MEATH PEACE GROUP TALKS
No. 61 – “Easter 1916 – the Irish Rebellion”
Held in Association with the Meath Archaeological and Historical Society
Monday, 24th April 2006
St Columban’s College, Dalgan Park,
Navan, Co. Meath
Dr. Charles Townshend
(Professor of Modern History, University of Keele)
Brendan O’Brien (Journalist and author)
Welcome and introduction: Julitta Clancy
Opening words: Brendan O’Brien
Dr Charles Townshend
Questions and comments
Closing words and thanks
Appendix – Proclamation of Independence 1916
[Editor’s note: attendance at talk = 110]
Welcome and introduction: Julitta Clancy: On behalf of the Meath Peace Group, Julitta Clancy welcomed the speakers and audience to the first of two historical talks focusing on events of 90 years ago – the Easter Rising, 1916, and Irish Involvement in the Great War, 1914-18 – which are being held in association with the Meath Archaeological and Historical Society. “A special welcome to our speaker and our guest chair and all who have come to take part, some travelling long distances. These include some friends from Northern Ireland, members of the Louth-based cross-border dialogue group the Guild of Uriel, some from Co. Fermanagh and some from Belfast who are also members of the Ulster Unionist Party. The Guild has been doing tremendous work in promoting understanding and healing over the past ten years under the chairmanship of Roy Garland. I also want to welcome Breandán Mac Giolla Coille, the former chief archivist in the Public Record Office in Dublin and Paddy Battersby whose father, Thomas Battersby, was in the Fingal unit involved in the 1916 Rising – there is a memorial to him in Garristown. There are also some local historians here and others no doubt who had family members involved at the time. Just to mention that our talk on ‘Irish Involvement in the Great War’ will be held on 12 June in the Ardboyne Hotel, Navan.
“Our guest speaker tonight is Dr. Charles Townshend, Professor of Modern History at the University of Keele and author of Easter 1916 – the Irish Rebellion, and our guest chair tonight is Brendan O’Brien who has chaired three of our previous talks. He is a former senior current affairs reporter with RTE and has a long time involvement with Northern Ireland affairs. He is also the author of several publications including The Long War and A Pocket History of the IRA. Brendan currently presents the lunchtime current affairs programme on Newstalk 106….”
Introduction: Brendan O’Brien
“Thanks very much indeed Julitta. I am not going to say very much, because Dr. Charles Townshend is here to say things. … The thing about 1916 is that we really haven’t made up our minds yet about what exactly it was. I can certainly remember – I am old enough to remember and I am sure many of you are here too – to be educated in Irish schools using Carty’s History of Ireland, which told you nothing but that ‘the Brits were bad and the Irish were good’, so to speak, and rebellions were better than all! After a while Carty’s History of Ireland was consigned to its own history and new historians began to rewrite for schoolchildren what they believe really happened, or at least to give it multi-faceted aspects and to say that it wasn’t all a bed of roses and so on. I just wonder now if after thirty years of what is often called “The Troubles”, whether we are going through a new revisionism. It used to be that to be called a revisionist was a great insult. In a sense, it still is in this country: if somebody throws it at you, it is meant as an insult. It means you are not a true nationalist, you are not a true patriot or something like that – that you want to airbrush out some of the more patriotic rebellions and so on that took place in Irish history.
Revisiting of 1916: “There was a revisionism, as I say, that took place – certainly in the 1960s and 1970s – in the writing of Irish schoolbooks. I have a sense that there is a new revisionism now, which is a revisiting of 1916, that there is an acceptance of looking at 1916 dispassionately, and its implications for the foundation of the State or otherwise. I would just like to pose a very simple question: is the 1916 Rising over? In a sense I believe that what has happened is that 1916 was, if you like, taken over by people who established this 26-county state with a view to absolutely insisting that they would establish the 32-county Republic that was declared in 1916 in the Proclamation.
Inheritors of 1916: “Having failed to establish the 1916 Proclamation vision – the 32 county state – historians may start to look at and ask who are the true inheritors? Who are the people who held the flame? It may be very uncomfortable to suggest that the people who held the flame are actually those who stayed outside this state, who rejected this state from the beginning and who said: ‘we are the inheritors, we will keep the 1916 – if you like the 1919 Republic – going, the one that was voted for in the 1918 election’. There are people still who will say the Provisional IRA fought for many years saying that they were the ones who held the true flame, then they changed tactics in 1986 and decided to accept seats in Dail Eireann and they would still say that they continue with the same principles only they have pragmatically entered politics. Others would say that they have effectively accepted the State in all its legitimacy. If that is true or even partly true, the people who would say that they are the true inheritors of 1916 are the Continuity IRA and people who will stay even further outside. That is a very uncomfortable suggestion to make.
“I am not saying that I am subscribing to it, but it is nonetheless one that you have to look at and say: have we, has this State, effectively abandoned 1916 in favour of the only state that was available to it, while in verbal terms keeping the objectives going, knowing it can’t be achieved? Is that where we are now and will the ultimate revisionism be that 1916 is unachievable, that the goals as set out in 1916 are unachievable and whether we should just accept that that is what has happened in the intervening years?
Signatories of Proclamation – what would they have done at the time of the Treaty?: “I only just throw that out and, in a sense, the final thing I would say about that is that one of the advantages of 1916 in all its aspects is that it has a mystique about it which will never go away, because most of its leaders were executed. Therefore what they had said and what they believed is frozen in time rather than what they would actually have done at the time of the Treaty. What would they have done at the time of the Treaty? Do you go down the list of the signatories of 1916 and say: ‘would any of them have accepted the Treaty? Would they have always stayed on the outside to fight against the Treatyites and would never have gone in with De Valera, saying ‘the Republic as established in 1919 is the only true Republic, that is what we are staying outside for?’
“It is very comfortable for us to all know in a sense, that they were – not that they were executed – but the fact that they were executed means we don’t know the answer to that question. So we can all answer it for them and feel comfortable in knowing that, yes, at the end they would have accepted this State. I am not so sure.
Did we abandon 1916 in favour of what was available? “Anyway, these are provocative questions and what I would say for certain is that Fianna Fáil doesn’t own 1916. Bertie Ahern doesn’t own 1916. None of the political parties own 1916. This state was not founded in 1916. It was founded in 1921/1922. Whether you link it back to 1916 is itself a provocative question which we in the media continually ask, and have been asking in recent times, and getting fudge and confusion in the answers that they get, because people are uncomfortable with that question.
“Did we effectively abandon the 1916 in favour of what was available to us or not? That is a big question and I know for certain that Dr. Charles Townshend is going to answer this question perfectly and leave us all going home with great comfort and I would like to introduce him now. By the way after he speaks there will be plenty of time for questions and answers. …”
Dr. Charles Townshend (Professor of History, University of Keele):
“Thank you very much. Yes in fact I think I can give you a very short and simple answer to your question of whether the objectives of the 1916 rebels were unattainable and that is yes, they were unattainable. But I am sure we will want to come back to that question later.
“I am very glad to be here on what is the 90th anniversary of the outbreak, of the insurrection, the Rebellion, the Rising, whatever you want to call it. I call it a rebellion because the people who did it called themselves – and have always been called – ‘rebels’, and I think rebellion is a perfectly nice word to use. But I know there are people who don’t like to use this word and if there are any of you here, I hope you will raise that question as well.
“I know you have all been through a long period of celebrating this anniversary which was celebrated, of course, on the wrong day! From a strict historical point of view, this day – the 24th April – is the anniversary of the outbreak of the Rising. I know you have also been through a long period of people debating whether it is a good idea to celebrate the Rising, and there has been a tirade of very hostile commentary which has suggested that in fact it is a very bad idea to celebrate it, that the Rising was unjustified, was unsuccessful and pernicious in it’s long-term effects. In fact I did a talk precisely on these three concepts and attempted to analyse the argument on both sides of that, just a few days ago in Dublin. I had had it in mind to come along and just do the same thing in a rather lazy way here tonight. You may well end up wishing that I had done that! But in fact I woke up this morning – as one sometimes does – thinking I would do something slightly different.
Background – historians and 1916: “But I think I’d probably better start by just saying how I came to be here doing this. Writing a book about 1916 is not a straightforward thing to do for a historian. In fact it is quite an odd fact that no professional academic historians had ever done it since, I think, the 1920s. And although I think F.X.Martin credited Alison Philips with having written a complete account of it, in fact the book that Philips wrote was a study of the Irish Revolution as a whole, and so a dedicated single full volume study of 1916 just didn’t get written. For a long time it was because all contemporary history was essentially eschewed by Irish historians. Part of the founding rules of the first really serious set of professional Irish historians that developed in the 1930s and founded the journal Irish Historical Studies was not to deal with contemporary history because of its political significance and the fact that so many people were still alive. … Then, just when that might have been dying away, and historians might have been turning to these things, along came 1966 and all that followed from that. By the time I started work on a period close to 1916, but actually starting in 1918 (and this was in 1969), things were beginning to get very nasty, and 1916 was beginning to bear some of the blame for this.
‘Revisionism’: “So I think a whole new generation of people, as it were, turned away from it. It is pretty striking, as I say, that in the great fluorescence of Irish history writing – and it has been very dramatic since I started work – it is still the case that nobody really has ‘full-on’ done 1916 and it is because I think that the history writing has been dominated by what has tended to be called ‘revisionists’ which is a way of saying, doing history properly, that is to say casting aside all preconceptions and just trying to look at the material as straightforwardly as you can. Revisionists by and large have tended to take the view – and I certainly plead guilty to this myself insofar as I have been a revisionist, not one of the most notorious maybe, but I wrote a book in 1983 which is an embarrassingly long time ago now, in which I took a pretty negative view of 1916, I think it is fair to say, seeing it as really a very dangerous surrogate for politics. Pretty much the normal, liberal view, I think, of political violence.
“Really, apart from generally occasionally firing off certain dismissive jibes of 1916, I think most of my generation of historians have really done very little on it. Just one, I think, particularly striking example: a very hefty book was published a few years back called A Military History of Ireland – excellent book under the editorship of Keith Jeffery and Tom Bartlett (Cambridge University Press, 1996). That I think had two paragraphs on the 1916 Rising in it – in a book of 500-600-700 pages! They were pretty fiercely critical. In fact, they represented, I think, in full flog, the most critical, most revisionist, most dismissive view of 1916, and if I can call the precise phrase to mind -“reckless, bloody, sacrificial and unsuccessful”. Those were the four adjectives! So you can see where I had got to my three categories that I explored the other night. …I made various attempts to start work on this and I think it was the inability to really engage with the direct experience that sort of slowed me down and then I kept bouncing off it. Fortunately – or if it is a fortunate event? – I got a wonderful research award a few years back and I realised that this was now or never, I would have to engage with this. And it happened to come at a time when, as I am sure you all know, I can’t really call it a new source, but an old source which had only been very partially available to historians and to the general public, the witness statements compiled by the Bureau of Military History 1913-21 were finally made publicly available. And these are remarkable and fascinating and a very valuable source, and certainly for me they made the proof of difference between the standing back from this event in a rather critical way and I think my being able to engage with it in something like the kind of empathy that historians really do need to achieve. So I have done it.”
The Rising outside Dublin: “What I want to do today is not to recycle that talk I gave the other day, although I do think that those issues are extremely pertinent and interesting and I do hope that we can talk about them in the discussion afterwards. But actually I am just going to give you a historian’s little talk now, partly because of my suddenly realising that I was actually out of Dublin – I am not quite sure whether you regard yourself as being in the provinces here, but you are outside Dublin. I thought that what I would really do, is to look at an aspect of the Rising which I would hope I have done justice to in my book and which I feel I have done more justice to than most previous accounts, and that is the Rising outside Dublin, the Rising in the provinces, partly because I think it is interesting in itself and partly because it does raise one or two questions that are really the fundamental questions I raise about the way the Rising was conducted.
What went wrong? “I suppose that the underlying question that I just throw out right at the beginning and perhaps return to from time to time as I go along, is the question of what went wrong with the Rising – assuming we all agree that it went wrong in some way? There is possibly some scope for debate about just how badly wrong it went and that would depend what you expected it to achieve when you started out, and we know that there were disagreements amongst the leaders and between the leaders and followers about this, but something went not quite as well as it might conceivably have done. And did this thing go wrong because of the famous and standard explanation which was that everything was going fine until the dreadful misunderstanding that happened on the Saturday before the Rising was due to start – the disagreement between the planners of the Rising and the heads of the Irish Volunteer movement which resulted in the issuing of the countermanding order cancelling the Easter Sunday manoeuvres? By and large in most accounts – and certainly in most traditional accounts – everything that went wrong on the Monday is blamed on the countermanding order: the dislocation, the lack of forces and so on. But I think that – I am afraid this is a revisionist kind of view – there is another way of looking at it. What went wrong went wrong because the plans themselves were badly constructed in the first place. So I think the provincial rising which certainly did go badly wrong – I mean that is absolutely unquestionable, anybody who had in their mind the idea of the whole country rising up en masse was sadly disappointed.
“We know that in effect this was a rising that took place in Dublin and indeed many, many accounts simply ignore everything else that happened, with the possible exception of what happened just down the road at Ashbourne – that almost makes it into nearly every account. But for the rest of Ireland, it might as well be that nothing is going on and in many cases of course, nothing was going on. So one of the interesting questions is to figure out just how much potential there was and how much of that was lost in the way that the Rising developed.
“So what I just want to do is really do a very brief survey of the whole country. I started on this this morning. I got two pages of notes, and even an academic historian can’t speak for very long on just two pages of notes – you would think anyway! So I am hoping that this won’t detain you for too long and that we can then perhaps use this as the basis for thinking about some of these larger problems.
Newspaper headlines: “The Rising in the provinces, as I say, doesn’t command big headlines. It was late getting off anyway as far as the press were concerned. I just have a couple of headlines here that I think are fairly indicative. On the 26th April we see the Connacht Tribune. Its headlines go something like this: ‘Is it insurrection? Alleged General Rising in Ireland, wild rumours from Dublin’. So obviously somewhere in Connacht nothing much seemed to be happening. The Daily Express in London is even slower but eventually by the 28th it has this wonderful headline: ‘The crazy revolt spreads to the provinces’. So somebody thought it did eventually spread in its ‘crazy’ way.
Joseph Plunkett’s diary: “One interesting little detail also is that in Joseph Plunkett’s field pocketbook – one of those marvellous artefacts I think in the Rising, picked up on Moore Street actually after the surrender, apparently by a waiter at the Metropolitan Hotel. It now resides in the National Library. And this is his diary during the Rising and it’s surprisingly exiguous, I mean there is disappointingly little in it, just a few pages. One of them is actually about what was going on here in this very area. It is about hundreds of forces coming down from Dundalk. They were to bale out the Dublin garrison, and this actually was the basis I think of the speech that Pearse made to the Garrison in the GPO the following day, on the Thursday, saying that ‘the country is rising, Wexford has risen, hundreds are coming down from Dundalk’. And it loomed very large, obviously on a proportional basis – I haven’t quite worked out the proportion but it is a surprisingly large part of Plunkett’s very meagre account of his week at war. So something is going on.”
Arms landing and Ballykissane accident: “I want to just skim around the country from perhaps the most famous disaster of the Rising which is the failure of the arms landing in on the coast of Kerry. Well let’s start with that. Well no, let’s start with something that happens just about the same time, but I think also raises the same kind of question. The accident at Ballykissane, I don’t know if you know much about this. There are I think various stories about what the plan was but effectively they were a party of about half a dozen radio specialists who were sent down to the West Coast to dismantle radio equipment at Cahirciveen in Co. Kerry and take it to Tralee – and this is the most commonly told version of the story – to use to communicate with the German armship. If I have got this right, this was an idea of Sean McDermott’s … but the exact objective of this particular enterprise isn’t as important as what went wrong. The guys were put into two motorcars at Killarney station and drove off into the night – this is the night of Friday the 20th April. And, at Killorglin, the leading car took I think, the correct road, the right road, because they turned left. The second car, the driver didn’t know the road. I think they may have stopped to ask directions. Anyway, they took a right turn. They eventually ended up going off the end of Ballykissane pier into Castlemaine Harbour. The driver survived but all the passengers, the radio specialists, were drowned. I would assume that the driver survived possibly because the hood of the car didn’t actually cover the driver’s area.
“This was the car, according to the owner it was a ‘Brisco’, a vehicle which I am not familiar with, but maybe if there are any motor buffs in the audience, you might be able to help me out with this. But, this of course said, the mission was eventually aborted when the leading car realised that the following car was no longer following it. It seems like a ghastly accident and obviously it is a ghastly event and it sent shock waves actually through the whole area. But I think you can also just raise the question of whether it isn’t also oddly negligent? How, on a mission as important as this, could you… I know it is difficult for one car to follow another, but to have a driver who didn’t know the road – it does bespeak a certain carelessness in preparation.
“And I think that this is just the question that I raise: that things go wrong, but also at this point and particularly in Kerry, more things seem to go wrong than needed to. And that is particularly true of the arms landing which again is a notoriously difficult business, concerting a ground party to land weapons from a ship which has been at sea for the best part of three weeks. And we know that after its epic journey out of Hamburg, the armed ship [The Aud] did arrive absolutely on time, at least if the captain is to be believed. Captain’s logs usually don’t lie but Spindler, as it happens, has been criticised for the accuracy of his log and his navigation as well. But I don’t think anybody disputes that Spindler’s ship actually made it into Tralee Bay. And the problem is that even though the arrangements had gone wrong, and I think the general explanation is always that the people who were in charge of the landing arrangements just didn’t know that the change to the arrangements couldn’t befollowed through …..The ship is there. The chaps are not there. But as I think the best naval historian or maritime historian who has looked at this, has reasonably asked: it is just extraordinary that this ship is floating around in Tralee Bay for well over 24 hours. Nobody notices it. Is it really conceivable that you would have a set-up which is dependent on receiving these weapons and that nobody would be keeping a look-out of any kind?
