Commemorating Our Patriot Dead

During the recent Easter period there seemed to be far more commemoration meetings throughout the country than for a long while in previous years. Certainly there were remembrance ceremonies on this occasion in some places that we had not heard of previously to honour those brave and fearless people who fought and died for Irish freedom, unity and democracy. There was a false belief in recent years being propagated in some circles around the country by a tiny minority of revisionists that the honour of Ireland’s patriot dead was a thing of the past and was of no interest or concern of the present generations. The lies and myths and the distortion of historical facts which these misguided groups and individuals are trying to impose on the Irish people during the past number of decades have been given their answer in 2013 when their lies were contradicted by the large attendances that turned up at the commemorations to honour Ireland’s republican dead and the comrades who shared their danger, most of whom are now gone to their eternal reward as well. 

Far from being forgotten as their detractors would have us believe there is a growing revival of interest among many young people about the history of the War of Independence and the Civil War as they are anxious to be informed about that period in the country and above all to be told the truth about it.  By all accounts the Sinn Féin Annual commemoration in Athea, which was held on Easter Saturday, was well attended as always. The chief speaker was Cork City Councillor Mick Nugent and local Republicans Patrick (Doc) Dalton and John Mulvihill whose graves are in Holy Cross and Templeathea cemeteries were both commemorated.

In early March memorial meetings were held in various areas throughout Kerry to commemorate republicans from the county who were killed while in custody by the Free State Forces towards the end of the Civil War.  By far the worst atrocity in Ireland during the 20th century was the massacre at Ballyseedy Cross where eight republican prisoners of war were brought from Ballymullen Barracks in Tralee by Free State forces tied together over a land mine which had been planted there already by the Free Staters and ruthlessly killed when the mine was detonated in the early morning of March 6th 1923. Of all the tragedies that happened in Ireland during the last century including the Black and Tans, the British and republican forces during the War of Independence and all the atrocities by the British, Loyalist and Republican Paramilitaries during the more recent war in the North nothing could compare in sheer brutality and deliberate cold blooded War crimes carried out by the Free State forces in Kerry in the spring of 1923.  Only for the remarkable escape of Stephen Fuller when he was thrown clear by the force of the explosion that killed his eight comrades the truth of what happened at Ballyseedy Cross would never have been known as those who carried out the massacre tried to hide this savage crime and told a pack of lies about how it happened. The record of the official explanation is still one that conceals the truth and during all the years that De Valera and the Fianna Fáil Government were in office since then it would appear that no attempt of a serious nature was made to record the truth of what happened throughout Kerry during that dreadful week of the Civil War, not alone in Ballyseedy but also in Countess Bridge near Killarney and in Caherciveen where blowing up prisoners in mines had become a routine practice.

Tadgh Coffey was another republican who survived the Countess Bridge massacre and lived to tell the truth about it. Whether the Free State Government of the time officially ordered, approved, sanctioned or just ignored the war crimes that were carried out in their name during that awful time is something that we are never likely to find out seeing that the truth has been concealed for so long. It is very unlikely that many of these young men who joined the Free State Army at the time in the belief that they were serving their country and doing the right thing would have approved of such an outrageous act like Ballyseedy which was not an act of war but cold blooded murder which if such an outrage happened now the perpetrators would be brought before and International Tribunal and charged with war crimes.

What the Black and Tans did, what the republicans did from 1916 to 1923, what the Loyalist and Republican paramilitaries did during the Northern troubles, all deplorable acts in themselves no doubt, but different from Ballyseedy by the fact that these were impersonal acts of war in spite of the sadness and grief which they caused and of how they would be condemned with justification by ordinary peaceful people on all sides. In a personal context neither myself nor my family have ever borne any bitterness or grudge against people who took the Free State side during the Civil War in fact some of their families have been some of our closest friends both in Kerry and Limerick even though we ourselves grew up in a home with a strong Republican tradition.

Two people who lived with us in the house while we were resident in Somerset on the other hand had close Free State connections. Bridie, who had a brother in the Free State Army during the Civil War, was married to my late wife’s uncle Frank Normoyle and both Bridie and himself looked after Mary while she was growing up after her parents died when she was young, and my near cousin Paddy, whose father was married to my first cousin, also stayed four years with us while he was still a teenager. Later he went to New York and served with the American forces in the rank of Sergeant during the Vietnam War. He now lives with his wife and family in Castleisland Parish. Paddy’s Uncle (his father’s brother Mike) joined the Free State Army and was shot and killed by the IRA while serving on Sentry duty at Collins Barracks, Cork during the Civil War. Both the above named people Bridie and Paddy with Free State Connections were the godparents of one of our own children.

But getting back to the recent Republican Commemorations, these seem to be able to attract the big attendances even after 90 years. Apart from the Michael Collins Gathering at Beal na mBláth each year we seldom hear of any Free State Remembrance Ceremonies to honour their dead.  Why one wonders is such the case, after all the British legion who are a tiny minority in this State remember their dead and hold their annual Poppy Day each year something of course they are freely entitled to do if they want to do so without any interference.

Late Michael O’Connor

The death occurred during the week of Michael O’Connor of Charlevlle, Co. Cork and formerly of Upper Athea. He had lived in Charleville for several years and had been in failing health for some time. After Requiem Mass in Charleville on Saturday he was brought back to his native Athea to be buried in Holy Cross Cemetery. Sympathy is extended to his family members in Charleville and also to his brother Seanie O’Connor and other relatives in Athea Parish. ‘May his soul rest in peace’.

Postal Charges Increase

Another recent imposition on the hard pressed citizens of this State is the increased cost of postage stamps, 60cents now for letters within the State, 90 cents for those being sent abroad and no doubt a similar increase in parcel posting. Where will it all end?