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New book on the Rising

PostPosted: Wed Apr 10, 2013 5:22 pm
by michaelcarragher
Forum members might like to note Ireland’s 1916 Rising: Explorations of History-Making, Commemoration & Heritage in Modern Times by Dr Mark McCarthy (Ashgate, 2012). Not a light tome, in both meanings of that adjective, at over 500 pages, it isn’t cheap either at €65, but a very interesting Introduction is available at: ... -Intro.pdf

Re: New book on the Rising

PostPosted: Wed Apr 10, 2013 8:21 pm
by DrNightdub
Also just published, but much more affordable...ahem. ... lfast_ira/

Re: New book on the Rising

PostPosted: Thu Apr 11, 2013 6:58 am
by michaelcarragher
Well done, Kieran! Intriguing summary. I look forward to reading it. Happy sales.

Re: New book on the Rising

PostPosted: Thu Jun 20, 2013 10:38 am
by michaelcarragher
From Pogrom to Civil War: Tom Glennon and the Belfast IRA, by Kieran Glennon (Cork: Mercier, 2013).

Investigating a neglected part of our history while simultaneously exploring the part played in that history by your own grandfather must present challenges to any author. Tom Glennon was a significant player in the Revolutionary years, and this makes his experiences valuable to any historian who takes on to investigate and evaluate it. But a reader can be excused for wondering whether his grandson can sustain the necessary objectivity to succeed.

From Pogrom to Civil War examines the Troubles in Belfast and Antrim; Tom Glennon’s subsequent internment; the Truce and its bloody aftermath in Belfast; the Civil War and Glennon’s role as a Free State fighter in Donegal; finally his mysterious and haunted personal life thereafter, and his grandson’s solving of the mysteries and discovering a wider family.

Thus there is a human as well as an historical tale told here, and Kieran Glennon tells it in a well-paced and well-written way. Because this is history as well as biography, and because the subject of the biography, while a significant player was not a central one, Tom Glennon disappears from the account for many pages at a time; nevertheless his grandson sustains continuity and integration in his book.

The most important thing that this book tells is how different the Revolution was in Belfast—and how complex. Several times I was reminded of Behan’s famous remark about “the split”: it could never be more applicable than to the situation in Belfast, where long before the split over the Treaty, the Catholic/Nationalist community was divided between those who looked to the Volunteers/IRA, and those who looked to the AOH. There was antipathy between the Antrim and Belfast IRA, and later between the more aggressive and more cautious elements within the IRA. Republicans were conflicted between their wish to fight Crown forces and their need to defend their constituency against sectarian attacks. Complicating things further was the partial dependence for arms and ammunition on sympathetic policemen and even corrupt B-Specials and British soldiers. The role of ex-servicemen also seems to have been different in Belfast than in the rest of Ireland (p. 271).

Uniquely the Ulster IRA was faced with a conundrum that had both practical and moral aspects: attacks on Crown forces, the primary target, must lead to retaliatory sectarian attacks on heavily outnumbered, and out-gunned, Catholics. Divisions that emerged within the IRA before the Treaty were the result of this conundrum.

But there were further complicating factors. Catholic RIC feared Loyalist reprisals against their co-religionists, and thoughtful Loyalists feared that such reprisals would ruin their community financially, for compensation for arson and damages had to be footed by the predominantly-Unionist rate-payers. This concern became more pressing after the Belfast Brigade adopted arson of Unionist property as policy; but—reflecting further complication—the nascent Free State also was worried by this development, as it might be held liable for compensation.

The ironic consequence of the conundrum was that the primary target of the IRA—Crown forces—became an ally-of-sorts. British troops were even-handed in their peace-keeping responsibilities; if anything, indeed, they may have been more sympathetic to the IRA than to the B-Specials and Orange mobs in the appalling pogroms that followed the Truce. This sympathy was in part due to resentment at the massive wage-differential between soldiers and Specials, but it also likely was rooted in traditional English sympathy for the underdog. The end result was that it became IRA policy not to attack British soldiers (pp. 178, 268).

It was probably this factor more than any other that brought to mind the observation that the War of Independence more accurately could be described as the First Irish Civil War, and Glennon’s chapter, “Legacies”, confirms that in Belfast, between July 1920 and October 1922, only four out of 498 fatalities were “Military” (p. 263); and if non-Irish likely were included in the 20 “RIC/RUC” fatalities, possibly Irishmen were among the “Military” fatalities.

