Kevin Barry

DESCRIPTION: Eighteen-year-old Kevin Barry is hung, "another martyr for old Ireland, another murder for the crown." Despite torture, he will not betray his comrades. (Family and friends bid farewell.) (Barry asks to be shot as a soldier, but is hanged as a rebel)
AUTHOR: unknown
EARLIEST DATE: 1927 (Sandburg-TheAmericanSongbag)
KEYWORDS: rebellion execution Ireland
Nov 1, 1920 - Execution of Kevin Barry
FOUND IN: Ireland US(MW) Canada(Newf)
REFERENCES (6 citations):
Sandburg-TheAmericanSongbag, pp. 42-43, "Kevin Barry" (1 text, 1 tune)
Hodgart-FaberBookOfBallads, p. 218, "Kevin Barry" (1 text)
Galvin-IrishSongsOfResistance, pp. 67-68, "Kevin Barry" (1 text, 1 tune)
OLochlainn-IrishStreetBallads 49, "Kevin Barry" (1 text, 1 tune)
Silber/Silber-FolksingersWordbook, p. 324, "Kevin Barry" (1 text)

Roud #3014
The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, "Kevin Barry" (on IRClancyMakem03)
Michael Murphy and Francis O'Brien, "Kevin Barry" (on MUNFLA/Leach)
Pete Seeger, "Kevin Barry" (on PeteSeeger11) (on HootenannyCarnegie)

cf. "Shall My Soul Pass Through Ireland" (tune)
cf. "Rolling Home (I)" (tune)
NOTES [485 words]: Patrick Galvin reports that "Kevin Barry, an eighteen-year-old student, [was] the first Irish patriot to be hanged in Ireland since Robert Emmet 117 years before. His death precipitated scores of his fellow-students into the I.R.A...."
Robert Kee's statement (Kee, pp. 122-123) gives him a slightly different distinction: "the first British execution of an Irishman in the post-war period."
Golway, p. 258, has a photo of Barry (who looks like any other schoolkid), and gives a less biased report than Galvin. Given a good education, he still tried to join a nationalist organization at the age of 13. At 17, he could no longer be restrained from joining the Voluneers.
On September 20, 1920, Barry -- now 18 and in his first year of studying medicine -- was called upon to take part in a hijacking. The rebels desperately needed weapons (a perennial problem in Ireland, dating back to the rebellions against the Tudors; Hayes-McCoy, p. 111, reports that it then took six head of cattle to buy a single musket! Rifles were cheaper in the twentieth century, but they were also, according to Townshend, p. 45, a fetish item for Irish volunteers of the time). To gain arms, a band of Volunteers set out to stop a British army truck. The Irish had only one gun, but somehow one of the British soldiers ended up being shot and killed. (Hoylan, p. 14, says that *six* died.) Barry's comrades fled; he was captured.
Threatened with death, though apparently suffering nothing worse than arm-twisting, Barry refused to give any information about his comrades. He was subjected to a military trial on October 20, and executed November 1. We observe that, though Barry died as a rebel, he was, by modern legal standards, guilty of murder (though not premeditated murder).
Of course, if they'd hung everyone guilty of that sort of murder in 1920 Ireland, the country would have been depopulated.
Coogan, p. 154, notes that the British cabinet actually considered clemency but could find no grounds. There are said to have been five thousand people praying outside his prison at the end.
Kee makes the interesting point that Barry's death "made a considerable impact on public opinion. By contrast the fact the the soldier he had shot was as young as himself made virtually none" (p. 123). Boylan, p. 14, says, "The making of the supreme sacrifice by a youth of eighteen aroused widespread feellng, and scores of his fellow-students joined the IRA that day. His execution was condemned by J. J. Thomas in the House of Commons."
There is at least one other Barry poem, "Kevin Barry" (by Terence Ward), for which see Kathleen Hoagland, editor, One Thousand Years of Irish Poetry (New York, 1947), pp. 751-752.
There is also a 1989 biography, Kevin Barry, by Donal O'Donovan. Which mostly shows the power of songs like this; if Barry had lived in America a century later, he would probably be considered a "gang member." - RBW
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