Liam Mellows: Young and Determined
Born in 1895 and raised in Galway and Wexford, Liam Mellows was active in na Fianna Eireann
which was founded by Countess Markievicz
in 1909. He soon became active with the Irish Volunteers as well, and became familiar with much of the Irish countryside through expeditions and bicycling trips with his fellow Fians. With the great help of Mellows' enthusiasm, the organisation spread quickly to all reaches of the island.
The outdoor activities of the Fians helped them to understand the use of guerilla war and other war tactics, so it seemed apt that the officers of the Fianna helped to train new Volunteers. Liam rose to prominence in the western command of the Volunteers until his arrest under the British "Defence of the Realm Act
"; he was then interned in Mountjoy Gaol for over four months. On his release, he went on the run but was again captured and deported to England where he served time in Reading Gaol. He escaped in time to aid in leading the Volunteer forces from the west of Ireland in the 1916 Rising
After the abortive Rising in the west, Mellows escaped to America where he was arrested upon arrival in New York. He was placed in the Tombs lock-up outside NYC on the charges that he aided in an "Irish-German" conspiracy to sabotage the Allied war effort in the ongoing World War.
Upon his release, he helped to organise the speaking and fund-raising tour of Eamon De Valera
during 1919. On his return to Ireland, Mellows was appointed as Director of Supplies and Purchases for the IRA and also took his seat as representative of Meath for the all Ireland Dail Eireann
Upon the signing of the Treaty of Partition, Mellows was set to lead his men against the Free Staters. He, along with many of his fellow comrades of the Army HQ (Austin Stack
, Rory O'Connor
, Sean Russell, Oscar Traynor, Seamus O'Donovan) were vehemently against the Treaty and refused to accept its authority.
His views on the matter are expressed well by the following quote: "Men will get into positions, men will hold power, and men who get into positions and hold power will desire to remain undisturbed and will not want to be removed - or will not take a step that will mean removal in case of failure." This quote rings true even today and puts into perspective the current path of Provisional Sinn Fein
The Irregulars[sic] set out to make life in the newly and illegally formed Free State as difficult as possible; this was civil war, fratricide. Mellows, Liam Lynch
, and O'Connor were those most prominent in the fights and ambushes of British armed Free State forces.
On June 25th, 1922 he and fellow republicans, Rory O'Connor, Joseph McKelvey and Dick Barrett, among others took over the Dublin Four Courts. In possession of a British gunboat, the Free Staters bombarded the Republicans from the relative safety of the Liffey. Two days later, they were forced to surrender.
A counsel of Free State ministers were assembled, with no real legality, and hurriedly decided on a sentence of death for the four leaders arrested at the Four Courts. Their death sentence was in reprisal for the assassination of Brig. Hales, TD "as a solemn warning to those associated with them who are engaged in the conspiracy of assassination against the representatives of the Irish people." The words of the Free State were a farce and nearly laughable if they weren't under such tragic conditions. More traitorous words would be spewed from the mouths of Cosgrave
on the subject.
While the Republican leadership of the time (Irregulars) adhered to the rules of war, the Free Staters, in a page straight out of the British book, repeatedly violated the rights of prisoners, beginning with (and before) the executions of James Fisher, Richard Twohig, and Peter Cassidy on the 17th of November as well as the death of of Erskine Childers
on the 24th.
At a young 27, Liam Mellows was murdered by Free State firing squad in Mountjoy Gaol on December 8, 1922 along with his comrades, McKelvey, O'Connor, and Barrett. He is buried in Castletown, Co. Wexford, on his specific request, because it was here that he spent much of his youth, living with his grandmother.
He is foremost remembered as an Irish hero but secondly as perhaps the most prominent Republican Socialist next to Connolly himself.