Life World War 1

Friday 19 September 2014

Clear record as executed Irish soldiers exonerated

Published 17/05/2014 | 02:30

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Peter Mulvany of the Shot at Dawn campaign

TWENTY-six Irishmen executed on the orders of their own commanding officers during World War I were officially pardoned by the British government in 2012, ending one of the most shameful episodes of the conflict.

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The move was welcomed by the Government here, which gave active support to the Shot at Dawn campaign, which has worked for many years to have the 26 Irishmen exonerated.

The 26 Irishmen were among 306 men who were executed, many of them aged just 17 or 18. Now their military records are without blemish.

Typical of the cases was that of Private Patrick Downey who served with the Leinster Regiment. The young soldier was already undergoing punishment when he was sentenced to death.

The disciplinary action involved being tied by the wrists to the wheel of a gun carriage and was known as 'the crucifixion'. He turned up for his punishment one day without wearing his hat and was told to put it on. Pte Downey refused the order.

He was sentenced to death for disobedience and executed near the port of Salonika in Greece on December 27, 1915. His last recorded words summed up the absurdity of wartime justice as administered in the field.

"You let me enlist and then you bring me out here and shoot me," he said.

There were many other incidences where soldiers serving in World War I were executed for the most minor of offences.

The Irish Government worked closely with Peter Mulvany of the Shot at Dawn campaign to try and convince British legislators that the men were entitled to an official pardon.

Speaking several years ago, then foreign affairs minister Dermot Ahern said: "I believe a retrospective pardon would recover the memory of these young volunteers from dishonour and bring comfort to their families. Our support was also given in recognition of the wider experience and sacrifice of the people of Ireland during the First World War."

These men, in most instances poorly educated, did not deserve their fate. "For our part, we will add the men's names to the Irish National War Memorial Records," said Mr Ahern.

 

See our dedicated  World War 1 section here.

Irish Independent Supplement

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