In December 2017, the National Graves Association launched a campaign to reinter the remains of the National Invincibles, currently buried in Kilmainham Gaol and give them a dignified burial in Glasnevin Cemetery. Since the formation of the Irish Freestate, re-interments of Irish republicans were nothing unusual.
While the re-interment of Roger Casement is widely known, there were more occasions of Irish nationalists being re-interned throughout the 20th century. In September 1948, for instance, the remains of six Republicans executed by the Fianna Fáil government were exhumed and given over to their families for re-interment. Among those six was Paddy McGrath, an Easter Rising veteran executed on 6 September 1940.
A note by the late Ruairí Ó Brádaigh
A handwritten note by the former O/C of the IRA, President of Provisional Sinn Féin, and founder of Republican Sinn Féin, Ruairí Ó Brádaigh on the re-interment is held in the archives of NUI Galway (POL28/11/19). The note dates from 15 June 2011 and says:
“In mid-September 1948, the remains of all six Republican executed by the 26-County State under Fianna Fáil were exhumed and given over to their families for re-interment. Paddy McGrath was one of these six. His remains were removed from Mountjoy Prison ground and were given a Republican funeral through the centre of Dublin to Glasnevin Cemetery where they were buried in the Republican Plot. The National Graves Association made the arrangements, and the Irish Republican Army was in charge of the funeral.
“There was a huge attendance. Brian O’Higgins gave the oration vindicating McGrath and his comrades. The two Clann na Poblachta Ministers of the new (1948) Administration at Leinster House, Seán MacBride and Noel Browne, were present.
“The procedure was similar to that of the 1920s when the bodies of the 77 Republicans executed by the Free State in 1922 and 1923 were handed over to the families in 1924. The last letters of the executed men were delivered to their relatives immediately in the early 1920s. In the 1940s such letters were suppressed and only reached the families when the bodies were given over in 1948.”
The last hours of Lieutenant-General Paddy McGrath, IRA
The note is attached to a one-page document entitled “the last hours of Lieutenant-General Paddy McGrath, IRA”. It was given to Ó Brádaigh “by Séamus Fitzpatrick of Dún Laoghaire on June 11, 2011. He was the son of Seán Fitzpatrick, Secretary of the National Graves Association, from its foundation in 1926 until his death in the early 1960s”. The document itself is dated 18 October 1948, hence, written approximately six weeks after the execution.
The document says that
“Fr. John McLaughlin was a member of “G” Company, 4th Battalion, when Sean Dowling was Battalion Commandant and who was until recently an Army Chaplain, was present at the execution of Patrick McGrath and Tom Harte in Mountjoy Prison on September 8th, 1940. (…) Fr. McLaughlin gave details of the device adapted to ensure that the names of the twelve men who took part in the shooting would never be divulged. He said that the Officer in charge of the firing squad was, like Paddy, an Easter Week man and was ‘deeply affected’. He also expressed the strongest admiration for Tom Harte whom he said was one of the finest men he had ever come into contact with.”
The Invincibles Re-interment Campaign
To me, there is no obvious reason why the current Irish government should not follow the example of preceding administrations, just like the one in 1948, and support the re-interment of the five National Invincibles. After all, the Invincibles fought for the independence of the island, this government partly rules.
As I said in an endorsement of the campaign last autumn: “The Irish National Invincibles were executed for being Irish Republicans. As such, they fought for the establishment of an independent Republic, as women and men did all over Europe in the 19th century, from Hungary and Italy to Poland and Russia. They understood their actions against the colonial rule as their chosen medium to communicate these aims. In that regard, they were no different from Roger Casement. However, while Casement is remembered as an early advocate of modern human rights who received a state funeral when his remains were finally repatriated in 1965, the five Irish National Invincibles are still hidden in Kilmainham Gaol almost inaccessible to their descendants and the public. As Irishmen who were executed by a foreign ruler for their fight for the independence of their country from colonial rule, they deserve to be honoured accordingly.”
Aidan Lambert, secretary of the Invincibles Re-internment Committee, explains: “We made a pledge that post the 2016 celebrations, we would campaign with the NGA to have the remains of Joseph Brady, Daniel Curley, Michael Fagan, Thomas Caffrey and Timothy Kelly exhumed from the prison yard where have lain since 1883.”
The late historian Shane Kenna wrote a book about the Invincibles which was published by O’Brien’s Press in February, and I reviewed it for the current edition of An Spreách.
A commemoration for the National Invincibles will be held by the National Graves Association on Saturday, 18 May, at Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin. Assemble at the gates at 12noon.