Monday, April 9, 2012

The Rebel County

The road from Belfast to Cork used to take forever. The distance is the same as it was 40 years ago but the motorways have transformed the journey. Bill drove Richard and this blog to Bandon in west Cork on Saturday evening in 5 hours - and that was with a break for something to eat. And all within the speed limit.

I once drove to Cork on another occasion. I was hungry when we started and along the way I reminded Paddy – who was driving - that it would be nice to stop for something to eat. But Paddy couldn’t quite make up his mind where we should stop and the journey was full of: ‘That looked like a good place’, as we drove passed another pub or cafe.

We were in Cork before he eventually stopped. I still think that was his plan from the outset.

Saturday night was a fine spring evening. The motorways were mostly clear. When I gently and with some trepidation raised the issue of food there was a quick huddle in the front of the car and within seconds we were off the M7 and stopped at The Gandon Inn.

It’s a fine old building which was designed by one James Gandon who was apparently one of the most influential architects of the 18th century and was responsible for designing, among other fine Dublin Buildings, the Customs House and Four Courts and the old Bank of Ireland.

We arrived in Bandon just after 10pm and went straight to bed. Easter Sunday morning saw the three of us up bright and early and after porridge we went for a walk along the Bandon River. DJ O Driscoll, a local Sinn Féin activist, joined us. He told us of the devastation caused to the town two years ago following a particularly heavy rain when the river overflowed its walls and much of the town centre was under 4-6 feet of water.

Republican plot in Bandon

The republican plot in Bandon is in the cemetery adjacent to St. Patrick’s Church. When this blog and Rachel McCarthy, the local Councillor, came out of mass there was already a good crowd waiting. We were led the 100 metres from the cemetery gate to the graveside by the Bandon and District pipe band.

The republican plot contains the remains of eight IRA Volunteers from the 3rd West Cork Brigade who died in Bandon and locally during the Tan War. It was a dangerous time as a small force of IRA activists, ably led by Tom Barry and solidly supported by the local community, took on the might of the British Empire. Cork and west Cork were in the front line of that struggle and many of the best known military engagements of that war took place in this area, including Kilmichael and Crossbarry.

The Bandon and District Pipe Band

Cllr Rachel McCarthy and this blog in Bandon

After the commemoration we drove into Cork City to St. Finbarr’s cemetery where there is a large republican plot. There was an excellent crowd and they were in great form.

Even before the Tan War Cork had a justly earned reputation as the ‘rebel county’. It was already famous for its contribution to the Rising of 1798.

William Thompson was from Cork and his writings on social reform, his criticism of 19th century capitalism, and his promotion of the co-operative movement had a huge influence on many of the leading European socialist thinkers of that period.

James Connolly described him as ‘the first Irish socialist’ and as ‘an original thinker, a pioneer of Socialist thought’ and he dedicated a whole chapter of Labour in Irish History to him.

Cork Republican Plot

O Donovan Rossa the great Fenian leader was from Rosscarberry. He, like Tom Clarke and many others Fenian prisoners, suffered horrendously during his time in prison in England.

Pearse’s celebrated remarks over O Donovan Rossa’s grave in Glasnevin 96 years ago next Wednesday set the context for the Easter Rising the following year.

"They think that they have pacified Ireland. They think that they have purchased half of us and intimidated the other half. They think that they have foreseen everything, think that they have provided against everything; but, the fools, the fools, the fools! — They have left us our Fenian dead, and while Ireland holds these graves, Ireland unfree shall never be at peace."

Tomas MacCurtain was Mayor of Cork when he was shot by the RIC in January 1920 and Terence MacSwiney who took his place as Mayor died on hunger strike in October of that year. His sister Mary MacSwiney was a founding member of the Cumann na mBan, a Sinn Féin activist, a TD for Cork and she spent three periods in prison. Two of these were during the Civil War when she opposed the treaty and was on hunger strike twice.

And then there is Tom Barry, one of the most formidable guerrilla leaders who ever took up arms against British rule. At the graveside in Bandon I met a republican who showed me several photographs of young west Belfast republicans who had travelled to west Cork in 1972. There they proudly stand at the Crossbarry monument with Tom Barry.

Among them were several faces I know very well, including Robert ‘Moke’ McMahon, an IRA Volunteer from this phase of the struggle who died last year. Moke never forgot his visit to west Cork or his meeting with the legendary Tom Barry.

Another republican of this generation was IRA volunteer and hunger striker, Bobby Sands, who was in the H Blocks when Tom Barry died in 1980.

In the midst of the horror of that place one Republican freedom fighter wrote a poem to mark the passing of another:

In dusky light, by mist, o’er hills they tread,
A column on the run,
The ghosts of fighters long since dead,
Yet n’er at rest, their guns still slung.

Now Barry leads them in the night,
Hardy souls of Cork Brigade,
To tramp the glens to morning light,
When their ghostly forms shall fade.

I have a particular fondness for Castlelyons man Tomás Ceannt who was one of those executed by the British after the 1916 Rising. In the aftermath of Easter week the British decided to arrest anyone regarded as a republican activist and a squad of RIC men were sent off to arrest Tomás and his three brothers.

There was a gun battle at the Ceannt home during which the brother’s mother helped load their guns. The Head RIC man was killed as was one of the brothers, Richard.

Tomás and his brother William were convicted of treason and sentenced to death. Tomás was shot by a firing squad in Cork on May 2nd 1916. His brother’s sentence was commuted. Tomás was the only person, apart from Roger Casement, to be executed by the British for actions outside of Dublin.

And not far from Bandon in Timoleague Graveyard lies IRA Volunteer Diarmaid O Neill, who was shot in London in 1996, the last Volunteer to die in this phase of the struggle.

Like every part of this island, west Cork and Cork City, are replete with stories of resistance and courage in the long struggle for Irish freedom. Easter is a special time when we remember with pride all of those men and women, who over many centuries, took up arms against colonialism and occupation.

It is a time when this blog finds the words of Bobby Sands especially appropriate.

There's an inner thing in every man,
Do you know this thing my friend?
It has withstood the blows of a million years,
And will do so to the end.
It was born when time did not exist,
And it grew up out of life,
It cut down evil's strangling vines,
Like a slashing searing knife.
It screamed aloud by Kerry lakes,
As it was knelt upon the ground,
And it died in great defiance,
As they coldly shot it down.
It is found in every light of hope,
It knows no bounds nor space
It has risen in red and black and white,
It is there in every race.
It lies in the hearts of heroes dead,
It screams in tyrants' eyes,
It has reached the peak of mountains high,
It comes searing 'cross the skies.
It lights the dark of this prison cell,
It thunders forth its might,
It is 'the undauntable thought', my friend,
The thought that says 'I'm right!'

1 comment:

Timothy Dougherty said...

hello Gerry,
In Republican activist graves, as poetic figuration meets statistical validity. The incredibly rhetorical and real formula of a society's lives and values. William Ewart Gladstone said: "Budgets are not so much matters of arithmetic as records of a society's values" Irish inequalities are often rationalized away in simple statistics. Somethings do not change in mortality or the portrait of ideological reductions.
Today is more than mere survival, it means to be capable, the difference of the picture and results. The current face of capitalism and the reimagination of the historical moment of resistance. The next Irish Revolution, a philosophical activism of our fundamental humanity. To reconceptualize the purpose of work and society, the Irish imagination, courage and determination for a better life.
The movement to of Irish mentalities over corporealities, over Art and Politices, Land and Space. We must find join in crossing the boundaries and strive for empowerment and control. Creating new forms of democratic governance, to create the new world.