18 September 2003 Edition
Keeping their names ever green
Paddy Hackett charts Tipperary's role in the freedom struggle
Tipperary has certainly played its part in the fight for Irish freedom. The first shots of the War of Independence were fired there at Soloheadbeg. Subsequently, the courageous exploits of Dan Breen and Sean Treacy made them and their flying columns household names throughout Ireland.
Today, republicans in Tipperary have regrouped and are planning their strategy for next year's local elections in the county, where Sinn Féin hopes to gain a number of local authority seats.
Paddy Hackett is an extraordinary man. A veteran of a cruel English prison system, who suffered horrific injuries while on active service in England, Paddy served many years in the solitude of prison hospitals without the support of comrades, but his commitment to the Republic has never wavered.
Now he has written an authoritative book which has filled a gap left by historians in his native county by recalling the lives and deeds of the ordinary men and women of the Mid Tipperary Brigade of the IRA during the Tan War.
On Friday 5 September, both Paddy Hackett and Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams took time to sign copies of Keep Their Names Ever Green: The 2nd Tipperary Brigade IRA Roll of Honour 1920-1923, for the many people who queued in the rain at a Thurles bookshop. Such was the overwhelming response that copies of the book were in short supply for a launch later that evening. Indeed, staff at Bookworm, which normally closes at 7pm, were glad to start clearing up at 9pm.
ADAMS PRAISES WORK
Gerry Adams said he was honoured to be in Thurles to launch the second book to be written by one of Tipperary's finest, Paddy Hackett. Addressing a large audience in the Munster Hotel, Gerry told how one of the first books he ever read was about the struggle for freedom in Tipperary.
"This county is synonymous with struggle," he said. "Well before struggles for independence, there was involvement in agrarian and other progressive struggles here. But that's all unfinished business. We have a process at the moment that needs help
I travel abroad quite regularly and when I meet people from Tipperary I always say to them the prize is a free Ireland. I say to them, wouldn't it be great if you could come back to an Ireland that isn't partitioned and know that you'd done something about it? So with yourselves - let's do something about it!
"If we all went from here tonight and found when we woke up tomorrow morning that the British military were back here in this county, people like yourselves would find ways of resisting them. You would protest, write letters to the papers, find ways of organising, and other people would go back to armed resistance.
"Paddy has explained to me that everybody knows about Sean Treacy and Dan Breen but, apart from their immediate families, they don't know about all the other people who played their part in Mid Tipperary during the Black & Tan War and also during the Civil War, which he also deals with. I think that Paddy Hackett has done a tremendous service."
Noting that in the 1960s, local politicians of whatever hue would have proudly been associated with such a fine history of the Irish fight for freedom, Gerry Adams asked: "Why has there been revisionism of our history in recent decades?
"The reason for the revisionism that you have seen from the 1970s and '80s is that you can't talk about Sean Treacy or Soloheadbeg without thinking about Francis Hughes and South Derry. You couldn't talk about the Tipperary Brigade of the IRA without talking about the South Armagh Brigade and you couldn't think about Thomas Ashe or Terence MacSwiney without thinking about Bobby Sands.
"That's the reason for the revision of history. Because the ghosts of history and the disgrace of the counter-revolution which followed the period that Paddy Hackett writes about, as well as the partition of the island and the unfinished business that came with it, would all come back to haunt us all.
"This book is a huge job of work. You can see ordinary people coming off every page. You'll read the stories of their exploits, of their tribulations and also what the British crown forces did here at that time.
"I once met with people who had been involved in the independence movement in India. One in particular was a very old man who had been imprisoned by the British in 1918. He told me that the prisoners there smuggled in the writings of Dan Breen, which they had transcribed much like the methods used in the H Blocks. Indeed, all throughout the liberated colonies in Africa and parts of Asia, the writings of people in the Irish revolution are held in libraries, because a lot of those freedom struggles grew from the Irish struggle.
"The question this begs is, why don't we have our own freedom? How is it that in 1916, when the rest of the world was rushing off into an adventure in which hundreds of thousands of people were killed, a very small group of Irish men and women stood against it and said 'No, we want freedom, we want a Republic'?
"They stood against an empire and remember, at that time the British empire was powerful. So, how is it that, learning from that lesson, all these other people throughout the world have achieved their freedom and we haven't?
"It isn't, as you'll read here, through any lack of commitment or courage or through a lack of analysis, and that's also been the story of the last 30 years. I think the reason is that there wasn't enough, in terms of the political development of struggle, of people. It was left to the politicians.
"The IRA may have seen themselves as soldiers and the degree of repression that was used by the British was awful. Except for those who have lived through it, I don't think many people have any concept of just how brutal that period was.
