Tralee historian says Church should apologise for treatment of republicans during Civil War

A Kerry author and historian has called on the Irish Catholic Church to follow apologise for its treatment of Irish republicans during the Civil War

uthor, Dr Tim Horgan from Tralee told the annual National Liam Lynch Commemoration at Kilcrumper Cemetery outside Fermoy in North Cork on Sunday that the bishops of Ireland put politics above Christianity in 1922 by excommunicating those who were fighting for a republic in the Irish Civil War.

“Sacraments were denied, men were refused Christian burials, no confessions, no communion, no condemnation of torture or concentration camps, no priestly comfort on the way to the firing squad wall – these excommunications were never revoked even after the fighting ceased.

“In contrast, the present Pope Francis, over 20 years ago, apologized for the role of the Argentine Church in his country’s civil war in the 1970s, declaring ‘We want to confess before God everything that we have done badly’ and for the way the Church ‘had closed its eyes’ to murder and torture perpetrated by the state.

“Is it too much to ask our bishops to issue a similar apology for the shameful role that the hierarchy of our church willingly played inn the dreadful events of a century ago? Now that the state has demonstrated in recent years that it has no further need for our Church, it should have become a little easier to utter words of contrition.”

The author of several historical works including “Dying for the Cause, Kerry’s Republican Dead,” Dr Horgan revealed he had a great regard for the idealism of Lynch from an early age as his maternal grandmother, Madge Clifford had served as Lynch’s secretary from November 1922 until his death in the Knockmealdown Mountains at the hands of Free State forces in April 1923.

“Few today will have spoken to somebody who knew Lynch so well but to me as a young boy, she would say that Collins was good but, in the end, he left us down. However, Liam was true to the cause to the end,” said Dr Horgan.

Addressing an attendance of around 100 people, Dr Horgan said he was honoured to follow in the footsteps of his fellow Kerryman and “brave Killarney priest, Fr Joe Breen” who bade farewell to his friend, Lynch at the same spot in April 1923 at Lynch’s funeral.

“Fr Joe had been the Irish Volunteers chaplain while a curate in Tralee in 1916. One of only three men to know of the plans to land German arms, while his comrades were imprisoned after the Rising, the British demanded the bishop deal with Fr Joe. Off to Drishane Convent near Millstreet, a Siberian exile for a Kerryman. In the hills of Duhallow, the rebel priest and Lynch became friends and comrades.”
“At Michael Collins’ funeral, mitred bishops and white robed priests, once enemies of the erstwhile rebel, vied for position on the altar, the pro-Cathedral being packed with Dublin society’s great and good, and with generals and colonels in their newly-dyed green British uniforms and peaked caps.

“But here in Kilcrumper, seven bloody months later as Liam Lynch was being buried only two humble curates were present among the vast crowd of ordinary people, his people. Defying church and state, Fr Joe Breen and Fr O’Connor commended the fallen soldier’s soul to God. Fr Joe died of TB in 1930, almost forgotten but still true to his collar and cause, a man of his people.”

Dr Horgan said there were two types of history in Ireland, one which “borders on fiction and was quickly put out by the ruling class …. to justify the illegal and reprehensible actions by which they achieved and maintained power”.
“It is a tale of half-truths and accepted by an unquestioning self-proclaimed intelligentsia. It finds its way into a willing media and school classrooms. It dictates who should be remembered and who should not, who should be commemorated and who should not.

“In this narrative, only two heroes are allowed starring roles, Michael Collins and Eamon De Valera. It dictates that it was Collins and De Valera who between them drove the British from Ireland, with Ireland redefined as a state not the nation.

“What they will not tell you is that De Valera never fired a shot against Ireland’s enemies and the only shooting that poor Collins did was against the republicans in West Cork,” said Dr Horgan as he lamented how heroes such as Cathal Brugha and Harry Boland had both been forgotten this year, the centenary of their deaths.

But there was another history, he said, found beyond the corridors of power and the halls of academia and held dear in the hearts of ordinary people and it was “a narrative of selfless patriotism, not self-serving politics …. a history inspired by principle, not by position, not by profit, not by convenient pragmatism”

“It is a history of injustices done and betrayals perpetrated, history of dashed hopes but above all, it is a history of a people that refused to submit – it is a narrative not taught in schools, but one spoken amongst those who are proud to proclaim what the so-called ‘right-thinking’ and ‘mature’ are now too embarrassed to recall.”

