Hales family of Cork an inspiration in overcoming division of Civil War, Minister tells commemoration

Over 600 people attend unveiling of monument to pro-Treaty TD Seán Hales who was shot to death on his way to Dáil Eireann in 1922

The manner in which the Hales family dealt with division and loss in the Civil War was an inspiration to others in the quest for reconciliation after the conflict, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney told a commemoration to mark the centenary of the death of Seán Hales.

Mr Coveney told a crowd of over 600 people at the monument to Seán Hales in Bandon that the pro-Treaty TD, who was assassinated by the anti-Treaty IRA on his way to Dáil Éireann on December 7th 1922, made the ultimate sacrifice in pursuit of the democracy that Irish people enjoy today.

He recalled how Seán Hales and his brothers, Bob, Bill and Tom all joined the Irish Volunteers while another brother, Donal, served as a republican envoy in Genoa and one of their sisters, Madge, joined Cumann na mBán. All six would play a part in the struggle for Irish independence.

Seán Hales’ military involvement in the War of Independence was significant and one of his most notable involvements was when he and his brothers participated in the Crossbarry ambush which was to prove one of the most defining military engagements of the time, he said.


He noted how Seán Hales was elected as a Sinn Féin TD to the second Dáil in 1921 and a year later re-elected as a pro-Treaty Sinn Féin TD. During the Civil War, he was charged with overseeing the National Army campaign to regain control of West Cork towns and villages in the summer of 1922.

“He was one of the last people to meet General Michael Collins on the fateful evening of August 22nd, 1922 at Lees Hotel here in Bandon before the ambush at Béal na Bláth that cost Collins his life. The friendship between the two men was clear,” he said.

Less than four months later, Seán Hales would himself be killed by a group of anti-Treaty IRA men, gunned down as he left the Ormonde Hotel in Dublin to go to Dáil Éireann with fellow TD and Leas-Cheann Comhairle Pádraic Ó Máille who was wounded in the attack.

“The Hales family, as we know, was deeply divided over the Treaty – Seán and his sister, Madge, took the side of the Treaty while the other brothers, Tom, Bill, Bob, and Donal took the anti-Treaty side but as a family they never lost connection with each other,” he said.

“It was rumoured that Madge and Bill kept an open channel of communication between Seán and Tom during the Civil War, until Tom was arrested by the soldiers of the National Army after which Seán ensured that his brother was unharmed.”

Mr Coveney said Seán Hales’ death devastated the Hales family and his father, Robert, never really recovered, dying less than a year later, but the manner in which they overcame their loss and maintained family unity despite political division inspired others to find a way to move forward.

It was the anti-Treaty Donal Hales who was the central figure in commissioning the statue to his brother and, on the day of its unveiling on January 19th 1930, comrades, friends, rivals and previously bitter enemies from both sides of the Civil War gathered to show their respect for Seán Hales.

Eamonn Duggan TD, Parliamentary Secretary to the Executive Council and a signatory to the Treaty, unveiled the statue and paid tribute to Seán Hales who he described as a man never known “to say an unkind word against any man no matter how they might differ in politics or other matters”.

Mr Coveney noted how Duggan remarked that future generations would appreciate the sacrifice that Seán Hales had made and that “his memory will inspire the people to love their country and possess the broadness of spirit that he always displayed during his life.”

“Seán Hales and his family in life and in death can teach us all something of the challenges of reconciliation,” said Mr Coveney, noting that this week would see a historic agreed handover of the Taoiseach’s office from a sitting Fianna Fáil Taoiseach to a Fine Gael Tánaiste.

“I hope we have learned something of how to respect different perspectives on the past, through the ‘broadness of spirit’ that described Seán Hales to work for a future together that is true to the sacrifice of those patriots on all sides who suffered to establish the country we serve today.”

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times