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17 April 1997 Edition

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New in print

It could have been better

Who's Who in the Irish War of Independence and Civil War 1916-1923
By Padraic O'Farrell
Published by Lilliput Press
price £9.99 (pb)

By Wayne Sugg

Reference books by their nature must be accurate. Journalists, historians and politicians, depend on them and factual mistakes would make a nonsense of our arguments. If one fact is wrong it brings into question all the others.

It is therefore a pity that Padraic O'Farrell, who has enlarged his Who's Who in the Irish War of Independence and added a section on the Civil War, has repeated mistakes in the original book and added many more in his new section. Some may be be typographical errors, but in a reference book that is not good enough.

There are also many omissions. The period from the Truce of 1921 until the outbreak of the Civil War is ignored - despite several crown forces and republican fatalities in clashes and ambushes.

The idea of such a book is excellent and hopefully the errors and omissions which I have spotted, and which other will spot - I am no expert - will be corrected.

In the chronology 1916-23 the Easter rising executions end on 9 May. James Connolly, Sean Mac Diarmada and Roger Casement aren't mentioned there;
Joe and James Tormey have the wrong dates for when they were killed in action. 2 February 1921 and 14 January 1921 respectively are the accurate dates;
Major John MacBride and Sean MacBride, his son, are mentioned, but the Major's brother Joe, O/C of Mayo brigade in 1920, is not;
John Chartres was not dismissed from his post in July 1922 but in October;
Sean MacBride is incorrectly down as helping Eoin O'Duffy disperse the Western sector of the Anti-Treaty line of defence in the Civil War. MacBride was Anti-Treaty, O'Duffy viciously pro-Treaty;
Michael Price escaped along with Sean MacBride and Dáithí O'Donoghue in October 1923 not 1921;
Sean Wall, O/C of Limerick Brigade, on 7 May 1921 not on 16 May;
Frank Thornton, pro-Treaty, was injured in an ambush in County Tipperary in 1922 but did not die as the author states. He was alive and kicking when he took part in the Free State Curragh Mutiny in 1924;
Roger and Felix McCorley are mentioned in the Tan War section, but only Rgoer is mentioned in the Civil War section. Both were Pro-Treaty, Felix was responsible for the execution of Wicklow Anti-Treaty Flying Column leader Neil Boyle Plunkett on 15 May 1923, two weeks after a ceasefire had been called;
Eddie Snoddy is down as dying in 1921 whereas he was a thorn in the pro-'Treaty side in the Civil War and died in 1923.

Civil War Deja Va

The Irish Civil War - an Illustrated History
By Helen Litton
Published by Wolfhound Press
Price £6.99

Le Deirdre Nic an tSaoir

A traumatic and complicated period of Irish history is made accessible by this 156 page book with its photographs, paintings, newspaper snippets, cartoons and historical essay.

A sense of deja vu enveloped me as I read how Lloyd George's Truce offer ``was made without any conditions this time - earlier offers had demanded the surrender of arms first''.

Or how Piaras Beaslaí ridiculed Dev's Document No 2. ``There is no alternative to ratification of the Treaty but war. Document No 2 is no alternative if we must die. Men have died to the cry of ``Up the Republic'', but I cannot imagine they would die to the cry of ``Up External Association.''

Kathleen Clarke said of the Treaty ``Great God did I ever think I'd live to see it, to see men who were the bravest, now fooled that this Treaty means a realisation of our highest ideals.''

Newspaper reports show that republicans continued to target the crown forces, not just in the Six Counties, during the Truce and Treaty period of 1921-1922, something which is often ignored.

Arthur Griffith's attitude to last-minute peace moves by Maud Gonne MacBride and ``other politically active women'' before the Civil War erupted further than the bombardment of the Four Courts, says it all. MacBride and the others visited Arthur Griffith and (the anti-Treaty leader) Oscar Traynor, claiming ``as women, on whom the misery of civil war would fall, that we had a right to be heard''. Griffith's response was ``We are now a government and we have to keep order''.

The terror used by the Free State to crush the resistance brings to mind the brutal tactics used by the British since 1969 - summary executions, community punishments, expulsions, incarceration, denigration, censorship and torture.

What comes across starkly is that despite the odds stacked against them and in the face of government atrocities republicans were willing to risk life and limb to forward their ideal of a united Ireland.

It is good to see publishers and historians willing once more to open the wounds of the Civil War, which for years were left to fester, not cleaned out and allowed to heal. Hopefully, the cycle of the Civil War is not repeated in Ireland again.

On the record

The IRA in the Twilight Years 1923-1948
By Uinseann MacEoin.
Published by Argenta.
Price £17.50 pb £24 hb.

This author's previous works, Survivors and Harry, particularly the former, proved to be important contributions to the historical record. Great expectations therefore awaited the present work.

MacEoin's strength is his personal acquaintance with most of his subjects, veteran republicans whose years of activity spanned the first 50 years of this century. In this book he presents accounts from over 30 of them, mostly men interned in the Curragh Camp by the Dublin government during the Second World War. We see the extraordinary cross-section of Irish life that was held there, the republican dissidents of all shades who did not fit in with the Free State shaped first by Cosgrave and then by de Valera. People of genius, talent, courage and conviction were brought together, not always harmoniously, in the cold damp huts on the bleak Kildare plain.

This should have been a book about that Curragh experience but it isn't. The author has unnecessarily included a very long, detailed and often rambling chronology of the years 1923 to 1938, mostly culled from the pages of An Phoblacht. It means that the book is 1000 pages long, at least 500 pages more than it needs to be. The interviews with the veterans, which should form the core of the book, are often unfocused. MacEoin has been criticised, sometimes unjustly, for failing to clearly distinguish between his own comments and his reports of his interviewees' words. That was a problem to some extent in Survivors and Harry but it is much more so here.

MacEoin says it is more a social history than a political one and the lack of a coherent political focus is obvious. Litanies of names and dates replace analysis of events and trends. That said, for those with an interest in this period of history the book repays scrutiny. As always there are lessons, above all the need for republicans to avoid allowing themselves be trapped into isolation as they were when de Valera stole their political clothes in the 1930s, and they foundered without a clear strategy.

It ocurred to me again reading this, as it did with Survivors, what a scandal it is that RTE has allowed hundreds of people who made history to die without recording them for posterity. Censorship and cowardice have deprived us and future generations of some marvellous TV documentaries. Most of those interviewed in Survivors are now dead, a number of the intervewees in this book have died too. MacEoin is to be saluted for putting them on the record.


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