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O’Higgins, who was once called the ‘Irish Mussolini’,  is one of the most notorious Free State figures and has been a figure of hate of republicans for generations. Between 1922 and 1923, he personally ordered the execution of seventy-seven republican prisoners including Rory O’Connor (who had been best man at O’Higgins’ wedding), Liam Mellows and Erskine Childers. A unapologetic social traditionalist, he famously remarked that was part of a generation of ‘the most conservative-minded revolutionaries that ever put through a successful revolution’. [1]

back row l-r: Eamon de Valera, O’Higgins and Rory O’Connor at O’Higgins’ wedding, 1921.

He was killed just before midday on Sunday, 10 July 1927 as he walked from his home Dunamase House on Cross Avenue to the Church of the Assumption on Booterstown Avenue. As he approached the junction of Booterstown and Cross Avenue, a man stepped out of a parked motor car and fired at point-blank range.

O’Higgins staggered, turned and began to run, followed by the man firing. O’Higgins collapsed on the other side of the road and two men came from the rear of the car and fired down at O’Higgins as he lay on the ground. The men then leaped into the car and drove off.[2]

The three anti-Treaty IRA men who killed him – Archie Doyle, Bill Gannon and Tim Coughlan – apparently saw him by chance. Gannon later recalled:

‘seeing him … we were just taken over and incensed with hatered. You can have no idea what it was like, with the memory of the executions, and the sight of him just walking along on his own. We started shooting from the car, then getting out of the car we continued to shoot. We all shot at him, he didn’t have a chance’.[3]

The motor car in which they used was believed to have been stolen from a Captain McDonnell on the night before. After the shooting, the car was later found abandoned at Richmond Avenue in close by Milltown. [4]

A weekly mass goer, O’Higgins was usually accompanied by his wife or by P. J. Hogan the Minister for Agriculture and his closest friend. This week however he was escorted by Detective O’Grady. When the two men were ‘between their house and Booterstown avenue’, O’Higgins sent the detective back to collect something that he had forgotten. It was later believed that the Garda escort was in fact sent to Blackrock to buy cigarettes [5]

O’Higgins was found lying by a ‘lamppost outside the gates of the house Sans Souci, which directly faces up Cross Avenue’ [6] by locals on their way to mass who heard the shots. Apparently local resident Eoin MacNeill was one of the first people to reach the dying O’Higgins. He was moved to his house and miraculously lingered on for another five hours. (Tens of thousands attended his funeral. You can see footage of it here.)

The Boards.ie user GusherING believes that there used to be a ‘little cross’ to mark the spot in which he was shot ‘near the entrance to Sans Souci’. A local history site confirms that there a ‘small cross inscribed on the present footpath’ that identified the location.

The question that now has to be asked is whether ‘historians’ like ourselves should be pushing to replace the cross that marked the spot of O’Higgins assassination. I think we should be. No matter your political views or opinions on individuals, historical moments in our city’s life should be properly identified.

===

[1] Joseph Lee, Ireland 1912-1985: politics and society (Cambridge, 1989), p. 105
[2] J. Bowyer Bell, The secret army: the IRA (New Jersey, 1997), p. 61
[3] Richard English, The Armed Struggle (London, 2003), p. 45
[4] The Irish Times, Monday, July 11, 1927, p. 7
[5] The Irish Times, Monday, June 11, 2007
[6] The Irish Times, Monday, July 11, 1927, p. 7

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