The brutal, cold-blooded killing of three IRA prisoners by the British 100 years ago this week – and their ham-fisted attempt to cover it up – is an aspect of Bloody Sunday which is often overlooked.
On Saturday 20 November, the night before the IRA’s operation to wipe out the Cairo Gang, a large number of Volunteers were arrested in British army raids. Amongst them were Commandant Dick McKee, Dublin Brigade, and Vice-Commandant Peadar Clancy, Dublin Brigade, two of the key figures involved in the planning of the Cairo Gang operation.
Both were captured in a safe house on Gloucester Street and along with the landlord of the house, Sean Fitzpatrick, were taken to the Guardroom of Dublin Castle where they were to be interrogated. The raid had been carried out following a tip off from police informer Shankers Ryan.
Among the prisoners was a Clareman, Conor Clune, who had arrived in Dublin to meet Piarais Beaslaí and Edward McLyasght to discuss setting up Irish cultural projects. Vaughan’s Hotel, where the meeting took place, had earlier held a meeting of senior IRA figures, including McKee. The Auxiliaries, believing the meeting was still in progress, raided the hotel and arrested Clune. Beaslaí and McLysaght escaped.
Each prisoner was interrogated separately by the Director of British Intelligence, Sir Ormonde Winter (known as `The Holy Terror’, because of the torture he inflicted on prisoners) and two of his officers, Captain Hardy and Captain King. (Hardy and King were on the IRA hit list for the following morning but escaped because they were still in the Castle interrogating prisoners.)
When news arrived at the Castle the next morning of the deaths of the intelligence officers, Sir Ormond Winter ordered all the prisoners off to different barracks but McKee, Clancy and Clune were held back for further ‘questioning’. Ben Doyle, an IRA Volunteer, later said that Clancy almost got away when he slipped into the line of men being marched out but was halted by Captain Hardy.
When Michael Collins got news of McKee and Clancy’s arrest he ordered Ned Broy, a police detective and IRA agent, to search out the Bridewell for them. Members of the Dublin Brigade were quickly assembled to break them out, but Broy returned saying they were not there. Another detective working for the IRA, James McNamara, reported that they were in the Castle and that the Auxiliaries were out of control and thirsting for revenge. There was nothing that could be done, as the Castle was seemingly impregnable.
At 11am the three men, McKee, Clancy and Clune (pictured, left to right) were executed. The official Dublin Castle communique stated they had been shot while attempting to escape, producing staged photographs in an attempt to prove it. The truth however was that these three defenceless prisoners were tortured, bayoneted and then shot to death.
William Pearson, an ex-colonel in the British army and doctor, went along with Ed McLysaght to the King George V Hospital to identify Clune’s body. On examination of the 13 wounds inflicted on Clune, Pearson believed that these wounds could not have been inflicted if Clune had been trying to escape. The bodies of McKee and Clancy were returned to their families and laid out in their coffins in full Volunteer uniform, but because their faces were so badly beaten it was decided to close the coffins.
Within two weeks the informer, Shankers Ryan, was shot dead as he sat drinking in a pub off Gloucester Street.