All this complexity, tragically, was lost on the authors of our destructive revolution who, for the most part, thought not with political and military logic but rather with an ideology that was informed by wishful thinking and a simplistic view of history. Not for the last time, Dev got things catastrophically wrong when he

expressed the view that the adoption of a general abstentionist policy by the anti-partitionists would precipitate a split in Unionism along class lines within the new northern parliament and so hasten its destruction (p. 66).

The effect of abstentionism rather was to bolster Unionist power and facilitate decades of anti-Catholic discrimination. Nor was Dev alone in foolish thinking. Eoin O’Duffy, a decade on from formation of the UVF, still could bombastically declare that “The Ulster people had very little force themselves if unaided by British armed forces” (p. 89)—he was clearly unaware that by this stage the sympathies of at least some of the “British armed forces” were with the Catholic minority. Collins “completely failed to appreciate that northern Protestants had economic, political and religious motives of their own for wishing to preserve the union” (p. 281).

While the pogroms that followed the Truce were terrifying, there were Unionist attempts to make the new polity work for all its subjects. Soon after the Truce a wary agreement included acceptance of “An Advisory Committee composed of Catholics to be set up to assist in the selection of Catholic recruits for the Special Police”, as well as joint Catholic-Protestant police patrols (p. 107). The continued IRA campaign against the police rendered this provision void.

Even more lamentable in its outcome: on the Nationalist, nay, Republican side, one of the conditions on which the Northern IRA was prepared to accept the Treaty was “Minority safeguards … in order to secure some measure of just representation in proportion to population” (p. 97). This aspiration was not necessarily a vain one, for proportional representation was written into the Government of Ireland Act; besides, on the Unionist side there was both “a practically unanimous detestation of anything in the nature of permanent partition of Ireland” and “a genuine desire for Peace [and] no wish whatever to oppress their Catholic fellow-countrymen in any way” (pp. 189-90). One can be forgiven for doubting how “unanimous” such feelings may have been, but it was the refusal of Nationalists to take their seats in the Northern Ireland parliament that permitted removal of the very “Minority safeguards” that had so concerned the Northern IRA, and the Council of Ireland that was intended to integrate the island over time. If Stormont turned into “a Protestant parliament for a Protestant people” it was able to do so only with the collaboration of those who sacrificed limited political power to ideological aspiration.

In addition to portraying the complications of the Revolution in Belfast and Antrim, Kieran Glennon shows how anomalous was the situation in Donegal through the Civil War, where anti-Treaty forces were for the most part outsiders who were treated with hostility by the locals, some of whom, though not affiliated with the Free State, may have taken armed action against the intruders. Sadly, there was nothing anomalous in the savagery and bitterness that marked this conflict. As in every war, and civil war in particular, this one attracted the worst element. Men from Cork and Kerry were shocked and disgusted by the “truculent and venomous religious bigot[s]” they found themselves fighting alongside (p. 156); men who were “the soul of honour” were “appalled” by others “with a reputation for recklessness and bloodthirsty callousness” (p. 210). Not surprisingly morale collapsed and anarchy frequently emerged in the absence of law and order.

The biographical side of the book is more engaging because of the human interest, yet seems less satisfying, if only because a great deal of detail has been lost on the life of a man who was “haunted” by a “terrible procession of the dead [whom] he tried to bury ... by shrouding them in silence” (p. 302). Glennon’s conclusion that his “grandfather completely stepped aside from history, both from creating it and from remembering it” (302-03) seems very poignant and reflective of what war can do to a man. Yet the author is admirably—even ruthlessly—objective in his treatment of a man for whom he understandably must feel filial love and admiration. He reports the deep hatred which Peadar O’Donnell and others had for his grandfather, the fact that he was a poor shot, an allegation that he appropriated the tool-kit of a motor car, and—though he can understand how it could have been rationalised—“[finds his] grandfather’s participation in the reprisal execution of prisoners to be unforgiveable” (pp. 299-300). While Tom Glennon remains an elusive personality, this reader is left with an impression of a fundamentally decent man who did dreadful deeds, for which he paid with a lifetime of remorse.

From Pogrom to Civil War is a very good book, and the criticisms that I find do not take from that evaluation. While the book is well accounted for—26 pages of end-notes and eight of bibliography—its primary sources are predominantly Nationalist, most written by people who could not have been objective. This is not to impute anything unprofessional to Kieran Glennon; I merely mean that a few different perspectives could have given a greater sense of objectivity.

I also feel that some of the sources may reward investigation by other historians. For example, interrogation of the cited opinion, “The Hibernians were of no use. Indeed they were a menace through their weakness” (p. 270), might form the core of an interesting MA or PhD thesis, whatever the answer the student comes up with.

