Hardships of today have nothing on those of past
Published 21/12/2011 | 06:00
While driving through Cork recently, I passed Beal na mBláth, that infamous spot where Michael Collins was shot and where the course of Irish history changed forever.
The Civil War of 1922/23 that divided the people of Ireland was a tragedy that caused thousands of deaths and left a legacy of bitterness which split families, many not speaking to each other for generations.
Prior to the Civil War, the Dáil had voted in favour of the treaty with Britain, so, in effect, Eamon De Valera broke a decision which was arrived at democratically. His actions exacerbated the divisions within the country and contributed to the slide towards violence, which ultimately led to the death of Collins.
One can only wonder what Ireland in the dismal 1950s might have been like without the cold, inward-looking policies of Dev. We had the most severe censorship of any nation in Europe and the poverty in our towns and cities was appalling, all during a time when other nations were rebuilding their economies following the Second World War.
The Economic War that Dev instigated with Britain in 1932 bankrupted countless farmers and my father often spoke of bidding for three bullocks at a west of Ireland fair just prior to the closing of the British markets. He bid £11 each for them but the offer was refused and the man took his cattle home, as was common practice in those days. The following year he bid £8.10 for the same cattle but was again refused. He finally bought them in the mid-1930s for £4 10 shillings each and brought them to the Dublin Cattle Market where they were sold at a loss.
The collapse in livestock prices caused by Dev's economic policies resulted in untold hardship, yet the then Irish Government did not waive its own collection of land annuities that were costing farmers more than £4m a year. In the 1930s, three out of four children born in Ireland were forced to emigrate and, after a pact was finally agreed with Britain, we were still caught in a depression during which most young people either emigrated or found poor jobs at home as farm labourers or in domestic service in the better-off houses.
De Valera's arrogance and belief that he alone knew what was best for Ireland has plagued us for years and it was only at the last general election that the country finally woke up and rejected the political party he founded.