Have you read Guerrilla Days In Ireland by Tom Barry? I have, about four years ago, and I found it a surprisingly well-written book. Why surprised? Probably because there’s a tendency in the first-hand accounts of what some call the War of Independence and others the Black and Tan War (think about for a minute, Virginia, and you’ll figure it out) tend to be melodramatic and done with the help of a ghost writer whose idea of good prose was an Indo headline. If you’re in Cork between the 18-23 August this year, you can see a highly-rated stage production of it. “Beg, borrow, steal a ticket but get to see it” the Irish Examiner has advised readers. “A beautiful war drama of a high standard, hauntingly designed and atmospherically lit…last nights audience greeted the play with a standing ovation” is the Evening Echo’s verdict on an earlier production.
Why is Tom Barry so revered? Bluntly put, because he killed people. Or arranged to have them killed. In this he was very successful. In fact a well-known song ‘The Boys of Kilmichael’ was composed to commemorate a particularly successful killing occasion, when seventeen Auxiliaries were ambushed and killed by Barry’s flying column.
Kilmichael is in Cork and Tom Barry was a Corkman. So too is Micheal Martin. He was speaking at the MacGill Summer School the other evening, and both he and Fine Gael’s Leo Varadkar said they would not form a coalition with Sinn Féin after the next general election, even if the figures put them in a position to do so. Why? Well Micheal twittered about a difference in economic policies but when pressed, it had to do with a moral judgement, as it did with Varadkar. Sinn Féin’s antecedents – now approaching some forty years ago – were just too violent to make them acceptable partners. And yet Martin is a member of a party which would revere (and will revere, particularly during 2016) Tom Barry, who by any definition was a man of violence. Varadkar, of course, comes from Fine Gael, whose great father-figure is Michael Collins. Barry’s killing of 17 RIC men came just one week after Michael Collins arranged the killing of twelve men, including British soldiers and RIC men. No song, to the best of my knowledge, has been written about that event.
How odd , though, that Martin and Varadkar, who would eat their own faces before they’d disown Barry or Collins respectively, are so disgusted by northern violence forty years ago, they cannot even envisage a situation where they would work politically with Sinn Féin, which has unambiguously left violence behind. To say “Oh but the IRA of Barry and Collins had the backing of the Irish people – the IRA of the 1970s and 1980s did not” is to construct a man of straw, easily demolished. One, an action is moral or immoral, regardless of how other people regard it. And two, the morality or immorality of an act should surely not change because a greater period of time separates us from it?
This two-tiered morality code that looks suspiciously like hypocrisy repulses many people. One could accept that people reject political violence. But when they laud it in one situation – write poems,songs, plays about it – and in another hold their noses and refuse political contact: that’s when the room becomes sickeningly thick with the smell of hypocrisy.
Why not come out and say it, lads? You reject partnership with Sinn Féin because you believe it’s a good political idea. Just like you think it’s a good political idea that the DUP go into government in the north with the same people you like to hold your nose in the presence of down south.
Irrational and hypocritical: apart from that, the spokesmen for Fianna Fail and Fine Gael are a fine pair of lads.