Sunday 24 September 2017

David Lawlor: Why the Black and Tan stain has never washed out of the Irish psyche

THE sin that dare not speak its name’... that’s how homosexuality was once famously described across the water. It’s a phrase that could just as easily lend itself to a dark secret held by many Irish families today...perhaps one held by your own family or that of your friends or colleagues.

I refer to the stain of having in your family history a relative who served in the Black and Tans. It may be over 90 years since the War of Independence but the potency of those three words ‘Black and Tan’ was brought home only last month when trainer manufacturer Nike had the temerity to issue some new stock under that name. The outcry was swift and vocal. ‘An outrage’, trumpeted some quarters. ‘How could the company dare to sully the memory of the victims by being so crass as to name a sneaker after such brutal thugs?’ asked others. The offending sneakers were quickly withdrawn and an apology issued.

It is a strange quirk of our history that after so much has changed in this country that we still feel a frisson of disgust at the mere mention of those three words. The Tans were sent here as Temporary Constables to crush Collins’ burgeoning revolution and when they couldn’t do that the Auxiliaries (far worse by most accounts) were brought in to finish the job. But it is the Tans whose name resonates; they are still reviled for their brutish behaviour, from rampaging drunkenness to cold-blooded murder, their name is infamous.

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