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The Civil War and the naval invasion of the Kingdom


National Army troops land in Fenit in August 1922 as part of a major offensive against the Anti Treaty IRA’s, so called, Munster Republic. Kerryman Archive

National Army troops land in Fenit in August 1922 as part of a major offensive against the Anti Treaty IRA’s, so called, Munster Republic. Kerryman Archive

National Army troops land in Fenit in August 1922 as part of a major offensive against the Anti Treaty IRA’s, so called, Munster Republic. Kerryman Archive


THERE have been many unjustified claims that little of note happened in Kerry during the War of Independence – mainly thanks to the frequently un-investigated post war jibes of future ‘Blueshirt’ leader Eoin O’Duffy – but there can be no doubt about the Kingdom’s central role in the events of the Civil War.

Following the successful and largely bi-partisan commemorations of the Easter Rising and War of Independence the country now faces into two years of far more controversial centenaries as we mark the anniversary of Ireland’s vicious and bitter Civil War.

Kerry was the scene of some of the war’s most notorious events – including the notorious Ballyseedy Massacre – and a delicate approach will be needed as events in Kerry are remembered.

While Ballseedy may be the most infamous event of the Civil War in Kerry the county was at the front-line of the conflict from it’s earliest days until the end of the fighting.

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In early July 1922 – with Dublin in pro-treaty hands after a brutal week long battle – the long simmering conflict quickly erupted into intense violence and soon spread throughout the country.

Though much of Munster was in Anti Treaty hands their forces were not equipped to wage a conventional war.

Anti Treaty IRA Chief of Staff Liam Lynch’s aim was to hold onto the, so called, ‘Munster Republic’ just long enough to prevent the official foundation of the Free State and to force a renegotiation of the Treaty.

Michael Collins and Richard Mulcahy – the leaders of the Free State Government and Army – felt a quick and decisive victory in Munster was needed if they were to prevent a long and brutal war.

So it was that in July and August they launched a major offensive to retake the south and west of the country.

Having taken Limerick and Waterford the Free State then focussed their attention on Cork and Kerry. To avoid hard fighting that would inevitably occur if the army tried to advance overland it was proposed by Emmet Dalton that seaborne landings be used.

Collins agreed and the army commandeered several civilian passenger ships to transport the troops.

On August 2, 1922 the National Army’s Dublin Guard – commanded by Brigadier Paddy Daly the former leader of Collin’s elite assassination unit ‘The Squad’ who had led the National Army forces that retook Dublin – landed in Fenit.

Republican forces, aware of the dangers of a potential invasion from the seas, had intended to blow up the pier if an attack was launched but the charges were rendered inoperable by unknown persons in an attempt to minimise damage to the port.

With the charges decommissioned the ship ‘Lady Wicklow’ had no problem mooring in Fenit and 450 Free State troops were rapidly landed.

They quickly made their way into Tralee retaking the town. Free State troops had landed in Fenit at 10.30am and by 6pm the town was in their hands.

The main engagement of the day came on Boherbee where a large group of anti treaty fighters battled the Free State troops in a fierce one hour fire fight.

This battle provided the cover for most of Tralee’s Anti Treaty forces to retreat from the town and into the countryside from where they would launch a sustained guerrilla campaign for the next eight months.

Further Free State troop landings took place in Tarbert – a day after the Fenit landing – and in Kenmare on August 11.

The Free State forces rapidly occupied the main towns in the county but the Republican units in Kerry survived more or less intact and would go on to fight a determined guerrilla campaign for the remainder of the war.

After the initial major engagements the latter ‘guerilla phase’ of the war developed into a vicious cycle of revenge killings and reprisals as the Republicans assassinated pro-treaty politicians and the Free State responded with the execution of Republican prisoners.

In Kerry the cycle of reprisals was especially brutal and Paddy Daly’s National Army Forces acted with particular viciousness in the county.

As the Civil War dragged on Daly’s men were implicated in series of atrocities against anti-treaty prisoners culminating in a series of bloody massacres in March 1923 – the most famous of which took place in Ballyseedy outside Tralee – in which Republican prisoners were killed with landmines.

Questioned about the brutal tactics of his troops Daly – who said those killed in Ballyseedy, Countess Bridge and Cahersiveen were accidentally blown up by their own mines – was unrepentant.

“Nobody asked me to take kid-gloves to Kerry, so I didn’t,” he said.