“As Ard-Mhéara, I pledge that I will be non-partisan and inclusive in all my duties, whether inside or outside the council chamber and to highlight the injustices that make our society unequal.”
That’s Councillor Chris O’Leary. He’s been elected Cork’s first Sinn Féin mayor in ninety years. Funny how things conjoin, because I was reading a couple of days ago about another mayor of Cork, Tomas Mc Curtain.
He was a friend and confidant of Michael Collins and was shot dead in March 1920 by a group of men it was believed was led by RIC Detective Inspector Oswald Ross Swanzy. Using his intelligence network and in particular information from RIC Sergeant Matt McCarthy, Collins traced Swanzy to Lisburn. IRA Intelligence Officer Sean Culhane was sent to Belfast in August 1920, where he linked up with local IRA activists. They took a taxi to Lisburn and on 22 August one of the Belfast IRA men, Roger McCorley, walked up to Swanzy as he was passing the Northern Bank and shot him dead. They then made their escape.
Over the next days and weeks, hundreds of Catholics fled for their lives from Lisburn to Belfast. Catholic houses were set on fire. Where there was a danger that an adjoining Protestant house might be damaged, the Catholic family’s furniture was taken out on the street and burned. Some Catholic who couldn’t afford to take the train to Belfast, walked. Many of these were attacked and some killed as they tried to pass through Lambeg. Inside a week, a total of twenty-two people had been killed.
I’m not sure what the moral of all this is, if there is one. Maybe it’s that one killing leads on to another and then to mass slaughter. Maybe it’s that sectarianism is a scourge which results in innocent people being burnt out of their homes and killed. Maybe it’s that Ireland is a small country and the distance from Cork to Lisburn isn’t as far as some might think.
A commemorative tablet was erected in the wall of Lisburn Cathedral in honour of DI Swanzy. Is there, somewhere in Lisburn, a plaque commemorating those innocent Catholics who were burned from their homes and killed in 1920?