Some previously unrecognised 1920-1922 IRA fatalities in Belfast (by Kieran Glennon)

Here’s an interesting post from Kieran Glennon (author of From Pogrom to Civil War) on the recent pension files released by the Military Archives. Kieran looks at some previously unrecognised IRA fatalities during the 1920-1922 period and some other points of interest in the files. The newly identified IRA fatalities are John McCartney (killed 25th July 1920) and Henry Mulholland (killed on 10th July 1921) in Bombay Street, he was originally from Tyrone and taken back there to be buried). As with some earlier casualties, both were older men, McCartney (36) and Mulholland (49), which has been noted with some other early fatalities. There is clear gap now between the scale of republican fatalities in Belfast in 1920-1922 and official records, such as those named on the County Antrim memorial in Milltown and various republican publications.

[The parallels between the July and August 1920 violence in the Kashmir Road and Cupar Street and events in August 1969 are uncanny including deployment of heavy machine guns and armoured cars against civilians – at one point a field gun was brought to Divis Street].

Further information also seems to be emerging of the Belfast IRA getting actively involved in the civil war in the key period up to August 1922 (providing the backdrop to the suppression of Facts and Figures of the Belfast Pogrom) and later.

Here’s Kieran’s post:

The recently released files are of interest for a couple of reasons. We’ve previously discussed a Belfast Roll of Honour here and there are a couple of potential new additions referred to in the latest files. In Davy Matthews’ interview with the Pensions Board, he mentioned “6 were killed at street corner including Giles and McCartney, vols. at time of Cashmere [sic – Kashmir] Road fighting.” Giles is mentioned in “Northern Divisions”, but John McCartney, killed on 25th July 1920, is a new name to emerge. Probably owing to the date of his death, he wasn’t included on the Nominal Rolls (you can view the Nominal Rolls and individual pension files at
Similarly, in Rory Graham’s statement to the Board, when asked “Were any men of your company, time of dealing with the mob, shot by the mob?” he replied “Mulholland, who was sitting playing cards.” On 10th July 1921, a Henry Mulholland was killed in Bombay St. He’s included on the Nominal Roll for B Company, 1st Battalion, but listed as “present address unknown” which is an odd way to refer to a deceased comrade. It is also debateable whether he was actually on active service at the time of his death.
By my tally, including these two would bring the tally of Volunteers killed in Belfast during the pogrom to twenty-three, plus Seán McCartney killed at Lappinduff and Seán O’Carroll killed in Louth. Then in addition to those, you’d have the seven Fianna that were killed.
More importantly, the latest files consolidate a thread that had begun to emerge in earlier MSPC releases regarding the anti-Treaty, or Executive Forces, within the Belfast IRA after the 1922 split. In particular, they add new detail to their participation in the Civil War fighting in the south.
The previous MSPC release included the file of Pat Thornbury, who became O/C of the Executive 3rd Northern Division after Joe McKelvey’s election to the Army Executive. Thornbury talked of bringing thirty Belfast IRA men down to Dublin to join in the fighting around O’Connell St at the outbreak of the Civil War. Similarly, Joseph Billings from Belfast talked of being a Barracks Quartermaster for the anti-Treaty garrison at Barry’s Hotel.
The latest release contains the files of Michael Carolan and his brothers Andrew and Alphonsus. Michael was appointed Adjutant of the Executive 3rd Northern Division after the split, was shot and wounded in Grafton St in Dublin in early July, then made Director of Intelligence for the IRA in the autumn. His two brothers carried despatches for him in Dublin though they don’t appear to have been involved in the actual fighting.
Although his pension claim was unsuccessful, the file on Patrick McWilliams contains two references from former superior officers which indicate that a second column of Belfast men set off for Dublin at the start of July 1922 but could get no further than Dundalk. They remained in Louth and took part in attacks on Free State forces there.
Another member of the Belfast column operating in Louth was Charles McCaull Stewart. A Presbyterian, at the outset of the pogrom he had been an apprentice welder in Harland & Wolff but he joined the IRA in Ardoyne in the spring of 1921. After a brief return to Belfast in July 1922, he made his way to Roscommon where he joined up with the anti-Treaty East Mayo flying column in August. Interestingly, in his statement to the Pension Board, he says “We reported in Ballaghadereen” rather than “I reported”, so there may also have been other Belfast men involved in that unit.
On the other side of the Treaty divide, Daniel McAllister from Cushendall in Antrim had come south to the Curragh for training in late June 1922 along with the remnants of the pro-GHQ 2nd and 3rd Northern Divisions, but he says that he and six others left in mid-August as a refusal to take up arms against republicans in the Civil War.
Given that only 154 members of the Belfast Brigade can be identified as having joined the Free State Army, while the entire membership of over 400 men still active in Belfast on 1st July 1922 are listed as being Executive Forces, and some of those turned up in three different counties during the Civil War fighting, the latest files to be released certainly raise some interesting questions about the direction of the Brigade after the Treaty split.

