Congratulations to Gayatri Sangra who was school finalist in the Tour Guide Competition run by Glasnevin Cemetery for Transition Year students. Well done to all who participated in the Tour Guide programme. Gayatri is pictured presenting her piece on Rory O’Connor (see below) and receiving her certificate for reaching the Final of the Competition.
It is impossible to tell the story of Rory O’Connor without mentioning his lifelong friend, Kevin O’Higgins. Their friendship is a brilliant representation of how the Irish War of Independence and the Irish Civil War shaped and moulded society and how such events cost the lives of many and the relationships of many more.
We’ll go back to 1883, the year Rory O’Connor was born. Coming from a well-off family, O’Connor met his best friend, Kevin O’Higgins, while he was studying at University College Dublin. In 1911, after receiving his diploma in the College of Science, O’Connor moved to Canada, however he returned to Ireland in 1916 to take part in the famous 1916 Easter Rising. In the years to come Rory O’Connor became actively involved with the Irish Republican Army, also known as the IRA, and it wasn’t until the War of Independence that O’Connor and O’Higgins formed a real deep friendship. Both were often in the company of famous revolutionary leaders such as Michael Collins and they both also oversaw the blowing up of railway lines and bridges. While blowing up different methods of transport does sound like an odd way of protesting, it was the loudest way to have people’s voices heard and it was because of their hard work in that field that Michael Collins appointed Kevin O’Higgins as the Minister for Local Government and Rory O’Connor as O’Higgins secretary. Both friends worked together through the War of Independence and extensively travelled around Ireland together, often staying in safe houses as authorities were on the lookout for both men.
In October of 1921, O’Higgins married Brigid Cole, a teacher he had met during his travels, and asked O’Connor to be his best man. Naturally O’Connor accepted and he was given two golden guinneas by O’Higgins as a souvenir from his wedding day. It was at that wedding, however, that one of the most famous pictures that relate to the Irish Civil War was taken. A picture of O’Higgins, flanked by future president Eamon de Valera on one side, and his best man, Rory O’Connor on the other, alongside his bride sitting in front was taken. In that picture, you can see the bond between the three men and the happiness they had for one another. You can see a team, ready to work together and bring to the people of their nation a free Ireland. Unfortunately, everything from there on out went downhill and it is that picture that is a testament to the friendships that were broken during the Civil War.
It is not surprise that reason why there was a dispute between the two friends, was because of the Anglo-Irish Treaty, a treaty that separated the north of Ireland from the south.
Like Eamon de Valera, Rory O’Connor was against the treaty as he believed that stopping on the way to total freedom would, in the end, never allow them to see a whole independent Ireland. However, like Michael Collins, Kevin O’Higgins believed in the treaty and saw it as a stepping stone to freedom.
Due to the vast difference of opinions, Rory O’Connor and Kevin O’Higgins friendship slowly crumbled away. In July of 1922, with pressure from the British, O’Connor made the decision as the IRA’s Chairman of the Military Council, to shell the Four Courts, the nerve centre of the Irish legal system. After two days of fighting, during which many people were killed, the wounded Rory O’Connor surrendered to the British. It was the shelling of the Courts organised by O’Connor, that essentially ignited the Irish Civil War.
During the time Rory O’Connor was working with the anti-treaty side, Kevin O’Higgins station rose and he became Minister of Justice. I imagine that when he got the job as Minister he was delighted, however he had no idea that on the 7th of December 1922, he would have to sign the death warrant of 4 anti-treaty men, one from each providence as a way of sending a message of zero tolerance all around the country. The condemned men were Liam Mellowes for Connaught, Dick Barrett for Munster, Joe McKelvey for Ulster – and Rory O’Connor for Leinster. At precisely 9 am, all four men were shot dead and were buried in Mountjoy, and it is said that O’Connor had requested the gold guinneas that O’Higgins had gave him only a year before hand to be buried with him regardless of O’Higgins involvement with O’Connor’s execution.
Despite the years of friendship between the two men, in the end of one was killed by the other due war and politics. Rory O’Connor now lies in Glasnevin cemetery, still buried with the golden guinneas, given to him by the man he considered his best friend until the day he died.