Belfast Telegraph

Message of sympathy sent by Craig after IRA killing goes on display

By Adrian Rutherford

A condolence message sent by the then Prime Minister of Northern Ireland following the IRA assassination of Irish justice minister Kevin O'Higgins has gone on display.

The telegram from James Craig features in an exhibition at the Irish Department of Justice which opened yesterday.

It marks the life of Mr O'Higgins, who was murdered on his way to Sunday Mass in Booterstown, Co Dublin, in July 1927.

Also among the items is a message of sympathy from the British Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin.

The telegram from Viscount Craigavon to WT Cosgrave, the Republic's head of government, on the day of the assassination spoke of his shock at the murder.

It also passed on the sympathy of the then Northern Ireland government.

"I am horrified to learn of the brutal assassination of Mr Kevin O'Higgins and tender deepest sympathy on behalf of the government of Northern Ireland and myself," he wrote.

Mr O'Higgins was Irish deputy premier as well as minister for justice, and established the Republic's police force, An Garda Siochana.

His murder was a turning point in Irish politics.

The government led by Cosgrave enacted legislation to force Fianna Fail to either take its seats in the Dail or be excluded from the electoral process - a move which brought an end to the party's policy of abstention.

Other items to feature in the exhibition, opened yesterday by current Irish justice minister Charlie Flanagan, include the telegram from Baldwin to Cosgrave.

It read: "Loss will be felt. Please accept on behalf of myself and my colleagues our deepest sympathy. We should be grateful if you would convey to Mrs O'Higgins our very sincere condolences."

A letter from Tom Casement, whose brother Roger had been executed in 1916, said: "Dear Mr Cosgrave, I am just shocked at the sinister news. Poor dear Kevin O'Higgins. I feel from my heart that you will feel this very deeply and I feel that all men who stand for the causes of Ireland are just helpless to do anything.

"You have all our deep sympathy and I wish I could do more than just write.

"No answer is needed. I just wanted to tell you how I feel on this matter and how much I would like to help you. Your friend, Tom Casement."

Another exhibit is a telegram from the then world famous tenor John McCormack to Cosgrave

He wrote: "May I express to you and your colleagues my most profound sympathy on the dreadful tragedy that has only overtaken you. Words futile things at such a time. Poor Kevin."

There are more than 1,000 documents in the O'Higgins file, including witnesses' statements to gardai.

The exhibition is not open to the public, but the entire file will shortly be sent to the National Archives in Dublin where it can be accessed.

After his assassination, Mr O'Higgins was buried in Glasnevin cemetery in Dublin, in the same grave as his infant son, Finbarr Gerald.

He was survived by Brigid and two daughters, Maev, born in 1923, who became a Carmelite nun and is still alive, and Una, born in 1927, who died in 2005.

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