The Taoiseach, Eamon de Valera was watching intently (he clearly was not then near-blind). He had been a very good rugby player in his youth. The President/ Uachtaran na hEireann, Dr Dubhghlas de hIde (Douglas Hyde) had been a fine cricketer and a crack-shot, and the Minister for Posts & Telegraphs,Oscar Traynor, on their lef had toured Europe, including Germany and the Austro- Hungarian Empire as Goalkeeper for Belfast Celtic and been capped for Ireland.
They had all given great service to Ireland, which they loved dearly. But when Yeats wrote –
“Out of Ireland have we come
Great Hatred, Little Room”
he didn’t know the half of it.
The President, who used the pen-name An Craobhinn Aoibhinn (the serene little branch) was the gentlest of souls, but no weakling. He was a member of the Church of Ireland and the son of a rector. He had been in the old Free State Senate, but when he sought re-nomination failed miserably because he was condemned by The Catholic Truth Society because he did not oppose divorce. The Truth Society pamphlets I’ve seen did not impress me except for one called The Devil at Dances. It told of one young man who vowed he’d never marry a girl who did the tango, as he had tangoed himself in his prodigal days .It takes two to tango (literally “touch”) so perhaps he’d never attempted it with a girl? Dr Hyde had co-founded the Gaelic League, where males met with unchaperoned females, and Catholics socialised with Protestants. Dr Hyde was anathema to over-pious Catholics on two counts.
Oscar Traynor incurred the wrath of some Gaelic sportsmen for playing soccer – “a foreign, garrison game.” The Gaelic Athletic Association is, and always was, an autonomous, voluntary and democratic body and perfectly entitled to make its own rules for its own members. But it has damn all right to make rules for others or impugn their patriotism for choosing to play any game they choose.
Oscar Traynor was a veteran IRA, a 1916 Insurgent Officer and the commander of the IRA’s Dublin Brigade, following the murder of its Brigadier Dick McKee, Vice-Brigadier Peadar Clancy (and the civilian Conor Clune in the Guardroom of Dublin Castle by Captain Jocelyn Lee Hardy of MI5 in November 1920.
Traynor had organised the burning of the Customs House in Dublin in May 1921 and the documentation in it, virtually crippling Britain’s attempt to administer Ireland. IRA Headquarters, and the Dail Cabinet, which had ordered the operation were well pleased with it, despite the begrudgery of later commentators.
In June 1921 Traynor commanded an action in Dublin against the British Army where the IRA were the first combatants in the world to employ a Thompson machine gun.
(This is the first part of a blog. The next part follows soonest.)