“So that is the kind of question and I think it is rather awkward and it suggested for me many years ago, and I think I still stick to this although I am not quite as sure about it as I was before, but it suggests that the people who planned the operation overall, weren’t quite so concerned about getting these guns ashore as we might assume they would be. It seems to me that if this operation really was important, it is not possible to understand how it went wrong in the way that it did. The only possible explanation is that not enough organisational effort had been put into making it work.
Cuntermanding order: “Still, that is my view and in looking at the way it all fell apart in Kerry after this, it just went very badly wrong. On Sunday, once the countermanding order had been issued, absolutely nothing seems to have happened. There is a rather moving account of the Dingle company marching 35 miles barefoot to Tralee on Sunday and then back again the same distance on Monday. It puts you irresistibly in mind of the ‘Grand Old Duke of York’ marching up and down, and yet this is very sad. And this is just one amongst hundreds of examples of men and women who turned out on Easter Sunday with a great deal of effort, only to find that absolutely nothing happened. In the case of very many of them, they marched off back home again and they were never seen again.
Communications shut down: “So the whole question of how the countermanding order – not what caused it, but how it was dealt with after it happened – I think is, as I say, at the back of the way I am approaching this: I think it is clear enough that everything kind of shut down, communications from Dublin to the provinces pretty much shut down over this and the remedial effort that would have been necessary – and possible, I think, to overcome the effect of the countermanding order – just simply was not made. We get, in the southwest, a real general paralysis, and, if anything, the impact is worsened by the instructions that are coming from Dublin.
Limerick: “It is curious that in Limerick, which had responsibility for basically covering the whole landing of the weapons and then moving them according to this rather grandiose plan, which has often been mocked, I think perhaps in this case slightly unfairly, Pearse’s phrase about ‘holding the line at the Shannon’, the local commander did regard it as an impossible mission. But it wasn’t that that was so much of a problem, as the fact that Pearse changed his orders at the very last minute, having given these orders actually very belated in the first place. So the Limerick staff were working on it desperately and then were given a whole new set of orders. And so we see this in other places as well, that such orders that do come through actually make the situation more confused.
Cork: “In Cork, they are absolutely obsessed about the conflicting orders they are receiving. In Cork apparently …nine separate different orders were received in the first four days of Easter week! Sadly for the historian they didn’t keep them, there isn’t a nice little file with them all in, so you can see. But that was their view of what went wrong.”
Galway: “The biggest mobilisation outside Dublin actually took place in Co. Galway, and it was big. Again we don’t have a muster. That’s one of the things that puzzles me in general about the Rising, I haven’t really cracked this at all: nobody counted their forces anywhere, even in Dublin, which was the most efficient brigade in the country. But by some accounts there were a thousand people mobilised in Galway so we are talking about a very significant force, and it is rendered futile by its leaders’ inability to adjust to the failure of the arms landing. All the planning is based on the arms landing, distributing the guns and then creating this rather large strategic manoeuvre that Pearse was talking about. When that didn’t happen, nobody seems to have had any idea of what else to do. And the commanding officer in Galway, Liam Mellowes, never seems to have come up with any plausible proposals to counter the increasing defeatism of his officers. Basically he has a series of battalion councils and the officers are all saying, ‘right, we’re done for, let’s go home’. I feel what Mellowes needed to do was to say, ‘no chaps, there is another way, there is something we can do’. He never said it. Only one of his fellow organisers, Alf Monahan, actually said: ‘well we can use guerrilla methods’. I think he was the only one who said this, but he said it perhaps too late and with not sufficient conviction.
Guerrilla methods: “But it is extraordinary, and again here Galway is quite typical, I think, of the rest of the country, that nobody has ever thought about this before. Well they had. The formal leadership of the Irish Volunteers were very keen on guerrilla methods, but the informal, the secret committee, notably Pearse and McDonagh, the director of training, were quite against guerrilla methods. And as a result, well we don’t know quite how much they did, but they certainly did far, far less than we, with the benefit of hindsight, might expect them to have done. And certainly not enough to convince these – ‘defeatist’ is a hard word – but I think if you look at the Galway Brigade’s officers, they were defeatist. They really thought that they were never going to be able to achieve anything. They would have needed something positive to convince them that it was worth going on and taking the risks.
“So there was a great need for local initiatives to overcome this undeniable big problem that they faced when the arms cargo was lost.
Breakdown of communication: “And it is a fact that I find difficult to explain, that after Pearse’s relaunch of the Rising on Monday – after the delay from Sunday – remarkably few orders from headquarters seemed to have reached any of the provincial units and this is not because it is difficult to get them there. There is no shortage of very willing couriers. There is just a breakdown of communication. And so what we see across the country, as I say, is a dependence on the individual local initiative and it just doesn’t appear. …
Westmeath: “I will just quote you a little piece from Westmeath: ‘only 7 of the 70 Volunteers in Tyrell’s Pass turned out on Monday, even when they heard the fighting in Dublin, they were confused and did not know what to do. … They could not do anything. They were disorganised and the element of surprise was gone. To attempt to take a post or hold a village would have been a useless sacrifice.’
“You see that argument used again and again and you lose count of the number of times it is used. None of those arguments would look very plausible four years later and therefore there is something that could be happening I think there that isn’t. So the lack of initiative I think is made, is almost guaranteed or maybe worsened by, the lack of training and the lack of preparation for the kind of fighting that actually would have been workable in those kind of situations.”
Ashbourne, Co. Meath: “And all of this is really appropriation for saying that it makes what happened around here, actually really rather more remarkable, rather more remarkable than earlier history certainly might suggest, because obviously we know that the operation of Ashbourne, the operations of the 5th Battalion under Thomas Ashe, are very well known. As I said at the beginning, they are never neglected even in the most Dublin-centred histories of the Rising. But what is most interesting rather, from my point of view, is that they showed how if you could improvise, you could outweigh the weaknesses which all these other provincial units were so painfully and paralysingly conscious of. Ashe when he started out had no idea what to do anymore than anybody else. He just stood around waiting for orders. Being closer to Dublin than most provincial commanders, I guess he probably wouldn’t have even have seen himself as a provincial commander. He actually did get orders, because after all you could get in and out of Dublin from County Dublin. He got orders, but they weren’t the orders he wanted. He thought that Dublin was going to send him forces. In fact he got orders telling him to send forces into Dublin and I think possibly partly for political reasons, partly to give Pearse the possibility of saying to his troops: ‘forces are coming from the provinces, the country is rising’.
“So Ashe reduced his force to what he clearly considered to be an unviable small number by sending what he could spare to Dublin. But then he somehow came up with a wonderful way of using these guys. He divided them into a flexible formation, almost Napoleonic on a tiny miniature: four little groups of about twelve taking the van and the supply functions in circulation, and he headed off into the wild yonder of County Meath. As we know it didn’t all go perfectly, but when the crunch came, they got involved in a fight, in a way again they had absolutely… no, it was totally unplanned. Ashbourne is often described as an ambush, but in fact it wasn’t. It was a classic kind of encounter fight where two sides had absolutely no idea what to expect. They had run into each other literally and it is just up to the one who can think and move quickest. The single battalion came out of that with I guess probably the greatest glory maybe of the whole of 1916 in terms of this being an absolutely successful operation.
Hill of Tara, Co. Meath: “So, alright, they got the glory. The men of Louth probably didn’t get so much glory, but I think that they actually tell us a little bit more about what was possible and what was difficult for the rest of the Volunteers because this area had been focused on by Pearse to an unusual degree. He had actually appointed, he had sent in a special supremo, to sort out the obviously militarily fairly undeveloped volunteer forces and he had instructions to keep communications open between Dublin and the West generally. So it is a big strategic mission. But he was also given a rather curious instruction which was to ensure that forces concentrated on the Hill of Tara over there. Dan Hannigan, the officer in question, actually protested. He objected to Pearse that Tara was ‘a very inconvenient place’, which is probably putting it mildly if you think about what possible military significance it could have. And in fact Pearse’s orders in this are very characteristic of the way he often went about things, in that the two missions he gave to Hannigan, I think you could argue, are mutually incompatible.
“They are contradictory. But he is trying to accomplish two things at the same time and I think that is very much what the Rising is about in Pearse’s mind, and I think actually that is the reason why it worked, because it is Tara’s symbolic significance that interested him. It might be inconvenient but he told Hannigan it was all-important for historical reasons. The coronation place of the old high kings of Ireland, he wanted the Proclamation of the Republic read there. Now he didn’t actually get this, because the mobilisation, like all these other mobilisations, went wrong for pretty much the same reasons, well for reasons again that are sometimes obvious and sometimes rather hard to understand. Hannigan, despite being given the responsibility for co-ordinating this entire area, then, for reasons that he doesn’t explain – and there doesn’t seem to be any other explanation either – didn’t get in touch with significant other forces, particularly the semi-independent company which had been formed by Seán Boylan, who had also strangely been told – not by Pearse directly but by one of his aides – that he was responsible for the Tara mobilisation. So we actually had two or three officers being given apparently the same mission. And whether this overkill was designed to make sure that somebody would do it if the others failed to, I am not sure, but it is strange that the central command didn’t actually tell them, these separate officers, that these arrangements were being made. Again that is very characteristic of arrangements throughout the country. But, whereas Hannigan’s outfit actually refused to take the countermand seriously, and Hannigan insisted on getting a direct confirmation from Pearse before he would disband, and so in fact his force went marching off and stayed in the field really for days on end, Boylan’s force did disband. They just accepted the countermand. The Boylan brothers went off to the Fairyhouse Races like so many other people on the Monday.
Boylan’s force: “Then they did reassemble, and that again is terribly important, I think, because in answer to the question that I am sort of anticipating might come up in discussion in fact and relaying one of the arguments I was using the other night about the justification of the Rising, one of the arguments that is quite commonly brought to bear is the argument that the Volunteer rank and file were actually deceived by their leadership, that Pearse, Plunkett, McDermott were – well the word ‘lies’ has been used, so it sometimes goes beyond the polite word ‘deception’ or ‘misleading’ – but that they were lying to the followers in order to make sure they turned out in the rebellion. And my answer to that is that it wasn’t really necessary for them to do this. The guys who turned out in Easter week wanted to come out. They weren’t fooled into this and I think that Sean Boylan is probably an excellent example of that, as somebody who has missed the mobilisation. Certainly he is under no illusion what is involved when he finally does get into it. But get into it he does, so he remobilises. He joins up with Hannigan and thus we have this strategic force which is supposed to be fulfilling Pearse’s objective of keeping communications open. But when I look at how in his own account of what he then did, I just cannot square these things together. I can’t see that what he then did – which was very little, and this is not really intended as a criticism of him in a direct sense – because I say nobody really had any idea what to do. But they moved around, they eventually occupied a large house and they sat there trying to make contact with Ashe. That is where they stayed until the end when they finally made contact with Ashe. Allegedly, according to Peter Boylan, I think, the one contact was betrayed but eventually they did make contact with Ashe only to find that he had already surrendered. So they were still in the field, they were one of the last fighting units in the field, but they didn’t fight. The position they were in, I don’t think would have worked very well to pursue the purpose of Pearse’s orders.
Limitations: “So, I know this is going to sound kind of unsatisfactory, but to me this is the picture of how things were. A tremendous amount of energy goes into this, a lot of commitment. There are thousands of men and hundreds of women involved in trying to get this Rising off the ground. I think most people would accept the way I put it at the beginning. It failed. The national Rising really didn’t take off. But as I say the failing seems to me to be almost built-in to the limitations of the training, the ideology perhaps of the Volunteer movement in general.
Critique of MacNeill and Hobson: “And I come back to this long running dispute between the two elements in the leadership, which welled up in Holy Week and presented the result that ended in the crisis of the countermanding order. This wasn’t just a dispute about whether there should or should not be an insurrection, although it was partly about that. And to sort of just prepare the way for moving the discussion on when I stop speaking: the beginning of the revisionist critique of 1916 began before the Rising took place. It is contained in the views of Eoin MacNeill and Bulmer Hobson which is to say the Rising wouldn’t work and they argued this consistently. It wasn’t so much that it wouldn’t be justified, although I think they did take that view, but that it wouldn’t work, because you couldn’t just raise the flag and expect the people to rally to it. You had to have some mechanism for engaging the people in large numbers, and MacNeill’s critique basically is based on the fact that the people planning the rebellion were nineteenth-century insurrectionists, they were the political equivalent of faith healers. They thought that the nation was a slumbering – the metaphor they tended to use was ‘powder keg’, and one of the many arguments between Bulmer Hobson and James Connolly revolved around this metaphorical ‘powder keg’, but that is a classic metaphor used by insurrectionists. You drop the spark, you need to supply the spark and ‘boom!’ the nation will respond. Hobson and MacNeill say: ‘no, it won’t be like that. The spark will fall into a damp bog.’
“So there is an argument about the viability of this one shot type of insurrection and the anti-insurrectioners are basically arguing that you have got to do it a different way. You have got to learn how to exploit the strength of your own weakness. Don’t go into a head-to-head showdown. Use different kinds of tactics. This debate went on for – am I exaggerating if I say years? – many, many months anyway. The formal director of training of the Volunteers in 1915 was in favour of doing essentially – not quite guerrilla training – but what they called ‘hedgefighting’. But as I said right at the beginning, this is resisted by the really decisive leadership of the volunteers, Pearse and MacDonagh.
“So I think one has to accept within the limits, the constraints, it could have been different. Whether the political impact could have been different, that is another question. But I shall leave it there and perhaps we can move onto some discussion.”
Brendan O’Brien: Well thank you very much indeed, Dr. Charles Townshend. Just to remind you, you probably all have one of these [handouts]. But anyhow Dr Townshend has written three important books. Apart from being Professor of Modern History at the University of Keele, he has written The British Campaign in Ireland 1919-1921, Political Violence in Ireland – Government and Resistance since 1948, and the most recent one, Easter 1916, the Irish Rebellion, and he was careful to tell us that in his view it wasn’t a rising but it was a rebellion. Some very interesting questions arising there now. I have written some of them down. I don’t know if you have written down the same ones. But anyway here is a microphone. I am going to pass it around and I just will see who wants to ask questions and we’ll put them to Dr. Townshend. So who wants to start? It’s always the hardest one isn’t it, the first one? …
QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS
Q.1. Jim Nolan (Enniskillen): “Mr Chairman, at the time of the arms coming in at Tralee and the ship in the bay there for so long. Was that not the time Roger Casement was captured and the head of the police there was anxious to get him released and he was hoping that the Volunteers would come and kidnap him, and they didn’t do that, because they felt that Casement was against the Rising? Can you make a comment on that?”
Dr. Charles Townshend: “Well yes that is a kind of odd idea, don’t you think? Why do you think the –well you would be talking about the County Inspector of the RIC – why would he want Casement to be released?
Jim: “Well that was a comment we heard last week, that he felt that he [Casement] was an innocent man. He kind of liked him. He kept him in his own house and brought him a steak and all that. He locked his door and he thought they might come into the other room and kidnap him. But the local Volunteers weren’t of the same mind. If he wasn’t kept at that stage, he might have saved being executed.”
Dr. Charles Townshend: “We haven’t got an official account of the interrogation but the unofficial accounts of the interrogation are very strange, I mean so the County Inspector did have some odd ideas. But are you suggesting that the Volunteers, that there is some ulterior reason why they didn’t try to release Casement?”
Jim: “I am not. I am just only saying what I have heard on a radio programme …”
Dr. Charles Townshend: “They had a discussion, basically. Austin Stack, the battalion commandant, convened a battalion council at the Rink in Tralee, and I think the majority of officers were in favour of trying to release Casement. But Stack took his orders, he said that his orders – which were not to fire a shot before the Rising – couldn’t be broken. What is curious about that argument is that he had already raided a police station to release another one of his officers, apparently he had been brandishing a revolver when he did this. So presumably he was taking some risk of firing a shot, I am not sure. I don’t know. I find this whole thing rather difficult to understand, because Stack, his whole posture is oddly quietist. Whether he really felt that the order to do nothing for Sunday was absolutely binding or that he is using it because he just didn’t want to undertake this particular operation, I am not sure. So, no, I cannot really solve that.”
Jim: “Some commentators have been trying to blame Austin Stack for this part…”
Dr. Charles Townshend: “Yes he didn’t get a good press over this, out of the whole plan. It is a bit unfair, because we do lack the information. It is a bit like criticizing the plan of the Rising as a whole, since we don’t know what it was. We have to work it out. You have to sort of retrospectively work out what it might have been on the basis of what was done.
“Allegedly, there was a plan for the landing of the arms but again it doesn’t exist, so we can’t subject it. It may have been a brilliant plan or it may not. I think that that is part of the problem, as far as we can work out from what was done, the plan doesn’t look to have been workable. But various people have come to that opinion, which I think to me on the basis of what we know is probably the only opinion you can come to. But there may well be a plan there somewhere. The curious thing, and the problem with all the secrecy of the planning, is that nobody else knew this plan. Even his second-in-command didn’t know it and being a good IRB man didn’t ask, because you weren’t supposed to ask these questions. So you have a plan that only one man knows….. But that may not be Stack’s fault. That may be the orders that he was given.
Jim: “Thank you.”
