It has taken a long time for the Irish to come to terms with those of their numbers who were involved in any way with the pre-independence British régime, and more particularly those who volunteered to join the British army, some of them inspired, no doubt, by the call to "defend the rights of small nations", however ironic that might seem to us in retrospect.
The dead of 1916, of the subseqent War of Independence, and even of the previous Fenian generations, overshadowed their "shameful deeds" and relegated them to a convenient oblivion. Even the oblivious souls in Limbo had more claim to our attention and pity and were released into Heaven before the memories of those Irish who died in the service of the British army were begun to be resurrected.
I was brought up in a fairly republican tradition which saw de Valera as the quintessence of Irishness. My teachers taught me to rejoice, in 1952, on the death of the English King, the presumed inheritor of the odium due to his Imperial predecessors and the monarch with ultimate responsibility at the time for the ongoing British occupation of Northern Ireland. He turned out to be also the head of my neighbour's church, but that is another story.
Yet, when I look into my background I find another side to the story.
On my mother's side, her maternal grandfather made boots for the British army, among other clients presumably. A relation on her father's side died in Ranikhet, in India, in 1892, while serving in the British army.
On my father's side, his father was an RIC man and his brother was killed in France, serving in the British army, in WW1.
In today's terms this was serious collaboration with the enemy, at least in the eyes of Sinn Féin/IRA who have a history of murdering such people, even, in some cases, where they are "collaborating" with the modern Irish democaratic state.
Brian Lynch, in his poem "Pity the Wicked" has savagely, and rightly, attacked the arrogation by Sinn Féin/IRA unto itself of the divine prerogative over life and death. He instances the case of Pat Gillespie, turned into a human bomb by the IRA. His crime? He was a chef for the British army. And the scrubbers in Aldershot. A mop was now a lethal weapon, a WMD, the possession of which justified invasion of their workplace and blowing them to kindgom come.
If that approach had been adopted towards my family I wouldn't be here now, on either my father's or my mother's side!
The current state of play in my pursuit of my family history is here.Tweet