Was a Belfast IRA commander expelled over a pension application?

Was a Belfast IRA commander expelled from the IRA for making a pension application? One of the files included in the latest release of files from the Military Archives is a pension applications made by Davy Mathews starting in 1933 when he was O/C of the Belfast IRA. In January 1934 he was expelled from the IRA. Nominally the reason for his expulsion was that he had allowed prisoners to sign out of Crumlin Road jail for Christmas in 1933 (against IRA standing orders). But now Mathews pension application documents have been published, it looks like the IRA may have had other reasons to expel him too.


Davy Mathews (from Jim McDermot’s ‘Northern Divisions’ book)

Mathews formally made his application for a pension on 1st January 1933. In his application letter he recorded that he had joined the Willie Nelson Sluagh of Fianna Éireann in 1914, progressing to join the Irish Volunteers after 1916. He was then a member of the James Connolly Sluagh whose O/C was Joe McKelvey while Mathews himself was First Lieutenant (Fianna officers held dual membership of Fianna Éireann and the IRA). He was arrested and questioned for a day in 1917 after being observed taking charge of Fianna party drilling in the open. Matthews continued active in IRA throughout the War of Independence and was eventually arrested in September 1922 with Belfast Brigade commander, Paddy Nash, and was imprisoned for possession of a revolver. After his release he was pressed to accept a commission in the newly formed (pro-treaty) National Army but instead he agreed to take charge of an (anti-treaty) IRA flying column in Longford. Before he got there, he was arrested at Easter 1923 and spent time on the Argenta prison ship and Larne Camp from where he was sent to Derry Gaol to spend six weeks in isolation before embarking on a hunger strike. A son born while he was imprisoned was a year old before Mathews saw him when he was released in August 1924.

Interned again in 1925 during the collapse of the Boundary Commission, his mother died on Christmas Day but he was refused leave to attend the funeral. The 1925 internees were only released when the Labour government in London put pressure on the Unionists at the end of January 1926.

Mathews remained active in the IRA as well as a prominent member of the Joe McKelvey GAA club. He recorded in 1933 that he had been O/C of an IRA Battalion three times and arrested each time. In September 1933 he submitted a pension application, giving his own rank as O/C Belfast Battalion since 1928 and recording that he had been made O/C Ulster in 1931 on the IRA’s Army Executive. He named some of those who could vouch for his service in his 1933 application including Maurice Twomey (as IRA Chief of Staff) and Joe McGurk, George Nash and Jimmy Steele (as members of the Belfast Battalion staff). Imprisoned in November 1933, he was then dismissed from the IRA in January 1934 for encouraging prisoners to sign guarantees to get early release for Christmas.


Page from Davy Mathews pension application on 4/9/1933 naming Moss Twomey as IRA Chief of Staff and Joe McGurk, George Nash and Jimmy Steele as members of Belfast Battalion staff (for original see file 1RB1254 David Mathews)

Since the IRA refused to recognise the authority of either administration in Belfast or Dublin in the 1930s, Mathews application for a pension would have been in violation of IRA standing orders at the time. While this may seem a little odd now, even in later decades the IRA, and Cumann na mBan, refused to let member hold service posts in the north (as they had to take an oath of allegiance to the crown) just as members did not recognise the courts, legal systems or electoral assemblies. Not only that, but Mathews names members of his Belfast Battalion staff and the Chief of Staff (Moss Twomey) on his application. While the IRA enjoyed a quasi-legal status in the south at the time, it seems unlikely that either Twomey or others in IRA GHQ would have been happy with Mathews. Mathews was on the IRA’s Army Executive as O/C Ulster from 1931 and so held a very senior post within the organisation. While the pretext given for his expulsion in January 1934 did not mention the pension application it seems unlikely that it would have been approved or gone unnoticed as part of the process was writing out to those named by applicants to get statement corroborating information on the application.

There is much more on Mathews time as Belfast O/C in the Belfast Battalion bookBelfast Battalion book.

The time line of Belfast IRA commanders has also been updated to reflect the dates given by Mathews (I’ll post more on this another day).

