Belfast Telegraph

Concerns over War of Independence and Civil War centenaries in Republic of Ireland

By Ralph Riegel

A leading bishop has told how the Church of Ireland community in the Irish Republic is fearful of the upcoming centenaries of the War of Independence and the Civil War amid concerns they could re-open old sectarian divisions.

The Bishop of Cork, Cloyne and Ross, Dr Paul Colton, admitted that many in the Church of Ireland community in Cork "anticipate the coming centenary commemorations of the War of Independence and the Civil War fearfully and with a certain dread".

Many fear that the ceremonies will re-open old sectarian wounds - particularly given that the descendants of many of those involved in the events of 1919-22 are still living in the same general area.

To underline the seriousness with which the Church of Ireland community takes the upcoming centenaries, Dr Colton delivered his warning in a special sermon in Dunmanway in west Cork - an area which became notorious for a controversial massacre of Protestants at the height of the Civil War.

A total of 17 Protestants, ranging in age from 16 to 82 years old, were killed by the IRA in an orgy of violence across west Cork in retaliation for the killing of IRA commander Michael O'Neill outside Dunmanway in April 1922.

The killings only ended when IRA commanders threatened to shoot any volunteer who carried out such attacks without specific orders.

Dr Colton, in a sermon at St Mary's Church, urged everyone to handle the upcoming ceremonies "extremely sensitively".

"The coming centenary years call for careful thought and even more careful and sensitive commemoration," he stated.

"Among some in our Church of Ireland community, the commemorations are anticipated fearfully and with a certain dread."

Dr Colton said it is vital that, for any understanding of the era, the human stories need to be fully told.

"We know war is cruel, divisive and ugly," he commented.

"We know that Cork was a most violent place in those years. "In every war there are sides; there are enemies, divisions, spies, informers, atrocities and injustices.

"In every situation of conflict, people take sides. Division is part and parcel of the human predicament.

"War scars landscapes and humanity itself. It scars memories."

Earlier this year Dr Colton became the first Church of Ireland bishop from Cork to meet with the Pontiff in Rome.

The audience in May with Pope Francis was facilitated by Bishop John Buckley, the Bishop of Cork and Ross. Bishop Colton described the meeting as an "immense honour".

He was also the first Church of Ireland bishop to openly support same-sex marriage. He started his Ecclesiastical career as a curate in Lisburn in the 1980s.

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