Q.2. Fr. Gerard Rice (President, Meath Archaeological and Historical Society) “Obviously for the last, say, 60 years, a certain idea of 1916 was part of the mythology of the Irish State and was therefore inculcated in the schools and it was necessary to give a respectable mythology to a new state manufactured in 1920. Now obviously the need for that mythology is gone and we are down to your goodself and people like you who are revising the way things are. But it strikes me, just from what you are saying tonight, when you mentioned Pearse and orders and things, it sounds like people playing at little games, that they weren’t really either trained or trained themselves or had the cutting edge of someone say like Collins, to organise even a rising, let alone a rebellion. I’d just like to hear your comments on that.”
Charles Townshend: “Well, obviously none of them were professional soldiers and that is a good thing! They are often portrayed as being a bunch of amateurs and actually very often it is said, ‘poets and dreamers’. Some of them were, some of them were poets anyway and they all may have dreamers and I don’t think there is anything really wrong with that. But that sort of stereotype of the really dreamy, I think perhaps Pearse and Plunkett in particular tend to be portrayed that way. It doesn’t fit Connolly does it? He is a very hard-headed guy and he – unusually in the leadership – did have some military experience although very much at the bottom end of it. And he certainly thought very hard about what was possible. I am not saying he wasn’t a dreamer either, because I think all international socialists at that time were dreamers. They were idealists. But they thought of themselves as ruthless revolutionaries and they thought they had absorbed the lessons of the nineteenth century. So Connolly is a hard-nosed geezer. What is odd about this is that Connolly and Plunkett seemed to absolutely get on on a personal level, but militarily what seems to have happened with the planning and the Rising, is that Plunkett’s plan was accepted by Connolly as being brilliant or fine anyway. In fact I think Connolly did often express theview that Plunkett had a brilliant military mind. So he kind of gets an endorsement from a pretty tough critic I would say.
Did the Rising need to be effective militarily? “But the real question is not whether they had the skills to make the Rising more effective militarily, I think it is unquestionable that the Rising could have been more effective militarily. It is always portrayed as a tiny band of people fighting against the might of a great world empire. But 1500 people out in Dublin alone, that is a very significant number, and as we know from what actually happened if you study the way the fighting actually happened, the great successes are had by very small groups of people, not large ones. So we know that it would have been possible for the Rising to be much more effective militarily. But the question is did it need to be? This is what I can’t decide. Pearse achieved what he wanted when he decided to surrender. Many around him were quite shocked and wanted to go on fighting and they clearly didn’t share his vision of how it was working. They felt that they were out there to win and they still felt they had a shot. He decided on the Saturday that enough had been done, and actually he was right. So in a sense, they didn’t need to do more than they did. They might even have got away with doing less. So that is where … and I think one is bound to go into a technical military critique, because in a sense, Pearse whatever else, is responsible for the lives of the people he commands, like any military commander. He knew that and he would have accepted that. That he definitely did. So therefore if you were incompetent then that is morally bad, because people get killed who don’t need to. So I think there is a necessary and legitimate ground for subjecting military operations to this kind of critique. But at the political level, as I say, I don’t know. I think that is where he really knew what he is doing.
Q.3: Séamus Ó Siocháin (NUI Maynooth): “You did a geographical run around the country and the single area most notable for being absent was the northern part of the country, so I just wonder if you would make a comment on that. I think when the Irish Volunteers were established, it was very significant in recruiting and support in the Northern part of the country. Now clearly strategists would probably have realised that there would be a very large proportion of the population who would be unsympathetic, but nevertheless would you like just to make a broad comment on that?”
Dr. Charles Townshend: “Well you are absolutely right that that was a very strong argument and I would say it was so strong that it induced – I am going to find myself using this word again – that ‘defeatism’ amongst the Volunteer leadership in Belfast. They seem never to have had any intention of doing anything in Belfast itself. They simply took everybody out. And I think the general idea was that they should assemble and gradually move off to the west, join up with these forces that were assembling in Galway and further south. And they started to do this and then they stopped.
“That is a very frustrating story, I think, for the people involved many of whom did feel very let down by their leaders and made no secret of this fact. Because, as you say, although it is an unpromising situation, there is a very powerful republican tradition in Belfast. And of course, Bulmer Hobson had founded the Dungannon Clubs movement with Dinny McCullough there, and you could argue that the Dungannon Clubs movement is the real beginning of the Volunteer movement and the beginning of the Easter Rising. That is what I would certainly argue. So in a sense it has prime place in the whole movement. So there is a sense of cheated expectation I think. But it did, as you say, I think the decisive argument was that anything resembling an attempt at local military operations in the North would have been overwhelmed by a sudden and very nasty upsurge of hostile activity, so that is about it.”
Q.4: Linda Clare (Batterstown): “Apart from the usual and expected local police forces based around the villages and towns of the country, what size was the British Army in existence prior to Martial Law being instituted on the Tuesday and the arrival of reinforcements and Maxwell on that week? In other words what were they up against numerically?”
Dr. Charles Townshend: “That is a surpisingly difficult question to answer. Because of the war being on, the true flow of troops was so continuous that you only get annual averages of the size of the troop content. I am sure it would be possible to work this out in theory from the military records, but nobody has actually quite done so. What we know is that most of the forces are unavailable because they are in tiny little local stations. We know there are about 2,500 troops in Dublin. It’s the total establishment, that is actually about 2,300 and I think 5 or 6,000 at the Curragh, some thousands in Belfast. We are probably talking about 20,000 troops. No?”
Linda: “I am gasping, they couldn’t handle that.”
Dr. Charles Townshend: “But also the 20,000 troops couldn’t be brought together. So concentrating them on Dublin you eventually ended up with an entire Division basically in Dublin which is probably 10-12,000 troops and yes that is quite a lot …, but militarily 10,000 troops would have immense difficulty penetrating into an inhabitants’ city held by 1500 rebels. So the disproportion, this is less than 10:1. Now the Soviet Army when it developed its urban warfare doctrine in the 1950s says 20:1 – this is on the basisof their experience in the Second World War. So urban war is fantastically difficult for regular armies to conduct. Well we know this from what has happened recently in Falujah – unless you are prepared to raise the city, it is incredibly difficult. I think we can say that the British did not have sufficient forces to deal in an easy way with what they might have been up against, but of course in principle they could have brought in 100,000 troops if necessary. But the problem was the War and I think certainly later when I say 20-30,000, that I think is the figure for 1916. In 1917 they had maybe 50,000 troops in Ireland, but that is partly because they kept more there after 1916. They tended not to let the garrisons get run down. But in 1916 itself they were run down, because that wasn’t regarded as being a security problem. As we know, part of the whole issue was the slightly odd British negligence, but anyway.”
Q.5. Marie MacSwiney (Drogheda): “You began by asking: is 1916 over? I’d like to ask do you think it would be over now, either on their terms or your terms if it had had a popular mandate?”
Dr. Charles Townshend: “Well I don’t think it was me who asked whether 1916 was over.”
Brendan O’Brien: “You can answer it!”
Dr. Charles Townshend: “… When you say a ‘proper mandate’ I am interested in this phrase because a lot of the criticism that has been levelled at 1916 or the ‘16-ers’ by – they tend not to be historians, they tend to be journalists and commentators, and as you are well aware, there was quite a blitz of them in the run up to April. But one of the charges is for example, if you have a parliamentary democracy then all violent methods are ipso facto illegitimate and therefore what you should do is to stand for Parliament. And it has been urged by some people, and I don’t think it is just Kevin Myers but him in particular, that these people should have stood for Parliament and if they didn’t then they had no title to do anything politically. That clearly is not a very persuasive argument. But this notion of finding some way of getting a mandate I think is incredibly difficult to do. I mean if you win an election, you have a mandate and that is a sort of democratic fiction, isn’t it? We don’t always agree, even as voters with that, but we go along with that. But where you are going into the unknown, I think it is much harder to say what a mandate might be. … The guy who talked about this perhaps most consistently in the pre-1916 period was Bulmer Hobson. He believed that the IRB itself had re-written it’s Constitution after the ‘67 ‘rising’ – well, you could barely call it that – and recognised the futility of trying to just strike and wave the flag and wait for the people to rally to you. Hobson believed that they had rewritten the Constitution to say that no action could be taken unless – how do I put it? – he interpreted it as the majority of the Irish people were in support. Again, it is hard to imagine how you would actually get to that situation I think. Hobson did use this argument repeatedly in the pre-1916 period although occasionally he also went the other way and became a bit of an insurrectionist. But certainly the decisive showdown on Friday when Pearse actually argued to him that his allegiance to the IRB meant that he must back the rebellion, Hobson persistently refused to. As a result he was arrested. He was the only member of the IRB who was actually arrested by the IRB itself and imprisoned.
Civil resistance: “But I never really have been clear about what he thought you would have to do. I don’t think there is any way in which you could get a mandate. I think what he is really talking about is that you adopt a method which will enable you to gauge how people are reacting, that you don’t just strike and then hope, but that you have a method that brings the people into the resistance organisation bit by bit, and that is a method that later will be known as civil resistance. That’s very much what Hobson was an advocate of. You start with things that are easy to do, that people can boycott, things that people can do without any..”
Marie MacSwiney: “Sorry I didn’t mean by ‘mandate’, the democratic mandate. I meant probably what you are saying now, a greater number of people joining the civil resistance. Over the decades since 1916, it has become patently obvious that the people who were involved in the insurrection were a minority and, if we are to judge by what you have told us tonight, even those who were involved, those coming in from provinces, those in the midlands for instance that you said just abandoned their march, were not wholehearted about it. And all I am asking you is: if the people involved had had more popular support and had people who were wholehearted about it, and perhaps all came from a similar ideological stance – and that may be part of the problem, that there were socialists there, there were republicans there, there were anti-English there, there were maybe reactionary Catholics there – there were all kinds of people involved and maybe if they had a unifying ideology and more popular support among the ordinary people of the country, really I’d like to know do you think it would have been successful or would we be talking still about finishing it?”
Dr. Charles Townshend: “Well, one of two things might have happened. One is that it might have produced this massive national uprising of theimagination, and Hobson’s argument is that if you get to a certain point the country becomes totally ungovernable and the British have to accept that they can no longer do anything.
“The other thing that might have happened is that the more formidable the resistance became, the heavier the British would have come down on it and it would actually have been a very nasty war in which thousands and thousands of people would have got killed. Normally that wouldn’t happen and of course Hobson, that sounds a bit daft doesn’t it – but Hobson wrote his thesis in 1909 and I think it is very much a peacetime thesis. Hobson, I think, had a fundamental disagreement with the old Fenian mantra which got pulled out again in 1914: ‘England’s difficulty is Ireland’s opportunity.’ That is manifestly not true in the case of a war this size; the one thing Britain couldn’t tolerate in the middle of a war that size would be a rebellion. In peacetime they might give way to it, in themiddle of a war they would destroy it. So it was entirely the wrong time to do it, if you were going to do that. So I think in reality, the more formidable the Rising had been in 1916, the more heavily it would have been crushed.”
Q.6. Fintan Mullally (Dublin): “I would slightly disagree with you on that theory, but my point basically is that with the number of Irish troops who would have been in the English forces at that particular time, would the brigades and battalions in Ireland have been 50:50 Irish natives and how high up the ranks? They wouldn’t be like the Duke of York or Duke of Wellington or up at the higher levels. I presume they would have a blockage at colonel or something. The ones who might be possibly nationalistic in their outlook – I suppose in a family where the first boy went to the church and the second lad went into the army. They were well-paid jobs at the time, not maybe well-paid in cash form, but at least you got a good education and things like that. Can you see that the reason that the Irish few got away with it, was the fact that there may have been slowness in shall we say the battalions taking on their sisters and brothers?”
Charles Townshend: “Did I get the understanding that you are suggesting that no Irish men got promoted above or to the rank of Colonel? Because that certainly wouldn’t be true. …In Irish regiments, and indeed outside them, as far as I know there is no glass ceiling for Irish people, since the Duke of Wellington’s time, as you rightly said. We know that two, three of the battalions in Dublin were Irish regiments. So, yes, is there any reluctance? I mean by and large the Irish troops were loyal to the oath to the army they joined, as Casement found when he tried to recruit Irish prisoners into the Irish Brigade. So as far as we know all of the Irish troops in Ireland were implacably opposed to the rebellion which they saw, as British people did, as a stab in the back. So I have never seen any evidence that there was any problem of that kind. It doesn’t appear in the military material itself that there was any inclination to pull Irish units out of the thing and replace them. It could look that way because the first reinforcements brought in from outside are extremely English formations, their midland division, but they were militarily completely ineffective compared with, I mean the effectiveness of those Irish forces, like the Royal Irish Regiment was very high, so I don’t think so. The curious thing to me though is that what used to be called ‘military fenianism’ in the nineteenth century was, it was an idea that at least made sense theoretically. John Devoy had been involved in that in the 1860s. Essentially it had been a plan to suborn the Irish units of the British Army and turn them into an insurrectionary force at the right moment. It was rooted out by a very fierce counterpolicy carried out by the military authorities and of course Devoy himself was eventually convicted and lived out the rest of his life in the United States. But it has never been clear to me why Devoy was so unimpressed by the Casement idea of forming an Irish Brigade. But it is clear that Devoy never thought it was going to work, whether this is based on his own experience, but it is a radically different situation in the First World War. The troops that he tried to convert were professional, hard-bitten professional soldiers. The troops in the prisons in the First World War many of them were just very recent recruits into Kitchener’s armies, and on the face of it, I would have thought it seemed like quite a good idea. But he never, I think, had any faith in it and of course in the event it didn’t work out. So that would appear to bear out the argument that once you join the British Army – for whatever reason – you stayed with it.
“That didn’t hold for ever. There was some leakage, and I think after 1916, it became more of a problem. I think nationalist ideas did begin to form a little bit more in Irish units, but of course never to the point that a whole unit would become unreliable.”
Q.7. George Fleming (Belfast): “Thank you very much Dr. Townshend for that excellent talk. What do you think today, 90 years after the Easter Rising, how do the people in Britain feel at the moment? Is there any general feeling at all, even from a political point of view and from all of the newspapers, I didn’t find much written about it, I doubt if there are any politicians in the British Parliament that know very much about it, putting it quite frankly, except for people like yourself who have an interest in this from an historical point of view and it is nice to see. I am a bit interested. Most Irish people are, but outside of Ireland what do you think?”
Charles Townshend: “What you were saying a minute ago, it strikes me as being pretty much the case that you have to scratch pretty hard to find any real interest in or understanding of Ireland amongst English people and that goes right back of course. That is part of the problem within the Union itself. It is part of the problem in the British government in 1916. Nobody knows, nobody cares. They have no touch in Irish policy and that is one of the reasons I think why the Liberal cabinet had eventually come to the conclusion that Home Rule was a good idea, because the Union just didn’t really work. So I think this is a real issue. There has been quite a bit of – as I was saying a while ago at the level of engaged journalists – there has been quite a flurry of rhetorical denunciation of the Rising. But I think you’d find it hard to find much response among ordinary people.
“So the whole point of the Home Rule policy was, as I say, based on the fact that the English or the British, whatever you want to call them, wanted to remove the Irish problem which had been such a nuisance for two, three generations and it is that negativity that is again, it’s followed out through British Policy after 1920/21 and British policy in relation to Northern Ireland. It’s an absolute unilateral withdrawal, even when Northern Ireland is breaking the rules that Britain had tried to impose in the form of the Government of Ireland Act. There just isn’t any political will to impose the British version, even though the British know perfectly well what they write and that the Northern Ireland government is wrong. They just don’t do anything about it. So that is a slightly different point. But I think it seems to run through the whole system and that is fairly regrettable. I do my bit to teach a course to English students in a university but I can tell you that the level of ignorance is stupendous. It is more than if you were teaching a course on Germany or Russia.”
Q.8. “Mr. Chairman, Professor. Just as a slight diversion I was interested in the numbers of British troops in Ireland and the numbers who took part in the Rising or Rebellion, depending which way you want to look at it. I don’t know the exact numbers on either side, but I do know that something like, the numbers in the GPO were around 300 and yet 15,000 looked for medals after it! Brendan Behan is reported to have said that the British Army must have been a gallant little band! But, apart from that, you punctuated all your answers by saying you just didn’t understand and you left a void there all the time. Because I am getting old and ancient, I had the privilege of meeting men, not women, I just met men who took part in the Rebellion, or Rising or whatever way you like to describe it, and can I tell you that one of them gave me his walking stick. I still have it. He walked from Kilskyre which is about 10 miles north, maybe 7 miles north of Kells, and he walked from Kilskyre on the first Monday of Holy week – which is the Monday before Easter – to be in Dublin for the Rising! And he had been in Dublin in 1910 when the last monarch arrived and he was batoned down for singing ‘God save Ireland’. And I said to him ‘why would you bother?’ and he said to me, ‘I’ll tell you why, I wanted to be a citizen and not a subject.’ I just want to tell you that that is the answer to an awful lot of the questions that you left unanswered, in my humble opinion.”
Charles Townshend: “Well I absolutely accept that and I hope I didn’t give the impression that I didn’t understand that dimension of it. It is something in the book that I actually tried to bring out in a way that probably hasn’t been popular with historians in this last generation. That is one of the reasons why there is this tendency to look for evidence of trickery and deception. But I think the place of simple idealism needs to be re-emphasized. This notion of freedom, although it may be naïve in some ways because we know it doesn’t eventually amount to perhaps what you first of all imagine, but that isn’t really the point, the point isn’t really does national independence solve all your problems? Nationalists may say this in their propaganda but it isn’t really what it is about. What it is about is ‘well, Sean McEntee, in those moments you felt a free man. You felt a yolk had been lifted off your shoulders’. That is a very telling kind of phrase, it is a completely psychological yoke, but it is a feeling of liberation. I think there is absolutely no question about that. That is why I am arguing that people were up for this fight. They wanted to be in it. Obviously they remained quite a small minority. But the idea that that group that came out was in some sense deluded, deliberately deluded, I think it is not sustainable and it is no tribute to them at all.
