Michael D recalls sacking of Balbriggan as bitter tragedy

A plaque in Balbriggan recalls the centenary of the sacking of the town by British soldiers

Rebecca Black

President Michael D Higgins has described the sacking of Balbriggan as a "defining episode" in the War of Independence.

More than 50 homes and businesses were torched and two men were killed in the north Co Dublin town on September 20, 1920, following the killing of two Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) officers.

On the centenary of the night of chaos, Mr Higgins said it galvanised support for the struggle that ultimately led to the establishment of the Free State in 1921.


Mr Higgins had been due to attend centenary events in Balbriggan yesterday, but these were scaled back due to the coronavirus pandemic.

He instead released his thoughts in a statement.

A mural is painted on Bridge Street in Balbriggan Co Dublin, to mark the centenary of the sacking of the town by British soldiers in 1920

"As we remember the bloody violence that occurred in Balbriggan exactly a century ago, violence that would result in tragedy, widespread suffering and lingering bitterness, we must strive to do so ethically and responsibly," he said.

"Such an ethical remembering must refuse any kind of conscious or unconscious amnesia.

"The exercise in remembering must be open to all perspectives, requires us all, each of us, to summon up our shared humanity.

"A humanity which was tested, often brutalised, but also magnified during the War of Independence and indeed over the longer revolutionary period."

Mr Higgins said to forgive "is not to forget".

"Forgiving enables us to come to terms with the past," he said.

"If forgiveness and forgetting did not exist, we would be trapped in the past where every previous action would be irrevocable and where the present is dominated, burdened even, by preceding events and memories.

"Recognition of the act committed, however, is essential.

"It is only through such forms of ethical remembering we can avoid retreating to the blinding categories of censure or denunciation or, indeed, revenge and bitterness that blighted this island for so long.


"Let us all continue with, indeed embrace, the new beginning that the Good Friday Agreement represented as we continue to carve out our peaceful co-existence on the island of Ireland."

Mr Higgins also remembered the late John Hume, saying we should "respect our communities' identities and traditions, paying tribute to John Hume's vision of a shared island at peace".