Sadly not all the men involved in the Custom House attack survived the conflict during 1922-1923. To the best of our knowledge, six who were at the Burning on 25 May 1921 were killed in action during the Civil War. Coincidentally, all fell wearing the uniform of the National Army. Many modern-day republicans ignore the deaths of these Irishmen even though they were all active pre-Truce IRA volunteers – one was a 1916 man – who had served with distinction in the War of Independence. As Jim Langton has called them – The Forgotten Fallen. Only goes to reinforce how their ultimate sacrifices for Ireland were almost reduced to zero by tragic circumstances beyond their control?

2 August 1922

Burning of Dublin Custom House 1921

During the Free State taking of Tralee, Co. Kerry after the seaborne landing at Fenit, Private Patrick Reilly of the Dublin Guard was shot dead by a Republican sniper and became the first Custom House Fire Brigade survivor to die in combat. A single man aged only 20, he was buried in the Army plot in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin.

16 September 1922

Burning of Dublin Custom House 1921 Knockananna
Pic by Gary Deering

Tom Kehoe, a very young 1916 combatant and leading Squad member was highly active in several Civil War campaigns. Colonel-Commandant Kehoe (going on just 23) met his end in a trap-mine explosion at Carrigaphooka, near Macroom, Co. Cork. Six Army comrades died instantly. Tom survived for some time afterwards but succumbed to massive injuries in hospital.

He is buried near his home place at Knockananna Graveyard, Co. Wicklow.

Burning of Dublin Custom House 1921
Pic by Gary Deering

An uninvolved IRA prisoner, Macroom man James Buckley (46) a Tan War veteran with Cork 7th Battalion, No. 1 Brigade, was taken to the site of the explosion and shot dead in reprisal.

13 October 1922

Burning of Dublin Custom House 1921

John Young. Released from captivity after his arrest at the Custom House he became one of the new Army contingent who marched into Beggars Bush Barracks in 1922. Captain Jack Young was mortally wounded in an ambush at the Bower, Killarney, Co. Kerry. He died ten days later in hospital aged 20. He was interred in the Army plot at Glasnevin Cemetery.

21 October 1922

Burning of Dublin Custom House 1921

Nicholas Tobin. Brother of the more well-known Liam, Nick evaded capture at the Custom House. Captain Tobin (just shy of 25 years old) was accidentally shot dead by one of his comrades during a raid on an anti-Treaty arms factory on Gardiner Place in Dublin’s city centre. His remains lie in the Army plot at Glasnevin Cemetery.

6 March 1923

Burning of Dublin Custom House 1921

Edward Stapleton and Michael Dunne. Ed Stapleton managed to melt away from the Custom House scene. Mick Dunne cleverly bluffed his way through interrogation at the military cordon. Both became Captains with the National Army. While serving in Co. Kerry, they were killed with three comrades in a mine explosion at Knocknagoshel. Another soldier was permanently disabled. The savage National Army reprisals afterwards at Ballyseedy and Countess Bridge – in which 14 anti-Treaty prisoners were blown up and twelve of them killed – were not of their doing but overshadow their memory. Ed Stapleton, 2 weeks short of his 29th birthday and Mick Dunne aged 25, rest in the Army plot at Glasnevin Cemetery.

The Tip of the Iceberg

They were the Custom House Men who died during the Civil War. Others were wounded in action or in accidents while serving with the pro-Treaty forces but survived. Among those who took the anti-Treaty position, some were wounded and many more suffered the ignominy of capture and the hardships of internment, including hunger strikes.

In the aftermath of the Civil War, too many Custom House Men had to emigrate, mostly for economic reasons, but a few because they could not desert the republican cause and would not live under any other law.

Overall, the tragedy of the Civil War impacted the majority of the participants in the Burning of 25 May 1921 as well as their families, relatives and friends. And they were only a subset of all those affected – whether killed, wounded, bereaved, deprived of livelihoods or suffering mental, physical or economic hardships.

A century later we remember them all and fully respect the hugely difficult choices forced on them in a hugely divisive and damaging period in Irish history. At the recent annual commemoration, a wreath was laid in memory of the six Custom House Men and all the other victims of the Civil War, 1922-1923.

Burning of Dublin Custom House 1921
Jim Langton, representing The National Collins22 Society, pays his respects after laying the wreath at the Custom House memorial, 25 May 2023.

Des White