They say the history tells you what happened, but the songs tell you how it felt.

The Valley of Knockanure is one of the best-known songs of the War of Independence. Recorded by the likes the Clancy Brothers, the Wolfe Tones and Joe Heaney, it tells the tragic tale of Paddy Dalton, Jerry Lyons and Paddy Walsh - three unarmed men who were executed in a north Kerry field by Black and Tans and the RIC.

This evening those events from a hundred years ago which inspired the song were commemorated in the field in Knockanure where a republican monument now stands.

On 12 May, 1921 four men - Paddy Dalton, Con Dee, Jerry Lyons and Paddy Walsh - were chatting at a bridge at Gortaglanna when they were surprised by a number of lorries carrying members of the RIC and Black and Tans.

The four unarmed men, who were active volunteers in the North Kerry Brigade of the IRA, were beaten and forced on to the lorries.

A re-enactment of the executions in Knockanure

They were then taken to a nearby field where they were told to stand in line alongside one another. In a sworn statement taken from him a month after the event, Con Dee, the only survivor of the atrocity, provided a vivid account of the execution.

"We were put standing in line facing a fence about forty yards from the road. I was placed first on the right, Jerry Lyons was next, Paddy Dalton next, and Paddy Walsh on the left. Then a Black and Tan with a rifle resting on the fence was put in front of each of us, about five yards distant. There were about ten more Black and Tans standing behind them. I looked straight into the face of the man in front of me. He delayed about twenty seconds as if he would like one of his companions to fire first. The second Black and Tan fired. Jerry Lyons flung up his arms, moaned and fell backwards. I glanced at him and noticed blood coming on his waistcoat; I turned round and ran. I was gone about twelve yards when I got wounded in the right thigh. My leg bent under me, but I held on running although I had to limp. I felt that I was being chased and I heard the bullets whizzing past me."

While he was badly injured, Con Dee managed to flee across the fields, hiding in a ditch until some local people came to his assistance.

An official report issued by the crown forces in Dublin Castle two days later falsely claimed that the men were shot when "three R.I.C. tenders were ambushed by about 100 armed men".

Martin Moore, a local historian and author of "When Freedom's Sword was Drawn," says the executions in Knockanure happened during a particularly violent period in north Kerry.

"There was a lot of activity in the area. In the month before a local loyalist, Sir Arthur Vicars, was shot dead. He was killed by the IRA for giving information to the authorities and his house was burned down.

"There had been an ambush outside the gates of that house the week before, when a volunteer by the name of Mick Galvin was killed. There were more killings on both sides shortly after the murders here in Knockanure. In this immediate area, during a period of 10 weeks, seven men lost their lives."

The events at Knockanure have endured in folk memory, not least because of the well-known song 'The Valley of Knockanure’, composed by the writer from Listowel, Bryan MacMahon.

The men's relatives laid wreaths in their honour

Poet Gabriel Fitzmaurice who has published a book on the origins of the famous ballad says the killings at Knockanure still resonate deeply with the local community.

"It’s part of our history here, it’s part of our psyche and it’s part of the wider struggle for Irish Independence. The ballad ‘The Valley of Knockanure’ has travelled all over the world. So we are in song.

"This ties us in to something that we can connect with, understand and be proud of. They were selfless young men that died for a cause, for an idea, and as a community we respect all they sacrificed for our benefit."

Tonight, a small gathering took place at the Gortaglanna monument where relatives of Paddy Dalton, Jerry Lyons, Paddy Walsh and Con Dee laid wreaths in their honour.

The Gortaglanna monument

"The golden sun is setting now behind the Feale and Lee,
The pale, pale moon is rising far out beyond Tralee,
The dismal stars and clouds afar are darkened o’er the moor,
And the banshee cried where our heroes died in the Valley of Knockanure."