The Wikipedia entry on the Irish Civil War has been edited. The figure for anti-Treaty deaths has been changed from 1,000-3,000 to “at least 426.”
28th June will mark the centenary of the outbreak of the war and there seems little prospect of there ever being complete clarity of casualty figures.
It was back in 2014 that a conversation with Bill, a man who was then ninety-five years old, brought an awareness of how much had remained concealed.
Bill had been born in the summer of 1918, but he had retained the mental agility of someone years younger.
A wind farm was being built on the bog at Monaincha, which lay between the Borris-in-Ossory to Roscrea road and the new M7 motorway. Bill expressed concern at what might be found in the digging of the foundations for the turbines.
Bill’s wife’s family had lived on the road leading to the bog where local people had cut turf.
“When we were children they would tell stories of seeing horses going down the road at night time with big loads on their backs. The loads would be rolled up in old carpets.”
“No, bodies. There was a deep pool in the bog. The IRA would weight the bodies and throw them into it.”
“Whose bodies were they? British soldiers’?”
Hearing the story, it had seemed strange. Hadn’t the IRA tended to leave their victims at the roadside as a warning to others? Hadn’t they attached notes telling people to “beware”? What value would there have been in people simply disappearing?
Anyway, in a community where no-one could die without half the parish attending their funeral, how likely could an anonymous death have been?
In the history books I had read the Civil War adversaries had been described as the “National Army” and the “Irregulars.” It was only when I read a biography of Emmet Dalton that the realization had come that the term “IRA” might have been used by both sides in the Civil War, there were pro-Treaty IRA elements as well as the anti-Treaty forces.
If the IRA had disposed of bodies, they might have been the bodies of people who had supported the Free State. But perhaps it had not been the IRA at all, perhaps had suited the National Army to blame them for disappearances.
The vagueness of the casualty figures is not something one would expect from the the close knit communities of rural Ireland. It would be reasonable to be sceptical at the idea that large numbers of people could just be missing, presumed dead, unless, of course, there had been a large element of official collusion in their disappearance.
What if the bodies rolled in carpets had been taken to the bog by government forces? The question is never likely to be answered.