Bloody history of our country is laid bare with one click

WHEN it was posted on the internet this week, it started a trend on Twitter.

Robert Barton,above left, signatory of the 1921 Anglo-Irish treaty, did not have a Facebook page. Now he has, or might as well have, thanks to the Bureau of Military History.

We can now share his thoughts on the negotiations: "To succeed, our case would have to have been pressed with vigour by all five of us."

Capuchin Friar Aloysius Travers, chaplain to some of the executed leaders of 1916, posts his indignant thoughts on the trial of a fellow priest in 1920.

Nancy Wyse Power recalls Arthur Griffith, John McBride and Henry Dixon meeting every day for lunch in her mammy's restaurant at 21 Henry Street (her daddy was the first editor of the Evening Herald).

The Herald makes several cameo appearances, for example in Sean O'Neill's account of how this newspaper saved his life, while Michael McCormack tells how the Herald helped change the course of the Longford by-election.

Some of the accounts are so frank it takes the breath away. Here you can read the ice-cool description by Thomas Ryan of how he was about to take a free kick at Croke Park on Bloody Sunday when a burst of machinegun fire erupted, how a small child was killed by a bullet meant for him and how he was marched naked back to the stadium to be shot "to be neat and tidy and not have loose killings around the area".

Like all military history, it is sometimes self-serving and partisan. The "decision to take action against an aggressive RIC sergeant" could mean something more sinister.

The account of the shooting of Doonbeg schoolteacher Pa Darcy comes with the disturbing preface, "his name was a byword as a British spy".


The old perspective of the War of Independence has almost been reversed in recent years by writers such as Peter Hart and Eoghan Harris.

We are a long way from conclusion in that debate, but this colossus of evidence has helped put it on a sounder foundation.

Unlike the military history of the British side, which provided the basis of most research into the War of Independence until 11 years ago, it is remarkably free from bombast.

These are ordinary people with their ideals and a temporary job to do, refreshingly honest in their recollections, unlike the conditioned killers they faced, with their own certainties about race and empire.

The material is not all new. Very little of it is.

Much of it is available elsewhere, in the work of Maureen Wall and other writers who wrote in the 1960s when many of these people were still alive. But first-hand accounts have a fresh impact. It is as if you should click "like" beside them.

Nor is it all war. Kevin O'Sheil's account of life in Dublin is as beautiful a piece of early 20th century social history as you will find.

You will hardly notice the name of the youngest national hero in this history archive. Her name is Caitriona Crowe, below.

She fought a war of independence of her own to put this online. When An Roinn Airgeadais first heard about the project to put the 1901 and 1911 census returns online, eyes filled with euro signs.

Our national heritage could be a nice little earner.

She was the one who stood in the bearna baol and told them that this cause was too important: archive material should be free and that it would help drive tourism and bring a bigger profit down the line.

She was right. And has won the second round here.

Caitriona and the late Peter Young, a gentle army officer who died before his contribution to the archives came to fruition, were the instigators of the project which came to light.

American-born Eve Morrison, whose PhD was based on the witness statements, did the online essay.

The archives can be found on www.bureauofmilitary