Tuesday, April 04, 2017
THE IRA'S TWILIGHT YEARS ?
I have to say this for my local library, there's never a dull moment. If it's not a traveling exhibition, it's a talk. And last night's talk was very interesting. Content apart, it proved one of my basic convictions. If you have a good story, and visuals are not absolutely necessary, you can hold an audience without a trace of Powerpoint, no problem.
Brian Hanley was talking about the IRA in the late 1930s and early 1940s. This was just before my time, me being one of the last of the war babies. But many of the names resonated from my youth - George Plant, Seán Hayes, Seán Russell and more. So it was a riveting talk.
The centrepiece was Dev the juggler. He had come to power in 1932 and was then trying to establish his party as the constitutional rulers of a partioned State, whose establishment he had fought a bitter civil war to prevent.
He had to deal with former IRA colleagues, and new recruits, who saw him as betraying the cause and who were themselves now intent on bringing down the State of which he was leader.
Then came the Emergency (World War Two) in which he needed to stay neutral while the IRA, emulating their 1916 predecessors, were breaking their necks trying to muster assistance from Herr Hitler for their subversive endeavours.
Talk about interesting times. Well, probably fortunately for Dev, the IRA, despite their numbers, were in a bit of a mess. Nevertheless they posed a real threat and Dev responded to their killing of State forces in kind. He was now faced with carrying out executions, just as the Free State had earlier exacted retribution on his own Irregulars.
This was all mighty stuff. And in the middle of it, bringing with him a bit of local colour was the IRA Chief of Staff, Seán Russell.
Seán was such a local hero that he merited a statue in Fairview Park. Not everyone was happy, however and in the late noughties he got his head blown off.
Ironically, the inscription on the plinth used the word "Ceann" (head) rather than the more modern version "Ceannaire" giving you a strange feeling when reading about the now headless leader.
The statue was eventually replaced and is still there today. Mind you it would remind you very much of a later IRA Chief of Staff, Seán McBride, who, like Martin McGuinness, went on to become a famous peace warrior.
Anyway all of Brian's stories are too long to recount here and if you want more you should read his book on the documentary history of the IRA.