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‘She wept but she meant well’ – Kevin Barry’s final letter sells at auction for €75,000 

KEVIN BARRY’S last letter has sold at auction for €75,000.

he letter was sold at a Whyte’s online auction on Saturday. The sum to be paid adds up to almost €100,000 when fees and charges are taken into account.

Kevin Barry, the famous “lad of eighteen summers” referred to in the Republican ballad, was captured after an ambush at Church Street on a British Army lorry collecting bread.

He was sentenced to death at a court martial and hanged at Dublin’s Mountjoy Gaol on November 1, 1920, despite international pleas for clemency.

The former Belvedere College student wrote to a girl friend Kathleen Carney on the eve of his execution, when he had just hours left to live.

In the letter, he writes that he has had quite a busy day. “I had a visit from a most effusive young lady whom I didn’t know from Adam. She knew all about me however. She wept but she meant well.”

The letter, headed with the word ‘Mountjoy’, mentions visits from two Sisters of Charity, two Bon Secours sister, and the Capuchin chaplain Fr Albert.

“The boys from the college (Belvedere) were up outside the gate and they said the Rosary. They also sang the Soldier’s Song, which did me more good than you can imagine.”

Poignantly Barry concludes: “I believe the usual thing done in my case is to make a speech……but I couldn’t be serious long enough to do it. Besides, anyone who ever knew me would never believe that I wrote it.”

He finishes: “Say a little prayer when I cash in, your pal, Kevin.”

Hours later he was dead.

A little later, Miss Carney gave the letter to the Barry family and it was sold by a descendant.

A form of cult surrounding the memory of the young Kevin Barry has gathered momentum in recent years. An appearance by the singer Boy George in an episode of the BBC genealogy programme Who Do You Think You Are? drew heavily on the ballad Kevin Barry, while a new biography by Dr Eunan O’Halpin appeared last year to mark the centenary of his death.

At the same auction, the official notice to Kevin Barry about his sentence to death, on the charge of having murdered Private Matthew Whitehead on September 20, 1920, was sold for a hammer price of €18,000. It was signed by British Army Brigadier General C. C. Onslow, and states that the court martial “made no recommendation to mercy”.

Barry’s personal signed schoolbooks from Belvedere College also sold for thousands apiece, a French text going for €5,600 hammer, in which he also wrote after his name “loyalist of Irish Republic”. A memorial card closed at €2,000.

A ticket to the infamous ‘Bloody Sunday’ GAA challenge match in which Crown forces opened fire on players and spectators alike was sold for €9,000. Fourteen unarmed civilians died in the slaughter at Croke Park, at a game between Dublin and Tipperary, on November 21, 1920, less than three weeks after Kevin Barry’s execution.

A home-made tricolour flown in the Easter Rising fetched €32,000.

Painted with the words “Sinn Féin go deó” on the white central panel, it was recovered from Dublin Castle yard where it had been dumped by British troops, along with weapons, equipment and uniforms surrendered by Irish Volunteers at the end of the Rising.

The flag was then re-liberated from the pile of clutter by James Hayes, an accounts clerk in the Royal Irish Constabulary office in the Castle.

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