Barry Andrews’ grandfather Todd was proud of his republicanism
When Barry Andrews looks at the photograph of his grandfather Todd Andrews, he finds it difficult to imagine that the man in the picture is only 20, five years older than his eldest son is today.
The picture was taken inside the Four Courts in 1922, the headquarters of the anti-Treaty forces, and Andrews is conversing with fellow anti-Treaty IRA men Ernie O’Malley, Seán MacBride and Andy Cooney. All are young men. MacBride, who was assistant to O’Malley, the director of organisation at the Four Courts, was still a teenager.
While Barry Andrews, a scion of the Andrews political dynasty in Dublin, is immensely proud of his grandfather, he wears the historical weight of his heritage lightly. It has, however, been hugely influential in his own life: he studied history and politics at University College Dublin and worked as a history teacher before following his father David Andrews, the former foreign minister, into politics.
Now a Fianna Fáil MEP for Dublin, he believes that it is only in recent years that we have become more aware of some of the areas of social history that had long remained hidden. What he calls the “greyer” areas are coming into focus today.
While many people will be familiar with the prominent roles that his paternal grandfather Todd held in public life in his later years — he was the first managing director of Bord na Móna and chairman of CIÉ and RTÉ — he was revolutionary first.
Growing up, Barry was always aware his grandfather had been in the IRA. When he and his cousins would arrive at his house, they would plead to see a shrapnel wound in his wrist, evidence of his front-seat view of a bloody history. As a youngster, Barry and his cousins were fascinated with this aspect of their grandfather’s life, without attaching any political significance to those wounds.
What Barry does recall, however, is his grandfather’s distinctly anti-British attitude, something he was conscious of not passing on to his children or grandchildren. “He wanted each of us and his own children to make up their own minds. But you could tell from what he wrote that he didn’t let all of the bitterness go,” he says.
Todd Andrews could be an intimidating figure but, even so, on a trip to London, Barry once sent a postcard of the queen to him as a joke.
It was as he came into his teenage years that Barry’s own political awareness began to sharpen and he better understood the important contribution Todd had made to the formation of the state and the extraordinary things he had done.
In his military pension file, Todd Andrews revealed that he joined the Irish Volunteers while at university. His first task was making bombs. In 1919, he claimed to have been a full-time organiser raiding for guns.
In March 1920 he was arrested while attempting to raid income tax receipts. He went on hunger strike in jail and was released after 10 days. He quickly returned to the Volunteers. “I had no other interests,” he said.
On Bloody Sunday 1920, he went to 7 Ranelagh Road to execute Lieutenant William Noble, a British intelligence officer, but he was not there. The house was burned down instead.
In May 1921, he was interned but escaped through an underground tunnel from Rath camp at the Curragh in August 1921. He rejoined the IRA and was placed in charge of the divisional camp in Dungloe, Co Donegal. He joined the anti-Treaty side and was injured during fighting in O’Connell Street in June 1922.
At the age of about 12 or 13, Barry read the first volume of his grandfather’s memoirs, which he says made the things he had heard about seem more real. Dublin Made Me, the first of Todd Andrews’ two celebrated volumes of autobiography, describes in loving detail the pre-independence Dublin in which he grew up and provides a vivid participant’s account of the War of Independence and Civil War.
The book is described as a unique account of an ordinary childhood transformed by war and revolution. Together with its sequel, Man of No Property, it provides an unmatched first-person chronicle of the making of 20th-century Ireland.
Married to Mary Coyle, the couple had five children. Two of his sons, David and Niall, would become Fianna Fáil TDs. Before her marriage, Mary had been a member of the executive of Cumann na mBan. Her life is being thoroughly researched by Barry’s younger sister Sinead.
Todd was a loving grandfather to Barry and to his brothers and sisters and cousins, including the broadcaster Ryan Tubridy and Sinn Féin TD Chris Andrews.
Barry recalls how on visits to the home his grandfather shared with his second wife Joyce, he would put the grandchildren to work trying to find where she had hidden his cigars.
In the last years of his life, the cousins operated something of a rota, coming in to help in their grandfather’s care for a few hours every morning, which brought them very close to him.
He died in October 1985, when Barry was in first year at UCD at the time. That day he was in the university’s debating society — or the L&H as it is known — when the society’s chairman Eamon Delaney asked him to go to the back of the theatre for an urgent message. Todd had died. He was 83.
Teaching history came easily to Barry in part, he says, because of his family history. Yet he is quick to point out that many people in Irish life have ties to this transformative and turbulent period. “Most Irish families have a connection to the Civil War,” he says.
As for his own children Hugh (15), Conn (13) and Kate (8), he’ll tell them about the family history if they ask. If it sparks something in them, that’s a good thing, he says.