Saturday 17 March 2018

Write side... with historian and blogger John Dorney


John Dorney
John Dorney
Kim Bielenberg

Kim Bielenberg

Historian and blogger John Dorney on his exhaustive new history of a bitter conflict, 'The Civil War in Dublin'.

What sparked your interest in the Civil War in the capital?

When I was growing up, we used to drive past a monument on Orwell Road dedicated to an IRA man, Frank Lawlor. My father called it "ambush corner".

He thought Lawlor was killed by the Black and Tans.

So who was Frank Lawlor?

I later found out he was an anti-Treaty IRA officer who was abducted and killed by pro-Treaty forces during the Civil War. At the time, there was a unit whose members had been part of Michael Collins' Squad in the War of Independence. They were carrying out assassinations.

But we all know from the movie that Michael Collins was the hero and Dev was the baddie...

When I was growing up, the consensus was there was only one right side in the Civil War. That was the pro-Treaty side. Michael Collins was thought to be right - that was down to the Neil Jordan film and also Tim Pat Coogan's biography of Collins. It was more complicated than that.

What was it like in Dublin during the conflict?

Up to 100 people were killed in the first week - and there was guerrilla warfare for months. It got terribly nasty. There were summary executions and reprisals from both sides, and houses were burnt. And at one stage, there was even a bombing campaign against cinemas and public entertainments.

So, what was de Valera up to in the Civil War?

He was effectively on the run, and joined the anti-Treaty fighters on O'Connell Street. Then he was smuggled out of Dublin and stayed in safe houses in the south. Later on, he stayed in a safe house in Blackrock in Dublin.

Was there much bitterness afterwards?

Some people on different sides in families never spoke to each other again. To give one example, Frank Wearen was 17 and on the anti-Treaty side, while his brother was in the Free State army. They never spoke to each other again after the Civil War.

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