New IRA pension files released today

The Military Archives have released their most recent set of pension files today including documents shedding light on the activities of the IRA, Cumann na mBan and Fianna Éireann. While they primarily relate to the years 1916 to 1923, there is a wealth of information buried within them relating to later periods of equally significant historical value. Here is one example to get started with.

One infamous episode in the history of the IRA was the takeover of IRA GHQ by the Belfast Battalion and court-martial of Acting IRA Chief of Staff, Stephen Hayes, in 1941. Hayes wrote a ‘confession’ (under duress) that was transcribed by Pearse Kelly (a future IRA Chief of Staff and later of RTÉ). This was annotated and used in further interrogation of Hayes (before he escaped by jumping out a window). The Kelly transcription survives in the National Library (you can read more about it here). The main accusation made against Hayes was that he was acting in concert with the Fianna Fáil government rather than in line with IRA strategy (there is more detail on this at the link above). I suspect that, if you follow the rationale seemingly applied in Hayes interrogation that the same accusation would likely have been levelled at Sean Russell if he had lived).

The main argument offered in Hayes defence (including by Hayes himself) was that he was subsequently sentenced by the Military Court to a number of years imprisonment. Other republicans, though, have dismissed the import of that insisting that Hayes was effectively kept in prison for his own safety and was comfortably looked after while there.

After his release Hayes made an application for a pension for his prior military service. Buried within his pension file is a seemingly innocuous memo. Under the terms of the various pension acts, those who had remained active in the IRA were forfeit of a certificate of service and pension entitlements. To facilitate an application for Hayes it was proposed to amend the legislation so that Hayes could receive a pension but, rather than make it specific to Hayes, to make it a more general amendment. It is notable, within the other releases (particularly of Belfast republicans), how many of those who had opposed the treaty and remained active in the IRA subsequently struggled to have their pension entitlements granted (in some cases, due to apparent obstruction by former comrades who had supported the treaty). Largely that appeared to be consistent with a policy of not granting pension entitlements to those who continued to dispute the authority or legitimacy of the southern state. That latter point might seem antiquated, yet given contemporary republican attitudes towards engaging with the authorities on either side of the border, it is significant to see the likes of Belfast IRA staff officers signing and submitting statements to support pension applicants in the 1930s.

Hayes legislation

Memo in Stephen Hayes pension file (MSPC, see link below).

Unlike when Hayes’ case arose, there had been no previous attempt to formally restore pension entitlements. So this may add further weight to the claims that Hayes’ real loyalties had lain with the Fianna Fáil government and as such he then received sympathetic treatment by the authorities as a reward.

I’ll post more on some of the new releases in the near future.

You can read more about the Hayes affair in the Belfast Battalion book.

You can search the Military Service Pensions Collection here.

You can see some of the Stephen Hayes files here.

Belfast men in the Pro-Treaty IRA

Who from Belfast joined the Free State Army and fought on the Pro-Treaty side in the Civil War?

In numerical terms, at least 216 men from the general Belfast area are listed in the Free State Army census of November 1922 (you can see them here). A total of 366 Belfast men were  also recorded as having been supplied with pensions information in 1926 (thus indicating ‘service’ in the Free State Army after July 1922). That would not include those still active in 1926, including many former 3rd Northern Division officers who made careers in the Free State Army. Kieran Glennon’s excellent From Pogrom to Civil War contextualises one such officer, Tom Glennon’s, experience in the complex political environment of post-truce Belfast. Similarly, Jim McDermot’s (equally excellent) Northern Divisions shows that Glennon’s story was, in many ways, typical of the Division’s officers.

Glennon also makes it clear that there was a complicated matrix of motivations that led Belfast men to take the Pro-Treaty side, or at least not be actively anti-Treaty. Loyalty, politics and events influenced individual choices, alongside the prospect of a regular pay packet or relief from the intense violence in Belfast.

In the first half of 1922 alone, around 15% of the total of all fatalities of the War of Independence in Ireland had occurred in Belfast. The IRA had around 800 men in the  3rd Northern Division, 1st (Belfast) Brigade in July 1922, split into the five Battalions (1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and Engineering). By the summer, the Divisional staff of the 3rd Northern Division were struggling with the Pro-Treaty GHQ’s attitude towards the north (the background to this is detailed in From Pogrom to Civil War). With confusion over their attitudes towards the Pro-Treaty GHQ and IRA Executive forces, at the end of August 1922 it was agreed that IRA operations would cease in the north and a percentage of officers and volunteers would go to the Curragh for a rest and to train. They were allocated their own barrack in the Curragh to rest and train in anticipation of renewing the campaign in the north. It was also agreed that they would not be asked to participate in activity in the south.

