THE TIMES told me yesterday, 24 June 2020, that it was the anniversary of the beginning of a forgotten war, which arose in 1950 when Korean troops crossed the 38th Parallel into Korea.(Thirty one years earlier a Korean patriot had made his way on foot all the way to Versailles, petitioning the victorious Allies to make good their promise of self determination of nations. But, after another World War his country had been portioned by much Greater Powers.) I knew nothing of this on 24 June 1950 and had never heard of Korea.
I first heard of Korea on 29 June 1950. The previous day the UN Security Council supported an American Resolution to employ troops to repel the North Koreans. The Soviets were Boycotting the Security Council and couldn’t use their Veto, because the Americans had vetoed the seating there of Mao Tse Tung’s Government which had chased Chiang Kai-Shek’s regime to the island of Formosa.
Anyhow 29 June, the Feast of Saint Peter & Paul, was a Holiday from my Christian Brothers’ School, in Sutton, County Dublin, but not for workers in our priest-ridden State, any more than it was under Mao Tse Tung’s People’s Republic of China,
At the time my father, an engineer, was an Inspector with the Irish Land Commission, and his territory covered the counties of Wicklow, Wexford, and parts of Carlow. His own car, a 1934 Model Y Ford, 8 horsepower “Baby” Ford was kaput at the time, and there were no car-hire firms around at the time. So he could hire a car, with driver, on expenses. And the cars on hire to Government Departments were brand new Detroit V8s. To own a Baby Ford (with a top speed of 50 mph) was beyond the means of most citizens in those days.
But for an 8 year old schoolboy to emerge from a Dodge Fluid De Luxe in the back of beyond in those days must have seemed to onlookers as posing as a Lord’s Bastard, to use Brendan Behan’s expression.
Anyhow my father and the driver noted that a war had broken out. It must have been in the morning papers or on the BBC. Radio Eireann didn’t come on in the mornings, and the Dodge V8 Deluxe Drive didn’t have a Radio.
The driver was rather more distinguished than his car. A veteran of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, Maurice Collins had been in on planning the 1916 Rising and played an important part in the War of Independence. It wasn’t until the 1980s when I read the memoirs of Sean T O Ceallaigh (President of Ireland 1945-1959) that I found out that on the eve of the Rising, Maurice Collins had been detailed to hold Bulmer Hobson a key IRB man for many years, a prisoner at pistol point, until they had gone ahead with their plan, and in the excitement of the unfolding drama, forgot to order his release for a day or two.
And at Easter 1966 either London’s Sunday Times, or Sunday Telegraph, had a photograph of Maurice Collins in the Stonebreakers’ Yard in Kilmainham Gaol, at the spot Maurice’s comrades had stood when shot by British Firing Squads. The tone of the British media in 1966 regarding 1916 insurgents was of admiration and respect.
Maurice Collins would never eat meat on a Wednesday, because he had promised his Maker, in some crisis or other, that he would forsake that pleasure if he was helped through it.
And I found further intriguing details in his Witness Statement to the Bureau of Military History. I have had a charmed life, the first 23 years of which I lived in a sovereign independent Irish state, at peace with the world, and had the privilege to meet many of the quiet heroes and heroines who created it.