“It tells us that while Collins held court in the pubs of Dublin and De Valera was comfortable in the hotels of America, Liam Lynch was fighting against all the odds in the ditches and lanes of North Cork, cold, wet and hungry, he led his men and his men followed him.”

Dr Horgan said it was now fashionable to pronounce that one side was just as bad as the other in the Civil War, but he rejected such an assessment of “that dreadful conflict” as he believed that there was a huge difference between the pro-Treaty side and those who were holding out for a republic.

“Let it be said that there was a difference between those who fought for a proud unbroken nation and those who fought for a newly established state subservient to the British Empire – there was a difference between those who had taken an oath to the Republic and those who had sworn allegiance to a foreign king.

“There was a difference between those who fought for the Republic and those who sought to destroy it. There was a difference between those prisoners who were tied to a mine at Ballyseedy and those who detonated it. There was a difference between those who faced the firing squad and those who fired the deadly volley.

“There was a difference between those teenage prisoners found dumped in Dublin’s ditches and those who put British-supplied bullets in their heads. There was a difference between those who were tortured and their tormentors.

There was a difference between the laws of God and the edicts of the bishops. There was a right side and a wrong side in the Civil War.

Recalling how Lynch, who was born in 1893 near Anglesboro in Co Limerick, became captain of the Fermoy Company of the Irish Volunteers and later O/C of the No 2 Cork Brigade of the IRA in 1919, Dr Horgan said Lynch was “a courageous and natural leader of men”.

He was appointed commander of the 1st Southern Division of the IRA in April 1921 and followed a path of principle rather than politics, remaining committed to the ideals of liberty declared in the 1916 Proclamation, said Dr Horgan.
“As the Irish Republic was bargained away in 1922, he remained loyal to ‘The Cause’, a leader who was at one with the men and women that had battled in the ditches and streets rather than those who were more comfortable in armchairs, far from the fighting but who had now come to the fore.”

Describing Lynch as “a soldier’s soldier but a reluctant one”, Dr Horgan noted how Lynch had negotiated an end to fighting in Limerick in the early days of the Civil War only to see this agreement broken when England had demanded an end to the Irish Republic.

“But Liam Lynch and soldiers of the Republic would not yield and thus betray that which their comrades had died for over the previous seven years. Often criticised for not ending the Civil War earlier by those for whom 26 counties was sufficient, Liam Lynch knew that the Irish Republic was not his to surrender, not his to betray nor bargain away, he was its guardian, not its master.”

“Men before him and after him would shamefully sell that which was not theirs to trade but not Liam Lynch. He remained true to ‘The Cause’ and for this we remember him a century later,” said Dr Horgan as he recalled how Lynch fell mortally wounded in the Knockmealdowns on April 10th 1923 following an encounter with Free State troops.

“His comrades left him on the mountainside, perhaps they had no choice. Some would also leave their leader’s principles on those blood-stained slopes. Frank Aiken took Lynch’s place as leader of the Republican army and quickly quenched the flame that had burned since Soloheadbeg. The army of the Republic would fight no more or so, he declared.

“Others such as Moss Twomey of Fermoy, Lynch’s loyal friend and comrade would struggle on, their oath was to the nation and not the king nor the new state. Twomey had declared for a republic and he too would serve under no other law.

“And when in 1935, the republicans and ordinary people of Ireland built a fitting monument in the Knockmealdown Mountains to their fallen chief, it was Moss Twomey who was chosen to unveil it, though at the time, still loyal to the cause, he had been declared a wanted man by the De Valera government. History would judge.

Earlier, Dr Horgan and Chairperson of the National Liam Lynch Commemoration Committee, Cllr Deirdre O’Brien laid a wreath at the Republican Plot at Kilcrumper where Lynch and Fitzgerald lie. After the oration, bugler Phil Dunphy played The Last Post and piper, Pa Cronin from the Liam Lynch Memorial Pipe Band played Amhran na bhFiann. – News