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Dark memories of ethnic cleansing recalled in film

THE dark story of a Protestant family driven from Ireland at the height of the Civil War is recalled tonight in an RTE film.

Canon George Salter has served the people of Cork city as a Church of Ireland minister for most of his life -- he is almost 87.

But despite his dedication to the Irish language and enthusiasm for traditional music and folklore, George's family was once deemed unwelcome here.

The film to be shown this evening revisits the Irish equivalent of ethnic cleansing.

Warfare

The Salters were hardworking farmers in west Cork, but their lives were turned upside down when they became the centre of sectarian warfare in the early 1920s.

In April 1922, during a wave of ruthless random killings of Protestants, George's father William was stopped one night on his way home by a local man and told: "Bill boy you best be gone by morning." Leaving almost everything behind, George's family left their farm at Kilronane, near Dunmanway, and fled to England. By the end of that year, George's six sisters and two brothers had left.

The family received compensation from the British government, but Bill, a true son of west Cork, didn't feel at home in England.

In 1924 he and his wife slipped quietly back to Ireland and bought a farm at Castletownshend and a year later George was born, a citizen of the Irish Free State. But the family never forgot the old farm at Dunmanway -- though, at nearly 87, Canon George Salter had never visited his family's old homestead -- despite living just 30 miles away.

And he still never felt free to speak about the events of April 1922, nor to visit the old farm.

Then last year, he struck up a conversation with Dan Collins, from the Cork Institute of Technology. Dan's sister was married to a farmer, Oliver Crowley, who had pasture land in George's ancestral home at Kilronane.

Buried

The Crowley's invited Canon Salter to their home to explore their past. The journey that takes George Salter back to the dark days of April 1922 brings back long-buried memories of the Ireland that emerged from the War of Independence.

Just over two years ago, the RTE programme, CSI -- Cork's Bloody Secret, unveiled the dark story of some of the 13 Protestants murdered in west Cork in the April 1922.

Canon Salter's story is revealed on the eve of the 90th anniversary of the killings.

An Tost Fada -- The Long Silence airs at 7.30pm on RTE1 tonight.


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