There is huge controversy in France at the moment after it was revealed in a local newspaper that a monument to be erected at the site of a famous WWII clash between the French Resistance and the Waffen SS (part of the German Occupation Forces) was to commemorate the sacrifices of both the Resistance fighters and the German troops. Shockingly a number of leading journalists in France’s “revisionist” media have supported the idea, following their traditional role as apologists for the German presence in their country and defenders of those French men and women who collaborated with the Occupation, including members of the Vichy regime and the French police and judiciary.
Actually no, the above paragraph is not true. In fact the controversy is about Ireland and the plans to place a memorial at the site of the Battle of Kilmichael, one of the defining military engagements of Ireland’s War of Independence, that will treat the Volunteers of the Irish Republican Army and the British paramilitary police of the Auxiliary Division of the Royal Irish Constabulary (the ADRIC or Auxies) as equal combatants. The revelation of this seemingly covert move by a local historical group to give quasi-legitimacy to British colonial policing in Ireland has come from the Southern Star newspaper and its famous columnist Archon:
“ALTHOUGH not quite like the eerie silence that descended on Kilmichael minutes after General Tom Barry gave the order to cease firing, the muteness of the two organisations involved in ‘enhancing’ the ambush site where the IRA exterminated a company of RIC Auxiliaries is unnerving.
After outrage was expressed nationally at plans to give the terrorist Auxiliaries equality of status with the IRA Volunteers, and that a replica of a Crossley Tender was to be placed on the ambush site, critics demanded that the Kilmichael Historical Society and the Kilmichael-Crossbarry Commemorative Committee provide clarification of what was going on.
But the only information to drip into the public domain came from a very short interview in a Cork newspaper with Seán Kelleher, the secretary of the Kilmichael- Crossbarry Commemorative Committee.
Mr Kelleher categorically denied that the Auxiliaries would be commemorated – ‘this is not going to happen.’ He added that a replica of a Crossley Tender would not be included. ‘We can understand people’s upset when we saw a photograph of the Crossley Tender submitted with the plans,’ he said.
This column has no hesitation in accepting that Mr Kelleher stated nothing but the facts, as far he was aware of them. However, according to the approved planning application (File 13307; Introduction to Proposals Drawing No. L201) specific reference is made to ‘Suitable Commemoration for both IRA Volunteers and Auxiliaries.’ In another section, Landscape Development Package, a site map refers to the ‘Skeleton of a 1920 Crossley Tender (metal 2.2m High; Drawing A).’
Clearly some confusion is at play. Hence the need for a full explanation from the Kilmichael Historical Society and the Kilmichael-Crossbarry Commemorative Committee if for no other reason than that the approved planning application indicates something other than what Mr Kelleher says.
All of which raises this question: to what extent was the Kilmichael-Crossbarry Commemorative Committee involved in drawing up the development plan for the ambush site, if at all?
The Kilmichael battle site has great national significance – it is the place where the British government realised it was facing a deadly foe and was locked into a war that its army could not win.
It is imbedded in our historical consciousness and helped create the Republic. Indeed, many of our institutions, including Dáil Éireann, the Defence Forces and An Garda Sióchana ultimately owe their origins to the type of military success that General Tom Barry and his comrades had at Kilmichael.
For that reason, historian Pádraig Ó Ruairc presents an interesting argument against any memorial to British soldiers at Kilmichael. He says it would be wrong to spend public funds commemorating those who fought to prevent Irish independence. Indeed it would be a ridiculous situation ‘whereby the Irish state undermined its own legitimacy by paying homage to those who fought to prevent the establishment of the state.’
Another eminent historian and author, Peter Beresford Ellis, in a letter to this newspaper, reminded readers of the ferocity of the Auxiliaries in West Cork. He himself remembered elderly people telling him of the nightmares they suffered about the sound and the sight of Crossley Tenders bringing death and destruction into towns and villages.
General Tom Barry described in his book, Guerilla Days in Ireland, how the lorries had a special technique. They came speeding into a village. The Auxiliaries jumped out, firing shots and ordering all the inhabitants out of doors. They lined up men, women, old and young, searching and interrogating them, stripping the men naked and beating them mercilessly with belts and rifles.
The Auxiliary reign of terror sapped the morale of the people and, indeed, that of the IRA. The terrorists seemed invincible. As Barry says, ‘There could be no further delay in challenging them … they (the British) had gone down in the mire to destroy us and down after them we had to go.
That they did and with such success that it now seems bizarre that some people in West Cork should be considering commemorating members of a military force that assaulted, terrorised and murdered their forefathers. But then, maybe the idea is not bizarre at all when under the heading of ‘Practical Measures,’ there is this memorable recommendation in the planning application: the ambush site should be a place that would help ‘educate the youth to continue the folklore’!
Folklore! So, in the final analysis, that’s what they think Kilmichael is about! As well as being ‘under-used’ and ‘under-interpreted,’ the ambush site is perceived as an entertainment area where ‘the youth’ will be able to pick up a bagful of popular myths, tall tales, ballads and seanchaí stuff that in adulthood they can spin while sitting around the fire! And, dear reader, that says it all!”