Civil war memories
“They were going to shoot him.”
“But they were. His old, blind mother was brought out of the house. They told her that she had to witness the shooting.”
“Who was going to shoot him? What had he done?”
“The IRA were going to shoot him, of course. They said he was a traitor.”
“Someone ran for the priest. He came and told them that the man had done nothing wrong, that he was innocent. They listened to the priest and went away”
“Had someone accused him falsely?”
The number of people remaining who can recall childhood memories of the bitter days of the Civil War are few. The incident would have been one he heard being described by neighbours sitting in the kitchen, an incident that impressed itself so vividly upon the mind of a four year old child that, ninety-five years later, it can be recalled in a hospital bed.
Pondering the conversation whilst walking to the car park, a number of things seemed notable.
The reaction to the telling of the story, the instinct to hush the narrator, suggests that, almost a century later, these stories still have a dangerous dimension, still have the potential to raise a row, to cause division and controversy. The Civil War remains a piece of unfinished business. Check the Wikipedia entry for the Irish Civil War and, while there are relatively accurate figures for casualties among the government forces, estimates of losses among the anti-treaty forces vary greatly, the number killed estimated at between 1,000 and 3,000. The official narrative of the times might have been written long ago, but at a local level, there are questions remaining.
The story told of a scene that was not untypical at the times, even the Free State forces were not averse to simply shooting someone for whom the developed a dislike. The brutality displayed, the dragging of the old mother from the cottage was part of a tactic of terror, it instilled fear in communities, inhibited those who might have been likely to have dissented from the cause, or even cooperated with the enemy. When the centenary comes in five years’ time, how will such incidents be commemorated?
The third significant element in the story seemed to be the presence of the priest. Those who went for him must have had some confidence that he would be able to prevent the killing; those who desisted from their plans for murder must have respected the authority of the priest. If the church could exert such influence, why did it not do so more frequently? Was it that there were clerical sympathies for the anti-treaty forces, sympathy even for those who perpetrated acts of violence?
And the final thought was about the false accusation, how bitter must someone be to make an unfounded allegation in the knowledge that such words might cost someone their life? Does such bitterness still persist? Is the Civil War still waged in people’s hearts?
There is a lot of ground for Ireland to cover in the next five years.
I think what scared people witless back then was that it wasn’t the usual suspects one would think. And then you add that condition of people trying to ‘do the correct thing’ only to find doing just that was the very worst thing they could’ve done.
As to why and what the church did, it very much depended on the bishop. If he was a southern unionist or came from that type of family you could expect to see excommunications. But if the bishop came from the lower farmer, small shopkeepers or even trades you could expect to see a republican tilt as with Abp Mannix in Melbourne. Also, if you see educated by the Jesuits or any of the other schools that cost quite a bit prior to 1880 you’ll find a southern unionist bent to them.