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Kevin Barry revisited

Belvedere Boy: Kevin Barry, Irish Patriot is the title of a new play by former IRA bomber Shane Paul O’Doherty.  Kevin Barry was only 18 when he was executed for his part in an IRA ambush in which three British soldiers lost their lives, in the War of Independence in 1920. One of them was the same age as Kevin Barry, a second was only 15, and had lied about his age to join up, and the third was 20 years old.

In this interview with Pat Coyle of Irish Jesuit Communications, Shane Paul O’Doherty talks frankly about his life as an IRA volunteer and bomber who made headline news around the world. He found echoes of Kevin Barry’s story in his own life, and that spurred him into writing this play and conducting extensive research to find out who exactly the real Kevin Barry was when stripped of all the ‘mythology’ that has accrued to him.

The play itself covers the true story of the horrific way the three young soldiers died. It details the arrest, imprisonment and execution of Kevin, who was a pupil at Belevedere College SJ. Shane Paul is most interested in exploring how Barry’s Catholic faith helped him to face his execution so courageously and with a clear conscience, at such a young age. He disputes the last words attributed to him that have gone down as ‘history’, and claims that there is clear evidence that he had a ‘conversion’ in his last days.

As an IRA volunteer himself, Shane Paul O’Doherty feels an natural affinity with Kevin Barry. A few short years after joining the IRA, he developed the ‘letter bomb’, and made a number of trips to London to assemble and post letters to high-profile members of the British administration. He was injured himself when one of the bombs went off prematurely. A number of innocent people who opened his letter bombs were also seriously injured.

Eventually he was arrested in Derry and sent for trial in London. He was convicted and sentenced to fifteen years in prison, and in the early days, spent a long time in solitary confinement. His contact with the prison chaplains, and two Jesuits in particular, began to have a profound effect on him. The long process of conversion back to his Catholic faith and to non-violent activism began.

Shane Paul wrote letters of apology to his victims and called on his former IRA comrades to give up armed struggle and take the political, democratic road to change.

In this interview he gives real insight into the attractions of the IRA for a young boy growing up in Derry during ‘the troubles’. And into what is going on inside the head of a bomber. He speaks of his gratitude to the religious who helped him regain his faith, including the late, well known Bishop of Derry, Edward Daly.  He is also praiseworthy of those sisters and priests who wrote to him or visited him in prison. He laments the dearth of that type of prison visitation nowadays when it is badly needed.

Shane Paul O’Doherty served his full term in prison, and after his release read for a degree in English at Trinity College Dublin. He studied philosophy at Maynooth, where he was a seminarian for a number of years, and completed an MA in Computing with the Dublin Institute of Technology.

His autobiography, The Volunteer: A Former IRA Man’s True Story, was an international best seller.