“But I am interested that he knew the Rising was taking place on the Monday beforehand, because a lot of people do say they didn’t realise what was going on until a lot later than that. This is one of the hardest things to really put together, because the leadership were giving out so many signals, and there are a number of people who claim they really were pretty certain by Palm Sunday that they knew what was going on and the hints had been dropped and so on, and people suggesting they might go to confession and so on.”
Questioner: “This man said that he had heard and he wanted to be there….”
Charles Townshend: “Well I think this makes a lot of sense. The people I can’t really understand are the people who say that they got as far as Easter Sunday without realising that anything serious was going on, because, as I said, there were just so many signals. And yet the British apparently reached Easter Sunday without realising anything was going on and they had just as much information, so I suppose it comes from what you believe is possible. And of course one of the things one might say about the Rising generally – in case it doesn’t come up in any other way, and it’s one of the points I do try to make in the book as well – is that it does change mental attitudes in a very dramatic way, more than political attitudes to begin with. I think it explodes the limits of the possible. I think there is a whole generation, the whole Home Rule generation is confined by a sense that only certain things can happen, that in the face of British power you can only ever achieve a limited autonomy and that what you have to do is buy into the biggest structure provided by Britain. I think that had been very widely accepted for a very long time. But suddenly with 1916 – and I think it is quite sudden – there is this feeling that maybe that is not so true after all, that maybe another way is possible. For a small number of people, they believe it can happen, obviously afterwards an even larger number of people, but before that most people think that it just could never happen and that is why they look at all the evidence, and they say, ‘well there may be this evidence, but it still can’t really be true because it is just not possible’. But, as I say, after 1916, these things seem possible.”
Brendan O’Brien: “Just to let you know we have three questions lined up ….
Q.9. Seán Collins (Drogheda): “First may I compliment you on your book, I think it is the first book I have read on the subject – and I have read many – that actually does cover the provinces and the various things that attempted to take place, shall we say. Could I make an observation before a question, in that I think somebody remarked that the people involved were half-hearted. I think that is sad, because they weren’t. They were very committed. I think you will agree with that.
“But what we have got to remember, looking at it from today’s point of view, we live in the Internet age, we can flash information around the country in milliseconds which they couldn’t do then. Communications just weren’t as accessible. You cited the example of Hannigan in Louth who said that when he assembled the men on Easter Sunday morning at Dundalk, the men didn’t know they were going to participate in the rebellion. Twenty miles down the road in Drogheda, when word came to the man that organised the muster there, they just all went home. They were told it was off. So they went home. By the time the message came to Hannigan I think about five o’clock on the Sunday evening. But he knew that there was another executive operating, so he wasn’t prepared to accept that order. But I think, would you agree that the detail that has become available through the release of the papers of the Military Bureau of Intelligence needs to be further and further analysed for us to get a better understanding? Because the people that did set out – and it has come across to me in all those papers – were very committed to what they were doing, but they were very, very confused. Even people in the know shall we say, like Hannigan, showed his own confusion. And also, until we have time to study more what is out there, like the pension papers which I believe they are going to release, they will tell us more. Last week a wonderful book was published by, I think it was UCC, on the life of Philip Monaghan …. And Monaghan said that he didn’t muster, he went to the Fairyhouse Races. Yet there are two independent accounts of him being present and organising the muster at Drogheda! They are written years apart by different people in different places. But I think at the end of the day, the failure wasn’t on behalf of the participants, the failure was the inability to organise.”
Charles Townshend: “I think I’d like to believe that we will eventually get so much evidence that we will be able to solve all of these mysteries. But I am afraid that probably isn’t going to happen, and not only because some of the kinds of evidence that we’d need will never appear. … I think it is highly likely that most of the Volunteer material that would be particularly interesting to look at, was actually deliberately destroyed before the rising. …There is an awful shortage of really contemporary material. The witness statements are a wonderful source, but they do suffer to some extent from the problems of being written thirty years after the event. In some ways it is not as much of a problem as you might in the abstract think. Many of the inconsistencies and the errors in them – and they are absolutely riddled with errors, but then everybody’s memories are – but I was talking today to a Ph.D. student in Trinity College who is studying the witness statements, really analysing the witness statements as a source, as her thesis. She has compiled a massive database on them and we were talking about where, on a scale of 1:10, you could rate them overall for reliability. My suggestion was 6 and she seemed to agree with that. But there is far more in them that is valuable. As I say they are a good source, priceless in some ways, but even more contemporary sources are problematic. People can simply utterly forget things that can be confirmed by other people who were with them. Eoin MacNeill notoriously wrote three accounts of his actions in the critical last few days before Easter Sunday and these are pretty close together, close to the time. He wrote a briefing paper for his solicitor when he was under arrest and placed in courtmartial, and this is in May 1916, and then a more extensive paper for the information of Bulmer Hobson a year later. And he has crucial meetings on different days. Taking one of these accounts, he has it taking place at breakfast on Saturday and in another on Friday. These are dramatic events, they are very close to the time. He was fully aware in retrospect how important they were. He says at the time he wasn’t quite aware how important they were and that is why he didn’t remember them. … I just find that, I mean a university professor is supposed to be able to remember things! Well perhaps that is not such a good argument. But the fact is that if he can be so significantly out in such … I think you will just have to accept it, that the only way you can militate against that is to have loads and loads of these accounts and crosscheck them. So to go back the first point, you are absolutely right there is more work to be done on these sources and particularly if the pension statements as you say get released. We will certainly have an even bigger database which we can – scientific is probably pushing it a bit – but we can certainly approach it very analytically.
“So yes, I think that all that comes out of this does sustain just what you say which is that to an extent that surprised me, I found that people who I perhaps felt had been deluded and wrong-headed, I came to the conclusion that they were really extremely sensible and that the whole project really does contain some terrible, perilous dangers for the idea of constitutional liberalism and so on. But the whole project is underpinned by a very simple full-hearted belief in the improvement of things. I mean there is a tremendously strong sense of idealism and that I guess is what this generation would want to rescue from out of … what the Taoiseach is talking about rescuing the spirit of 1916. Now nobody really knows quite what that is. There are at least as many versions of it as there are political groupings presumably. But some part of that spirit must be this idealism. Yes it is very strongly present in it. That is something that I hope I have brought out a little bit, but there is more to do. ”
Brendan O’Brien: “Well if there is one thing that you are bringing out it is that this isn’t a simple matter boiled down to a small group of men in 1916. My fear is that that is exactly what the new revised version of 1916 will be boiled down to. I think that is where your contribution tonight shows us all the layers and complications and human frailties and failure of plans and everything else, which just never seem to get into the narrative, I wonder why. Now this meeting is going to finish at 10.15pm. We have two more questions lined up, so if you have anymore, get in before the sale ends.”
Q.10. Pamela McMillen (Belfast): “I came to live in Belfast in the late 1960s just in time for our ‘Troubles’. For some people the Easter Rising is like a red rag to a bull. I am just wondering if it would be better – and I know the south of Ireland has moved forward far quicker than people’s attitudes in Belfast or the north as a whole – if we had the celebration of Independence Day, the same as the other countries that have now left the Commonwealth and the majority did achieve it by peaceful means. I suppose that people in the North feel that the Rising validated the Provos’ campaign in Northern Ireland. Quite honestly I feel we have achieved nothing by thirty years of violence and a lot of people killed and sadness. But dialogue, I mean we have two world wars, I don’t think it achieved that much either. Dialogue at the end of the day, achieves a peaceful end.”
Charles Townshend: “That is a very, very serious question. I am probably not remotely qualified to even offer a direction to an answer on that, but I think if I follow what you are saying, that there could be an approach to a deliberate offsetting of the centrality of the Rising in favour of a more arbitrary … When would the Independence Day be? It would have to be not the 24th April 1916, because obviously there was a declaration of independence that day. Then there was another declaration of independence on 21 January 1919. But that also was unfortunately accompanied, by pure coincidence as it happens, by the first violent action of the Anglo-Irish War. … That is a cursed sort of accident in a way, because I think if it were possible, politically possible, to agree that January 1919 was a more complete and progressive kind of declaration of independence – and you could argue that I think on the basis of the way the Sinn Fein party at that point was, had adopted this civil resistance idea that I was talking about earlier. If you could do that then I think that would possibly be very beneficial. But as I say, because of this ghastly coincidence that the IRA’s war or what would become the IRA war, was launched on exactly the same day, as I say by accident, because it was an ambush that had been tried a few times and hadn’t worked and then bingo they just hit them that day. That is going to scupper that so you might have to come up with some completely artificial celebratory date which would be better, because what you are arguing of course, is that people should think this out and they should get away from the visceral gut kind of ancestral politics and they should say: ‘now what we want to do is try and incorporate the principles of these things into some new vision’ ….. but where you could site it, you would need a lot of thought about that.”
“But your point about 1916 and its validation of violence is obviously inescapable and it is a really hard thing to deal with. Some of the commentary suggests that Ireland is kind of uniquely malevolent in that respect. There was a particularly grotesque article in the Observer a couple of weeks ago by a guy called Geoffrey Wheatcroft who argued pretty much that the 1916ers had invented terrorism and they were responsible not only for everything up to and including the death of Dennis Donaldson, but they were responsible for Nazism …and you name it, and I mean it was the most fantastic diatripe. You can dismantle that, and I think you have to, by saying that 1916 is quite a small element in the history of violence in the twentieth century. The War itself which was started by an act of undoubted terrorism by Serbian nationalists and then turned into the most stupendous bloodbath on the basis, as you were saying earlier, of a nationalism which convinced all the belligerent countries that they had to fight to the last drop of their blood to preserve their way of life. Everybody is doing the same thing. I think there is a certain unfairness in singling out the 1916 rebels as somehow the most pernicious users of violence in the twentieth century. So I think a little bit of perspective on that would kind of help, from both sides. But it is very, very difficult.”
Q.11. “You mentioned that the bigger the rebellion, the hotter would have been the response. Bearing in mind that machine guns and artillery were used, this would have resulted in an absolute massacre. My question would be: in hindsight were we lucky that the arms landing failed?”
Charles Townshend: “I think you could say yes, because the scale of the fighting – if they had been got ashore – would certainly have been very much larger. And you have to ask: what is the real possibility of anything other than a more extended and bloodier kind of defeat? In that sense I guess the guys who went looking for German help were right and that only very significant German military force would have made it possible to actually get the British out of Ireland if they didn’t choose to leave. It is hard to imagine any negotiated compromise that could have happened. I guess I was trying to say this in a way when I was arguing that, although you can criticise the organisation on their command failures and so on, you do have all this to ask: what would have been the point of making the Rising more militarily effective than it was? And I suppose I would come back again and answer your question just the same way and say yes, it probably was a good thing they didn’t get those guns ashore.”
Q.12. Arthur O’Connor (Trim): “Mr Chairman, isn’t it true that the entire Irish people’s attitude changed especially after the prisoners were released from Frongoch? When they were going away, that is what I was told anyway. Ladies whose boyfriends were out fighting the war, to save all small nations. They were preaching at them and shouting … When they were released coming home, they were amazed. They went out meeting them and cheering them. Whatever about whether it was not very effective or whether it was small or who was in it or whatever, it did take effect in subsequent years and when the election came in 1918 then it was quite evident that the Irish people had changed. Is that correct or am I right?”
Charles Townshend: “It is absolutely clear by 1918 for sure, and you are right that there is a big change between April and December 1916. I think both of those responses are slightly exaggerated. There is a certain number of people who had an interest in arguing that the whole population of Dublin and Ireland in general was against the Rising and this was shown in a very hostile reaction. I think there was some hostility, but there was also quite a lot of support more or less from the beginning, and certainly by the middle of the week and at the point when the prisoners are being marched off to the North Wall, the reactions, as far as I can judge, are not quite as overwhelmingly hostile as one viewer has it. Equally the reaction to the return of the prisoners is not always as absolutely overwhelmingly ecstatic as Sinn Fein propaganda made up, but it is pretty generally so in most places and there is a snowball effect that there is a feeling that something is going on.”
“That rolls on to 1918 in the sense that even without the conscription crisis, I think Sinn Fein was already well on the way to being the only really serious political game on the nationalist side. … Usually the conscription issue is taken as being the decisive point and it clearly was in the sense that it happened and there was this big rally against it. But as I say I think Sinn Fein was really on a roll. It might have taken a few more years, but that ultimate outcome where the old Parliamentary Party is effectively destroyed and replaced by Sinn Fein, I think that was going to happen from the middle of 1917 onwards.
“What exactly causes this change? I don’t think there is one simple single thing and I don’t think it is just the executions, although that is important. But just the very experience of imprisonment, I think, and the impact. In terms of actual imprisonment and even interned, I am only talking about a few hundred people eventually. But to begin with, thousands are arrested and I think that that is sometimes overlooked in comparison with the executions. The executions did have a terrific psychological effect, but also the arrest of thousands of innocent people always is bad. I mean from the Government’s point of view, that people even if they have only been held for a few days, they have already got a sense of grievance. If you push more people into, or accuse them of being sympathisers with your opponents, it kind of has this effect of making them think that maybe they are sympathetic, even though they might have not felt so before. So I think the policy was pretty counterproductive from a British point of view. So there is a whole sort of set of things and then of course there is a whole sort of industry – sorry that is not the word I really like to use as a whole – there are ways in which commemoration of the 1916’ers goes on and it crosses all kinds of age groups. So I think it does become eventually a real sort of social movement. So as I said before, Pearse got that bit absolutely right.”
Arthur: “Commenting on the executions, Shaw said: ‘the fools, the fools, will they ever learn?”
Charles Townshend: “Well they never will”
Q. “Don’t take this wrong because I am reading your book and enjoying it very much, but I am also just wondering about your thinking, as a British historian or a historian with British background coming to 1916, and how you are finding it sifting through. Is it an advantage if you like coming at it from that distance or personally how have you found that? And secondly on a bigger scale where does it fit in British history and is it seen as an event, coming back to the earlier question about how it is seen in Britain? But from a history point of view, does it do large or small on the scale of British history?”
Charles Townshend: “Those are two quite different questions. I can’t really answer the first one. By and large the ethnicity of historians themselves doesn’t count for very much. I mean people do, Germans do British history and the French people do Chinese history. There is a slight more feeling here, that somehow if you are not Irish, you can’t do Irish history. But basically … it is just a question of how much effort you put into it. Once you have been doing it for thirty years, you have the same problems actually doing the history of your own country if you like. There are certain things that are harder to do than others. Certain groups are harder to empathise with, certain ideologies or whatever, but apart from that I don’t think there is a…There is a third question actually which again I don’t think I can answer, implicit in what you said. Does it help to be an outsider? Somebody actually said this. Of course, what is an outsider in that sense? But I suppose in my case it means that I wasn’t born and brought up in Ireland, but I do have Irish connections, although they are Anglo-Irish but that is neither here nor there. I might as well be an Australian. Some of the most effective contemporary historians are Australians as it happens ….. People often feel that you maybe take a different perspective, it might not always be better. But it probably helps to have some different perspectives brought in and maybe I have things that are unconscious that I can’t control but that do have certain effects. So I couldn’t say about that either.
“As to where in British history, that is a slightly more technical question. Yes this is important, but I think in the British perception it is not – that was an earlier question – it is not as important as it should be. There is an awful lot of ignorance and sometimes it happens because it is aided by the fact that when you have done something really badly, you don’t want to remember it particularly. So I am thinking of another subject that I am semi-specialised in which is the British General Mandate in Palestine. I mean that has also been subject to quite serious loss of British memory because it really was a humiliating failure, and yet it is very important that people should remember this because, as some of us try to say to our Prime Minister: if you know some of this history, you are less inclined to repeat the mistakes you made before. So I think that there is – without leaping towards Iraq – if you just look at the handling of 1916, there should be for the British, they should pay more attention to the way it was misjudged and mishandled, because it is generic kinds of governmental mistakes that we make time and time again in other situations as well, maybe not with quite such disastrous results. So I would have to say that it doesn’t figure quite as large on the horizons as British people as I would like it to. But I am doing my best to raise it a little bit!”
Brendan O’Brien: “You are doing a great job! We are just at the end, but Julitta Clancy at the back has a question and because she owns the hall we will let her ask it!”
Q.14. Julitta Clancy (Meath Peace Group): “No, the Columbans own the hall and thanks to them again for it. Just to thank you for your wonderful contribution. And I just wanted to ask a question that is kind of pertinent to now, and it is: how much did the leaders of the volunteer and nationalist movement all around, Redmond and the whole lot of them, how much knowledge and communication did they have with unionists at the time? Was there any at all, and was a lot of what they did in total reaction to Carson and the formation of the UVF? And I say this because I discovered a grandfather of mine was sent to Belfast at the time of the Treaty negotiations. He was formerly in the IRB but he was now working in the government [Ministry of Economics in Dail Eireann] and was sent to meet with unionist and business leaders to talk to them and he seems to have got on very well, in the discussions he had with them. In fact one of the things that he reported to his superiors was that if you remove the threat, you remove the violence and the boycott, there is a hope for some form of talking together in the future. And I just wonder how much of that – if you look at the Proclamation where they wrote that bit about ‘divisions fostered by an alien government’ which shows very little knowledge of unionist beliefs and aspirations and experiences?”
