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Kevin Myers: Re-enactment of RIC ambush is repulsive

Well, I really was hoping someone else would get to this before I did: but no one has, so here goes. Was I the only person in Ireland who found the fancy-dress re-enactment last weekend of the slaughter of an RIC patrol at Glenwood in Co Clare in 1921 simply repulsive? According to this newspaper, a thousand people were present. Were there ice-cream sellers there? And hot-dog and souvenir stalls also?

What worries me especially is the apparent lack of a prevailing moral sensibility capable of differentiating between events that one may properly re-enact, and those one may not. In western culture generally, the only death commemorated with elaborate ritual is that of Jesus; and with good reason. What makes some select, one-sided IRA ambushes of a handful of unfortunates 90 years ago such an exception?

The outgoing Minister for Defence, who seems to spend every weekend attending such commemorations, said of Glenwood: "It gives us a sense of who we are and how we arrived at this stage."

Really? How does the butchery of six men -- four Irish and two British -- in a totally one-sided ambush, in which the IRA suffered no casualties, manage to do that? For I can roam through the many atrocities for that time, and with equal validity declare that they also give us a sense of who we are, etc. Take the following murders by crown forces. Of IRA man John Howles of Oranmore, shot dead in Dublin in December 1922. Or the local Sinn Fein leader Thomas Hand, shot in his bed in Skerries. Or Sinn Fein activists Sean Carroll and Patrick Tierney, shot in Ardee. Or the two Loughnane brothers, captured and shot by crown forces outside Gort. Or the 12 IRA men who were killed in Clonmult in February 1921, some after surrendering.

Or what about Elizabeth Scales, shot dead by the IRA when she tried to protect her boyfriend, a police officer, on Henry Street in Limerick in December 1920? By an evil coincidence, just a week before, during another shopping expedition on another Henry Street, this time in Dublin, another Irishwomen, a "Miss Moore" unsuccessfully tried to save her boyfriend, 23-year old Inspector Philip O'Sullivan MC of Cork, from IRA gunmen. Though injured, she was still able to attend his funeral.

We've missed the 90th anniversary of these little triumphs. But perhaps in December 2020 we could stage a theatrical 'A Tale Of The Two Henry Streets', showing us how we got here today.

Then, on January 21, 2021, will fall the 100th anniversary of the murders of three off-duty police officers -- aged 18, 19 and 24 -- who went for a walk near Monaghan town, and were later found riddled with bullets. A theatrical re-enactment of their final stroll might tell us how they didn't get where they were going, but we apparently did.

However, we still have just enough time this year to prepare re-enactments for the 90th anniversary of the slaughter of 11 RIC men -- seven British and four Irish -- at New Pallas on February 3, 1921, without any loss to the IRA.

Perhaps, as EU towns twin with one another, we could twin atrocities with Iraq? For it was undergoing an even more terrible war at that time. In one single engagement in 1920, 130 men of the Manchester Regiment were killed, and 160 captured. An enraged colonial secretary Churchill proposed using mustard gas "on the natives", which rather puts the Black and Tans in the shade. Certainly, British army deaths in Ireland for ALL of 1920 were under half the number of army deaths during a single bad week in Iraq. However, not even Saddam Hussein ever commemorated the massacre of the Manchesters.

Moreover, surely the organisers of the commemorative ceremonies should be aware that such events have current resonances? Would the IRA men who just a year ago blew the legs off the GAA captain of the PSNI, Peadar Heffron, not argue that their deeds are part of the same struggle as 1921? Never mind that the Glenwood organisers would reject such arguments outright: isn't that what today's IRA men think? So how responsible is it for anyone to turn the terrible events of January 1921 into a 2011 charivari?

Moreover, might one next month not equally celebrate the 40th anniversary of the death of Gunner Curtis, the first British soldier to be killed in our most recent troubles, perhaps with some street-theatre in Belfast? And so on and so forth, to the bomb attack on Constable Heffron, and how we arrived at this stage.

Most Irish people are still Christian, and believe accordingly that humans were made in the image of God. The six RIC men of Glenwood, the 11 of New Pallas, and the 12 IRA men of Clonmult had at least that much in common. Such terrible killings can NEVER be made into occasions for re-enactments.

Irish Independent