Byrne, Robert (‘Bobby’) (1889–1919), trade unionist and republican, was born 28 November 1889 at 5 Upper Oriel St., Dublin, one of three sons of Robert Byrne, fitter, of North Strand, Dublin, and Annie Byrne (née Hurley) of Limerick. He was a cousin of Alfie Byrne (qv). He moved with the family to live at Townwall Cottage, Limerick city, and was working as a telegraph operator at the city's general post office when he became involved in nationalist and labour politics. He was believed by the RIC to be a Sinn Féin activist as early as 1916, and in December 1918 he was elected adjutant of 2nd Battalion, Limerick Brigade, IRA. He was branch president of the Post Office Clerks' Association and their representative on Limerick's United Trades and Labour Council when he was discharged for a combination of union activities and attending the funeral of a Volunteer, John Daly. In January 1919, when a revolver was found at his mother's home, he was arrested, court-martialled, and sentenced to twelve months in prison. On entering Limerick jail he led an agitation for political-prisoner status among republican inmates, escalating it until he himself went on hunger-strike. The prisoners received support from community groups, including the United Trades and Labour Council. By mid March 1919 illness forced his transfer to the Limerick union hospital, where he was kept in an ordinary ward under armed guard. On 6 April a botched rescue attempt by over twenty Volunteers resulted in the shooting of two guards (Constable Martin O'Brien fatally) and the wounding of Byrne, who was extricated from custody but subsequently died at the house of John Ryan of Knockalisheen, Meelick, Co. Clare. It is unclear whether he received his fatal wound from a guard or Batty Stack, the only armed Volunteer. A series of arrests followed that evening, including those of Mrs Ryan and Mrs Byrne.
The body's removal to Limerick cathedral (8 April) was the occasion of a huge republican demonstration, and thousands filed past the body as it lay in state. The authorities reacted by invoking the defence of the realm act to declare the city a ‘special military area’ and maintaining a large presence at the funeral. The United Trades and Labour Council responded to the restrictions on freedom of movement by declaring a general strike, which became known as the ‘Limerick soviet’ (14–27 April); it received international press coverage, mainly due to the coincidence of an air race that brought foreign correspondents to the city.