Charles Townshend: “Yes I think it probably is unfortunately true that that generation of separatists were locked into a version and interpretation of unionism that was quite some way off being correct. They hadn’t really got to grips with any attempt to understand unionism from inside. They saw it as just the effect of British manipulation or at best complete delusion and of course it is unfortunately true – that is a heavy word isn’t it? – but it seems to be one of the more incontrovertible aspects of 1916 that it was made by people whose philosophy was entirely about reinforcing the cultural core of Irishness as they understood it, and which was a cultural core that was actually further away from any possible acceptance by unionist and previous definitions of Irishness. There is no question that the Irish Ireland movement had moved a very, very considerable distance from the old sort of United Irish conception of Irishness which was, basically if you live in Ireland you are Irish. That was Wolfe Tone’s idea, but by 1900 you are only Irish if you accept the full package really. You have actually got to come ideologically on board and you have got all sorts of deliberate tests being set up, whether you are Irish or not. So if you play cricket you are not Irish. It is very, very serious. I mean you cannot disguise how divisive that Irish Ireland movement is and the 1916ers are Irish Irelanders. There is no question that the aspirations, the dreams are, as Pearse said, that Ireland should be not free merely but Gaelic also. That is a whole extra, that would have been a literally meaningless conception to Wolfe Tone.
“And politically, if you are interested in unity in Ireland, it is a very difficult thing to get over. So I don’t think one should disguise that 1916 is almost more dangerous in that ideological sense than it is in its simple physical readiness to use violence. …. And you are absolutely right – the organisations themselves are direct reactions to the Ulster Volunteer movement and as far as I know, there is no contact between them even at the very high level. Eoin MacNeill could very easily have communicated with Carson and he did have quite an interesting argument that they were both home rulers. But he didn’t, as far as I know, communicate with him and the notion of using their complementary sort of interests and methods to construct some kind of united front, just doesn’t seem to have figured as a political option for the Volunteer leadership. So I think that aspect of things is quite negative and that is something that would have to be left behind if you like.”
Closing words and thanks:
Brendan O’Brien: “Thank you very much indeed Dr. Charles Townshend and thank you all for your questions which were very good. I suppose if you say ‘Londonderry’ you are not Irish as well isn’t that it? We have awful difficulties with these things, identity? Carson of course did, I think, describe himself as an Irish Unionist, but I was asking Jeffrey Donaldson the other day ‘well what would you call yourself?’ and he couldn’t say ‘Irish Unionist’ but he would say ‘Ulster Unionist’, whereas Reg Empey would say ‘I am an Irish Unionist’. Ian Paisley’s answer to the same question is: ‘I am Irish but I am not for a United Ireland.’ Mind you, in 1972 he was encouraging talk towards a United Ireland in certain circumstances. So it is all terribly complex and I think the complexity of your talk is what is the valuable contribution. The simplicity is what maybe has done it all down over the years. It is not simple, it is quite complicated and the questions were an illustration of that. So anyway thank you very much indeed for all of that. ”
John Clancy: “On behalf of the peace group, can I just thank both the chair and Dr. Townshend and you all for coming? … There is tea and coffee served, for those who aren’t familiar with our hospitality, but the hospitality is there because of the Columbans and the generosity of giving us these facilities, and I would just like to bear in mind the great contribution the Columbans have done to all of these discussions…. Finally, I would like to introduce you to one of our committee members Philomena Boylan-Stewart whose father, Sean Boylan, was referred to by Professor Townshend and who would like to say a few words in terms of her memories of her father as a brief appendix.”
Philomena Boylan-Stewart: “This is very unexpected! I would just like to refer to the orders received up at the Hill of Tara, and there is one abiding memory of my father talking about this, and those men talked very little. It was not until after 1966 that they spoke about it at all. But daddy always talked about the orders and the counter-orders and all this, and the awful confusion. Now I don’t know where you got your information about them going to the races, maybe they did. I don’t ever remember having heard that, for Easter Monday. There were four boys in the family and they were all interned afterwards. So they just didn’t forget about it on Easter Monday and go off. Later on there was £10,000 on my father’s head. He was shot at in Dunshaughlin. He feigned death and escaped. He was to have been executed. Thank God that didn’t happen either. I know Professor you have done a great job in the book. I haven’t read all of it, but a good bit of it, and you couldn’t possibly mention every province. But there are three of four lines about this area here, and this area is not Ashbourne. I just felt that maybe we were a bit cynical about what happened in Tara, and I think, from what I know and from my father’s friends whom I knew all over the years, they were very sincere and very determined to do what they set out to do. Thank you very much.”
Meath Peace Group report, 2006. Taped by Judith Hamill (audio) and Jim Kealy (video)
Transcribed by Judith Hamill and Julitta Clancy. Edited by Julitta Clancy
Dr Charles Townshend is Professor of Modern History at the University of Keele. His first book The British Campaign in Ireland 1919-1921, was published in 1975 and in 1983 he published Political Violence in Ireland: Government and Resistance since 1848 (OUP). His most recent book, Easter 1916: the Irish Rebellion was published by Allen Lane/Penguin in 2005.
Brendan O’Brien was formerly senior current affairs reporter with RTE and has been reporting on Northern Ireland affairs since 1974. He has made several documentaries on the Northern Ireland conflict and is also the author of The Long War and A Pocket History of the IRA. He is currently a presenter of the lunchtime current affairs programme on Newstalk 106.
Attendance at the talk: 110
Appendix PROCLAMATION OF INDEPENDENCE
POBLACHT NA H EIREANN
THE PROVISIONAL GOVERNMENT
TO THE PEOPLE OF IRELAND
IRISHMEN AND IRISHWOMEN: In the name of God and of the dead generations from which she receives her old tradition of nationhood, Ireland, through us, summons her children to her flag and strikes for her freedom.
Having organised and trained her manhood through her secret revolutionary organisation, the Irish Republican Brotherhood, and through her open military organisations, the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Citizen Army, having patiently perfected her discipline, having resolutely waited for the right moment to reveal itself, she now seizes that moment, and, supported by her exiled children in America and by gallant allies in Europe, but relying in the first on her own strength, she strikes in full confidence of victory.
We declare the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland, and to the unfettered control of Irish destinies, to be sovereign and indefeasible. The long usurpation of that right by a foreign people and government has not extinguished the right, nor can it ever be extinguished except by the destruction of the Irish people. In every generation the Irish people have asserted their right to national freedom and sovereignty; six times during the last three hundred years they have asserted it to arms. Standing on that fundamental right and again asserting it in arms in the face of the world, we hereby proclaim the Irish Republic as a Sovereign Independent State, and we pledge our lives and the lives of our comrades-in-arms to the cause of its freedom, of its welfare, and of its exaltation among the nations.
The Irish Republic is entitled to, and hereby claims, the allegiance of every Irishman and Irishwoman. The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and all of its parts, cherishing all of the children of the nation equally and oblivious of the differences carefully fostered by an alien government, which have divided a minority from the majority in the past.
Until our arms have brought the opportune moment for the establishment of a permanent National, representative of the whole people of Ireland and elected by the suffrages of all her men and women, the Provisional Government, hereby constituted, will administer the civil and military affairs of the Republic in trust for the people.
We place the cause of the Irish Republic under the protection of the Most High God. Whose blessing we invoke upon our arms, and we pray that no one who serves that cause will dishonour it by cowardice, in humanity, or rapine. In this supreme hour the Irish nation must, by its valour and discipline and by the readiness of its children to sacrifice themselves for the common good, prove itself worthy of the august destiny to which it is called.
Signed on Behalf of the Provisional Government.
Thomas J. Clarke,
Sean Mac Diarmada, Thomas MacDonagh,
P. H. Pearse, Eamonn Ceannt,
James Connolly, Joseph Plunkett
Meath Peace Group Talks
No. 60 – “The Legacy of War – Experiences of UDR Families”
Monday, 10th April, 2006
St. Columban’s College, Dalgan Park, Navan
(Conflict Trauma Resource Centre, Belfast)
(Former UDR members)
Roy Garland (Irish News columnist,
member of UUC, Co-chair, Guild of Uriel)
Welcome: John Clancy
Opening words: Roy Garland: ‘Drawing a Line under the Past’
Martin Snoddon: ‘Experiences of UDR families’
Questions and comments: panel:
Martin Snoddon, Rosemary McCullough
and Teena Patrick
Appendix: The Unionist Group – ‘Drawing a Line under the Past’ (March 2006)
Welcome and introduction: John Clancy: “You are all very welcome here tonight. This is the 60th public talk held by the Meath Peace Group and it also happens to be the 8th anniversary to the day of the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement. If you were at our last meeting, a fortnight ago (MPG talk 59, 27th March), and also seeing what happened recently in Donegal [murder of Denis Donaldson], there is so much more work to be done, there really is. Chairing our talk tonight is a man who has been working at this coalface with his good wife Marion for many years. Roy and Marion Garland are two amazing people. Together they are great enablers. An enabler is somebody who allows people to be empowered to do things and doesn’t seek recognition for what they do. Roy has been working away quietly for many years, never seeking recognition or reward, and he has earned great respect among all who have come to know him. If we hadn’t had people like Roy and Marion over the last number of years, I don’t know where we would be ….So I will now hand you over to Roy, we are very honoured that he has taken the time to be with this. ”
Opening words –
Chair: Roy Garland: “Thank you very much, John. It’s lovely to be here. Those fine words are nice as well but they are not true. But that is beside the point, it is really nice to be here, I always enjoy being down here. In fact, it was probably about sixteen or so years ago, that I set out on a journey. The journey was part of a bigger journey, but this particular part was about sixteen years ago, when I discovered that my family came originally from Co. Meath and Co. Louth but had more recently come from Co. Monaghan and in Monaghan they were a leading Orange family and in Co. Meath they were a leading Catholic family. So I discovered the Monaghan connection. I actually went down and the family is still there, believe it or not, and my family left about 200 years ago. It was a wonderful experience coming from the Shankill Road in Belfast, some people say the heart of loyalism….But I came down and found…in fact I have got part of Monaghan up in Co. Down believe it or not! You can go up and see it. It is set there. It is a building. You can go into it, look around it and it is the Hand & Pen Orange Hall from Co. Monaghan, the whole lot, all the bricks, the whole lot. It’s up in Co. Down in Cultra in the Ulster Folk Museum. ..
Guild of Uriel: “In the late ‘80s, early ‘90s, I heard about a place called Killincoole. And there is an old ruin of a castle, or a Norman tower houses, and it was reputedly built by the Garland (or Gernon) family. And I went down there and met a man called Alphie Reilly, who is now in a nursing home in Castlebellingham, and Alphie took me all around Co. Louth, Co. Meath, all around the place, and it was a really wonderful experience. And out of that we came to know the Meath Peace Group and we also started a group called the Guild of Uriel in which over the last ten years or so, we have been having meetings with people from all backgrounds, a very, very positive, really positive experience. The meetings are dynamic and there is something live about it. They tend to be all private, just people sharing their stories. And I found that I never ever have got tired of hearing those stories and participating and working together. And people come from all backgrounds: working class, loyalist backgrounds, nationalist backgrounds, republicans, unionists, you name it.
Unionists: “Anyhow that is how I got here and there is something about here, I think, for unionists. I am a unionist, I am a member of the Ulster Unionist party. There is something about the rest of Ireland that I think is part of my heritage as well. Some unionists don’t like me to say that but that is the truth, and I don’t think in a sense you are fulfilled unless that is there. It doesn’t say anything about whether your allegiance is to Britain or Ireland or whatever but it is part of what I am.
“Most of the work we have been doing has been very private and quiet within the Ulster Unionist Party as well. One of the things I did do which was not so quiet, was to come down here to the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation in Dublin in 1995. I got into a lot of trouble up home because it was against party policy, and I remember I actually shook hands with Pat Doherty [Sinn Fein] who welcomed me down here as a fellow Ulsterman from Co. Donegal. The photograph was brought out at my branch meeting and I was in big trouble, but I survived all that.
Drawing a Line under the Past: “Now Julitta asked me to say something … about a document that we issued recently – ‘Drawing a Line under the Past’.A number of us recently decided to put together a document based on some of the work that we have been doing. Julitta and I in particular have been working at this, I’d say for the last ten years, with these groups coming together and sharing our stories. We [in the unionist group] have taken that idea up and put it together and come up with a document on what we saw as the way forward in terms of drawing a line under the past. In actual fact, we were asked to do it by the Northern Secretary of State. What we did was we talked to republicans, loyalists, Alliance Party, SDLP, and then we talked to Dermot Ahern [Minister for Foreign Affairs] and then I thought: ‘Why is it we can talk to everybody but the ministers that are supposed to represent us?’ So we asked for a meeting and lo and behold the door opened and we had a meeting and he said ‘do a paper for us’. It was just something to say on drawing a line under the past. So we came up with this and it is basically some of the work that Julitta and I have been doing, this sort of private consultation where people tell their stories and relate to each other and respond to each other and we have suggested that this is the way forward. I needn’t go into the detail. The thing that annoyed some people was that at the start of it I said – and this is absolutely true – this group came together after meeting with a [republican ex-prisoners] group called Coiste na …
Martin Snoddon: “Coiste na n-Iarchimi.”
Roy Garland: “Coiste na n-Iarchimi, there you are. Talk to another loyalist and you’ll find out how to speak Irish! We talked to them and we also talked down here to all the other groups, but it was the fact that we put Coiste na n-Iarchimi in there, that we got into some trouble with some unionists. But apart from that it is the idea, that if you want healing, you have got to share. And in our view, a truth commission – that was looking at facts, it is not dealing with relationships. We are not saying there is not a place for looking at facts, but if you want healing, you talk to each other and you share with each other and you get to know each other. And I was nearly going to say you get to love each other and in a sense that is right, in the truest sense of love, that is respecting and honouring each other and that is where we come from. I have only got two copies. If anybody particularly wants them I have two here, you are welcome to have them. But that is the basic idea and there are one or two other ideas in there about I mean maybe getting some academics from a nationalist community and a unionist community to actually look at the main features of the conflict that come up with an attempt to understand just the main features, because I believe if you get into too much further than that, you just get into argument, because there is no agreement. So Julitta asked me to say that, so I have said that. [editor’s note: the text of Drawing a Line under the Past is included as an appendix at the end of this report]
Tonight’s talk: “Some time ago, I met Martin Snoddon. I have actually known the name for a very, very long time. Martin comes from Donegall Pass. I come from the Shankill, but the name was floating around among loyalists in the area. He was always highly regarded. I am a member of the Ulster Unionist Party, I never met Martin until one day I was invited to a conference held by the Progressive Unionist Party, and funny enough, I am just thinking now the topic was “Truth and Reconciliation’ wasn’t it? The PUP, the Progressive Unionist Party, was issuing a document on how to draw a line under the past, how to deal with the victims, how to deal with the hurts. They were basically saying there are great problems in our community. The hurts are so great, it is very, very difficult to move on that. So I was standing at the back I don’t think I’d ever met him before, I was talking to Martin and I was telling him some of the work that I was doing and Martin was telling me of some of the work that he was doing.
Conflict Trauma Resource Centre: “Now Martin is involved in the Conflict Trauma Resource Centre which is based in the centre of Belfast and the work that they do is healing work so in a sense it is the same sort of work that we are trying to do. But it is for people with particular trauma. It is not just unionists, it is not just loyalists, it is not just nationalists, it is not just republicans, it is not just security force people. It is everybody – those who are suffering trauma. And it is a place where healing is sought and which is also trying to facilitate and help those who are in need.
Ulster Defence Regiment: “There are lots of victims’ groups who need help to present their case and so on. The particular group that I was interested in was ex-members of the security forces, and particularly the Ulster Defence Regiment. Now the Ulster Defence Regiment, I think in many people’s minds, it was what replaced the B-Specials and some of the probably unfair criticism of the B-Specials was transferred to the Ulster Defence Regiment. But the Ulster Defence Regiment started off with about 25% Catholics and it was an attempt to actually produce a security force at that level, that was cross-community. Many people suffered and suffered greviously out of that, particularly Catholic members of the UDR because it started in the very early ‘70s and communities were in turmoil and people were being shot and UDR men were having to move from one place to another and take their families with them and went through some horrific experiences. There were around 200-300 UDR members killed. But one of the most startling statistics that I heard, I think it was from Martin first, was that where almost 300 UDR men were killed, only 8 people were killed by the UDR. We know there were problems with some people doing things that they shouldn’t have been doing within the UDR, but that says an awful lot. …300 of them were killed and they were sort of like in a sense our scapegoats out there defending their community and doing their bit for the community and suffering at everybody’s hands. And at the end the powers-that-be in a sense tended to wash their hands of it whereas the police, the RUC, were getting some compensation, pension rights and all that sort of thing. My understanding was the UDR got next-to-nothing or very little. The facilities weren’t provided. I have read some stuff by psychiatrists who work with people suffering post-traumatic stress ….in the British Army. You were supposed to go up and get on with it and forget it. You’re knocked down, you get up again and go on, and nothing was provided …. But I don’t want to get into it too much. I’m doing the talk for you Martin.
Martin Snoddon: “I am enjoying listening to it!”
Roy Garland: “I feel that it is very important that we are here today and we have people representing that particular aspect of community …. Actually for a time I worked on the Falls Road and one of the fellows that I work with – he was in another part of the building, he was a UDR man – and I was coming up one day and there was a commotion. He was shot dead, just like that. He was a porter in the hospital and where I lived on the Shankill a few streets away a republican came up Lanark Way so easy. I mean it is just literally around the corner. We lived cheek by jowl and it was easy for a loyalist to kill a republican or a Catholic or vice versa and terrible things happened and I think to some extent the UDR represents the victims. I am going to hand you over now to Martin. I know there are a couple of Greenfinches here also, if you know what Greenfinches are – they are not birds. But they are female members of the UDR who went out on patrol with the men on the streets and did car checks and protected buildings and that sort of thing. So I am going to hand over to Martin. Thank you very much Martin.”
