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Decade of centenaries masks awkward side of our history

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Constance Markievicz touring Dublin polling stations by bike in June 1922. Her anti-Treaty side got only 21pc support from the electorate, but they started a bloody civil war nonetheless

Constance Markievicz touring Dublin polling stations by bike in June 1922. Her anti-Treaty side got only 21pc support from the electorate, but they started a bloody civil war nonetheless

Sophie White

Sophie White

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Constance Markievicz touring Dublin polling stations by bike in June 1922. Her anti-Treaty side got only 21pc support from the electorate, but they started a bloody civil war nonetheless

Sir — I have so far seen no mention anywhere of any events arranged for Galway to commemorate the centenary of the June 28, 1922 burning of the Ballyconree Boys Protestant Orphanage in Sky Road, Clifden, by the Clifden Battalion of the West Connemara Brigade of the anti-Treaty IRA.

I wonder if there will be any events, or does this belong in the blighted category of “awkward history”?

That same month also saw the start of the 11-month Civil War (at the Four Courts in Dublin); the IRA massacre of seven Protestants in Altnaveigh, south Armagh; the June 16 election (where only 21.36pc of voters cast their ballot for anti-Treaty candidates); and the murder in London of Longford-born Field Marshal Henry Wilson, on June 22.

The justification given for burning down the orphanage at Clifden by the anti-Treaty IRA was that they taught the boys to be “pro-British”.

The Royal Navy dispatched a boat to Galway to take 33 boys and the staff to safety in London. Some of the boys, aged from seven to 18, were taken into care. After a benefactor came up with funds, 23 Irish boys were shipped out to Sydney and placed in a care facility while others were assigned to farming families and fostered. The fate of the other boys remains unknown.

What happened to the female inmates of the Protestant girls’ orphanage at Clifden is not known. Their building was not attacked, but the British authorities evacuated it for the safety of the girls and staff.

Surely all this is well-worth recalling in this decade of centenaries?

Tom Carew, Ranelagh, Dublin 6

Time to stop talking and plant some trees

Sir — The CSO tells us that in 2007 the country had more than 17,000 acres of woodland and that last year the figure dropped to below 5,000 acres. That is one hell of a drop.

A spokesperson for Friends of the Irish Environment described it thus: “The collapse in our forestry as the country fights climate change is bizarre.”

The planting of trees today is at 10pc the level of what it should be. “It’s an environmental disaster,” the spokesperson said.

Presumably, none of us needs reminding just how serious the world’s predicament is with regard to climate change and the state of disrepair it will be in for the generations to come.

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A rigorous tree-planting programme should have been up and running long ago. What are we waiting for?

Other countries have worse environmental problems, but let’s concentrate on ours. Forests take years to grow to maturity, so we cannot afford to stand around talking about it. We need to get a move on.

Had I a say in it, I’d plant trees on every bog in the country.

Seán McCormack, Beaubec, Drogheda, Co Louth

Higgins echoed what people already know

Sir — The people in this country do not want a mute president. We as a people select a president mostly based on TV debates and presidential campaigns, which involve a lot of debate and speech from a would-be president. It is absurd to think that after the president is elected he or she should remain mute and totally apolitical.

President Higgins has echoed what the dogs on the street know — that housing is a “disaster”.

Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe quotes figures to back up claims that there are enough houses, but people can’t access the housing market because of cost.

The President has rightly said housing “should never have been left to the market”. A get-rich-quick market that has profit at its heart does not deal with the needs of people.

President Higgins has echoed the nationwide contempt felt by people excluded from and forced out of the housing market and brought the issue of housing to the fore — something successive governments have been unable to do so far.

Maurice Fitzgerald, Shanbally, Co Cork

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Sophie White

Sophie White

Sophie White

Forget that sinking feeling, Sophie

Sir — I love the ‘Nobody Tells You’ column by Sophie White in your newspaper’s Life magazine. Just the other week I read Sophie say she was feeling like the Titanic at 11.50pm in the ship’s timeline — ready to sink.

