Wednesday 21 February 2018

Bedtime stories told by my father are where history began for me

Acclaimed BBC foreign correspondent Fergal Keane explores his family and national heritage in an extract from his memoir Wounds

Black and Tans in Dublin
Black and Tans in Dublin

"His manner was that the heads of all those (of what sort so ever they were) which were killed in the day, should be cut off from their bodies, and brought to the place where he encamped at night: and should there be laid on the ground, by each side of the way leading into his own tent: so that none could come into his tent for any cause, but commonly he must pass through a lane of heads … and yet did it bring great terror to the people when they saw the heads of their dead fathers, brothers, children, kinsfolk, and friends lie on the ground before their faces, as they came to speak with the said Colonel." - Thomas Churchyard, A Generall Rehearsall of Warres, 1579

This is the story of my grandmother Hannah Purtill, who was a rebel, and her brother Mick and his friend Con Brosnan, and how they took up guns to fight the British Empire and create an independent Ireland.

And it is the story of another Irishman, Tobias O'Sullivan, who fought against them because he believed it was his duty to uphold the law of his country.

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