4 December 2008 Edition
Annual Kilmichael Commemoration
Political unity and a new standard of patriotism
The Kilmichael Ambush on 28 November 1920 was a turning point in the Tan War. At Kilmichael, the Flying Column of the Irish Republican Army’s West Cork Brigade under the command of Tom Barry killed 17 members of the Auxiliary Division of the RIC.
The Kilmichael ambush came just a week after Bloody Sunday in Dublin and marked a major escalation in the IRA’s guerrilla campaign.
The IRA victory at Kilmichael is commemorated by Irish republicans every year at the site of the ambush in west Cork.
This year’s oration was delivered by Sinn Féin Deputy General Secretary Declan Kearney. Below we reprint that address:
TODAY, exactly 88 years ago, 36 Volunteers of the West Cork Brigade of the Irish Republican Army engaged British forces at this place.
In its time, the audacity of this battle was inspirational. It helped to change the conduct of the war in west Cork and the overall direction of the Tan War.
And despite the passage of time, the story of Kilmichael remains just as inspirational.
The 36 Volunteers who comprised the column which fought at this site were not professional soldiers:–
• Few had experience of guerrilla warfare;
• They were assembled as a unit for the first time on 20 November at Clogher, beyond Dunmanway, for military training;
• On Saturday, 27 November, they broke camp from Enniskeane at 3am and marched 19 miles to Kilmichael;
• En route they endured driving rain and biting cold, and each Volunteer lay soaked to the skin in his designated ambush position from 8am until the Auxies’ convoy arrived around 4pm;
• Three Volunteers were killed that day: Michael McCarthy, Jim O’Sullivan and young Pat Deasy, aged 16 years.
The Kilmichael ambush has become an enduring part of modern republican history.
Every year, and since, this commemoration pays homage and tribute to the courage, determination and sacrifice of the West Cork Flying Column and its commitment to achieve a free and united Ireland.
Kilmichael was a defining action in the Tan War, followed four months later by an equally seminal ambush at Crossbarry. By 1921, west Cork was a no-go area for British forces. These and many other engagements confronted the enemy forces with fierce resistance.
In celebration of this spirit of freedom, a diverse spectrum of republican opinion unites each year to honour the men of Kilmichael and stand in solidarity with their families.
And it is right that this is so.
The events of this day 88 years ago and their wider role in our freedom struggle went on to inspire later generations of young men and women to take up arms against Britain’s illegal occupation of Ireland.
And just as in the Tan War, young Cork men have also paid the ultimate sacrifice. In more recent times, Tony Ahern and Dermot Crowley from Cork City were killed in Fermanagh and Tyrone, and Diarmuid O’Neill, shot dead in London, is buried in nearby Timoleague Cemetery.
These young men – like Jim O’Sullivan, Michael McCarthy and Pat Deasy, the 1981 Hunger Strikers, and thousands of others who joined the resistance to British rule over recent decades – were all motivated by the timeless, historic aim of Irish freedom.
The struggle in our country in pursuit of outstanding national and democratic objectives has passed through many phases since 1920.
Partition and the denial of national independence were wrong then. And today, partition and the continued denial of national independence are still wrong.
The Tan War could not have been sustained without the active backing of the Irish people. And the modern armed campaign of the IRA would not have been prosecuted for nearly four decades without popular support across Ireland.
But there comes a time in political struggle when the need for war and armed actions should give way to negotiations, dialogue and the exploration of new strategies.
Today, Ireland has reached that point. Ireland is a different place: a place of new hope and a place with the promise of permanent peace.
And this fact necessitates new political strategies and tactics.
Three years ago, the IRA declared an end to its armed campaign and it set out the challenge for advancing national democracy and independence in modern Ireland.
It was a watershed and visionary decision. It was shaped by the same selfless courage of modern-day Volunteers (from this county and across Ireland) as motivated the Volunteers of the West Cork flying column during the Tan War.
Yes, Ireland has changed. Armed struggle created the conditions for negotiations. And those hard-fought negotiations on equality, human rights, the all-Ireland agenda, and the Good Friday and St Andrew’s agreements – with a transitional basis to ultimate unity – have all completely changed the political context.
More recently, a new negotiation has secured the transfer of policing and justice powers away from Westminster. Sovereignty for these powers will now be democratically located within the Northern Executive.
As for unionism, today it can only exercise power if it is shared in equal partnership with nationalists and republicans in the North. And now it is for republicans within and outside the institutions to act as persuaders for Irish unity.
But none of this should be misunderstood. Ireland remains politically divided. Irish freedom remains as noble an aim and as much a political imperative now, as 88 years ago.