Well, Sophie, it is far from a sinking ship you look. You look beautiful in your photo, and after enjoying your humorous, witty articles I get the impression that your wonderful cleverness is here to stay for a long while more. Bring on your next Gilbertian composition.

Kathleen Corrigan, Cootehill, Co Cavan

Government gives with one hand...

Sir — The juxtaposition of two articles (‘Baby Boxes worth €300 for expectant parents’ and ‘If Owenacurra is closed, Thomas will not survive’) just a few pages apart in your paper last Sunday could hardly be more contrasting or contradicting.

On the one hand, the Government is giving money to help what is a natural and instinctive aspect of raising a family (older parents and grandparents must be wondering how they coped), while on the other, closing a mental health facility that provides a vital service. Instead of lavishing largesse on new parents, that money could pay for a new centre or the refurbishment of the present one.

Peter Pallas, Bantry, Co Cork

Connections with Britain run deep

Sir — The photo of Irish workers in Birmingham in the 1960s accompanying Ciaran O’Neill’s article last week (‘Emigrants’ archive tells how the Irish rebuilt UK’) evoked a memory.

It was the 1960s and I was on holiday, staying in a village in Shropshire with my aunt, who was married to the local butcher. One evening in the nearby tavern, a group of locals were discussing the main from a reservoir in Wales to supplement Birmingham’s water supply.

It was a major project, and the work was close to the village. I happened to hear one of the men saying the job was ahead of schedule, and he added that this was due to the Irish workforce.

In his book, Ultan Cowley pays tribute to the Irish workers in Britain after World War II and mentions especially three from the western counties. I also read Dónall MacAmhlaigh’s book, An Irish Navvy, or Dialann Deoraí as it was titled when it was first published in Irish.

In his book, Cowley focuses on Irish emigration to Britain after the war — but of course the Irish have been drifting across the water for years. It was said at one time that 40pc of Americans claimed Irish descent. I wonder what the percentage would be for Britain?

We have so many ties joining us that there’s probably not one person without a blood connection to our nearest neighbour.

In sport, we call them the auld enemy, but auld friends is probably a truer phrase.

Patrick Fleming, Glasnevin, Dublin 9

Treatise on the linnet struck the right note

Sir — Joe Kennedy’s treatise last week enlightened me greatly (‘Little linnet likened to Emperor Napoleon’) and won new-found respect in me for the songbird’s survival in Ireland.

I’d been led to believe sightings of this little finch were commonplace but I only got my first view of one during the pandemic. Even then I did a double-take, thinking it was a male house sparrow, but the Napoleonic red frontal streak gave it away. The article mentions its popularity in song and verse, but surely none is more telling than its inclusion in The Galway Shawl.

Damien Boyd, Frankfield, Cork

Lives of service and duty justly recalled

Sir — In a recent letter regarding Garda Memorial Day (‘Remembering RIC dead is still taboo’), your correspondent said “prayers were included for deceased officers of the RUC and PSNI. Clearly though, any invocation on behalf of the dead of the RIC was, yet again, judged to be a bridge too far”.

This is incorrect, and I quote from the commemorative booklet that was repeated word for word during the ceremony.

“We pray for all deceased members of An Garda Síochána, DMP and RIC, praying also for deceased members of the RUC and PSNI. In their lifetime they served their country well, maintaining order and peace in times of social change. May they receive the just reward for lives well lived and duty faithfully carried out.”

It is essential this wrong is corrected, as this annual ceremony is such a wonderful occasion for relatives, colleagues and friends of all deceased police members.

Tony Fagan, Enniscorthy, Co Wexford

A solution to housing crisis and loneliness

Sir — There is a large number of lonely widows and widowers in this country. With technology allowing people to let spare rooms through Airbnb, would it not be simple to set up meetings of people in the same situation to arrange a house-share? There would be huge advantages: one house to heat, loneliness gone, household expenses shared and an empty house to let.

Are there any tech wizards who could invent this software, easing pressure on the rental market and doing so much more besides?

Michael Kiely, Ovens, Co Cork

Who decides what RTÉ can deliberate?

