Ireland 'must show courage, honesty' in upcoming centenaries of War of Independence and Civil War
Ceremonies held in both Cork and Dublin
PRESIDENT Michael D Higgins warned that Ireland must show both courage and honesty in the upcoming centenaries of the traumatic events of the War of Independence and Civil War.
The appeal came as President Higgins became the first serving Head of State to deliver the General Michael Collins oration at Béal na mBláth in west Cork.
The former Galway TD delivered the oration to mark the 94th anniversary of the death of the former IRA commander and Free State finance minister. A ceremony was also held at Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin.
General Collins was shot and killed in an ambush at Beal na mBlath on August 22 1922 as he returned to Cork city having completed an inspection tour of west Cork at the height of the Civil War.
President Higgins said Ireland must take note of the generosity of the spirit displayed by the Collins family in their handling of the destruction of their family home during the War of Independence, the circumstances of the death of General Collins and the aftermath of the Civil War.
“When the time comes, very soon, to commemorate those events of the early 1920s, we will need to display courage and honesty as we seek to speak the truth of the period, and in recognising that, during the War of Independence, and particularly during the Civil War, no single side had the monopoly of either atrocity or virtue,” he said.
“We will remember the devastation spread throughout the land by the Auxiliaries and the Black and Tans.”
“The arbitrary killings, the ruthless raids on civilians' homes, the torturing of prisoners, the looting of shops, the burning down of creameries and farmhouses: all this has marked consciences even beyond Ireland, so much so that George Orwell, in his account of the Spanish Civil War - the outbreak of which we are also commemorating this year - thought fit to compare the barbarity of the Guarda Civil with that of the Black and Tans.”
President Higgins said the suffering on all sides must be acknowledged.
“We will remember, too, how the Catholic minority in the north-east of the country fell into the grip of embittered sectarian violence.”
“We will be required to face, too, the ruthlessness of many executions performed by the IRA, the mistakes that inevitably happened in killings of purported informers, the executions of Republican prisoners during the Civil War, and the outrages perpetrated during both wars against Protestant people, some of whom were attacked regardless of their actual attitude towards the struggles underway.”
The president also said that, amidst all the centenary commemorations, Ireland must never stop striving to seek the truth of what happened.
“It is also important to recognise that the cover of the Civil War was used by some for the settling of vendettas, some local and some ancient.”
“Our concern for the truth should not, however, collapse into shallow point-scoring. It will need to be made meaningful by both a real sense of history and a generous willingness to go past old wrongs so as to build a new shared understanding of who we are as a nation and as a republic.”
He noted that the Collins family, despite all they had suffered from the Great Famine through the Easter Rising to the War of Independence and Civil War, never lost sight of Ireland’s greater need.
“Despite all this, Helen Collins tells us that she was raised ‘in a home of forgiveness and understanding’, dispositions that are shared by all the other members of the Collins family who have made of Béal na mBláth a powerful symbol of memorial hospitality.”
Despite the fearsome reputation forged during the brutal intelligence battles of the War of Independence, President Higgins said Michael Collins remained a man of great compassion who wept at the death of his vehement opponent, Cathal Brugha.
“He asked those who fought under him to treat men from the other side as irregulars, as colleagues who had misconstrued the situation, had judged wrongly, but whom it should be always remembered were fellow Irishmen, never enemies,” he added.
President Higgins oration at Béal na mBláth was part of the careful build-up of events to the centenary of General Collins death in 2022.
General Collins served as Ireland’s finance minister from April 2 1919 until his death at the age of 31.
His achievements in putting the fledgling State on a solid financial footing are ranked alongside his remarkable abilities as the IRA’s military commander during the War of Independence.