Wednesday 21 March 2018

Mac Eoin a hero

Madam – Sean Mac Eoin has long been my greatest military hero. An old neighbour of mine, called Jack Kelleher, had gathered many stories of the heroic exploits of the North Longford Flying Column. His source was another neighbour, Col Seamus Farrelly, who was with Mac Eoin in almost every one of the column's exploits. Sean Mac Eoin showed ordinary people in Longford and Leitrim (and all of Ireland) how to defend their rights against tyranny. All the stories that I heard, showed him as having been very intelligent, decent, noble, brave and humane.

Imagine my shock at reading, in the letters page, (Sunday Independent, June 30, 2013), a claim that, early in 1922, Gen Mac Eoin shot dead a young sentry, in cold blood, at Custume Barracks, Athlone. It is between 40 and 50 years since I heard, per Jack Kelleher, that Mac Eoin did indeed shoot a young soldier at Custume Barracks. The circumstances were both understandable and most tragic.

Early in 1922, the Civil War was starting. Bands of soldiers were deserting from every army barracks – and bringing with them, to the republican side, scarce and valuable guns and ammunition. The young sentry had seen such a group leaving and, in order to warn Gen Mac Eoin, he excitedly raced up the staircase to the general's office. Mac Eoin heard the loud noise on the stairs and thinking it was a group of republicans coming to kill him, he drew his gun and shot the young sentry as he came through the office door. That is as I heard it.

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