Former IRA bomber Shane Paul O'Doherty writes drama about life of Kevin Barry

Kevin Barry was executed during the War of Independence
Seamus McKinney

FORMER IRA bomber Shane Paul O’Doherty has published a play based on the life and execution of War of Independence icon Kevin Barry.

Mr O’Doherty was just 15 when he became a member of the IRA and at 18 travelled to London where he sent a series of letter bombs attracting worldwide attention.

He targeted senior politicians, members of MI5 and MI6 and even a Catholic bishop who was chaplain to the Parachute regiment.

In 1976, at the age of 21, he was convicted of 31 counts of attempted murder and received 30 life sentences.

However, in prison, the Derry man underwent a major change and rediscovered his Catholic faith. He renounced the IRA and wrote apologies to all those he had targeted.

After serving 15 years he was released and his memoir, The Volunteer: A former IRA Man’s True Story was published in 1993.

Kevin Barry was sentenced to hang for the murder of three British soldiers in 1920.

His plight captured the imagination of nationalist Ireland and was immortalised in song.

A medical student at University College, Dublin, Barry played GAA, rugby and cricket and was a daily Mass-goer.

When he was executed, he walked to the gallows showing no fear with his final words reputedly a defiant “Stick to the Republic.”

Mr O’Doherty said he decided to write Belvedere Boy – Kevin Barry, Irish Patriot because of the similarities he discovered in his own story.

Like Barry, the Derry man was educated at a leading Catholic school, in his case St Columb’s College. Both joined the IRA at the age of 15, and both were from devout Catholic families.

He added: “Kevin was an altar boy and I was a choir boy. In fact sometimes after choir practice, I used to go to IRA meetings.”

The writer, who now lives in County Roscommon but works in Dublin, said the myth of Kevin Barry never sat easy with him and he could never figure out how the teenager walked calmly to the gallows.

“But the research showed me he was buoyed up by the clergy. A Capuchin priest inducted him into the Third Order of St Francis days before his was hanged and told him ‘When you die in the British chord (the noose), the chord of St Francis will lift you to heaven’," he said.

Mr O’Doherty said he also discovered that the IRA could possibly have saved Kevin Barry by releasing certain information but needed a “martyr”.

He said he identified with this as he felt abandoned by the IRA as soon as he was sent to prison.

Mr O’Doherty said the play has had a read-through and he hoped it would be staged or even form the basis of a film.

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