According to Joe Murray by September 1922 this had depleted the Belfast IRA, although this does not seem borne out by the numbers involved (see Military Archives, WS0412). Certainly some went south, but clearly not all (Murray may really mean the Pro-Treaty units were depleted by September). According to Murray, the first groups to go to the Curragh were “…officers and men who were harassed by the enemy and in need of rest.” Joe Murray’s claim that those who left Belfast did so to get relief from the violence is illustrated by where they came from in the city. Based on the geographic focus of the Belfast IRA’s 1st and 2nd Battalions (up to late 1921), the number of men recorded in the 1922 census that were drawn from each unit (centre of district in brackets) was: A Company (Leeson Street), 1st Batt. – 26, B Company (Pound/Cullingtree Road), 1st Batt. – 23, C Company (Carrickhill/Smithfield), 1st Batt. – 26, D Company (Clonard), 1st Batt. – 10, E Company (Upper Falls), 1st Batt. – 7, A Company (Bone/Ardoyne), 2nd Batt. – 12, B Company (Ballymacarrett), 2nd Batt. – 26, C Company (Markets), 2nd Batt. – 22, D Company (North Queen Street/York Street), 2nd Batt. – 44. The units with the highest numbers, C Company, 1st Battalion and B and D Companies, 2nd Battalion are those districts which saw the highest fatalities and most intense violence in 1920-22.

What is also interesting is comparing men identifiable on the census and on the lists for each unit reported by the Brigade Committees in the 1930s. Of these, only 40 can be identified in the 3rd Northern Division, 1st (Belfast) Brigade company lists as prepared for June 1921 and July 1922. Of the 40 listed in the Belfast Brigade, the numbers from each unit were: A Company, 1st Batt. – 6, B Company, 1st Batt. – 4, C Company, 1st Batt. – 17, D Company, 1st Batt. – 1, E Company, 1st Batt. – 2, A Company, 2nd Batt. – 4, B Company, 2nd Batt. – 0, C Company, 2nd Batt. – 3, D Company, 2nd Batt. – 0 and the (5th) Engineering Battalion – 3. This suggests that there was either a significant turnover of personnel in the Belfast IRA units, or that the lists are substantially incomplete. There is also an odd discrepancy here between the high figure for Carrickhill (C/1st) and the lack of volunteers listed in Ballymacarret  (B/2nd) and York Street/North Queen Street (D/2nd). Does it just reflect the lists recorded in the 1930s?

This raises questions about the detail and accuracy of the 1921-1922 lists produced by the Brigade Committees in the 1930s (see The 1st (Belfast) Brigade Committee in the 1930s was largely composed of those who had taken the Pro-Treaty side. The surviving records from the Belfast Brigade Committee claims that the 3rd and 4th Battalions were constituted after July 1921 and non-existent by July 1922. Yet, they list Battalion staffs for the 3rd and 4th Battalions and at least one personnel list survives, from A Company, 4th Battalion. Joe Murray also records that, as Battalion O/C, he supervised the dumping of arms of the 3rd Battalion on 31st October 1922. This suggests that there are considerable problems with the information supplied by the Belfast Brigade Committee.

According to the A Company, 4 Battalion list (see, MA_MSPC_RO_406), the unit had originally been E Company of the 1st Battalion, but was reorganised into the 4th Battalion. It was later re-organised as D Company, 1st Battalion of the Pro-Treaty IRA in Belfast. This last re-organisation must have occurred between July and October 1922 and is largely undocumented. The re-organisation of Pro-Treaty units may reflect the ‘depletion’ mentioned by Joe Murray.

A list of those who had been issued with forms to apply for pensions in 1926, includes 366 from the 1st (Belfast) Brigade area ((Military Archives, ref WM_MSP_10). The RUC estimated that a total of 1,685 men left the six counties to join or train with the Free State Army during 1922 (see PRONI HA/32/1/257). A proportion of these must have been individuals who joined the Free State Army of their own volition, presumably for financial as well as political reasons. It is clear from the witness statements (see that initially, personal allegiances and trust in individuals such as Michael Collins clearly influenced some 3rd Northern Division officers in supporting (or at least not opposing) the IRA’s Pro-Treaty GHQ. Collins death severed some of those ties, but the circumstances of it strengthened others.

