One of the saddest and most shocking aspects of the Civil War in County Kerry is the very young age at which many combatants and civilians met their deaths. Several of the anti-Treaty IRA members and the soldiers in the Free State (National) Army were in their mid- or late-teens when they died.
One of the most shocking deaths of this dark period in Kerry was that of a seventeen-year-old Bertie Murphy from Castleisland. A member of Fianna Éireann, he was killed in controversial circumstances at the hands of the much-feared and much-loathed Colonel David Neligan at the Free State Army headquarters in the Great Southern Hotel, Killarney.
On 27 September, an army convoy was ambushed at Brennan’s Glen on the Tralee road and two officers, Daniel Hannon and John Martin, were killed.
Bertie Murphy had been in one of the vehicles, where he was being used by the army as a hostage in an attempt to prevent attacks by anti-Treaty forces. When the convoy returned to the hotel barracks, Neligan demanded to know why the soldiers had not taken any prisoners.
He then proceeded to take out his anger over what had happened on Murphy, who was beaten on the steps of the hotel and then shot dead, only living for minutes and dying before a priest could administer the Last Rites.
Another prisoner in the hotel at the time was brought down from his cell to identify the dead man; so extensive were Murphy’s facial injuries that he was unable to identify the remains. Newspapers wrongly reported that he had been wounded during the engagement at Brennan’s Glen and had ‘succumbed to his injuries’ on returning to Killarney.
At Murphy’s inquest, the commanding officer of the army in Kerry, General Paddy O’Daly reminded those present that deaths like Murphy’s were the fault of reckless IRA leaders who refused to accept the authority of the people. ‘It is the women and children’, he said, ‘that are suffering, and for all the suffering that is being endured those leaders are to blame.’
Several of O’Daly’s soldiers were also mere boys when they died in the conflict over the following months in what remain some of the darkest days in the history of Kerry.
‘No Middle Path: The Civil War in Kerry’ will be published by Merrion Press in October 2022. Pre-order now here: No Middle Path: The Civil War in Kerry: Amazon.co.uk: O’Shea, Owen: 9781785374333: Books