Sir — It was disturbing to discover RTÉ appears to have entered into an arrangement with Dublin Pride about what should and should not be discussed on the airwaves. Are there similar agreements with, say, Fine Gael or Sinn Féin or any other political party? It certainly feels that way.

RTÉ’s current affairs coverage in recent years would suggest everyone on one side of Irish politics has a special dispensation, and the only ones who will be subjected to journalistic scrutiny are pro-life Catholics and other conservatives.

After three-and-a-half years of our new abortion regime, how often have you heard RTÉ ask anyone in government anything about problems that may have arisen? For example, how many women are hospitalised each year after taking abortion pills? RTÉ won’t ask such questions.

Jim Stack, Lismore, Co Waterford

Transgender rights are not up for debate

Sir — RTÉ’s Liveline show recently discussed matters of gender identity. Our group, Trans Equality Together, and our members share a common concern about these episodes, and we support Dublin Pride’s decision to terminate its media partnership with RTÉ and its consultation with Trans Equality Together about this decision.

These episodes of Liveline provided air time to what we believe was a co-ordinated group of organisations that actively deny the basic humanity and rights of trans and non-binary people. The repeated use of the same speaking points and language is evidence of such co-ordination in our assessment. RTÉ’s use of the logo of one such anti-trans organisation in its promotion of the programme was, in our view, a serious error.

By positioning whether trans people have a right to exist, are entitled to basic human dignity, have a right to live free of discrimination and harassment as matters of “debate”, Liveline failed to recognise the vulnerability of the trans community and their needs and contributed instead by stigmatising, misrepresenting and further harming trans people.

The problem of violence and discrimination against trans people — well acknowledged by Joe Duffy — is important context for any discussion on the rights of trans people. However, we believe these dangers and risks were not adequately taken into account in the framing of the discussions.

In defending freedom of expression, we must also consider that giving air time to groups that would deny the basic rights of a minority community has the effect of intimidating and silencing those minorities while also contributing to their stigmatisation and isolation.

We are calling on RTÉ to ensure that, in future, all programmes will strike the correct balance between editorial freedom and the right to free speech while protecting and giving a voice to vulnerable minorities.

Sara R Phillips, Transgender Equality Network Ireland, Dublin

Dublin Pride isn’t being fair to RTÉ

Sir — I feel Dublin Pride is being very unfair to RTÉ and, in particular, to Liveline.

I listened to the discussions and found them informative and fair. I thought Joe Duffy was unambiguously empathic to the trans community and their struggle — but they have to realise that there is a vast amount of people in Ireland who either do not understand their plight or oppose their ethos outright.

Yes, there are people who think they have no rights and damage society — but they are mostly on the extreme right.

The Pride community has come a long way in the last few years, but we have to realise we cannot impose our views on people who aren’t in the least bit interested in them.

I believe Dublin Pride should make it specifically clear what it was it found so distasteful about the Liveline shows.

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties should explain why it wrote to RTÉ. Reading the letter out to listeners, Duffy seemed shocked and hurt that in his view they should have misinterpreted the intention of himself and his staff on the matter of gender inequality.

Mike Burke, Sixmilebridge, Co Clare

It’s the season for a dip in the Atlantic

Sir — The summer solstice, on Tuesday, is the longest day of the year. Weather permitting, we can expect more than 17 hours of daylight. The sun is at its highest over Ireland at this time of year, delivering warm weather and, hopefully, hours of glorious sunshine in a cloudless blue sky.

The next three months is the period when nature is most active. The trees are in full foliage, plants are blooming, hay and silage are being saved and the coastline and landscapes are at their finest and prettiest. It’s summer time and the living is easy. It’s the season for enjoying the great outdoors.

In Irish mythology, Fionn mac Cumhaill and Na Fianna always enjoyed an invigorating swim in the wild Atlantic waves on summer solstice. On that day, Manannán mac Lir, the god of the sea, lavished his bounty of minerals, iodines and nutrients on those who swam in the Atlantic, thereby bestowing on them the virility of youth, which they needed in battle.

I always enjoy a long sea swim on June 21 each year, in the hope that some of that youthful vigour might be going a-begging.

Billy Ryle, Spa, Tralee, Co Kerry


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