Some Irish Stories

Prisoners in the hospital-hut at Rath Internment Camp (Íomhá: NMI Collection)

A few quick links to articles and posts that I have enjoyed over the last week or so. First up is this piece from the excellent historical website, The Cricket Bat That Died For Ireland, featuring a series of photos taken in a British concentration camp in Ireland during the most important period of the Irish Revolution:

“In December 1920, at the height of the War of Independence, the British authorities established the first internment camp on Irish soil at Ballykinlar, Co. Down. The British policy of interning any man in any way suspected of being involved in the republican movement led to many hundreds of men being detained without trial, and soon a series of internment camps were built around the country, though Ballykinlar remained the largest and probably the most famous. [ASF: Infamous, surely?]

One such centre was the Rath Camp at the Curragh, Co. Kildare, where I.R.A. member and internee Joseph Lawless took this series of unique photographs illustrating life in the camp. He donated them to the National Museum of Ireland in 1950.”

Another of my regular reads is the blog, The History of Na Fianna Éireann, which this week features a story on the newspaper of the Irish Republican scouting organisation in the year leading up to the Easter Rising:

“This ‘unofficial’ monthly newspaper ran for about a year and cost one penny per edition.

It featured many articles about Ireland, and Irish history, including a series of stories from Patrick Pearse. Many of these articles were in Irish. It also contained instructions on camping, drilling, signalling etc, and adverts for scouting supplies shops. From time to time it featured adverts for the ‘Irish Volunteer’ and ‘The Worker’ newspapers. It also published details of Fianna meetings, events and parades held throughout Ireland.”

The Fianna Éireann, along with the Cumann na mBan, was in some ways the backbone of the revolutionary movement in the country, wielding far greater influence than has been heretofore acknowledged. Certainly the organised defence of the Irish Republic during the counter-revolutionary struggle with the Irish Free State would have been far more sporadic without the presence of both. The two organisations provided what one might term “revolution in depth” to the broader forces of Sinn Féin and Óglaigh na hÉireann (the Irish Republican Army) from 1916 to ’23.

A more sobering article comes from the Irish Story focusing on the capture of a unit of the Irish Republican Army by the Irish Free State Army during the Civil War and the “execution” of five Anti-Treaty Volunteers by the FS regime:

“Following their capture, the members of the column were taken to Wellington Barracks and interrogated. Three of the column had been captured wearing National Army uniforms and very soon another two were identified as army deserters.

On 11th December 1922, Corporal Leo Dowling (18 years old), Corporal Sylvester Heaney (19 years), Privates Terrence Brady (18 years), Laurence Sheehy (21 years), and Anthony O’Reilly (age unknown) were tried in a military court for treason. They were found guilty and sentenced to death and on 8th January 1923 they were executed by firing squad at Portobello Barracks.

This was the first time National Army troops had been executed for either treachery, desertion or any other reason. It is possible the soldiers were executed to send a warning to any remaining Republican sympathisers within the ranks of the National Army.

January 1923 saw the largest number of executions of the Civil War, a total of 34 with the largest single judicial execution carried out at the Curragh on 19th December, 1922. On the night of 13th December, eight members of the anti-treaty Rathbride column were captured in a dug out at Mooresbridge, right on the edge of the Curragh. One of their number, Tom Behan was killed during the capture of the column, beaten to death with a rifle butt. The remaining seven were tried, sentenced to death and executed on 19th December.”

The Irish Story has done more to chart the internecine blood-letting on our island nation in the early 1920s than any other publication, bringing those terrible events to the attention of a 21st century audience that has long been denied ready knowledge of them. It is to be highly commended for doing so.

On a less controversial note is this interesting review of the biography of Richard Talbot, a somewhat forgotten figure who once loomed large in our history. Finally thanks to Derek for the link to this report in the Irish Independent exploring plans to restore part of the Néifinn and Néifinn Bheag mountain range (pointlessly anglicised as Nephin Beg) in Mayo to something resembling its pre-modern state:

“It will become a wilderness of 28,000 acres almost unrivalled in Northern Europe where nature lovers will be able to roam for weeks without seeing another human being.

But first all signs of the human hand will have to be erased from the wild lands of the Nephin Beg area of Co. Mayo in a project that may take half a century to fully complete.

It is already a desolate and wonderful landscape once described by the Irish naturalist Robert Lloyd Praeger as the “loneliest place in Ireland…not depressing, but inspiring”.

But hardy Mayo souls drained the bogs over millennia to harvest turf and one of the first jobs is to block those ancient and not so ancient drains so the boglands can rejuvenate.

The idea is to bring the water table back up to within 10cms of the surface. That will allow the bogs to grow with sphagnum mosses sucking up ground water like a sponge.

Wild Nephin will encompass lands controlled by both Coillte and the National Parks and Wildlife Service.

Bill Murphy of Coillte, which has some 4,600 hectares of Nephin forest, said the agency has begun a 15-year conversion plan to return “forestry to forest”.

Forest regeneration will aim to encourage natural forest types.

Some forest roads will be re-engineered to create more authentic trails and provide a safe sanctuary for plants and animals.”

Now there is something to appeal to any Green Republican.

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3 comments

  1. One thing that stands out.
    You have the gobshites ( they know who they are ) who whinged, moaned and complained about Irish army deserters during World War two who abandoned their posts and left to sign up for the Brits. And we can contrast that to the treatment that the deserters in your link above got. I.e executed.
    Somehow I doubt; Harris, Irish (sewer pipe) Independent Ruth “ditch water Dull” Edwards et al
    will be mounting a campaign for a pardon for those 5??
    Gross, nauseating hypocrisy.

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