Kevin Barry: An Irish Rebel in Life and Death


Eunan O’Halpin

19th October 2020

Eunan O’Halpin, esteemed historian and grand-nephew of Kevin Barry, explores his ancestor’s short but significant life, the dynamics of growing up with ‘a martyr in the family’, and why Barry’s name has continued to resonate in Ireland and beyond.


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On 1 November 1920, eighteen-year-old UCD medical student Kevin Barry was hanged in Dublin’s Mountjoy Jail for his role in a bungled IRA operation in which three British soldiers were killed. To this day, he remains a vibrant and celebrated icon of patriotic, idealistic death, his name synonymous with youthful republican sacrifice.

His life was short, but Kevin was more than a hapless teen swept away in the revolutionary maelstrom of the time. Here, Professor Eunan O’Halpin, a grand-nephew of Barry, accesses exclusive family records and other archives to explore Kevin’s republicanism and the endurance of his memory, one hundred years on from his untimely death. Kevin’s humorous letters show a rounded, irreverent and humane schoolboy and young man, while British records confirm his laconic heroism as he bravely awaited his inevitable execution.

From his unique vantage point, O’Halpin also considers Barry’s death in parallel with those other Irishmen who died for the republican cause within days of his own, how his background challenged assumptions about those who fought for Irish independence, and the lasting legacy of having ‘a martyr in the family’.


  1. The Barrys in context
  2. The Education of a Rebel
  3. Training and Military Service, 1917-20
  4. Church Street
  5. Defending Kevin
  6. Reprieve or Rescue
  7. Dying a Good Death
  8. The Immediate Impact of Kevin’s execution
  9. Not Forgotten
  10. Do We Need to Write About Kevin?
  11. A Martyr in the Family

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Eunan O’Halpin is Bank of Ireland Professor of Contemporary Irish History at Trinity College Dublin, specialising in Twentieth-Century Irish and British History. He has published seven books on Irish history and intelligence, including Spying on Ireland: British Intelligence and Irish Neutrality during the Second World War (2008) and The Dead of the Irish Revolution, 1916-1921 (2020).

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