Patrick McGrath (Irish Republican)

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Patrick McGrath
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OccupationRepublican army

Patrick (Paddy) McGrath (executed in 1940) was an Irish Republican, a senior member of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), hunger striker, IRA Director of Operations and Training during its major bombing/sabotage in England and was the first of six IRA men executed by the Irish Government between 1940–1944.


McGrath's speedy execution was in response to increased IRA activity and the bombing campaign in England. In 1939-40, three bills giving the Government of Eire (previously known as the Irish Free State) extraordinary powers were approved in the Dáil. The Treason Act 1939 (made the crime a capital offense), and the Offences against the State Acts 1939–1998 were quickly followed by the Emergency Powers Act 1939 (enacted Feb 1940),[1] which imposed the death penalty for persons found guilty of treason as defined in Article XXXIX of the Irish Constitution. These Acts provided the legal basis for the execution of McGrath. At this time, the de Valera government was determined to uphold the state’s neutrality against the backdrop of the escalating military conflict in Europe. The executions also represented a critical break in the ruling party's Fianna Fáil turbulent relationship with the IRA. The Lord Mayor of Dublin, Kathleen Clarke directly appealed to the Minister of Justice, Gerald Boland - himself a former IRA member for a reprieve of McGrath's death sentence. Upon McGrath's execution, Clarke ordered the national flag at half mast at Dublin City Hall, and closed the blinds of the Mansion House. The executions encouraged Clarke to eventually depart from ruling Fianna Fáil party. [2]

Early life and education

McGrath was born in Dublin and (as a 21 year old man) participated in the 1916 Easter Rising. Paddy McGrath was a life long Irish Republican and was shot while fighting British forces in 1920 (he carried a bullet in his chest for the rest of his life).

S Plan

In 1938 McGrath was the IRA’s adjutant-general and oversaw the bombing/sabotage campaign in England from the IRA GHQ [3]. McGrath worked on planning the "English Campaign" or "S-Plan" which targeted the civil, economic, and military infrastructure of the United Kingdom (specifically England). McGrath was reputed to be one of the principal instructors in bomb making for this campaign.[4] This bombing campaign took place from January 1939 to March 1940 involved approximately 300 explosions resulting in 10 deaths, 96 wounded and substantial damage to English infrastructure.[5] As a result of the bombings in England, in 1939 the Irish government increased pressure on the IRA leading to McGrath's arrest and quick execution.

Arrest and hunger strike

McGrath was arrested on 22 October 1939 and went on hunger strike that same day, vowing that he would have his freedom or die.[6] On 15 November 1939 McGrath was removed to Jervis Street Hospital and on 4 December 1939 (after 43 days without food) escaped from the hospital (with the assistance of a Republican sympathizer on the staff of the hospital). [7] Three days later the government filed a request for non prosecution (Nolle Prosequi) at Special Criminal Court.[8]

2nd Arrest, trial and execution

On August 17, 1940 McGrath was again arrested in Dublin during another raid on the IRA's GHQ.[9] IRA Volunteer Thomas Harte was also arrested at that time and was later executed with McGrath. They had been arrested after a gun battle with Garda Síochána (police) Special Branch in which Sergeant McKeown and Detective Hyland were shot dead. Detective Brady was also wounded. As the two IRA men attempted to escape, McGrath returned to assist the wounded Harte and both were arrested.[10] Another IRA man (Tom Hunt) escaped but was subsequently arrested and also charged with the murders but had his death sentence commuted. The topic of the meeting at the GHQ was reportedly planning to support "Plan Kathleen" which was a notional plan by the Nazis to invade Northern Ireland. [11]

Harte, McGrath and Hunt were tried by Military Tribunal, established under the Emergency Powers Act 1939. All three men were represented in court by Sean McBride. They challenged the legislation in the Irish High Court, seeking a writ of habeas corpus, and ultimately appealed to the Irish Supreme Court. The appeal was unsuccessful (at that time there was no right to appeal the findings of a Military Tribunal) and they were executed by firing squad at Dublin's Mountjoy Prison on 6 September 1940 (22 days after the shooting).[12] McGrath was buried in an unmarked grave in the prison yard. In 1948 his remains were released to his family, he is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery next to the graves of Sean McBride and Maud Gonne.[13]


  1. McKenna pg 148
  2. accessed 29 September 2020
  3. McKenna pg 147
  4. coogan pg 158
  5. McKenna, pg 138
  6. McConville note 95
  7. McKenna pg 148
  8. Bell pg171
  10. Bell pg187
  11. Mark M. Hull, Irish Secrets. German Espionage in Wartime Ireland 1939–1945, 2003, ISBN 0-7165-2756-1
  12. "Seán Russell and the IRA of the 1940s | An Phoblacht". Retrieved 2020-09-03
  13. 8 July 2020

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