June 2017        

A Cork republican who fought fascism

Graham Harrington

Kevin Neville was born in Cork in 1921 into a family of Fenian stock that played an active role in the Black-and-Tan War. He joined Fianna Éireann at the age of eight and the IRA at the age of fifteen. He is believed to have taken part in all the IRA’s main operations in the late 1930s to early 40s, including the seizure of the Cork broadcasting station during the 1940 hunger strike, an attack on the Royal Yacht Club at Cóbh, and the abortive rescue attempt of Tomás Óg Mac Curtáin (along with Michael O’Riordan, later general secretary of the Communist Party of Ireland).
     This period—called the “Twilight Years” by Uinseann Mac Eoin—was a dark one for the IRA. It suffered executions, imprisonment, and internment. In 1940 the IRA’s chief of staff, Charlie Kerins, was hanged by De Valera’s government, with the executioner Albert Pierrepoint brought in from England to do the job. Neville’s Cork comrade J. J. Kavanagh was shot while unarmed by the Garda Special Branch as he was engaged in building a tunnel to rescue republican prisoners in Cork Gaol.
     Like O’Riordan, Neville was interned by De Valera’s government in the Curragh in the 1940s. In total he spent three years in Cork Gaol and the Curragh Internment Camp. It’s possible that it was here that he became convinced of left-wing politics, possibly in the camp lectures by communists such as Neil Goold in the Connolly Group.
     In 1941, after the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, Neville took the advice of some socialists in the Curragh and, along with five others, enlisted in the fight against fascism, making the difficult decision to join the British air force, which gained him his release.
     After he returned there was no place for him in the IRA because of his having served in the British military. In the early 1950s he joined the newly formed Saor Ulaidh group, which was making preparations for armed struggle in the Six Counties, before and during the IRA’s border campaign. In 1955 he participated in the attack on Roslea Barracks in Co. Fermanagh, which left Connie Green, a fellow-member of Saor Ulaidh, dead.
     Neville subsequently became the commander of Saor Ulaidh’s Southern Command and was involved also with the left-republican “Irish Revolutionary Forces” in Cork. In 1963 the group’s office, where its paper, An Phoblacht, was produced, was raided by the IRA. Neville, at the age of forty-two, along with seven other IRF members, then raided the IRA’s local hall in Cork to show they would not be bullied.
     He died on 14 June 1964 from cancer at the age of forty-three. A fellow-member of Saor Ulaidh, Frank Morris, said in his oration:
Kevin Neville was no mere patriot following in old traditional steps. He was a progressive revolutionary, a man who preached the doctrine of James Connolly, that the fight was useless if we merely changed flags and masters and did not change the whole social and economic system. He also believed that a revolutionary’s main principle should be the achieving of his object, that his hands should not be tied by petty principles, and that he should change his tactics to meet changing situations.
      A commemorative committee was established in 1965, with the participation of local members of the then Irish Workers’ Party, Jim Savage and Maura Sheehan. A monument was subsequently unveiled at Inishcarra.

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