1. Martin Snoddon (Director, Conflict Trauma Resource Centre, Belfast): “Thank you Roy. Can I say first of all that the two Greenfinches are going to join me at the end of this presentation, so they will be available for some questions. …
“The Legacy of War – experiences of UDR families’(CTRC Report, 2006) [illustrated talk]
Background to research: “Now, we are talking this week about it being an anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, the Belfast Agreement. This research actually started five years after that agreement had been signed, after thousands of man-hours had been put in to many community groups around Belfast, around Northern Ireland, Southern Ireland and so on. Yet with all that, there was little heard of any research that had been done with former members of the Ulster Defence Regiment, with respect to their needs as a legacy of the conflict. CTRC (Conflict Trauma Resource Centre) had some dialogue with regards to that over a number of years, and Teena Patrick is a colleague of mine at the Conflict Trauma Resource Centre. She sits as a member of the Board of Trustees and we decided that we needed to rectify this. We needed to bring people in, so that their voice can be heard, because we were very conscious that they were suffering in silence. So we decided to engage in this area of work. We started off thinking in terms of ‘lets get a bit of a group together of people who had that experience during the years of violent conflict as an advisory group in order to be able to move this on’, and to do it in an empowering way, so that people were left at the end of the research with much more than a document that was detailing a lot of their traumatic experience as a result of violence. But to build a capacity, or to start the building of a capacity, which was going to allow people to operate in that concept of self-help to address their needs.
“Because the reality was everybody else was ignoring those needs: from the British Government who employed, encouraged and sanctioned the operations of the Ulster Defence Regiment – not one of the people that I engaged with in that research had a kind word to say or even in fact had anything to say with regards to support received from the government after service.
UDR statistics: “So that is a little bit about the background, just adding on to what Roy had said earlier. So service in the UDR, the Ulster Defence Regiment, that is a photograph that dates back to the early ‘70s whenever the regiment was first coming into existence [slide]. Let’s have a look at some of the statistics with regard to the existence of the regiment, with reference to the legacy of the conflict itself [slide]. It became operational in 1970, with a strength of 2,440 men. 946 of these men were actually Catholic. The strength of the regiment rose to 10,000 in 1972. Some would say that was at the height of the violence in Northern Ireland. Women became part of the service in August of 1973, and we are fortunate tonight to have two of those women with us, two former members of the Greenfinches. The reality is that approximately 58,000 men and women served in the regiment between 1970 and 1992, 58,000 men and women.
Casualties: “197 UDR soldiers were killed between 1970 and 1992. A further 61 ex-soldiers were killed after they had left the regiment. We have got to bear in mind that the majority of those killed were killed off duty, not in uniform, but perhaps going shopping with their loved ones who witnessed that destruction. 5 others who had transferred to the Royal Irish Regiment after the merger were killed. There have been thousands of visible and invisible wounds linked to service in the UDR.
Families: “Let’s not forget the family members that stand beside those servant soldiers. It is estimated that immediate family members of UDR soldiers over the years would number 250,000. Very few of them have received any form of support – 250,000 a very significant figure with regard to the statistics of Northern Ireland!
Summary of themes emerging from research:“As the research progressed, a number of themes started to emerge with regards to what people’s experiences had been [slide]. These ranged from security, employment, welfare, financial and psychological support, family impact, social interaction, memories, and of course acknowledgement and recognition for sacrifice and service.
Security concerns: “Security is the first theme. Personal protection weapons were called in at the end of service. These people were reporting that that left them more vulnerable to attack. People had to go about hiding their identity, for example, when they were visiting the Royal Victoria Hospital, there were experiences there of people being attacked in the hospital grounds. …..
Present day: “In the present day 2006, people are still operating with a heightened sense of alertness and consciousness. For them the war isn’t over. They are still hyper-vigilant with regards to everything that is going on around them. Children had been conditioned, grandchildren are currently conditioned. Things that had been practised in the home at the time of the violence, for example switching the light on before pulling the curtains or opening the door before asking who was there. Things changed in those families, where people had to force their children to stand behind the door and ask who was there, to make sure the curtains were pulled and even some people were recounting that their children helped them search underneath their car before they got in to drive it away. Children were being conditioned with regard to the legacy of the service.
“The peace process, thoughts around the peace process included the impact of former terrorists serving in government, the impact that that had on those people who served the state. The demonisation that was taking place with regards to the UDR. The threats that were still in existence, sorry that are still in existence, the threats themselves haven’t gone away, and dealing with the past.
Employment, education and training: “Thoughts around the employment theme included that no training programmes existed in the past ….. Basically they came out, they had their uniform taken off them, they had their personal protection weapon removed and they were told to get up the street. Children were being denied training opportunities due to safety issues around government training centres. People in the South Down area were fearful of their children going to Newry for employment training. They thought that it might compromise their safety or indeed endanger the lives of the children. Education and training for those who suffered PTSD or STSD – Post-traumatic Stress disorder or Secondary Traumatic Stress Disorder – there had been no training for people to actually address those wounds. ‘No-go areas’ still existed, indeed they still exist today. People are fearful of going through certain areas, because of their past experience in the UDR.
Welfare support: “With regards to the financial side of welfare support, there is an absence of a safe and neutral place for advice on benefits, so people are denied state benefits, because they can’t go somewhere and be honest about their involvement in the UDR, those years that they serve. The UDR Benevolent Fund: there were issues around assessments being made by them with regards to past members. Pensions for part-time service members were a big issue: we are talking about some people who had served 25 years as a part-time soldier and were denied any form of financial assistance after that period. There was limited knowledge on what is available and how to actually access support.
Small business concerns: “Addressing the impact on small business concerns was also an issue for some people. Those people who had been entrepreneurial and started up their own businesses, some experienced boycotts because they were members of the UDR. Their businesses suffered, their families suffered, they had no support with regard to that.
Hearing loss: “There were also questions of hearing loss compensation which has also been a big thing in the south for regular army soldiers.
Absence of emotional and psychological support: “With regard to emotional and psychological support, none actually existed, no emotional, psychological, spiritual support offered at times of great stress, none whatsoever. Example: experiencing violent incidents and a loss of a comrade, there wasn’t even anger management then or now for all of those horrific experiences that were encountered while in service or indeed after service, no support of that description. There was no emotional, psychological or spiritual support offered to ex-service members and some of them were still wakening up with intrusive thoughts, bad memories, nightmares, still being experienced, for some people many years after service. The concerns were that these buried thoughts may one day erupt.
“Cultural barriers to seeking support need to be overcome. The stiff upper lip men don’t cry, macho nature means it is difficult to communicate with the spouse and they can’t talk to outsiders. They are expected to still be those soldiers that aren’t human. They are denied human emotion, human experience because they were in uniform.
Impact on the family: “Children couldn’t sleep at night until the parent was safely home, unknown to the parent. But their children – 6,7,8 years old – were lying awake, fearful until they heard the door closing in the early hours of the morning. They were conditioned to protect the parent. They were told to tell lies about where mommy or daddy was, were they worked etc. They were encouraged in that vigilance, that safety about the home. I already mentioned about the blinds and answering the door. The house became that mini-fort, that unnatural home environment. Children and family members also witnessed the violent attacks on their loved ones and they have had to bear that loss over the years without much support. Again there has been an absence of any long-term support. None, really none, has emanated from the British Government, not a penny.
Social interaction: “In relation to social interaction, there’s been no communication, information to ex-personnel from a central unit. As soon as they did take the uniform off, that was it. They haven’t had any contact or any information from anyone still within the forces or within the government or within the statutory sector or the voluntary sector in Northern Ireland. No one has reached out to see where they are. They have restricted places to socialise, it’s not everywhere you can go, even within their own community. No safe place to talk about experiences. Limited contact with other ex-service members so, as the days went past after leaving the regiment, they became increasingly isolated.
Marginalisation and demonisation: The community perception, local and wider demonisation, that is what believe. They have been marginalised and demonised, not simply in the times of violent conflict, but largely during the peace process itself.
Memories: “Concerns exist about how the UDR will be portrayed in history, the memories of their murdered comrades, memories of witnessing violent attacks or violent incidents, memories of experiencing abusive behaviour, memories of comradeship and pride at times of service. And also lost memories: stories that have never been told and are still yet to be told.
Acknowledgment and recognition: “In relation to acknowledgement and recognition, there is an absence of a societal appreciation of the sacrifice made by members of the UDR as they went about trying to keep the peace. An absence of recognition by the regiment of former members, so people are challenging the Royal Irish Regiment with regard to the service that they had in the Ulster Defence Regiment. It is not being recognised anywhere within or without the government services.
“A failure of those responsible for long-service medals to deliver these awards earned by former members. The medals are sitting in some box somewhere. People haven’t even had them delivered to them after many years of service and potentially sacrificing their lives or some of their family member’s lives during the course of that service.
Commemoration services: “Commemoration/remembrance services by the regiment need to be more sensitive to the needs of surviving family and former comrades and friends.
Inventing the future: “People have been very, very honest during the course of this research. They haven’t missed anyone and hit the wall. They have had a hard, sometimes bitter, experience resulting from the legacy of violent conflict. The research itself wasn’t simply about recording the experiences. It was about looking at those experiences and looking at ways in which they can be addressed in some way to increase the quality of people’s lives, so we explored inventing the future for former members. People thought that they needed a supported self-help solution to the legacy. A structure of a self-help group might look like that, a management committee, a service coordinator, a welfare officer, a counsellor, two support workers for outreach work and a research assistant, not a huge amount of money to cover the needs of something like a quarter of a million people.
Mental illness among ex-servicemen: “An article in the Sunday Telegraph magazine on 10 December 2005 reported that there had been 256 British troops killed during the Falklands War. 500 veterans committed suicide since the Falklands War. The 24 killed during the first Gulf War; 119 veterans committed suicide since. … The army’s head of psychiatry says that the number of mentally ill will rise in the months and years after war due partly to the unique pressures of peace-keeping. There is no record. No one has even thought about keeping a record on how many members of the UDR committed suicide or died in some way since service. Lee Skelton, the medical director for Combat Stress, says: ‘it can take on average 14 years for an ex-soldier to be diagnosed. … They sit on symptoms, resorting to negative coping strategies such as drinking, denial, isolation and drug dependency.’
“We have that in Northern Ireland. The Professor of War Psychiatry at King’s College London who works for the MOD, says: ‘research shows that the National Health Service does not provide adequate care for former soldiers.’
Conclusion: “The Legacy of War records former UDR soldiers who echoed this experience. They couldn’t get the service that they needed through the National Health Service. In February 18 2006, none of the ex-UDR participants protested while serving in the army. As former soldiers, they still carry a sense of pride though they do object to being ignored when they are seeking support or when they are not seeking support.
Self-help service: “The question arises: will you help or hinder a progressive self-help service designed to alleviate the needs of men, women and families associated with service in the UDR and bearing in mind we are talking about a quarter of a million people? The possibility of those needs being addressed is minimal at this time. Small groups together working towards addressing the needs, they need all the help that they can get. Thank you very much.”
QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS [summary]
[Editor’s note: For this part of the discussion, Martin and Roy were joined at the top table by Rosemary McCullough and Teena Patrick, former members of the UDR. Note: female members of the UDR are known as ‘Greenfinches’]
Roy Garland: “We are going to open the meeting for questions to Teena and Rosemary. Both Tina and Rosemary have had experience on the ground and you might want to know what it is like on the ground and so on. But we are throwing the meeting up to questions either to Martin orto Tina or to Rosemary, so feel free.
Q.1. Canon John Clarke, Navan (member of Meath Peace Group committee): “Thank you. Generally, within most groups or organisations where something is lacking you get people providing for themselves, I don’t mean that in a cold sense but something develops and grows out of it, support groups and so on. So was it not possible within the structure amongst yourselves – you know your needs best of all – to set up your own support mechanisms.
Teena Patrick (former Greenfinch): “Well that is why we have set up this group because there was no support mechanism for us. In the early days we would have had the army camps as a safe place to meet. But the army camps have been closed so there is no safe place to meet for ex-service personnel to meet. Unless you join an association – and when you join an association there is drink involved with that and you’ve seen the statistics there, that people are either in denial or they turn to drink to solve their problem and we don’t want that.”
Martin Snoddon: “The reality was that…what I gathered during the research was that after service, when people became civilians, they kept themselves to themselves. There was nowhere other than those social clubs to go to and they were much more about that familiar side of socialising that happens in the north and the south over a few beers etc, etc. But there wasn’t the opportunity to really be honest about their experiences. So there was an absence, a complete absence of a group within this particular constituency to address their own needs. There were some other victims’ groups around that were doing very, very good work, but they were wider in relation to the conflict. They weren’t focused simply on the UDR experience.
Combat Stress: “If I could just give you an example. For instance, while doing the research a few members of the group needed psychological help and weren’t aware that Combat Stress could help them. Now whenever you leave the Ulster Defence Regiment, you are not given any information whatsoever if you need the assistance of certain departments. You’re not given that information – of where to go to seek help. Now unfortunately, Combat Stress have only three employees that cover the whole of Ireland, North and South. So they are very underfunded and they deal with all regiments, nor just the UDR. Their services, for instance if you need specialised services, you have got to seek those services in Scotland, England or Wales, they don’t have the centre here in Ireland to deliver those services.
Q.2. Nuala McGuinness (member of Guild of Uriel): “…. I have a few questions for Martin. I’m from Co. Down originally and in 1970 I was working as a psychiatric social worker …. I just want to ask were there many admissions to mental hospitals among the soldiers?
Martin Snoddon: “Well the reality was there was no record being kept, there was no interest being shown with regards to the experiences, so there was nowhere that we could go to, to source that type of information… There were some people that did have experience with regards to those institutions. There is no question about that. But they weren’t going in saying ‘I am a UDR man’ or ‘I am a UDR woman’. They were going in very much concealing that identity, which made it much more troublesome to actually appreciate the life experience that someone had to address those invisible wounds or visible at that particular point in time.
Nuala: “Following on from that, now at the present time, is there much evidence of behaviour and school problems with children of these families?”
Martin Snoddon: “It depends how you are going to classify being disturbed. There is evidence that young people are not going to go into areas. There is evidence that young people from those families have a huge seething resentment with regard to the British forces and how they have been treated. So there is a danger there, where that can actually lead young people. I spoke to young people along the border corridor whose parents were members of the security forces and they swore that if things erupted again, that they would never join the state forces. They would join the paramilitary groups, because that is where they felt that they would get support after.”
Nuala: “But I suppose in their ordinary, everyday lives they wouldn’t perform great at school?
Martin Snoddon: “There is a young man that participated in this research as a 15- year old boy, he cradled his dad, his father, in his arms when his father had been shot dead in their front hall. He never went back to school afterwards. No one from the school ever called to his house to find out why. He was left just completely out of the education loop. He has a huge burden to bear with regards to all of that experience. His mother went to the UDR very shortly afterwards and asked for some support. She was completely embarrassed by what little was offered and she never, ever went back.”
Nuala: “Were therea lot of marriage break-ups?
Martin Snoddon: “There have been a lot of family difficulties resulting from the time of the UDR experience and also in relation to the legacy of the UDR experience. There are a number of people who are currently receiving treatment in the group therapy mode up around Antrim and it is amazing that more of those marriages didn’t break up. A lot of them have survived, but there have also been families that have been casualties of the experience.”
Nuala: “Just two more points ever so quickly. Your community would identify with the British identity and I can understand this ….. But is there a crisis of identity among your folk in that the British government let you down and didn’t look after you and still as a community or as a people you don’t identify with the 26 counties. You know there is a chasm there. Has this affected people?”
Martin Snoddon: “What I would say is that people’s identity remains intact, who they are remains intact. …In relation to the Protestant people of the North and the reality that that identity remains intact is very real. They have been hugely disappointed by the British government’s actions but they still believe that they are British and they will remain British. They have been hugely disappointed by the Irish Government’s actions over the years, but some would still say they are Irish and there is not a difficulty in relation to a tension between being Irish and being British for people in the North.”
Teena Patrick: “I think it really is down to the person themselves and certainly the Catholics that I served with would see themselves as serving as a British soldier as part of the Ulster Defence Regiment. And I can only speak for myself: when I joined the UDR, I joined to serve all of my community both Protestant and Catholic…. [tape break]
Nuala: “900 Catholics joined the UDR. If I was in the UDR I would feel that was a very respectable number to get at that time. It was very positive and encouraging at the time ….”
Teena: “…. Unfortunately the first UDR man shot was a Catholic on Springfield Road, and from my own experience I can only say that the talk within the company that I served with, from the Catholics that I served with, was that there was a lot of intimidation of Catholic members of the Ulster Defence Regiment.
Roy Garland: “Martin referred to ‘seething resentment’. I assume that was in the loyalist community against the government or whatever, was it? Or was that in general?”
Martin Snoddon: “ …people on the border wouldn’t necessarily classify themselves as being loyalist. They would classify themselves as being more unionist, so I would say within that unionist community, they had normally been very much married to law and order, but if the same type of problem was to arise today, the dangers are that they would gravitate towards forces other than the state forces.”
Roy Garland: “Martin referred to a young boy of 15. I have heard the story. His father was in the house and they came to the door and of course he didn’t know immediately who it was. The kids were upstairs, it was a long hall and if the father went to the hall, he was worried about the kids coming down the stairs and being shot. So he couldn’t stay because the kids might come down the stairs. So he decided to go out though he knew he was putting himself in danger. And he was shot dead and the 15- year old son took him in his arms and he says after it, I think this says something:
‘After the murder I didn’t go out much. My first day back at school, people seemed to be talking about me, behaving differently towards me. I didn’t go back. I am not aware of anyone from the school calling or writing to see why I wasn’t there. I sat no examinations and received no qualifications’.
