Was this woman responsible for Kevin Barry’s capture in 1920?

Woman killed in tragic accident on Church Street in 1959 – was she the woman responsible for Kevin Barry’s capture in 1920?

On Wednesday evening 29 July 1959 tragedy struck on Church Street when a ten ton lorry careered out of control and smashed into the houses at Nos. 88 and 89. Mrs. Margaret Byrne, an elderly woman living at No.81, was killed when the truck skidded on the wet road and crashed into the houses. She had been on her way home and was sheltering from the rain.

Many others had a lucky escape, including a Mrs. Rogers, who lived on the ground floor of No. 88, but was away on holidays with relatives in Cabra. It was also reported that several young children had been playing outside the houses just prior to the crash.

One young child was struck with flying glass and was taken to hospital while the driver of the lorry, Mr. James McDermott, was treated for shock. The houses were severely damaged and the Council arranged alternative accommodation for the residents while repairs were carried out.

An interesting postscript to this tragedy was the rumoured link that Margaret Byrne had to one of the most famous incidents in Dublin during the Tan War. This incident also occurred on Church Street and resulted in the execution of 18 year old UCD medical student and IRA Volunteer Kevin Barry.

At noon on 20 September 1920 a group of IRA Volunteers attempted to ambush a British army vehicle collecting bread from Monk’s Bakery at the junction of North King Street and Church Street. The aim of the operation was to disarm the troops, however one of the British soldiers fired at the Volunteers. A shoot out ensued and one British soldier was killed instantly while two others died later of their wounds.

During the gun battle Kevin Barry’s gun jammed and he rolled under the British army lorry to avoid capture. Tragically, as the van was about to pull off a local woman, fearing that the lorry would crush the young man underneath, shouted out that there was a man under the lorry. Kevin Barry’s fate was sealed: he was arrested, court martialled and sentenced to death. On 1 November, following a court martial at Marlborough Barracks (now McKee Barracks) he was taken from his cell in Mountjoy prison and hanged.

For many years after the accident in 1959 that killed Margaret Barry, it was said that she was the woman who had shouted out that Kevin Barry was underneath the British army lorry in 1920. It may have been too good a yarn for Dublin wags to resist. Kevin Barry was captured under a British army lorry after a woman inadvertently alerted British troops to his presence and almost 40 years later, very close to the spot he was captured, an elderly woman, who would have around the same age as the woman who shouted out back in 1920, is herself was killed by a lorry. Indeed noted Dublin historian Éamon MacThomais repeated the story in his television documentary about Dublin 7.

However, was this story simply an urban legend? According to one source, a Mr. John Doyle, who worked in Kavanagh’s shop on Church Street, the woman concerned was a Mrs. Garrett who ran a coal and vegetable shop at the corner of Church Street and North King Street. He stated that he was in Mrs. Garrett’s shop the day Kevin Barry was captured and that it was she who shouted out he was under the lorry. He said she was an elderly woman and died of natural causes some years later.

Whoever the woman was, she was haunted by the incident and was labelled an informer by many of her neighbours. However, Kevin Barry’s sister, Kathy Barry, in her statement to the Bureau of Military History, exonerated the woman from any blame for his capture:

“Incidentally, I should mention that some months after his execution we were most distressed to hear that this woman had been driven mad and was in an asylum as a result of the blame attached to her by her neighbours. There was nothing we could usefully do about it beyond explaining where we could that, in Kevin’s own account of it to me on the day of his court martial, he was convinced that she cried out because she was afraid that the man
under the lorry would be run over.”

Do you have any additional information on the woman might be? Or how Margaret Barry came to be known as the woman who shouted out that Kevin Barry was under the British army lorry in 1920?

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