With 3rd Northern men in camps in the south, the Pro-Treaty Belfast officers in the Free State Army wrote to Richard Mulcahy, its Chief of Staff, at the end of September asking what the plans were for the north. The letter was unanswered yet they had to attend meetings in Belfast in early October with those opposed to the Treaty. At a meeting of both sides of the IRA in Belfast on the 4th October, the issue was raised of recognising the northern government (a Mulcahy proposal). The Anti-Treaty officers dismissed the idea and walked out. At a second meeting in the Boys Hall on the Falls Road on the 6th October went even worse. Those present included Dinny McCullough, President of the Supreme Council of the IRB at the time of the Easter Rising and a brother-in-law of Mulcahy. The 3rd Northern Division officers who had moved to the south were slammed by those opposed to the Treaty for taking comfortable paid positions while Belfast was still under pressure. It was an accusation that stubbornly followed many of them around for the rest of their lives.

By October, it is clear that there was also discontent among those in the Curragh. Since it was recognised that continuing the northern campaign was futile, and following instructions from Dublin, the officers on the Divisional Staff in Belfast that still supported GHQ placed some arms in dumps, destroyed files and left for the south. According to Tom Fitzpatrick, those who couldn’t return home were transferred to Dundalk (where 134 are listed in the November 1922 census as part of the 5th Northern Division) or to the 3rd Northern Division reserve in the Curragh (71 were listed in the November census).

In overall terms, there are appear to have been three discrete groups of Belfast men who joined the ProTreaty forces. The first were the units which moved south after August 1922, on instruction from GHQ but likely remained neutral on the treaty itself (and strictly speaking, never really joined the Free State Army). The next group were those who chose to join the Free State Army either for political reasons or purely for the pay. The third group were officers bound by ties to Michael Collins and others. While not necessarily ideologically bound to the treaty, many did not reconcile to their former Belfast colleagues for decades (if ever).

You can view the Free State Army census of November 1922 here.

Some of the Belfast men in that census are listed here.

The 366 Belfast men sent pension applications are listed here.

Diarmuid Ferriter on the schemes to award pensions for  service in 1913-24

Interesting piece on the various pension schemes by Diarmuid Ferriter in the Examiner. One of those whose experience he recounts is Tom Barry, who eventually had to have his application resolved, conveniently enough (for de Valera), by de Valera himself. The whole pension process being a form of auction politics in using pensions to reward or win over supporters and opponents. Here’s a selection from Ferriter’s piece on how Barry had to take on the Military Service Pensions Board over its decision that:

 …his activities during the revolutionary period did not merit the award of the most senior rank and grade for the purposes of payment of a pension (pensions were graded A to E depending on rank and length of service).
In December 1938, Barry wrote to the assessment board to submit his form, which claimed IRA service from July 1919 to the end of September 1923: “I would like to point out that I have not included what I would term the lesser fights, shootings or actions. I have only dealt with the major activities… I claim that I was continuously engaged without a break for the period mentioned. In justice to myself and the officers and men I commanded, I claim Rank A.
“Apart from the post of Liaison officer for the martial law area to which post I was appointed on the day preceding the Truce, by virtue of my rank as deputy divisional O/C [Officer Commanding] prior to that date, I had under my absolute control all the fighting organisation of active service units in Cork, Kerry, Waterford and West Limerick. My post was NOT vice O/C but Deputy O/C. The late General [Liam] Lynch handed me over all the Active Service Units about three weeks after his own appointment. My rank and activities also during the Civil War period entitles me to rank A.”
Days later, he wrote another letter to the board, suggesting “it is possible that the Board would be facilitated by a more detailed statement in deciding the issue of my rank” and also to make the point that, at the outset of the Civil War, “the ranks on 1 July 1922 were indeed very vague for any of the GHQ [General Head Quarter] officers”.
During his sworn statement before the military service pension’s advisory committee, Barry was asked was there a difference between deputy divisional commander and vice divisional O/C.
He replied: “Certainly there was a difference… Deputy Divisional O/C is one which ranks co-jointly with the OC, whereas the Vice O/C is only a staff officer.” In reply to the question about a later period — “You claim your rank at that period was Rank A?” — his reply was adamant: “Certainly. I would accept no other rank.”

Grave disappointment was to follow for Barry. In January 1940, he received his military service pension award of Rank B, which “I reject… on the grounds of both length of service and of rank”. He was livid that the board had disallowed him full-time active service on certain key dates, including the periods October 1919 to July 1921 and July to September 1923. “It is sufficient to state that my award was humiliating to a degree,” he said.