Tuesday 21 January 2014

Remembering Soloheadbeg

Continuing an occasional series in sites of brutal murder and reciprocal atrocity today we're visiting Soloheadbeg about 3 km outside Tipperary Town.  Last August we were back in 1922 to imagine what it might have been like to see Michael Collins, might-have-been Taoiseach and Uachtaráin, shot down and killed.  That was at the beginning of an eleven month civil war that set the parameters for Irish politics up to the present day.  Today we're going back to the very beginning of the armed conflict in Ireland that characterised the five years immediately after WWI.

It is hard to credit at this distance of time that, just ten or eleven weeks after the armistice that finally put an end to the bloody futility of The First War, there was stomach for further conflict. On 21st Jan 1919 the First Dáil Éireann was meeting in the Mansion House in Dublin - those present had been successful in regular  UK elections the previous month but refused to recognise the legitimacy of the parliament to which they had been elected.  They were republicans, yes, but most of them wanted to retain the rule of law, the old hierarchies, the existing social arrangements but with themselves calling the shots rather than the government of the larger island next door.  

On the same day that the suits in Dublin were setting things up to call the shots, a more radical element was starting the actual shooting.  Soloheadbeg, a small road in the middle of nowhere in County Tipp was about as far as you could get from the Mansion House. A bit like the location of Azimov's Second Foundation at the opposite end of the Galaxy from the First Foundation at Terminus with turns out to be at the centre. There two RIC policemen were shot to death as they escorted a load of gelignite for use in a local quarry.  As far as I can read it at a distance of 95 years, the perps who carried out the attack were not primarily interested in the explosives but in precipitating a war rather than piffling about in Dublin expecting a bloodless transfer of power.  They are considered the first shots of the Irish War of Independence and the event is commemorated with a big roadside monument not dissimilar to that at Béal na Bláth. The unfortunate constables who died are not memorialised there but rather the act of violence against them.  This despite the fact that, as Irish born Catholics, they were not the stereotype of an invading Saxon horde. I thought I'd call their very Irish names to mind today - James McDonnell and Patrick O'Connell.

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