“Then he goes on out of that to talk about how he meets these three fellas, hats on, coats up high, this sort of thing, and they asked him to join the paramilitary group. Now his father had warned him … and he never joined, but it is quite graphic the story and I think some of it is in here [Legacy of War report] – the young fella and how it affected him when he goes back to school. He feels that he is being observed, that he is being treated differently, he doesn’t do anything. Nobody seems to care and he just has to make out for himself. John you had a question?”
Q. 3. John Clancy (Meath Peace Group): “Good evening everyone, and thank you indeed. What we have heard, it makes me reflect on the issue of the one UDR man and the five on average that are supporting him behind. Could you just take us through because I am trying to get a feel of this? …You left your family, that kind of thing. Did you patrol every night and what was done for the family? Was the family put in the barracks? I just get the feeling, and I think I got it before that … if you as a UDR officer went out on patrol you were safe, because you were with guys or girls and you were armed?”
Teena Patrick: “The women weren’t armed.”
John Clancy: “The UDR men were, but the family weren’t?
John Clancy: “Was that always an issue that you had to deal with every time you went out?”
Rosemary McCullough: “For a start off, there was no barracks to go home to. That would have been the British Army who went back to barracks. After we had completed our night’s duty we had to go back to our own homes. So for the Greenfinches especially, we didn’t have any personal protection weapons, so after you completed your duty say from 8 o’clock at night to 5 in the morning, you then went home. You had to take a different route home every night. You had to always be constantly aware of any cars that were following you, or cars that were sitting with people in it. Then when you got to your home, you had to be very, very conscious of anybody who would be hanging around. So you eventually got into your house. Then it was a case of checking that everything was alright at the back of the house. But maybe you would be sitting for an hour watching out your window, to make sure that nobody else came before you would even go to bed. So there wasn’t a safe barracks to go home to. Then you had to get up the next day and go and do your normal job, so you were driving through areas that maybe the night before you had actually patrolled. You were scared of running into maybe someone you had stopped the night before, to sort of ask for their identification. So you didn’t have the safety of having the barracks around you like the regular army did. …Or the men who had their own personal weapons to protect them. You lived and you breathed that war 24 hours a day 7 days a week.”
Martin Snoddon: “A lot of people did actually report that the safest time was when they were in uniform.”
Rosemary: “Yes when we were out on duty.”
Martin Snoddon: “They were fearful of their family members, that they felt that they were at their safest place in uniform, on duty.”
Rosemary: “I actually had set up with my family, who were quite young at the time and my mother would have came up and stayed the night with my children when I was out in duty. And I said: ‘look, always always leave the bathroom light on and if the bathroom light is turned off I know something has happened.’ So you always had pre-arranged something. Even if the children were staying in my mother’s house, I would say ‘well look make sure that you leave a light on and if there is a light on I know that everything is alright’, but if the house is in darkness, which would basically what the terrorists would want, they would want the house in darkness, then I know that if I drive up, the house is in darkness, something is wrong. I will not go near the house. I would then phone for some sort of back up.’
Q.4. Judith Hamill (Meath Peace Group): “How many days a week were you out or was it every two weeks or what?”
Rosemary: “Well I actually worked in the Company office 5 days a week and I went out on duty 3 nights a week. So you worked in the Company office from 9 to 4.30. You went home, got the children fed, got your little bit of housework done, maybe were back down again at the barracks for about 7 or 7.30. Some nights you would have got home at 2 in the morning, some nights 3am, some mornings 5, depending on what the operational duties were.”
Q.5: “Did people know before joining what they were going into?”
Teena: “I didn’t. We were only supposed to be a peacekeeping force. We were supposed to be on the edges, but we were drawn into it. …We were supposed to be guarding installations like electricity, water supplies, but unfortunately the conflict became greater and we were drawn into the centre of it. My main duties would have been at Grand Central Hotel in the city centre, cordons around the city centre in the early days. Where Rosemary was in the Company office, I would have been out on the streets searching at those locations, then coming home, going out on an evening shift. They were all classed as one duty. My first wage for one day was £3.49, not an hour, one day.
Rosemary: “….So if you actually started work at say 8 in the morning and you worked to 4 and then you came back on again at 7o’clock and you worked to 12, that was regarded as one duty. You got one day’s pay for that. The army owned you 23 hours and 59 minutes, so you are only allowed a minute of your own time. If they needed you for that time, you had to stay and you got one day’s pay which was like £3.”
Teena: “So anybody who joined in the early days, I mean they weren’t joining it for the money. They were joining it … to secure their communities.”
Q.6: “… I am almost totally ignorant of what the UDR stand for, because our understanding where I came from, although I came from both sides, well my father would have been British and my mother very nationalist, so I was very confused growing up and probably more confused now. But I would say that our understanding growing up was that you were a subversive organisation. It was my understanding anyway and I think it was the general sort of thing, so we would have very little knowledge you know, and it is very interesting to hear you and that you in actual fact suffered as well ….. It is interesting in that way.
“I’ll finish by saying: I just wonder is there a danger in you compounding the sense of grievance that the UDR might have, in that, by not sort of accepting that what has happened is not unique to the UDR but that is all a consequence of war generally and that you wouldn’t sort of make people feel more grieved than they need to be? I don’t think that is going to be helpful really. I am sure that is not your intention. I wonder is that a danger?”
Teena: “I’d just like to reply to that. It’s not my intention. What I want to do is get the story out there because I feel it has been unheard and we haven’t had recognition for the job that we have done. And there are no statistics of how many lives we have saved, how many businesses are still going, because we were out there on the streets and you know if I can be prepared to sit in a room and listen to the stories of ex-paramilitaries on both sides, I feel that I should have my voice heard.”
Roy Garland: “It is important to clarify the difference between the Ulster Defence Regiment and the Ulster Defence Association. The Ulster Defence Association is an illegal organisation and there is a wee bit of confusion between those two. The Ulster Defence Regiment was a regiment of the British Army. It was actually started that way in order to overcome some of the allegations over the B-specials who were seen as under unionist control. So the UDR was put under the British control and it was reckoned that would make it more neutral. Now there are some people would say that doesn’t make it more neutral. But the way the whole thing worked and the attacks on the UDR made it seem less neutral.
“But if you bear in mind the number of UDR men who died and the number of people who they killed. I mean nobody wants to see anybody dead. But it does say something that so many UDR men died and others didn’t. There is a man over here who would like to speak. …”
Q.7. Fr Pat Raleigh (Dalgan Park): “I’m from the community here. Just listening to you there, a couple of things. Are your lives in danger now? Can you move freely around bearing in mind what you have said? Do you feel a sense of bitterness within yourselves towards the lack of acceptance of what you were trying to do and how would the Catholics who would have joined the UDR, would they have been ostracized by their own community as well?”
Rosemary: “Well, the first part of the question: I don’t feel any way bitter. Ok, I do feel a bit grieved the way we have been treated by the British Government and the Northern Ireland Office, but I don’t feel bitter because I took a great sense of pride in the time that I served and that pride overshadows any bitterness I feel.”
Teena: “I would feel the same and I have recently spoken to a Catholic member that I served with, he would say that, yes, he was intimidated and ostracized from his community but he doesn’t have any bitterness with regard to that. Rosemary, maybe you’d like to speak a bit further on that because you were speaking recently with him?”
Rosemary: “Yes he was a member that we both served with for quite some time. It was actually him, his brother and his sister and they all joined the UDR away in the very, very early seventies when Roman Catholics were actually joining the regiment then. Within about a year of him joining, the whole family, mother, father, the lot all had to move house out of the area they lived, because they were being intimidated by some of their nationalist neighbours. They continued to serve within the UDR and were a very respected part of the UDR. As far as the Protestant members of the UDR were concerned, they were just another soldier, the same as ourselves. We didn’t try to make any difference between Catholics and Protestants. We were all out on the streets doing the same job. We were all putting our lives at risk and it didn’t matter whether they were Chinese, Black, Roman Catholic or whatever. We just seen them as a comrade and they were treated as that. I have since spoken to that gentleman. He actually moved out of the UDR and went to what was the old RUC, which is now PSNI. He is still, believe it or not, having to move house. He has just recently moved and I think that is about the 5th move, because he says as soon as some nationalists find out where he has moved to, the intimidation starts again.”
Roy Garland: “It was pretty horrific for a Catholic.”
Rosemary: “It was.”
Roy Garland: “I mean I know Catholic members and there was also some distrust among some loyalists, or unionists, or whatever you would like to call them, of some Catholics. You were in no-man’s land if you were a Catholic and you were joining because it was a new beginning. Here was the UDR, it represented the whole community and you are trying to do it in a fair way and under the control of the British Government and you were given all the menial tasks to do as well. There wasn’t great status in it. People who wanted to make something of it joined the RUC. Would that be right? The RUC Reserve. So it would seem pretty horrific and then to be left like that does seem to be very sad. ”
Q.8. Sean Collins (Drogheda): “I just wanted to ask now that you have carried out the research, what the political response has been? I have a little story and I won’t detain you. Growing up in the south, the UDR wouldn’t have been something I experienced except when I travel up north. We always saw on television how the British state would celebrate its soldiers and its past servicemen and all the things with parades and 40 years from D-Day and all those wonderful parties they had, and yet I was over in Scotland and I met a man who was a [chinlet???] They were the guys who …..were dropped seventy miles behind enemy lines and dropped in on gliders and then they had to fight their way back out and they were very brave men for doing that but I was amazed when he told me that he sent his service medals back because of the way his comrades and their widows were treated in the aftermath by the British Government. And really what you are saying tonight reflects a little of what he told me of his experience of 40 or 50 years ago or more and I am just wondering, what has been the response from your political representatives to your research? ”
Martin Snoddon: “Well first of all I’d like to say that that is very real in relation to today as well and a Remembrance Day Service people will go out and they will march past politicians of all descriptions and for that hour or two hours, they are in people’s consciousness. But that is one or two hours a year and the reality is that most of those people actually go back home with their memories and go back home with the support. This research has brought this more to the fore – those needs – and it is embarrassing for the British Government. It is embarrassing for other agencies that were actually meant to address those needs. So there is a resistance with regards to the promotion of this research. But also very much there are many, many people coming forward now and saying ‘that is what happened to me. I am that person. That has been my experience as well.’ So it has created a liberty to actually bring out those internal feelings to release that, to at least start talking about it in the hope of getting something done. “
Q.8: “Is this not an example of something that could be 32-county – for security forces north and south, another way of moving it forward?”
Martin Snoddon: “I think it is something that could be not only 32-county but something that could be global with regards to experience. I spoke to people.in Nicaragua. I spoke to Mozambiquans who had fought in the wars there, I spoke to South Africans, I spoke to Vietnam veterans who have been over lately actually engaging and creating a support structure and they have all said exactly the same. So this in the island of Ireland needs to include all ex-service personnel. I spoke to a former member of the Irish Regiment who was blown up 12 feet inside the North, 12 feet! He was denied compensation by the southern government because the incident took place in Northern Ireland. While he was in service, he had to quote the Irish Constitution to try to get some compensation for him as a former member of the Irish Army. So yes those types of relationships need to be developed on a global basis.”
Sean Collins: “Can I just say Roy, and I have to smile there, because last night there was a documentary on TV about Padraig Pearse….. It said that his mother and his two sisters went in to visit De Valera when he became Taoiseach in 1932 to seek help to continue on the work of Padraig Pearse. Halfway through the meeting somebody came out and said, ‘Taoiseach, there is a telephone call for you’ and he never came back.”
Q. 9. Michael Dowdall (member of Guild of Uriel): “My first question – if you were getting 3 or 4 pounds a day on a 23-hour day why would you stay? That is the first question. The second question is: why did they discriminate between the male and the female soldiers where the male soldiers could take the guns home with them and the females couldn’t take them? Thank you. The third thing I’d like to ask is when it comes to reflecting and when you think about it on the quiet night shift, I’d love to know what lessons did you draw from it and if it was going again would you join again?”
Teena and Rosemary: “Yes.”
Michael: “Well that’s the last question answered. Why did you stay for £3 a day?
Teena: “Well initially I was going to join the British Army because my father and all my family came from that line. Then when the Ulster Defence Regiment said they were taking women I thought “No, I’ll stay at home”. I thought I’d have it easier staying at home. So I joined the UDR. I didn’t realise the money was going to be so low…”
Michael: “Why didn’t you join the RUC then?”
Rosemary: “Actually, I was going to join the RUC but I was too small!
Teena: “Because of my family’s military background, I had a pride in what I was doing. The money was irrelevant. When Thatcher came into government, the wages went up. Why was there inequality? It was thought that if they didn’t arm the women, they would be less of a target when they were out on duty. Now the women were trained in SLRs, but only in the event of a male being ambushed and the male was shot. We could then take up the weapon, to make it safe. But only in that event.”
Rosemary: “That is why in the early years of the UDR when the women first came in, they didn’t wear trousers, they always wore skirts. And we swore the only reason for us in skirts, was so the young bucks who wanted to throw the bricks knew exactly where to hit you in the legs. That is truth, because they always aimed for between the knee and the ankle because that was the part of your leg that was showing.”
Teena: “But it was so you could distinguish between male and female.”
Michael: “And were there female members of the regiment killed?”
Michael Dowdall: “….was there not a trade union among the regiment?”
Rosemary: “No. There is no trade union in the army.
Michael Dowdall: The female members were obviously …With regard to PPWs – Personal Protection Weapons – for females, they thought well, if a female went home with a gun, she would be more likely to give it over than a man would, when in actual fact, everybody knows that women are more protective towards their offsprings. Like even in the animal kingdom they are more protective.”
Michaell: “So, Rosemary, answer me this question: when you reflect back, tell me some of the lessons you learned.
Rosemary: “I learned to appreciate good friends, really good friends. I learned to trust people because you are like depending on trusting who you are out with. I learned that it was probably one of the most enjoyable times of my life and that leads onto the 4th question. Yes, if I was 20 years younger and it was still going, I would be back in tomorrow.”
Teena: “We became good communicators, first aiders, trained in radios, orienteering.”
Rosemary: “And we passed on quite a lot to our families.”
Roy Garland: “Remember Michael, even in a paramilitary group or any army the sense of comradeship and fellowship is tremendous because, as you say, you are depending on each other. So you can understand because that is what people want: fellowship and friendship. That is what churches are supposed to be about. ”
Q.10: Fr. Iggy O’Donovan (Drogheda): “A term you used a lot in your talk was demonisation, and I can understand why An Phoblacht Republican News might have demonised. But even when you went into say the larger, say the loyalist/Protestant community, was there a sense of isolation there? I was interested, it came up many times, that word.”
Martin Snoddon: “Absolutely and it was that global demonisation. But let me ask my colleagues to talk about some of their experiences as they did to me during the research and just to highlight that.”
Teena: “On one occasion my sister and I, who were both in the UDR, were walking down the street to my mother’s home and there were two paramilitaries – one of them was a leading paramilitary who lived in the community – and they heckled and spat at our feet and called us ‘blankets’. That was the term that they used for women within the British forces. And that happened on regular occasions.”
Martin Snoddon: “There are another couple of incidents I could relate to. It was the UDR who actually saved Gerry Adam’s life that time in Belfast and that didn’t go down too well in the Loyalist community as you can imagine. Also the UDR were positioned to actually confront the loyalist community on occasions, for example during the Anglo-Irish Agreement and so on. They were put to the fore. So they weren’t loved as much as they had been in earlier years. They were put in that confrontational position and of course the loyalist paramilitaries were trying to operate outside the law. The UDR was trying to maintain the law. So there was confrontation there.”
Teena: “Martin talks about confrontation, Roy had spoken before about his living cheek and jowl, and whenever you are put on the front line in some of these areas, where you are living in the area and you are living in the front line of that area, that is where the confrontation comes and then you have got to go back into that area and live in that area.”
Q.11: Vincent McDevitt (An Tobar, Navan, and Meath Peace Group member): “Some of my questions have been answered already. I thought it extremely helpful sharing and knowing where you are coming from. I think it is very important for us to know and very important for you to have space to share that. The man on my left, I am disagreeing with that…if somebody has pain well, it is very important that that pain be shared. Whether the other has pain or not that is another question. But were there any obvious shortcomings on the part of the UDR? I know that is not the purpose of the meeting, it is secondary, but at the same time I am curious there, seeing as it is closed down. I wonder how many women died? That is another question I had, and then lastly I gather the ex-UDR, especially those people who suffered, are getting very little help I would like to know if your centre is getting good financial help at the moment?
“I understood your general question but I just wondered how your Centre, not just the ex-UDR in general…just in the Centre are you getting plenty of support?”
Rosemary: “Actually three Greenfinches have been murdered during the time they were serving within the UDR. One was a mother of a very young child who lived in a caravan and that was down near the border areas and she was shot in the caravan. The other two were as a result of bombings, when they were out on patrol. There have been numerous Greenfinches who have been injured, Teena and I included. We have both been injured within our service numerous times within the UDR. But that would be sort of unspoken injuries. You hear nothing more about those. What was the second part of your question?”
Roy Garland: “By the way the girl that was killed….she was killed near the border and her uncle I think it was, was also killed, because he was taken with a friend of mine Jimmy … and Jimmy had only one arm so they let him out and … Jimmy spoke openly in the press and so on and they killed the other man. It was on the other side of the border. They had been going to a meeting, I know the other fella lived in Monaghan, so it was a cross-border thing anyway and the two friends going along, two of the one family. It is just that when you say that it reminds me …… It was families who went through all this you know. Sorry I interrupted you.”
