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Romantic nationalists in love with myth of a ‘glorious’ war


Kevin Myers

Kevin Myers


Kevin Myers

The PSNI are trying to see the testimony of Marion Price to the Boston College oral history project, which has recorded the personal testimonies of participants in the Troubles.

The police apparently hope to discover something useful for a prosecution of the murderers of Jean McConville. Either way, no worthwhile trial will result. The only likely outcome is that other possible contributors to the archive might not offer testimonies.

Meanwhile, the cycle of psychiatric futility that is Fenianism continues, as it has down the generations. Marion Price spent some of her childhood holding a cigarette for her handless, eyeless mutilated aunt Bridie Dolan, who was hideously maimed as a teenager when the IRA grenades she was carrying exploded.

Such a waste of a life did not breed caution: Marion herself became an IRA activist, bombing London, as had the IRA of her aunt's time.

Marion's life has been ruined by her involvement in terrorism, as was that of her aunt before her. Both women were useful largely because their sex partly protected them from suspicion.

Thank heaven for little girls. Ninety years ago this week, two RIC Auxiliaries — Leonard Appleford and George Wames — took tea in a restaurant at the top of Grafton Street in Dublin. As they left, a girl in a sailor suit pranced up and cried to some men behind her: “Here they are.” The two men were then shot up to 20 times and killed.

I've said many, many times that the more we know of the past Troubles, the less likely we are to repeat them. But maybe that's because I want to believe it: for didn't the nationalist people of West Belfast have all the knowledge that they could possibly have wanted about the futility of violence before they began their insane war in 1971?

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Did they not have poor Bridie Dolan to tell them? Did they not have the ambush of Raglan Street of July just 90 years ago to tell them of the consequences of violence?

This sordid little murder of a Catholic police officer led to an eruption of sectarian violence in which 14 people were killed, 100 injured, and scores of houses burnt out.

Did the nationalist people thereby learn of the futility of violence? Indeed not, as a generation on Bridie Dolan was to discover. The reverse: ‘The Raglan Street Ambush’ is cherished in Falls Road folklore.

For decades, nationalist Ireland has told glorious stories of IRA Flying Columns beating the dastardly Black and Tans. In fact, there were few Flying Columns, and an awful lot of Grafton Street-like murders. Mary McArdle, who participated in a comparable murder in the 1980s, is now cultural adviser to the Executive. Thank heaven for little girls, indeed.

Though, to be sure, most young girls are victims. In 1921, two weeks after the Grafton Street murder, and with the truce just hours away, an RIC man named Alfred Needham, aged 20, clearly thought that finally he could marry his sweetheart.

But a clerk in Ennis tipped off the IRA that the groom's profession was ‘constable’. So a beaming Alfred and his teenage bride emerged from the registry office — and two gunmen shot him dead. Yet another young girl, yet more choice memories.

Next day, as the last seconds to the truce ticked away, RIC Constable Alexander Clarke — who always went unarmed — was returning to his lodgings in Skibbereen. He had studiously declined to engage in political work and was well-liked in the town. He was stopped by four gunmen and murdered. The ‘War of Independence’ was now over: next chapter, ‘The Civil War’.

Yes, I've deliberately picked on one strand of killings, of RIC men in ‘ambushes’. No one from Boston ever interviewed the participants of these killings, but the details were made public and available in the Press. Did their shocking nature dissuade future IRA men and women from doing more of the same? Not a bit.

This July, Dublin’s political classes will once again unite around the fiction that ‘the War of Independence’ was honourable and necessary and largely worthwhile. Meanwhile, armed republicans remain brooding bloodily over their ancient rites and pagan runes: for bizarrely, the more unsuccessful Fenianism is, the more it cherishes those past failures.

This is cultural dementia, the equivalent of a sky-diver revering loose harnesses, or the deep-sea diver dreaming happily of leaking scuba tanks.

And in a couple of weeks, on the 90th anniversary of the truce, will we hear again from some damn-fool Catholic bishop prating about the noble fight for freedom of 90 years ago?

And who, pray, will ask: whatever became of that nice young girl in the sailor suit?