Sunday 16 June 2019

Republicans' 'straight road to Kilcash' may end in trouble

Illustration by Jim Cogan
Illustration by Jim Cogan
Eoghan Harris

Eoghan Harris

SINN Fein sits high in the saddle, looking down like a landlord on the peasants of other parties. Apart from Micheal Martin and Joan Burton, many politicians seem willing to touch the forelock.

Perhaps Sinn Fein will throw them a penny in the form of a future junior ministry.

Some of this passivity is simply post-election shock. But most of it comes from the moral fog of the peace process. Rather than remind the party of its former Provo partners, politicians defer to Sinn Fein's shameless revision of the peace process.

Sinn Fein was also shameless in taking over the Tuam story. Incredibly, they were allowed to become spokespersons for the suffering of women and children. No RTE researcher raised the Provos' maltreatment of women during the armed struggle. Because the IRA did not just murder Jean McConville.

Three dead women from a longer list stay in my memory: Joanne Mathers, 25, married with one son, murdered in Derry; Caroline Moreland, 34, single, with one small girl, known to her Provo captors to be under treatment for cancer, was tortured for a week in South Armagh before being shot; Eva Martin, 28, married, was killed in a rocket and gun attack on Clogher UDR camp Co Tyrone. Her husband, also on duty there, fell over her dying body in the dark.

Sean O'Callagan in The Informer recalls the remark of a Tyrone IRA chief after Ms Martin's murder: "I hope she was pregnant so we got two of them." The "two of them" revealed the hard sectarian core at the heart of the Provos' campaign.

But how can we expect either politicians or RTE reporters to stand up to a shameless Sinn Fein when public intellectuals were sending up confused signals even before the local government elections? Last April, historian Diarmaid Ferriter, writing in the Irish Times, dismissed Sinn Fein's most cogent critic, the late Conor Cruise O'Brien: "For all those O'Brien converted, many more were unimpressed by his cartoon history."

To describe as "cartoon history" Conor Cruise O'Brien's central contribution to creating a pluralist conscience in the Republic in classics like States of Ireland is just a cheap populist jibe. And it misses O'Brien's profound insight; the potentially terrible price to be paid for taking IRA terrorists into the body politic of the Irish Republic.

O'Brien was wise in the ways of the world. He had lived a long life in which every Irish Government, up to Charlie Haughey, chose to defeat the IRA rather than do a deal with it. To his dying day he warned that the "peace process" was taking us into a moral fog out of which we might never find our way. We are in that fog now.

Fintan O Toole is another public intellectual on whom we depend to sound a foghorn. But just a few weeks before the elections, the front page of the Irish Times carried the core message of his column inside which argued that Gerry Adams & Co should not be singled out for special blame. "There are no special victims and there must be no special perpetrators."

Mary Lou McDonald is cashing these blank cheques. Last week she was so regularly rampant on RTE as to seem to be on the staff. But it was only when given a chance to lecture Joan Burton on Newstalk that she let her hair down and tore off the mask. Not about the economy, but about Labour's alleged indifference to the plight of northern nationalists and the peace process.

Burton was so taken aback by McDonald's tirade that she failed to remind her that the Provos proved they only wanted peace on their terms by breaking the ceasefire in 1996 and bombing Canary Wharf so as to bully the British government. But public opinion forced them back to the peace table backed by mass peace marches in Dublin – in which Joan Burton herself took a leading part.

Last week, Sinn Fein got a walkover in the increasingly green and grim game of Irish politics. Those who should have defended Irish democracy simply leaned against the posts while Sinn Fein repeatedly kicked the ball into an open goal.

Watching that cowardly spectacle I reminded myself that I must be loyal to the facts, which are as follows.

The Irish people have spoken. Those of us of us who fear a Sinn Fein future are no longer political players, merely moral spectators. All we can do now is pray we will be proved wrong.


LET me finish with a footnote to the Tuam tragedy. Too little attention has been paid to the role of the rural bourgeoisie. The late Kevin Danaher, doyen of Irish folklorists, used to remark that in post-famine Ireland it was not the priests but the strong farmers who set sexual standards.

Apart from the M.J. Molloy and John McGahern the only writer I really rate on the repressive rural Ireland of recent memory is Sean MacMathuna. His chilling short story, "A Straight Run Down to Kilcash" (1987) takes us down one of the dark roads that led to Tuam.

Dennis Stack, the son of a strong farmer, a student at a prestigious Munster Catholic college run by priests, makes a domestic servant at the school pregnant. She is packed off to England. Denis is merely rusticated for a few months.

His father collects him from the school in a Land Rover. Far from being angry at Denis, he seems proud of his son's sexual prowess. "Did you put her up the pole, Denisheen you whore?" Stopping for a pint, he probes his son for details, "What was she like, son?" I looked at my pint and at my father's half-embarrassed face. "She had big tits," I said. "Sure all scrubbers have big tits," he said in matey confidence, clinching his wisdom with a wink.

Back on the road to Kilcash, his father boasts of the financial success of the farm. "Pound notes are springing out of every field of the three hundred and forty acres. And not one penny tax." He adds that it was "amazing what a farmer married to a national school teacher could do because she didn't pay income tax either".

Boasting of how he bought a calf and ducks dirt cheap from cash-strapped sellers, he says: "If you have money you can do the divil himself." And he urges his son to make an advantageous marriage match.

"He told me Mary Kissane was going to do medicine. What he did not mention was that she had two hundred acres 'bounding' our land and wore glasses." Then his father comes to the core question: 'Would you think of Mary?'

"I nodded my head in understanding. Tears came into his eyes. "If you do son, it's a straight run for both of you down to Kilcash." Kilcash was our graveyard and a straight run down to it was a local euphemism for a 'happy life'.

The callous roads to Kilcash too often took a wrong turning that led to Tuam. Sinn Fein's road to Kilcash may end in trouble too. Soon it will be too late to turn back.

Sunday Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Don't Miss