Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature

Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature
vfl
afl
phil on...
politics
people
history
travel
music
literature
Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature
Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature
Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature Home : History             Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature

 

 

BLOWING UP A STORM

As published in the Melbourne Herald Sun

3 October 2006

At 2.30 pm on 3 February 1921, two lorries of Black and Tans were rattling their way towards the village of Dromkeen in bucolic Limerick, Ireland when IRA Commandant, Donncadh OhAnnagain called on them to halt and surrender. In an instant the ambush site was alive to the sound of Enfield rifles and frantic voices, Irish and English. OhAnnagain was my great uncle. Although the British called him Denis Hannigan he always used the Irish spelling. His own uncle, John Cleary - my great grandfather - also spoke Irish. Neither man accepted the English occupation of his country.

 

Donncadh O'Hannigan in the uniform of the Free State. 

By the time the Battle of Dromkeen was over, eleven Black and Tans were dead and one of the IRA Volunteers, Liam Hayes, was missing a finger. In the days that followed, ten local houses were torched and civilians harassed and brutalised. On 6 February the Tans rounded up local farmers and forced them to set fire to the wounded Hayes' home. No matter how unpalatable it might be to those of English decent, history is not kind to the British soldiers who occupied Ireland in those dark days before the Truce of 1921 and the Treaty that precipitated the devastating civil war. What makes it worse is that in the December 1918 election the Sinn Fein party - committed to an independent Irish republic - won 73 of the 105 seats.

Yet as Ken Loach's confronting new film The Wind That Shakes the Barley so tellingly confirms, brutality was not confined to the British. In the Irish Military Archives are documents which reveal how O'Hannigain executed two Black and Tans captured at Dromkeen and later ordered the execution of a man who'd been involved in the burning of the houses. However, one underlying fact cannot be erased. No amount of state terror - endorsed by the British War Cabinet of Prime Minister David Lloyd George and Winston Churchill - could bring the flying columns of Irish farm boys to heel. As much as it upsets supporters of the invasion of Iraq, the lessons are unmistakable. History shows that people simply do not give up their piece of turf and their traditions without a fight.

At Dan Breen's and wife Bridgid's grave in Tipperary.

The Donncadh OhAnnagain who took up arms against the British and ordered the execution of enemy combatants and Irish spies was no barbarian. As a young man he'd won a scholarship to Dublin to study horticulture and had gone on to marry a school teacher. Among his children were priests and nuns. Killing people came at great emotional cost. This was not a war about which he bragged or regaled friends with stories around the dinner table. He was a considered and unassuming man who, despite accepting the treaty, tried desperately to stop the civil war that ripped the heart out of his country in 1922/23. After an attempted ambush on his regiment by anti-treaty volunteers that left a local man dead he handed in his uniform and left the Free State army.

In the villages where OhAnnagain and his flying column risked their lives against an enemy armed to the teeth and immune from the dictates of the Geneva Convention these 'Irish insurgents' are heroes. At every crossroad can be found monuments dedicated to 'fallen heroes who died in the cause of Irish freedom.' Whatever the human failings of these men and no matter how much the English and local press derided them they were loved and harboured by their own people.

The Galtee Mountains that sometimes sheltered Oh Annagain and his flying column.

Those who think Loach's film is biased and unfairly demonises the British - I react against the British being depicted so unbelievably brutally, said the Movie Show's Margaret Pomeranz -and bears little relevance to the war in Iraq are either in denial or don't know their history. Does Pomeranz think the Black and Tans didn't burn houses and torture young Volunteers? Nor can the defenders of the war in Iraq take comfort from the supposed compliance of the German and Japanese people at the end of the Second World War. These were countries that had taken the war to the Allies and were in such a state of devastation resistance was always going to quickly dissipate.

Not so in Iraq, where the people genuinely believe, notwithstanding the crimes of Saddam Hussein, they have been invaded without just cause. In 1973 I met two old elderly female relatives in Dublin. So fierce had been Maire and Nellie Cleary's devotion to the Irish Republic they'd been gaoled by the Free State Army in 1923 for harbouring rebels. Such was their hatred for what the British had done in Ireland fifty years earlier one of them said she'd wished the Germans had won the war. Invasions always breed fanatical resistance.

If the Cleary girls or their cousin Donncadh OhAnnagain were living in Baghdad I know what side they'd be on. They'd wear the label of insurgency (not suicide bomber) and be proud of it. If nothing else, that's the lesson of Ken Loach's film.

The famous Galtee boy Dinny Lacey. He was killed during the civil war.

 

 
 

Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature
[home]   [vfl]   [afl]   [world sport]   [politics]   [people]   [history]   [travel]   [music]   [literature]

© 2000 Phil Cleary Holdings
site by five