To Die is Nothing
On November first, 1920, a young man of eighteen years was walking to his untimely death. Let us wonder together then, what his cause was. Why was such a young life to be taken in it's prime? What horrible deed did he commit to result in execution like a common criminal? Was he a murderer, a petty thief or a liar? Or perhaps he was just a young boy, burning with the pride of his nation? If so, how would that result in such a fate a hanging? Perhaps it shall be clear to you in his story, his short life and his struggles.
Let us waste no time then. Our story begins in 1902, in the musty streets of Dublin City Ireland. To Thomas and Mary Barry, a young child was born. They christened him Kevin Gerard, in the Catholic Church of St. Andrews. For six years Kevin lived his young days in the dirty streets of Dublin, until in 1908, his Father passed away at age 56, leaving behind his poor wife and seven children.
Life became dramatically hard for the Irish family, causing them to move from the crowded city to the fresh air of the country in County Carlow. Kevin had no trouble adjusting to the free winds and rolling hills of his new home. He had a great love for the fields and the joy his country had to offer. Thus he grew into his teens, the breath of freedom in his lungs and the free-rolling rivers of Ireland. Little did he know that because of this, his heart was instilled with the pride of his nation.
Soon he entered St. Mary's College in Dublin as a medical student until it was closed in 1916, the year of the Easter Rebellion lead by Padraig Pearse with the goal of a united Ireland. This had a small effect on him, making his spirit begin to stir, though he wasn't sure why. His longing for Irish freedom, however, was pushed into his veins at the commemoration of the Manchester Martyrs, three men who were hung by the British forces.
In 1917, he joined the IRA, or Irish Republican Army, an armed force dedicated to liberating Ireland from the British Tyrant that ruled them. Though he was only 15, the intense fire within him would not rest until he had action. He knew it would change his life, but he could never suspect the impact he would later have on the nation he grew to love.
From St. Mary's College, he was transferred to Belvedere College. Being an active boy, he joined the rugby team. His sincere and intense frame of mind caused him to quickly earn himself amongst their top players and best students. His cheerful soul caused him to make friends easily and earn trust. Like him, many of the boys were also members of the Irish Volunteers. This was not uncommon at the time. For the Easter Rising of 1916 inflamed their hearts with the call of freedom.
While focusing on his medical schooling, playing intense rugby and also helping at home, he underwent the training to be a soldier of Ireland's Army. Over the years, he participated in many missions, raids and ambushed on the invading forces of Britain with guerrilla war tactics under the instructions of Micheal Collins. His bravery and hard work in the IRA caused him to be promoted to Section Commander of his Battalion, at the young age of 17.
However, one day, his bright and promising life was changed forever.
On September 20th, after having gone to Mass and received Holy Communion, he met with his comrade on Bolton Street in Dublin. The Irish forces were in dire need of arms at this time. Barry's orders were to Ambush a British truck as it stopped at a bakery and capture their weapons. Armed with few guns, they surrounded the truck and ordered the British Soldiers to lay down their arms. They complied quickly. But one refused, firing upon the young freedom fighters.
As Barry and his comrades began to fight, the English soldiers reclaimed their arms with haste, firing upon the Irishmen and forcing them to flee. Kevin's gun jammed and being cut off from his troops, he was forced to conceal himself under the truck while his comrades fled. However, a passer-by spotted him and quickly reported it to the soldiers, resulting in Kevin's capture.
In the fire-fight, one British soldier lost his life and though the killer was not the young Barry, they labeled him a murderer. However, that was not made public until a while after he was caught.
Most of the Irish Volunteers were unnamed men and women, fighting undercover as well as in the open. Visiting the young captive in his cell, the Englishmen stated to Barry that if he told them who his comrades and commanders were and where they lived, he would not be charged with the murder. When Kevin refused to betray his friends, he was cruelly tortured. When he still did not comply, they threatened him with death. He refused, even when in pain and his end curtain.
In his refusal, he was subjected to a military court in the British Government's convenience. When sentenced to death of hanging by the the judge, he not only requested to be shot like a soldier, he begged. He was a soldier, not a criminal and he only wished to be given a death as such.
He commented in a joking matter to his sister while in prison: "Well, they are not going to let me like a soldier fall… But I must say they are going to hang me like a gentleman."
He spent his last days preparing for death by confession and Mass. One would think he would be proud or even sorrowful to be dying, but he was nothing of the sort. When he was asked about it, he merely stated:
"It is nothing, to give one's life for Ireland. I'm not the first and maybe I won't be the last. What's my life compared with the cause?"
In the last days before his death, he knew his life was coming to an end, but his heart was so light and cheeful, it confused all who saw him. His Mother came to see him the last time, to bid him a last farewell. On her way out she met one of Kevin's friends. When he saw her he looked at her with disbelief.
"This boy does not seem to reasilse he is going to die in the morning." He said to her. "He is so gay and light-hearted all the time. If he fully realised it, he would be overwelmed."
Mrs Barry only frowned.
"Is it impossible for you to actually believe that my son is proud to die for the Republic and Ireland?"
At last, on the morning of November 1st, 1920, Kevin heard his two last masses in his cell and a final confession. As he walked bravely to the gallows, Father Waters by his side, he held his head high and smiled. The impact it had on the surrounding enemy soldiers, is far too hard to describe with words and descriptions. One cannot imagian an eighteen year old, walking camly and contently to his unjust death in our modern times. And that is sadly a shame.
Father Waters was so touched by this young man, that he later wrote to his mother saying:
"You are the mother, my dear Mrs. Barry, of one of the bravest and best boys I have ever known. His death was one of the most holy, and your dear boy is waiting for you now, beyond the reach of sorrow or trial."
Though Barry was now dead, his tale did not end there. The British Government refused to return his body to his family and buried it near the prison, fearing that it would cause him to be looked upon as a myrter for Ireland's freedom. Later, nine other young men like Kevin were buried beside him, earning the name 'The Forgotten Ten'. It was not until 80 years later that the bodies were allowed to be moved from their prison plot and Hundreds of people gathered for the occasion.
The impact this boy had on the Irish nation is undescribable. It is said that Micheal Collins himself, wept over the loss of the boy after failing to rescue him. His sacrifice and bravery spread through the land, reaching over the seas to America, England and Australia, as well as the rest of the world. There is even a song dedicated about him, titled 'Kevin Barry'. Where and who wrote it is unknown, but it has never yet died, proving the intesity of his name.
Many said after his death, "My Lord, they have murdered a child!" But I cannot help but disagree.
Kevin was no child. He had the heart and spirit of a man, fifty times his age and the bravery of a dedicated vetran soldier. To say that Kevin was a child is a great understatement. He was so much more.
It is a wonderous thing that his death is one this feast of the Holy Souls. Please, rememeber him as well in you prayers and masses. Simply because his death was long ago, does not mean that we cannot remember him!