In Every Generation right down to the present day since the time of the United Irish Societies in the 1790’s there has always been a Band of Irish Republicans willing to carry on the fight, likewise there has always been a current within that movement that possesses the most thought out and progressive politics that seek to not only force a British Withdrawl, but to defeat the power of the Bankers, Landlords and Capitalists and create a Socialist Republic, it is was in this current that Kevin Neville stood.
Kevin Neville was born in 1921 into a family of “Fenian stock” on the city’s Northside, at a time of great struggle and change in Ireland. Coming from a family “that played an active role in the tan war” and an area that saw some of the toughest fighting it seems he was destined to play his own part in the Republican struggle. He joined Na Fianna Éireann at the young age of 8 and eventually went on to Join the Irish Republican Army at the age of 15 and is reputed to have taken part in all actions of the Cork No 1 Brigade during the late 1930’s and early 1940’s including the planned, yet aborted rescue of Tomas Mac Curtain Jr from the Washington St courthouse. Its clear that Kevin Neville was a man of action, its less clear however when Kevin first identified with Socialist politics, but its possible that it was in the Curragh Internment Camp, where he met other republicans from different parts of the country, that he was exposed to new ideas about the Internationalist character of the struggle.
Below Kevin’s ‘Sam Brown Belt’, Dagger, compass and Bandolier
The period Kevin was active with the IRA was a very bleak period, it was as Uinseann Mac Eoin called it in the twilight years, having lost the momentum it once had, it was forced more underground by the day, gone were the days of large flying columns ambushing British patrols, the level of support they once enjoyed was no longer there. The 40’s was not a good time to be Republican, under De Valera they were squeezed by the Garda Special branch, it suffered Hangings, Executions and Internment as De Valera was determined to crush Militant Republicanism in the Free State. It was in the early ’40s that kevin was Interned. Whilst interned in the Curragh he became quite the artist and produced a number of very well made Hankerchiefs embroidered with the names of fallen comrades like Barney Casey, John Joe Kavanagh and Richard Goss. He later ‘signed out’ of the Curragh to join the RAF , in order to oppose Fascism, which was a controversial move at the time and a decision which later saw him rejected by the IRA. Signing out was in no doubt breaking the rules.
Below a selection of postcards, artwork and Hankerchiefs he made in ‘tintown’/ Curragh Internment camp.
“…As a young man, Kevin had joined the IRA in Cork and was interned during the early 1940s. Gerry Higgins told me that, following the invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, Kevin Neville heeded the advice of leading socialist figures and sought and received parole from the Curragh Camp, going on to join the RAF. The advice given at the time was that all able bodied socialists should join the armies of the Allied forces in the fight against fascism and in defence of the Soviet Union. Later, when back in Cork, he found there was no welcome for him in the ranks of the IRA and so eventually joined Saor Uladh.” (from Jim Lane’s Miscellaneous notes on Republicanism and socialism 1954-69)
“When Ireland called up her sons of resistence, kevin Neville went North for to set Ireland free. From John Joe Kavanagh’s grave he plucked a fair flower, and planted it bravely in far famed Rosslea.”
Having being rejected by the Local Leadership of the IRA for seeking parole in Tintown he went on to join Saor Uladh, who were based primarily in and around East Tyrone, and became OC Southern Command, being refused membership of the Cork IRA didn’t stop him from being in the thick of the action and prior to the beginning of Operation Harvest he took part in the attack on Rosslea Barracks in Fermanagh in 1955 in which his comrade, the Commando Connie Green lost his life. The idealism and courage displayed by men like Kevin Neville and Connie Green ensured the flame was kept alive at a time when the struggle was at a low ebb.
Later in 1963 following a raid on the premises of the offices of “An Phoblacht”, the news sheet of the Irish Revolutionary forces and seizures of stencils for said paper, by the mainstream Republican Movement, Kevin Neville was part of “two car loads of eight armed men” that raided the Thomas Ashe hall which was then the HQ of the Republican Movement in Cork, a raid that was a part of a growing frustration and discontent with the local Leadership , it was a daring move and one that showed the IRF were willing to defend themselves and their message.
A politically aware revolutionary, seasoned guerrilla and a man willing to throw his all into what he believed in, Kevin Neville has been an overlooked figure and like many other Irish heroes, simply forgotten about, it is hoped that this tribute will shed light on the short eventful life that he lived, and ensure his name and his deeds are kept alive among the present generation.
Kevin died from Cancer at the young age of 43 on the 14th of June 1964. The Irish Revolutionary Forces issued a statement saying ;
“Though a tolerant man at all times, Kevin did not let his Republican view set him aloof from his workaday world. He was at all times aware that the working-class people estimate their situation in life on the ground of stern realities. Ireland apart from her people meant nothing to him”
Frank Morris gave the funeral oration and described Kevin as .…a progressive Revolutionary, a man who preached the doctrine of James Connolly…..
There is no one singing songs now about Kevin Neville and no one marches the roads to commemorate him, a man who not only fought the British in his own country but who went off to fight against the scourge of fascism risking life and liberty, so we could live in a better and more progressive world, he should be remembered with pride in Cork and beyond as a true Revolutionary and a man who knew what he was Fighting for.
“come forward, piper and play a lament for a brave Republican Soldier, who was never afraid to step into the gap of danger.”
Thanks to all who contributed photos, advice and items from the Kevin Neville Collection.