IRA EXECUTED THREE BRITISH SOLDIERS AT STRAND BARRACKS, IN 1921.

DAVID WILLIAMS, PICTURED FRONT RIGHT WITH THE LYDBROOK EXCELSIOR BRASS BAND C. 1910, WAS EXECUTED BY THE IRA AS A SPY IN FEBRUARY 1921

MONDAY, FEBRUARY 21, 1921: THE IRA EXECUTED THREE BRITISH SOLDIERS FROM THE OXFORD AND BUCKINGHAMSHIRE LIGHT INFANTRY. THE TRIO WERE PRIVATE THOMAS MULLETT, PRIVATE WILLIAM WALKER AND PRIVATE DAVID WILLIAMS, WHO WERE ALL STATIONED AT THE STRAND BARRACKS, LIMERICK. ON THE MORNING OF FEBRUARY 22, THEIR BODIES WERE DISCOVERED BY A FARMER ON THE WOODFORD TO CAHIR ROAD NEAR THE SHORES OF LOUGH ATTORICK NEAR THE CLARE-GALWAY BORDER. THE THREE SOLDIERS HAD BEEN EXECUTED BY THE IRA’S EAST CLARE BRIGADE. EACH HAS BEEN SHOT IN THE HEAD. ONE OF THEM HAD A LABEL HUNG AROUND HIS NECK, WHICH READ “SPIES. TRIED BY COURT-MARTIAL AND FOUND GUILTY. ALL OTHERS BEWARE.” A CENTURY LATER, MYSTERY STILL SURROUNDS THE FATE OF THESE THREE BRITISH SOLDIERS, WHY THEY HAD LEFT THEIR BARRACKS IN LIMERICK, AND HOW THEY CAME TO BE CAPTURED BY THE IRA SO FAR FROM WHERE THEY WERE STATIONED. NATURALLY (AS IN ALMOST ALL SUCH CASES), THERE IS ALMOST COMPLETE DISPARITY BETWEEN BRITISH ACCOUNTS AND THOSE OF REPUBLICAN VETERANS AND LOCAL PEOPLE.

ACCORDING TO THE OXFORD AND BUCKINGHAMSHIRE LIGHT INFANTRY’S REGIMENTAL CHRONICLE: “THE THREE HAD BEEN MISSING FROM STRAND BARRACKS SINCE FEBRUARY 13.” THE RIC REPORT ON THEIR DEATHS RECORDED: “THESE SOLDIERS WERE SUPPOSED TO HAVE BEEN DESERTERS.” IRA VETERAN SEAN MORONEY STATES THAT THE THREE WERE CAPTURED ON OR ABOUT FEBRUARY 13 AND WERE HELD FOR ABOUT A WEEK BEFORE BEING COURT-MARTIALLED AND EXECUTED: “ABOUT THIS TIME, THREE MEN WHO CLAIMED THEY WERE DESERTERS FROM THE BRITISH ARMY WERE ARRESTED BY VOLUNTEERS IN MY BATTALION AREA. DURING THE TRIAL, IT WAS PROVED THAT THEY HAD TRIED TO AND DID, IN FACT, KEEP IN CONTACT WITH THEIR OWN FORCES. “THE RESULT WAS THAT THEY WERE FOUND GUILTY OF BEING SPIES AND SENTENCED TO DEATH. THE SENTENCE WAS DULY CARRIED OUT.”

SUPPOSE THE BRITISH ACCOUNTS WERE TRUE, AND THE THREE SOLDIERS HAD DESERTED AND WANTED TO GO BACK TO ENGLAND. IN THAT CASE, THERE IS NO LOGICAL EXPLANATION FOR THEIR DECISION TO TRAVEL NORTHWARDS 32KM CROSS-COUNTRY ON FOOT THROUGH EAST CLARE, WHICH WAS ONE OF THE MOST ACTIVE IRA BRIGADE AREAS AT THE TIME. THE QUICKEST AND EASIEST ROUTE FOR BRITISH SOLDIERS STATIONED IN LIMERICK TO RETURN TO THEIR HOMES IN ENGLAND WOULD HAVE BEEN FOR THEM TO HAVE WALKED TO THE LIMERICK DOCKS AND BOARD A SHIP BOUND FOR BRITAIN EITHER AS STOWAWAYS OR USING A FALSE IDENTITY.

IT WOULD HAVE BEEN IMPOSSIBLE FOR THE THREE TO HAVE MADE THEIR JOURNEY FROM LIMERICK TO NORTH CLARE WITHOUT BEING CONFRONTED EN ROUTE BY EITHER A BRITISH OR IRA PATROL. IT SEEMS MORE PLAUSIBLE THAT THE MEN, RATHER THAN DESERTING FROM THEIR BARRACKS IN LIMERICK, INSTEAD TRAVELLED TO THEIR REGIMENT’S SECOND BARRACKS IN TULLA ON A BRITISH ARMY LORRY AND SET OUT ON FOOT FROM THERE. BRITISH ARMY RECORDS SHOW ALL THREE MEN WERE PAID UNTIL FEBRUARY 22, THE DATE THEIR BODIES WERE DISCOVERED. THE BRITISH ARMY DID NOT PAY WAGES TO SOLDIERS WHO HAD BEEN ABSENT WITHOUT LEAVE FOR OVER EIGHT DAYS AND WHO WERE PRESUMED TO HAVE DESERTED.

THIS STRONGLY SUGGESTS THAT MULLETT, WALKER, AND WILLIAMS WERE STILL SERVING SOLDIERS ON ACTIVE DUTY WHEN THEY WERE CAPTURED AND EXECUTED BY THE IRA. IN THE LATER STAGES OF THE WAR OF INDEPENDENCE, THE BRITISH ARMY BEGAN USING SOLDIERS POSING AS DESERTERS TO GATHER INTELLIGENCE ABOUT THE IRA, AND THE LIKELIHOOD IS THAT THESE THREE “DESERTERS” WERE ACTUALLY ENGAGED ON AN INTELLIGENCE GATHERING MISSION WHEN THEY WERE CAPTURED AND SENTENCED TO DEATH BY THE IRA A CENTURY AGO.

PÁDRAIG ÓG Ó RUAIRC HAS A PHD IN HISTORY AND HAS WRITTEN SEVERAL BOOKS ABOUT THE WAR OF INDEPENDENCE.

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