TD shot dead 100 years ago had planned to seek Civil War truce, new records suggest

Pro-Treaty TD Sean Hales had received support for peace plea before he was assassinated on way to Dáil, Cork history event told

Prominent Pro-Treaty TD, and close friend of Michael Collins, Sean Hales was planning to call for a truce in the Civil War when he was shot dead by the anti-Treaty IRA on his way to Dáil Éireann 100 years ago this month, according to a leading researcher on the Hales family.

Historian Liz Gillis said new documents have just been released by the Military Archives which throw new light on why Hales may have travelled from west Cork to Dublin on December 7th, 1922.

Author of The Hales Brothers and The Irish Revolution, Ms Gillis explained that the generally accepted view until now was that brigadier-general Sean Hales had travelled to Dublin to call for an inquiry into the circumstances of Collins’ death at Béal na Bláth three months earlier.

She said Hales, who had pleaded with Collins not to return to Cork via Béal na Bláth when he left Bandon on August 22nd 1922, had met later that night with his brother Tom, who was involved in organising the anti-Treaty IRA ambush at Béal na Bláth, and heard his account of the ambush.


“As far as I was aware, the reason Sean Hales was going to the Dáil that day was to ask for a proper investigation into what happened at Béal na Bláth because there was no inquest into Collins death – inquests had been suspended and that was the generally accepted view of why he was in Dublin.

“But the Military Archives have just released another batch of pension applications and there’s a really interesting account in these from Nora Doyle, who worked with the Hales brothers during the War of Independence and was still close to Sean even though she took the anti-Treaty side.”

supplied by Barry Roche

Ms Gillis said that, according to Doyle, Hales had persuaded both major general Emmet Dalton, who had been with Collins when he was shot at Béal na Bláth, and major general Tom Ennis, who had been a loyal member of Collins’ squad, that he should speak in the Dáil and call for a truce.

She acknowledged this was at odds with the previous theory where Hales was supposed to have doubted Dalton’s version of how Collins was killed as Doyle’s newly discovered statement suggests Hales did not have any issue with Dalton as she proceeded to quote Doyle’s statement.

“On a Sunday at the end of November 1922, Sean Hales sent for me and I went to Drews, Shannon Street, Bandon. He said he was very anxious to try and end the Civil War and Ennis and Dalton were with him. General Dalton was in the Cork Command at the time. We discussed plans for some time.

“He went up to the barracks and brought down General Ennis and it was decided Sean Hales, who was going to Dublin to a meeting of the Dáil, would call for a truce at the end of the session. Mean time try to influence any others he could to act with him and resign as a protest if they didn’t agree.

“Dalton and Ennis were to take action immediately and Dalton told me I could send in an account of the matter to Tom Hales who was in Cork Jail and he gave me instruction that the censor was not to open the letter. Sean was killed in Dublin, so nothing was done,” said Doyle in her pension claim.

Speaking at a symposium in Bandon organised by the Sean Hales Centenary Commemoration Committee, Ms Gillis said Nora Doyle was a highly regarded figure in the independence struggle in west Cork and her statement had to be treated as credible.

A native of Kilmore in Bandon, Doyle had acted as a scout for the IRA in an attack on the RIC in Innishannon on January 25th, 1921, had nursed Charlie Hurley after he was wounded in Upton on February 15th 1921 and had treated two IRA men injured at Crossbarry on March 19th, 1921.

After the Civil War broke out in June 1922, she took the anti-Treaty side and carried dispatches for both Liam Lynch and Sean Moylan in north Cork and her pension application was vouched for by such prominent figures in the War of Independence as Tom Barry, Tom Kelleher and Liam Deasy.

Ms Gillis said that latest pension application also includes statements by anti-Treaty IRA man, Owen Donnelly, who was named by playwright, Ulick O’Connor as the man who shot Hales but she said that Donnelly makes no mention of being involved in the attack in his pension application.

However, she said it was clear from other documentation that Hales was not the intended target as he had not voted for the Army Resolutions Bill which gave the army the power to militarily try and execute anyone caught with arms and he had not even been in the Dáil when it was passed.

The bill prompted anti-Treaty IRA chief of staff Liam Lynch to declare that any TD who voted for the measure was a legitimate target for assassination, but it was Sean Hales’ companion on the day, leas ceann comhairle of the Dáil, Padraig O Maille, who voted for the bill, that was the intended target.

“O Maille had voted for the Army Resolutions Bill or the Murder Bill as republicans called it and we have letters from the anti-Treaty IRA in Dublin to the anti-Treaty IRA in West Cork saying that Sean Hales was not their intended target,” said Ms Gillis.

Sean Hales was shot by the anti-Treaty IRA as he left the Ormonde Hotel to go Dáil Éireann. His death provoked a prompt reprisal from the Provisional Government which ordered the execution the next day in Mountjoy of four leading anti-Treaty IRA men, Rory O’Connor, Liam Mellows, Joe McKelvey and Dick Barrett from west Cork, who was a close friend of Sean Hales.

The reprisal executions ordered by the Provisional Government were widely condemned with the most severe condemnation coming from an unlikely source – the Hales family who wrote to The Cork Examiner on December 15th where they voiced their strong disapproval of the execution.

“We view with horror and disgust, the executions of four Irishmen, Richard Barrett, Liam Mellows, Joseph McKelvey and Rory O’Connor as a reprisal for the death of Sean Hales, our dearly beloved brother, and we think it is criminal folly to believe such methods will end the strife in our land.”

The letter, signed by Hales’ parents, Robert and Margaret, his brothers, Bill and Donal and sisters, Margaret and Elizabeth, went on to say the family believed “reprisals on either side will only increase the bitterness and delay the reconciliation that all patriotic Irishmen long and pray for.”

Ms Gillis pointed out during her talk that while the Hales family were deeply split over the Treaty with Sean and his sister Madge favouring the Treaty and his brothers, Tom, Bob, Bill and Donal opposing it, Sean did not see himself as any less republican than his brothers who took the anti-Treaty side.

“Military men who accepted the Treaty like Sean Hales, were republican, they really did believe the stepping-stone theory of Michael Collins that the Treaty was not the-be-all-and-the end-all and that once they were strong enough, they would get the six Counties back,” she said.

“Sean said as much at a meeting of Cork County Council, where it was said that the anti-Treaty side were the republicans and he took huge offence at that because he believed that he and his comrades were just as much republican as those who rejected the treaty,” she said.

The Sean Hales Centenary Commemoration series of events will conclude on Saturday at 2pm at the Sean Hales Monument in Bandon where Minister for Foreign Affairs and Defence Simon Coveney will deliver an oration honouring Hales’ role in the fight for Irish freedom.

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times