Martin Snoddon: “With regards to CTRC, the Conflict Trauma Resource Centre, and its support, CTRC is a cross-community organisation and it has it’s origins in nationalist/republican West Belfast and unionist/loyalist Northwest Belfast and it was very fortunate that coming together in relation to exploring a vision for a centre to address the needs of all who had been impacted upon by the violent conflict. We received some private money from an American Philanthropist, Chuck Feeney, Atlantic Philanthrophies, to allow us to commence the work that we have been doing for the past five years and we have worked with everyone in Northern Ireland and southern Ireland who we can contact with regards to the legacy of conflict from all persuasions, all different backgrounds, all the factions, and yet we are still to this day fighting to try to secure financial resources to allow the organisation to carry on with the services that are in increasing demand today than what they were five years ago. So there is little active financial support coming from the British Government directly. In fact we have more direct funding that has come from the Department of Foreign Affairs in the south for a specific project around Healing the Memories, a compassionate storytelling process, than what we have actually had from the British Government!
Roy Garland: “Just one other point, the shortcoming thing?”
Vincent: “That is not the main thing, the main thing is sharing where you are coming from. But at the same time, even with hindsight, were there any obvious shortcomings on the part of the UDR?”
Rosemary: “Most of the shortcomings were actually after we left the UDR.”
Vincent: “I don’t mean you personally.”
Roy Garland: “I think Vincent is thinking of the fact that the UDR was removed, was there a reason for that? They were replaced by the Royal Irish Regiment.”
Rosemary: “Well I think that was purely political.”
Q.11: Arthur O’Connor (Trim): “……..And at the beginning of the Troubles, the RUC action….that got very bad press, because that was flashed all over the world …..and reporters and everything and the more they took it was flooded with reporters from all over the world then….If the head of police at that time nipped that in the bud and was more open and apologised, I don’t know what but that is where the trouble began. The RUC haven’t many friends in the south I’ll admit but at the same time they were doing their normal work everyday, but then they were switched on to saving the country as it were and they were playing a different role and then without the army after that, it developed after that. But… Patten and the quota of Protestants and Catholics, I felt that is bizarre. A policeman’s role is a policeman, not a religious one surely and he must be anonymous. …A policeman’s role is a policeman and to police the ground …… That is my opinion and until we get back to proper policing and admit there is a lot of things that happened …I blame a lot of the police for Bloody Sunday, someone gave the order to take out a few of the terrorists and I’d say the blueprint came from the RUC……..”
Sean: “Could you clarify Roy that the UDR was not the police?”
Roy Garland: “The UDR are part of the British Army, a locally recruited regiment which …well there was overseas service as well. This was a home service….”
Q.12: “The crux of what you seem to be saying is the need for services to listen to the experiences and to try and overcome the hyperalertness, the post-traumatic stress that is going on there and you listed what is a very small facility to care for that. It strikes me that that would have to be replicated a 100, 200 times to be able to service the amount of people that it needs to deal with. Is there any sense of those facilities being put in place at all?”
Martin Snoddon: “The reality in relation to the needs are that they are almost overwhelming because of the extent of the numbers of people that were involved. However for all those people that were involved in the UDR, other family members, they don’t all need the full breadth of the services that we are suggesting need to be in place. So for some people it might just be the opportunity to come along and tell their story, there is a need with regards to more clinical type of support and supervision with regards to their past experience and for others it is just maybe the possibility of being able to retrained to be integrated back into society in a normal civilian type job but to have a safe environment to allow that retraining to take place has been an issue. The reality for me is that previously there hasn’t been any service that has been there to address it. This suggestion from this research would be the beginning of something rather than the end to be addressing all the needs.”
Teena: “And if I can just add for some it is just a phone call, to say ‘hello, how are you? I am just checking in on you’.
Rosemary: “If I could also add there would be a lot of ex-members – both male and female -who maybe joined in the ‘70s when they were 20. They are now coming up to 50, 60. They are coming to a point in their life when their old bones are starting to hurt and they are going to need help with things like wheelchairs and aids about the house which a lot of them cannot go to their own GP because their own GP is not aware of the fact that they were ever in the UDR.”
Roy Garland: “I think we have actually about five more questions, well we have got another one. Can we keep them fairly short because we are running out of time?”
Q.13: “All I wanted to say really was to congratulate you Teena. I’m delighted you got out your research at last and I know you two, I would never have known that was your background from being with you or anything else, what you have gone through and congratulations. I’m delighted for you.”
Teena: “Thank you.”
Q.14. Linda Clare (Batterstown): “Just to congratulate Martin and the girls, and Martin in particular for his excellent presentation and again to second what that lady said, for revealing to us what was unknown to us. And one question I would like to ask and if I have missed the point please tell me. As you are a branch of the army, essentially, how is the main body of the army treated when they return from the war zones …. regarding medical treatment and back-up facilities and services? …
Rosemary: “Just to go back to the beginning, I’ll just say a little bit and then I’ll pass on. At the very beginning of the Troubles, when the UDR were first formed, if we were injured we were taken to any hospital. If a regular soldier from the British Army was injured they were taken to Musgrave Military Hospital….We were never offered that protection. We were then referred to, maybe to go back to that hospital as an outpatient where everybody knew that you were a member because it was all on your records.”
Linda: “When the normal soldier from the ordinary British Army retires, does he or she get back-up help?”
Martin Snoddon: “There is an organisation that has grown recently in Great Britain called the Northen Ireland Veteran’s Association and they have a website and they are advertising a coming together with regards to a service similar to what we are talking about…[tape ends] .. …A number of those people who had suffered as a result of the conflict here, ended up in prison in Great Britain as a result of their PTSD and the absence of any treatment or facilities for that. Combat Stress does exist in Great Britain but it is a very, very minute resource with regards to the number of people that requires that service. Regular army, British regular army soldiers have also been to the Balkans, they have been to Iraq now. They have had the Falklands conflict and yet still with all that the British Government hasn’t created an institution which is what would be required to address all of those needs. Neither has the Irish Government. Neither did the American Government until the Vietnam veterans took it on themselves to create it for themselves.”
Q.15. Gareth Porter (H.U.R.T. group, Lurgan): “I really enjoyed the talk and it is obviously a traumatised body of people you’re working with and you know I am working with the same constituency. The question I’d like to ask though is, in the light of the weekend events in Donegal, what do you think the impact will be on the people you are working with …the murder of Denis Donaldson, and I don’t believe it was the leprechauns and fairies. I’m pretty specific on where I think it came from. What will be the impact on your constituency that you are working with?”
Martin Snoddon: “The first thing that would come to mind would say it reinforces their original thoughts of fear and threats. That armed wing still exists out there somewhere, so each time something like that happens it makes people shudder, because it is bringing home the reality of that threat still being in existence. They haven’t gone away and those times are very evident.”
Q.16: “Just one thing. Again, thank you very much for the presentation, it was quite thought-provoking, but I think it is also important to be said for southern people down here. I know from personal experience my own of travelling through Northern Ireland, you come around the corner, you see a checkpoint. You pray it was the British Army and not the UDR. The reality was the British Army would treat you with respect, it wasn’t the case unfortunately with the UDR. Southern car, southern people, you know so we have got that barrier to break down as well.”
Martin Snoddon: “Absolutely.”
Rosemary: “Can I just add something to that? You said that southern registration, so you were treated with disrespect. Coming from Belfast, we always treated people with respect up in Belfast. Like I mean, you had the Falls Road, you had the Shankill Road, you had Crumlin Road, you had Antrim Road, so you had Catholic, Protestant, Catholic, Protestant and the registration of the car didn’t indicate who the people were. Know what I mean? You didn’t know what area they come from. You stopped and you treated them with respect and it is just unfortunate that yes, I had heard that a couple of times, mostly in the border areas that people weren’t treated with the respect they should have been treated with. But then again, can I also add that a lot of people from the north saw the south as a breeding ground for the IRA and they assumed that everybody who came over that border had been over sort of training and it took a long time for people to realise that that is very far from the truth. A lot of people in the south didn’t know the half of what was going on in the north. But all I can do is apologise for anybody who has been treated with any sort of disrespect by the UDR because it certainly wouldn’t have happened in our battalion.”
Roy Garland: “It is certainly true what Rosemary says. I mean in the early days, the IRA was believed to be trained in the south, now some were trained in the south, but you know today we know that most of the IRA in Belfast come from Belfast. …. In those days, the border was seen as a border between two civilisations….. I have friends who are Orangemen on the other side of the border, but they tend to see it in very stereotypical terms, so some people did go along.
Questioner: “… for people who were following a football team, playing in Newcastle, you would be stopped a few miles before that, going to Derry and travelling through Donegal and this was happening regular, the mid ‘80s, early ‘90s.”
Rosemary: “I can sympathise with people. The same happened to me, coming over the border from Dublin airport.”
Martin Snoddon: “I’ve just got a wee thing with regards to that too. There was a man that I interviewed from Castlederg along the Tyrone border and he had two brothers that had been shot dead. They were members of the UDR. He was a long-term service member of the UDR and he had lots of friends and colleagues. He was talking one after the other, it was just an ongoing story of death and at one point I said “I must ask this man a question … your brothers were shot dead, you are telling me that people cheered as you took the coffin through the streets at Strabane. You were armed to the teeth. Why didn’t you go out with that gun and shoot these people that you knew, you were telling me that you knew who killed them?” And he said to me: ‘but we believed in law and order’. So maybe being a bit abusive to somebody in a car and a bit of harassment was a light thing in comparison to what could have happened as a result of what they had been experiencing on duty the day before or the week before, I don’t know.”
Julitta Clancy (Meath Peace Group): “Just a short question, and thank you again for coming up and sharing with us. One of the things that has come up a lot with victims’ groups particularly in the security forces, is this threat, and the feeling they are still under threat, so I have two questions. One is how can the government and politicians help to educate people about that and help to remove that threat? Secondly do you feel that your needs would be better addressed by a devolved government? The last talk we had, it seemed that prospect was totally out of the question by the end of the night, but is there a more realistic chance of your needs being properly debated and addressed and the needs of many victims’ groups – what Roy was talking about earlier on – under a devolved government or under what is likely to be continual direct rule, with more involvement by the Irish Government?”
Martin Snoddon: “I’ll try to attempt an answer at some of that. I’m thinking that what often helps people is when things are visible, when things are transparent. The difficulty in relation to the governments is that they seem to be operating through a vale of secrecy and who they are talking to and what their agendas are. So if there was a much more transparent process, it would be useful for people with regards to fears, those fears around nationality and so on. By and large a lot of those fears emanate from within the republican movement and thus it is only the republican movement that can actually help take away those fears. And some people within that particular community are working hard to do that, and some people are actually working hard to instil more fears, so there is a lot of work that needs to be done by various people to help evaporate the fears that exist.”
Rosemary: “I feel that the government needs to listen, truly listen in order for us to address our needs. With regard to the research and the launch of the research, they got an invitation to the research and didn’t respond. I actually handed an invitation to an NIO secretary when I was going up to meet a minister and they couldn’t attend and at the last minute, they put someone into their place, just to appease us. If that is a response from the government, what use are they to us? And until they actually do truly want to listen to our needs, I don’t think they are willing at the moment to listen to us. With regard to a devolved government, I don’t think at the minute that it is the right time.”
Roy Garland: “We have just one more, and this man was talking to me in Sandy Row on Saturday morning for I think about an hour. He is a former RUC man, he is also a Catholic. He also spoke at the West Belfast Community Festival and… the West Belfast Community Festival is organised by republicans. They do a good job. Jeffrey Donaldson spoke there, but this man who is here stands up in the middle of the upper Falls Road and starts off by saying ‘as a former RUC man…’ and then goes on and says what he has to say. I thought that was really something and nobody blinked an eyelid. And I can’t remember what he said, it was so dramatic that he said that. Go ahead Gerry.
Gerry Carolan (Belfast), who had attended several of the Meath Peace Group public talks, said that he didn’t have a question but wished instead to express his appreciation of all the work the group had made in building peace and understanding. He presented a painting to the group which was gratefully accepted by Julitta Clancy. The evening’s discussion then concluded.
Meath Peace Group Report. 2006.
Taped by Judith Hamill (audio); Jim Kealy (video). Transcribed by Judith Hamill and Julitta Clancy. Edited by Julitta Clancy
©Meath Peace Group
Appendix: ‘DRAWING A LINE UNDER THE PAST’
The Unionist Group, 16 March 2006
The Unionist Group represents an informal coming together of members of the Ulster Unionist Party since 2003. Initially a few of us met with members of Coiste na n-Iarchimí, a republican ex-prisoners group at Clonard Monastery. We also met with loyalists on the Shankill Road, with members of the SDLP and Alliance as well as with the Official Republican Group, the IRSP and with Ministers of both Governments. Many of us have worked in other contexts with people from diverse traditions and parties north and south.
While we have never formally defined our aims and objectives we are committed to healing and growth in this society and to better understanding within and between all parts of these islands. We want to see societies at peace with themselves and with their neighbours and would like to see the many constructive activities that took place across the Northern Ireland border before 1969, resumed and increased.
When considering mechanisms to help draw a line under the past, we gave prior consideration to the idea of a truth commission. The core of such an endeavour, as in the South African model, is laudable and has clearly brought benefits to that country. However in order to attain success and healing in Northern Ireland – surely the goal of seeking to draw a line under the past – the model needs to be adapted to our particular circumstances. What must be avoided at all costs in this divided society is the presentation of opportunities that could be exploited to rake over the coals of past grievances.
Many people who lost close relatives and friends wish to talk about their experiences. They want to be frank, open and confident with people around them but this is only possible when the setting and context are carefully and sensitively established. Truth is subjective, as we all know, and there is a serious risk that enquiries seeking forensic or objective truth would prove partial, inconclusive and unlikely to seriously address the hurts in society.
A semi-judicial commission, if not established in the right way, could even stimulate rivalry and discord based on conflicting perceptions. It might cause wounds to fester and extend hurt into future generations. We understand why the Presbyterian Church, the largest Protestant church in Northern Ireland, was unable to endorse such a Truth Commission at this point in time. There are well founded fears that this could, like the Bloody Sunday Inquiry, gather a mass of information at tremendous cost but shed limited light on the matter under investigation and bring little healing capacity. The Agencies of the State would be expected to tell the whole truth but neither the British or Irish Governments nor the IRA and Loyalist paramilitaries or others are likely to do this. Yet if the perception was to be created that ‘truth’ was being fabricated or distorted for whatever purpose, more harm than good might result.
But this is not to say there should be no quest for truth or for greater knowledge and insight. Facilities and support should be provided to encourage people’s ongoing search for truth and schools could play a greater role in facilitating understanding. But any search for a singular agreed historical narrative will, we believe, prove illusory. Present understandings are limited, influenced by very significant cultural differences and sometimes in flux and people tend to interpret limited facts in terms of their own predispositions. Any attempt to come up with final answers could leave some people feeling their story had been misrepresented or neglected. It is in any case impossible to draw a single line under the past for all time whereas healing can take place when people relate to each other and reflect together on their narratives in private, in small inclusive groups and before respectful, responsive and challenging audiences drawn from both major traditions and their subcultures.
The aim is to acknowledge, empathise and increase mutual understanding among participants, but not necessarily to agree with people’s narratives. While the presence of counsellors is desirable, most participants should be drawn from ordinary walks of life. Such an exercise, to be successful, must reflect a bottom up approach and take place in free and safe spaces.
Less dramatic accounts of ordinary people would be a vital ingredient. The sensitivity required if the exercise is to bear fruit means meetings should be conducted in private and without cameras. As confidence grows some may wish to face the cameras and this has its own value, but media encounters are on the whole likely to prove counter-productive and intrusive. Their presence changes the dynamics of the interaction in perhaps subtle but significant ways, however, audio recording, provided storytellers are in agreement might be a helpful means of retaining stories for future generations.
The exercise needs to be in the hands of communities all over Northern Ireland and led by local people, although the Secretary of State could quietly facilitate. At some stage a common act led by the Sovereign and President might also be appropriate. We gave some consideration to Days of Reflection, Memorials and Oral History Projects. Such exercises should coincide with extensive and widespread opportunities for personal narrative telling. It was also suggested that a shared space be created in every town and village. There a small copse of trees could be planted by local communities in order to reinforce a sense of hope and to bring communities together. Such projects could be co-ordinated to finish on a set date when samples of recorded personal histories would be symbolically buried in a time capsule underneath the trees symbolising new life and hope springing from the earth.
As a separate exercise it might be helpful if a representative group of academic researchers drawn from both major traditions could develop, as far as is possible, a common understanding of the main features of our historical conflict drawing upon the experiences of ordinary people on the ground.
Finally we would draw attention to Sir Kenneth Bloomfield’s report, “We Will Remember Them” issued in April 1998 and accessible at:
Note: The following Ulster Unionists are drawn from various constituency associations across Northern Ireland and are a sample of those who contributed to the above document or assented to it. The help and support of Presbyterian Minister Rev Brian Kennaway, who is not a member of the UUP, is also acknowledged.
James McKerrow Trevor Ringland Deirdre Vincent Bill White
Billy Tate David Thompson James Smyth Winnie McColl
Steven Pointon Marion Garland Peter Bowles Tony Staney
Jack Storey David Christopher Brian Dunn Joice McKinley
Ian Vincent Steven McColl Roy Garland Philip McNeill
Stuart McKinley George Fleming Rebecca Black Gavin Howell
Unionist Group: Drawing a Line under the Past, March 2006
Reproduced here by kind permission as an appendix to MPG report no. 60