We can't afford to get romantic about guerrilla days in Ireland
WHILE audiences in Dublin have been cheering the theatrical celebration of Tom Barry's 'Guerilla Days in Ireland' (mis-spelt, of course), in Belfast a bomb from so-called republican dissidents nearly killed three police officers. The failure to realise the connection between a celebration of 'good' violence in the past and 'bad' violence today has long been a chronic condition in Irish life. Whereas the myth of republican violence takes merely artistic form in some souls, in others it serves as a moral authoriser, like a virus that affects its hosts in different ways. Actual violence is always a consequence of this myth.
With an almost elegant synchronicity, as Dublin audiences exulted in past IRA violence, Henry Patterson's account of the IRA's ruthless Border campaign against Protestants, 1971-1996, 'Ireland's Violent Frontier', appeared. Outside the scope of that book, but entirely consonant with the traditions of appeasement which made that ethnic cleansing of Border Protestants possible, occurred the 30th anniversary of the shooting of Chief Prison Officer Brian Stack in Dublin. Paralysed from the neck down, he died 18 months later. This was the most ruthless single deed in the course of a republican campaign of intimidation of our prison service, and which included the public discovery in a park of a 'secret' list containing the names and addresses of some 130 prison officers. The outcome was, of course, capitulation: terrorist prisoners in Portlaoise Jail got what they wanted, even as the Border remained effectively open to the republican campaign against local Protestants.
But where's the connection between those events and Tom Barry? Well, it was Barry himself who described the consequence of the burning by the British of a small farmhouse and a labourer's cottage. "The following night, the IRA burnt out four large loyalist residences in the same neighbourhood." These people had nothing to do with the earlier burnings; they were merely Protestant and unionist, and therefore fair game. Barry continued, as IRA arson attacks proliferated: "Our only fear was that . . . there would be no more loyalist homes to destroy, for we intended to go on to the bitter end."
Quite so: a bitter end indeed for many Protestants of Co Cork. Barry again: "One result of the IRA counter-actions was the attempts made by the British loyalists to sell out their Irish properties and leave. These were defeated, as the IRA banned all sales of residence. Let these Britishers (Protestants) flee, but they would leave without the proceeds of their Irish properties."
Barry then cheerfully recollected how the IRA commandeered and sold the cattle of murdered loyalists. So how did they represent those charming deeds in the Olympia?
All this is part of the broad Fenian tradition in which the inaccurately named dissidents now operate – but with far more nous than hitherto. As Jim Cusack pointed out in the 'Sunday Independent', recent attacks were designed to precipitate a political crisis. A bomb in Fermanagh appears to have been meant for the Lough Erne Resort, the venue for the G8 meeting in June. An intended mortar attack in Derry was timed to coincide with an address by the Taoiseach to a joint meeting of Irish and British parliamentarians, and the Belfast attack occurred just before the Taoiseach's visit to London. This was the first time that dissidents had deployed a mortar of the kind used against Downing Street in 1991. A Provisional IRA engineer has apparently gone over to the new crowd.
THIS new IRA is not dissident: it belongs to the tradition embodied by Tom Barry and Martin Corry, the IRA leader in Cork city, who – as we learnt in Monday's brilliant 'In The Name Of The Republic' on TV3 – was responsible for the disappearance and murder of perhaps scores of local men, mostly Protestants, between 1919 and 1923. Almost as shocking as their murder was the cloak of secrecy with which independent Ireland (in which Corry was a TD for 40 years) then concealed these atrocities.
What about the RIC Auxiliaries? When the West End mounts a production of 'Anti-Guerrilla Days in Ireland', I'll deal with them. In the meantime, we are witnessing a major rehabilitation of the culture of republican violence – not merely on the stage. Even as sober an individual as Joe Mulholland, director of the Patrick MacGill Summer School, could use the c-word about it, as in: "The celebration of 1916 in three years' time and the homage that will rightly be paid to the men and women who left families and friends to face the might of the British empire. . . ."
The might of the British empire in Dublin that Easter Monday consisted of a few unarmed Irish DMP men, six of whom were cold-bloodedly shot. The men who did those shootings are the inspiration for the non-dissidents of today, who will surely rejoice in the divisions within An Garda Siochana. So those who mark this Easter Weekend should be aware that any celebration of the violence of 1916 will, for some, serve merely as an authorisation of the violence still to come.