Today there is unfinished business for all Irish nationalists and republicans. However, the united Ireland project must now compete with new international and domestic circumstances.
So we need to bring a 21st century momentum to the achievement of a united Ireland.
We need a renewed determination to achieve national freedom in the lifetime of these generations.
And this will only happen by maximising popular support and uniting the greater number of Irish citizens in support of national and democratic objectives.
In this spirit, Sinn Féin is calling for the greatest cross-section of republican, nationalist, democratic and progressive opinion to join in a national conversation on how these goals can be achieved today.
We appeal to all nationally-minded political parties, organisations and groups to set aside sectional interests to organise a new patriotic unity and build a patriotic consensus to bring about national democracy, Irish independence, and freedom.
As a contribution to this work we invite each of you to join our day-long celebration of the 90th anniversary of an Chéad Dáil in the Mansion House on 21 January next year.
In recent times, Establishment politicians in this state have used a call to patriotic action to conceal and distort economic cutbacks and decisions which are the antithesis of decent standards of living, justice and equality.
Who in their right mind can say that it is right or fair to...
• Refuse young girls the right to cancer vaccines;
• Deny children decent education conditions;
• Attempt to take pension rights from our elderly;
• Prevent our young people having the right to buy and own a home;
• Run down the livelihoods of sheep or dairy small farmers.
Is that right or fair? It is not!
The arrogance of recent years of fiscal and economic mismanagement in the 26 Counties has brought chickens home to roost.
This Government’s solution has been to elevate gombeen interests over the interests of ordinary people.
The IRA Volunteers who marched to do battle at this place 88 years ago did so as men of no property. They were not motivated by personal gain but by higher principles of a free and better Ireland.
They would have no hesitation in declaring that any solution which fails to put ordinary town and country people first is no solution. And what is offered today by Establishment politicians in Leinster House is no solution.
Yes, Ireland today needs a new standard of patriotism but not one beholden to gombeenmen, bankers and profiteers. The role models for that new standard of patriotism lay in these fields and hills 88 years ago. This standard of patriotism doesn’t need to be re-invented. Its foundation stone is the Democratic Programme of An Chéad Dáil.
And it told us:
“The nation’s sovereignty extends not only to all men and women but to all its material possessions, the nation’s soil and all its material resources, all the wealth and all the wealth producing processes within the nation...”
And its relevance for today must be to reassert the indivisibility of economic justice, equality, fair play, equal opportunity and prosperity for every citizen, North and South, with the unchallengeable right to national independence and freedom.
The Volunteers who fought here at Kilmichael committed themselves fearlessly to a bold military operation. They set out to change the course of the war in this county and, ultimately, changed the direction of the entire Tan War.
Today we are closer than ever to achieving Irish independence. But now we face the most challenging and complicated phase on the long road to freedom.
Be sure of this: the key to successfully achieving Irish independence now rests squarely in this state.
The frontline of the independence struggle is no longer in the Six Counties. The political frontline has expanded to the South – to Cork, to all of Munster and Ulster, Connacht and Leinster.
If our generations mirror the commitment of the Kilmichael Volunteers, we can achieve the dream of freedom and we can change the direction of Irish politics – but only if we commit to taking bold moves which will make the difference.
We can be the people we’ve been waiting for.
We will do this if each of us goes from Kilmichael today to:
• Promote a new and authentic patriotism which puts the national, democratic and economic rights of Irish citizens first – a patriotism which is true to the seanfhocal “Gur faoi scath an phobail a mhaireann na daoine”;
• Popularise the timeless principles and values of the Democratic Programme in the political life of this state;
• Become active persuaders for Irish unity in our local communities and every county in Ireland;
• And build popular unity and support to advance the achievement of Irish independence.
This is a time to re-imagine what is possible in Irish society, to build alliances for Irish unity, to bring forward a coherent republican political alternative in this state.
It is time to revive a sense of mission and vision in Irish politics.
On the occasion of this historic anniversary, let each of us reach deep inside and connect with what Bobby Sands described as “the inner thing that says I’m right”.
Every Volunteer who fought at Kilmichael and in later generations of IRA Volunteers was right. We are proud to call them all freedom fighters.
Today the cause of the Republic no longer requires fighters. But it does need a united constituency of freedom builders and patriots the length and breadth of Ireland – persuading and campaigning for Irish unity and independence.
In 2008, that cause is no less noble and the task is no less urgent.
From Kilmichael today, let the Rebel County once more lead the way in the unbroken quest for Irish unity.