Friday 24 January 2020

Billy Keane: 'The most important thing to remember about Irishmen fighting other Irishmen is to say 'Never again''

Keane's Kingdom

The Wolfe Tones
The Wolfe Tones
Billy Keane

Billy Keane

'Come Out Ye Black And Tans' is now number one in Britain and Ireland.

The song was brought out by the Wolfe Tones back in the 1970s. I was more of a Stones man than a Tones man back then. The Wolfe Tones later became the continuity Wolfe Tones and the official Wolfe Tones. But the song has put them back in the limelight. What odds a reunification? The Wolfe Tones donated all the royalties to the homeless. Well done.

But no one foresaw the consequences for those of us who have to listen to lads bawling out songs in pubs.

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We only have the Government to blame. The idea of commemorating the RIC and the DMP was bound to cause trouble. I can see the English tourists sneaking off when the pub patriots who never ventured north of Dublin sing their blood-curdling anthems.

The song itself is inaccurate in that it is highly unlikely anyone ever roared "Come out ye Black and Tans, come out and fight me like a man". This is exactly what our freedom fighters tried to avoid. Guerrilla warfare doesn't really lend itself to trash talk. It's not exactly Conor McGregor we're talking about here.

Generally speaking, the Tans were assassinated or ambushed.

The only good part from the tourism side of it all is the English won't have a clue who the Black and Tans were. The empire employed Black and Tans or the equivalent thereof all over the world. They just couldn't keep track of all the massacres. Most English people are well disposed towards us nowadays. Brexit is like when a couple meet outside the court room after the final decree but pledge to remain friends.

My family were committed to killing Tans and were hunted by the RIC. I was against the whole idea of the RIC commemoration. And what was the point of it all?

This commemoration of the RIC has been touted as a great embarrassment for the Government but the Law of Unintended Consequences kicked in. It seems hundreds of thousands of us have British army, RIC and DMP ancestors. There are very few pure bred Aryan Irish republicans.

Many of the RIC were decent men who played a part in the fight for independence as spies or as double agents. More saved the lives of people from drowning and fires. They weren't all bad. The Tans would have murdered many more but for members of the RIC who intervened. The parents of those who joined would have lived through the Famine. People were poor and the barely educated young lads who signed on were often conned in to joining up.

One hundred years ago, the RIC mutinied here in Listowel and refused to back a shoot-to-kill policy. They were brave men who left the force and will quite rightly be given the praise they deserve later on this year.

I do believe the Government's intentions were good and were geared towards a bringing together rather than a breaking apart. It was still a very bad idea and I doubt very much if my ancestors would have approved. There were RIC men who helped hunt Uncle Mick Purtill when he was on the run. My nana Hanna was threatened and harassed by the British army. The RIC stood idly by.

Mick and Hanna were Fine Gael. My dad's family were on the Collins side in the Civil War. My Dad and Mam followed on and this has shaped my politics ever since I was a small boy.

The Fine Gael party has been commonly referred to as the Blueshirts during the RIC controversy. Is it how a party that brought in divorce, gay marriage and repealed the 8th is referred to as right-wing fascist organisation? Let me remind those who name-call that the leader of Fine Gael, Leo Varadkar, is gay and his family came in to Ireland as immigrants.

I have often criticised the Government here, but I do try to maintain a sense of balance.

I'll bet that few of you have read lately that the rate of unemployment is down to 4.9pc as of October 2019. Seven years ago, Enda Kenny and Michael Noonan were faced with an unemployment rate of 15.2pc, over three times more than last October. Our minimum pay is the second highest in Europe. Rural broadband is on the way, and those who say it will cost too much were railing against austerity a few years ago.

Economist Dan O'Brien, writing in the Irish Independent this week, forecast a rise in wages and a drop in house prices, along with very low inflation for 2020.

But where have you read or heard this lately? Not too many places. It's not cool right now and never was to praise any aspect of government performance.

Most commentators have this vision of the singing of 'Faith of our Fathers' on the dockside as General O'Duffy's troops sailed off to Spain to fight for Catholicism against communism. Mr Kenny's first move as Taoiseach was to close our embassy in the Vatican over the Catholic Church's disgraceful treatment of child abuse victims.

The team of Varadkar, Coveney and McEntee kept the EU on our side throughout Brexit. Remember, it's not that long ago since the same EU sold us out to the bondholders. Varadkar steadfastly stood up for our people in the North. He fought against a hard Border and will probably win that battle.

For years, our young people had to emigrate in their thousands. Some still have to go but now most can find work at home.

I know we have terrible problems with high rents, homelessness and hospital waiting lists, to name but a few.

Hopefully lessons have been learned from the RIC debacle.

It took me a long, long time to come to the conclusion that both sides were wrong and both sides were right in the Civil War. Micheál Martin is one of my heroes. He is an Irishman first and a Fianna Fáil man second. He has led the way. These days most of us vote for policies and people. I can hear the ancestors cursing. There should be no blind allegiance to any party but I do hope there is some acknowledgement of the rights as well as the wrongs.

We must be careful of commemorations from here on out. The Civil War anniversaries are almost down on us. Lessons must be learned.

There will be those who consciously try to drag us back to the internecine politics of the past for all the wrong reasons. There will be those who won't know whether, which or why, like the song bawlers, the long-distance republicans and the name-callers.

Let us remember the shame of the Civil War and say, as a nation, never again and never again in our name.

Irish Independent

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