Winning the War: The Memory and Reality of the I.R.A. In West Cork
Anderson, Ian O'Flynn
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Anderson, Ian O'Flynn
The history of modern Ireland is a history of resistance, spanning from the storied 1798 rebellion to the current reverberations of the sectarian insurgency in Northern Ireland. Every part of Ireland has been touched by the long history of conflict, but perhaps nowhere more than West Cork. A historical redoubt of Irish freedom fighters, it has been the scene of epic struggles in its rough foothills and shining bays, although today its people and landscape reflect an outward tranquility at odds with its past. Before the wilderness of Kerry rises from the Atlantic in the West, the settlement of Skibbereen guards the foothills of the Ring of Kerry and Roaringwater Bay. The gentle River Ilen flows through the valley town: off to the south and north are increasingly rough hill country, with the ancient route east now paved by a modern road. Looking westwards, Mount Gabriel rises sentinel over the Mizen and Sheep’s Peninsulas and the hazy outline of the mountains guarding The Kingdom of Kerry Skibbereen is linked to the world by the N71, a modern name for the artery that for centuries has pulsed the bodies and ideas of Western Irish people across Ireland and the world. Historical plaques mark important sites, and the hard work of local historians has recently uncovered the dark past of the iconic town as a haunting example of Famine suffering and the subsequent birthplace of modern Fenianism under O’Donovan Rossa. The Maid of Erin stands in the center of town, inscribed with the dates of the Irish insurrections, though little other visible evidence shows the marks of resistance in Skibbereen. The history of Skibbereen, and the town’s role in modern resistance, is hidden beneath the face of modernity in Ireland - though it is still remembered by popular memory and a handful of personal accounts. This piece is an attempt to break the silence about Skibbereen’s importance in shaping Ireland as a nation, and the important place of her experience within the history of modern resistance Like much of Irish history, the history of the Irish Revolutionary Period (1916-1923) has been obscured by post-war revisionism, enduring community divisions, character aggrandizement and fear. The dominance of figures such as Eamon deValera, Michael Collins, Cathal Brugha, Tommy Barry and the Hales Brothers in the discussion of the period has overshadowed the stories and accomplishments of ordinary men and women. In Skibbereen, the embers of Fenianism were coaxed to life by through the nationalist Irish Volunteers and stirred by the echoes of battle on Easter 1916. Skibbereen, and the rest of West Cork, became the epicenter of the military struggle during the Anglo-Irish War (1919-1921) under the Irish Republican Army. The signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty (1921) and the establishment of the Irish Free State in 1922, despite being the image of the liberation of the Irish people and the end of 700 years of occupation, did more to injure Irish communities than any other event in modern Irish history. Political motives infected the portrayal of events and the savagery, brutality and deep sadness of Irish Civil War (1922-1923) marked both its witnesses and future generations. This work seeks to piece together the experiences and accomplishments of local actors, through the use of personal interviews, with the documented history of the Anglo-Irish War to uncover the importance of Skibbereen’s wartime experience in explaining the reasons behind the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 and the bloody Irish Civil War.