– memories from eight Kerry sites
Ireland is now half way through a decade of marking a centenary of revolutionary activity that started with the lock-out of 1913 and from there .. the 1916 rising.. the War of Independence and finally the awful Civil War.
Recently we recorded a radio programme (Radio Kerry Saturday December 30 – 9 to 11am) visiting eight Kerry sites with memories of those times.
In Listowel 13 Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) officers mutinied when they were given ‘shoot to kill’ instructions on 17 June 1921. This started a flood of over 2,700 resignations from the RIC force of 7,000 – many of them to join the fight for Irish freedom.
Roger Casement was knighted for his humanitarian work in Africa and South America. His hope to help the cause of Irish freedom failed because of bad weather, poor communications and incompetence. And a good policeman’s career was maliciously destroyed.
Here at Ballyseedy in March1923 eight anti-treaty supporters were blown to bits on a barricade land-mined by Nation army/pro treaty supporters. This was the worst civil war atrocity in Kerry. Stephen Fuller was blown clear of the explosion and survived to become a member of the Dail/the Irish Parliament.
The names inscribed on the monument remember the dead from both sides. Might the theme of the monument suggest a non violent fight .. to fight to make Ireland a better place for all?
Thomas Ashe was the first republican prisoner to die on hunger strike. He died, at the age of 32, on September the 25th 1917, after only five days without food, because the inexperienced doctor whose force feeding went into his lungs.
Ashe is credited with leading the only outright military success during the 1916 rising. His funeral, attended by 150,000, is said to have been the largest ever in Ireland. Michael Collins gave the oration at the grave. Following the execution of the rising leaders the death of Thomas Ashe galvanised the nation to the War of Independence.
An anti-treaty force of some 500 attacked Killorglin on 27th September 1922. The town was defended by a national army pro-treaty force of sixty. After 24 hours of attack and counter attack, explosion and tunneling through buildings, the Republicans/anti-treaty forces retreated when Free State troops arrived from Tralee.
At several dozen the reports of those killed in Killorglin were wildly exaggerated. The real figure was probably between three and six.
Most of those involved in 1916, the War of Independence and the Civil War were very young. It made sense to focus on recruits who were physically fit. Many members of the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) were also involved in the military activity. This was very important in rocketing the number of volunteer recruits – rising from 25,00 in April 1914 to 180,000 that June.
Dick Fitzgerald won All Ireland Football medals with Kerry in 1913 and 1914. He organised football competitions in the Frongoch Prisoner of War Camp in Wales where he was in prison for his military activities. He later wrote ‘How to Play Gaelic Football’ the first GAA instruction manual.
At least fourteen people died when the Irish Volunteers attacked a train with British soldiers at Headford Junction on March 21 1921 – nine British soldiers, two IRA volunteers and three civilians.
In early June 1921 10,000 British troops, under Major Bernard Law Montgomery and Major A E Percival, swept the nearby Clydagh Valley in search of IRA strongholds and arms dumps. This was one of the biggest manhunts in the history of the British Army. It was the last major operation by the British in the War of Independence. It was also the first time the British used air support in Ireland. Another first was the large scale civilian involvement in a conflict – as a result the operation had limited success. None of the key IRA commanders were captured.
In the early hours of September 9 1922 members of the National army 20 year old Brigadier Tom O’Connor Scarteen and his 25 year old brother Captain John O’Connor Scarteen were gunned down in their home at 5 Main Street Kenmare by former comrades when an anti Treaty column of over eighty men attacked the town.
The Irish Civil War was the most awful event in our history, with few if any redeeming features. Brother/neighbour/friend fighting one another. It was the late 20th century before the deep scars started to heal.
The challenge for the commemoration of the centenary of the Civil War in 2022/23 is to confront the issues and remember all and, in learning from the past, going forward together to make the best society for all.