked and abused. The Cork Examiner recorded:
Cars bringing delegates were stoned as they passed through the Gardaí cordons. Batons were drawn one occasion … One of the delegates who left the Foresters’ Hall where the convention was held was severely beaten with hurleys. Most of those who attended remained in the Hall until military arrived to escort them out of town. A bus in which Gardaí reinforcements arrived was stoned and a baton charge followed.
That evening, O’Duffy’s car was burned out in Denny Street and several windows in local premises were smashed. A fully-armed military unit was needed to escort the principals to the Grand Hotel where they were spending the night. Windows in the hotel were smashed and at around 1am, a machine gun was used to fire 20 rounds into the garda station which was ‘riddled with bullets’.
The following morning, an undetonated bomb was found in the Foresters’ Hall. Eleven people were admitted to the County Infirmary, among them P. Donovan of Abbey Street who ‘sustained broken arms and legs.’
It was one of many episodes of political violence in Kerry in 1933 and 1934.
Extract from the Journal of the Kerry Archaeological and Historical Society (2022) which is available here: Series 2, Vol 22 (2022) – Kerry Archaeological and Historical Society (kerryhistory.ie)