"Even the worst days of the Heavy Gang raids here in the 1970s do not compare to the fact that an army could have arrived at your house at night and bulldozed it to the ground. Think then of them taking somebody outside and shooting them. Today there is no concept of the degree of brutality that was used then.
"I think the big question in terms of trying to keep faith with the past or Keep Their Names Green, is actually to finish the history. That's the challenge for our generation.
"Another question for this generation is; was the freedom that was won, and a degree of autonomy and freedom was won for people in this state, but was that freedom then squandered?
"Would the people written about in this book recognise in today's Ireland the Republic of 1916? Would they recognise it in your health services or in the continued partition of the island? Would they recognise it in the fact that, even though we have had a Celtic Tiger economy, yet there is still a huge number of people who can't have proper educational potential; who can't have a proper life that others regard as a norm?
"Another thing that needs to be said is that this book is about ordinary people. Because they were friends of mine, I have been inspired by the sacrifices of the Hunger Strikers. But the Hunger Strikers were very ordinary men. If Bobby Sands was here tonight he wouldn't look any different from anybody else here.
"The women in Armagh were no different. Indeed, Ella O'Dwyer, who is here tonight and who also served many years in an English jail, is another ordinary person. This book is about ordinary people.
"It's very important to remind ourselves of this because we should not think that struggle is about big people, that history is about heroic figures - remember, all of us have the potential to do extraordinary things... all of us. It's as old as humanity - ordinary people in extraordinary times will do extraordinary things.
"I'm hugely interested in Gaelic sport, and most people interested in gaelic games could tell you what it is that's wrong with their county: whether it's the management, somebody off-form, the wrong players, etc. It's exactly the same with struggle. Everybody is just as important and when it comes down to it, all the rivalries, all the local personalities, are set aside when someone puts on the county jersey.
"Thus it has to be with the struggle to bring about independence, freedom and peace on this island. We have to have some sense that everybody is equally important. People also need to have strategies and plans and they need to come together around common objectives."
Gerry Adams thanked Paddy Hackett for recording a forgotten period of history in his native county. "Let us resolve tonight that we are going to finish that history," he said.
BRITISH PLAYING 'FAST AND LOOSE'
Earlier in the evening, Gerry Adams, speaking to a packed hall in Hayes Hotel in Thurles, the birthplace of the GAA in 1884, said that he believes the British government have been playing fast and loose with the peace process.
"Their entire strategy at this time seems to be support of David Trimble as leader of the Ulster Unionist Party. However what the unionists need to be told is that the Good Friday Agreement is as good as it gets. What the Irish government have to do is to insist that an election be held in the north as soon as possible".
Encouraging people to take a role in Sinn Féin in their own area, Gerry Adams told his Tipp audience that, "Building political strength is the key. The British and the Dublin clique which runs this state will listen if there is enough political clout being mobilised".
"If the discontentment that is out there was mobilised, be sure that the governments will respond. Remember they will only do as much as they can be persuaded to do, and you can only do that by organising".
On a GAA theme, Adams reserved one of his most controversial remarks of the evening for the All Ireland football final, when he declared that he would like to see Tyrone taking home Sam Maguire this year!
LOCAL HISTORIAN SLAMS REVISIONISTS
There was a very warm welcome to Tipperary for Gerry Adams from Clonmel historian Seamus Leahy. But Mr Leahy reserved his highest praise for Paddy Hackett for writing a book which will be a valuable resource for historians and scholars in years to come.
Touching on perceptions of the physical force tradition in the pursuit of Irish freedom, Leahy said, "We are all sick to the teeth of the praise that is lavished on those Irish men who fought in World War I on the British side while, at the same time, those same commentators denigrate the memories of those who stayed at home.
"These people constantly talk about all the blood that was shed in the cause of Irish freedom. 'Was it worth it?' they say.
"But yet it was well worth sending out hundreds of thousands of young Irishmen at the behest of John Redmond in the cause of democracy, many of whom went out from Thurles - and a fair number of them came back and enrolled in the ranks of the Irish Volunteers in this town.
"Did you know that in the month of July 1916 more irishmen were slaughtered on the Somme than fell in all the wars of freedom in Irish history, from that bleak day in September 1607 when the leaders of the people sailed out from Lough Swilly into exile.
"Something else we should remember is that men grew old in the town of Thurles, and died of old age who would never have grown grey hairs were it not for the activities of Sinn Féin and the IRA, who prevented the passage of conscription in 1918. If Sinn Féin and the IRA never did anything else, they deserve at least the recognition of that stark fact."