The Irish Civil War although relatively brief saw some of the worst atrocities in Ireland in the 20th century. The most intense fighting between the IRA and the Free State forces took place in Kerry. When reports of ‘tragedies’ emerged in March 1923 they concealed a much darker truth.
In early March 1923 news began to emerge that several Republican prisoners had been killed in somewhat dubious circumstances.
The Free State Army General Headquarters in a statement, claimed that a party of troops traveling from Tralee to Kilorglan had encountered a stone barricade on a road. Given several soldiers had been killed by a landmine explosive on March 5th 1923 in nearby Knocknagoshel the soldiers took no chances.
Instead, it was claimed, they returned to Tralee and brought out prisoners to clear the obstruction. During this work a trigger mine concealed in the stone barricade exploded killing eight prisoners. In what was a remarkable coincidence, another identical ‘tragedy’ had taken place in Countess Bridge outside Killarney that very night where four prisoners had died.
Later reports increased the total death toll to 13. While the newspapers reported this as a tragedy the truth behind the events was far more sinister. The Free State Army were in fact concealing a war crime.
What had actually happened at Ballyseedy and Countess Bridge was the execution of 13 prisoners in the most brutal manner imaginable. The prisoners were not brought to clear landmines.
In an act of vengeance for the troops killed at Knocknagoshel, the Free State soldiers had strapped the prisoners to landmines which were then detonated. Those who survived were shot. Two men Stephen Fuller and Tadhg Coffey both survived against the odds.