KILDARE OPINION: We must not gloss over our Civil War past

Laura Coates gives her views

Laura Coates


Laura Coates


KILDARE OPINION: We must not gloss over our Civil War past

Des Travers, author Colm Doyle and Conor Graham of publishers Merrion Press pictured at Colm's book launch

Which is more important, healing and reconciliation or the unvarnished truth?

You could say that the former is impossible without the latter. On the other hand, does the raking over of old ground lead to the reopening of old wounds? Is it better, sometimes, to gloss over or sanitise the events of the past in the interest of a harmonious future?I was a panel member last Friday night at an interesting debate at the Riverbank Arts Centre as part of the Irish Military History Seminar.

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The event, chaired by Cllr Padraig McEvoy of the Kildare Decade of Commemorations Committee, was titled Who Fears to Speak of ‘22? The Politics of Commemoration, and it was a public forum on the practicalities and challenges of history commemoration. That is — is it worth doing at all, and if it is, how can it be done properly?

There is no doubt that the Committee, and local community groups, put mighty effort into the 1916 Centenary commemorations two years ago — in fact, it was remarked last Friday night that so overwhelming were the number of events that a certain amount of Rising fatigue had set in among members of the public.

However, the 1916 Rising commemorations were an easy task compared to what is ahead of the committee over the next four years.

Essentially, the 1916 Rising followed a simple narrative — rebellion by rebels, the reading of the Proclamation of the Republic outside the GPO and the executions that followed.

The Irish are the heroes of the story, the Brits the villains.

With minor grumblings and divergences, there was little for the casual observer to get het up about.

As we move on to marking 100 years since both the War of Independence (1919 — 1921) and particularly the Civil War (1922 — 1923), however, that will change.

Older Kildare people were reared in an environment where the Pro- and Anti- treaty split was not something learned about in the school history books, but was instead alive in the family home.

What families in the town, or in some cases uncles, aunts and cousins, they could talk to may have been influenced by the actions of their fathers and grandfathers during the Civil War period.

According to historian James Durney, the Civil War left its mark on the Lilywhite county far more than the preceeding War of Independence, with some 43 people dying, and the largest single execution of the war occurring here when the seven men of the Rathbride column were shot at the Curragh.

There are fears, of course, that marking the centenary of such events cannot but rake up once again all the ill feeling and division that they caused in the first place.

The spectre of Civil War politics hung too long over Ireland, and stifled her public debate and social growth. That has only started to change in recent decades as the Civil War generation passes away.

However, any forthcoming commemorations must not gloss over the very real horror that people on both sides of the Treaty lived through some 100 years ago.

As a society, we are now mature enough to face the real stories of what happened, and not let historical events interfere where we are now as a people.

We can examine what happened and treat such events as historical fact, learn from them and then put them to bed.

Any attempt at imbalance or sanitisation would rightly be seen by members of the public as an attempt to rewrite what happened in the past, and perhaps could cause more division and bad feeling than a full and true exposition of events ever would.