This book’s main strength is the great detail that it provides on a theatre of war that tends to be neglected. It has the additional great virtue that its author knows the rules of grammar and usage of the English language, something that cannot be said for a depressing percentage of allegedly-professional writers in recent years. (And it’s heartening to discover someone who shares my affection for that endangered species, the semi-colon.) Mercier Press have done a good job of proof-reading too.

But not to be pedantic: the book is well written in another and more important way—it’s a good read, one that I recommend strongly to the forum.

Re: New book on the Rising

PostPosted: Tue Jun 25, 2013 8:39 pm
by DrNightdub
Thanks for the kind words, Michael.

I don't agree with your view that the unionists were willing "to make the new polity work for all its subjects" - the second Craig-Collins Pact of 1922 was pretty much foisted on them by Lloyd George, who was primarily concerned with the fact that "our Ulster case is not a good one" in the eyes of his domestic public. I suppose to an extent, you could forgive the unionists' suspicions in relation to the Policing Committee set up under the Pact, as one of Collins' nominees to that body was the Intelligence Officer of the IRA's 3rd Northern Division, who they promptly interned, but the other two were bona fide civilians. However, the Pact (including the provisions regarding joint policing) collapsed, not due to acrimony over the Policing Committee, but due to Craig's refusal to institute an enquiry into the killings by the police of the MacMahon family and of residents of Arnon St./Stanhope St. - the latter, taking place a mere two days after the Pact was signed, offered grim evidence of the underlying official attitude to cross-community relations.

Plus which, the next 50 years would pretty much give the lie to the notion that the unionist authorities were willing to accomodate all their subjects. The fact that the Wild Birds Act of 1931 was the ONLY piece of legislation initiated by a nationalist MP to make it onto the statute books during the entire history of Stormont would suggest that nationalist attendance at, or abstention from, the NI Parliament was supremely irrelevant to the unionists. In other words, there was not even "limited political power" on offer to northern nationalists in the context of Northern Ireland, so "ideological aspiration" was all they had to cling onto.

Just to answer your query regarding fatalities: the 4 military killed were all British (off the top of my head, two from the Norfolk Regiment, one Seaforth Highlander and the fourth I can't remember) and the figure of 20 RIC/RUC killed includes 2 Auxiliaries and 3 Black-and-Tans, all of whom I'm pretty sure were non-Irish - the other 15 were Irish, of both denominations.

On the selection of sources: the RIC/RUC perspective on events is incorporated to (I think) a reasonable extent, but bear in mind that with the exception of pre-Truce police reports available in Kew / the NLI in Dublin, Nov. 1921 is pretty much Year Zero as far as the PRONI archives are concerned, as it was only from that point that the NI Government assumed responsibility for policing and security; far more eminent writers than me (e.g. A.T.Q. Stewart, Alan Parkinson) have already told the history of unionism, but it wasn't my intention to re-travel ground previously covered in others' work. By the same token, if you want to explore the subject of the AOH / non-republican nationalism, then I suggest Eamon Phoenix's landmark Northern Nationalism and/or Sean McMahon's biography of Wee Joe Devlin.

Re: New book on the Rising

PostPosted: Thu Jun 27, 2013 8:55 am
by michaelcarragher

Thanks for addressing some of the points I made in my review.

I don't agree with your view that the unionists were willing "to make the new polity work for all its subjects"

—slight misunderstanding here: I was not saying that Unionists, en masse, were willing “to make the new polity work” but that

there were Unionist attempts to make the new polity work for all its subjects

(emphasis added to my original), though your point about the second Craig-Collins Pact is taken, and some of those attempts may have been made merely to save on the rates bill.

As we know, there were Unionists and Unionists. Not all were hostile toward Catholics if only because not all Unionists were Protestants, and not all the Protestants were religious bigots. Who could pretend that Roaring Hanna and Horace Plunkett were equally disposed toward their Catholic compatriots, for example? Both were Unionists, but one was a rabble-rousing bigot, the other one of the greatest benefactors that Catholic people had. And to anticipate you, perhaps, yes, the former was far more typical of Northern Unionists.

I sometimes find myself in a similar position regarding Unionists as I do elsewhere (and even on this forum once) regarding General Haig. There is much to criticise about Haig’s management of the Great War, yet in discussions I often find myself defending the man against outrageous calumnies—often to my impatience as I would prefer to discuss and evaluate his actual political and military strengths and weaknesses. But before I can do that I feel I have to defend him against those calumnies to try to level a field of play that has become, over the years, sloped to the point of precipitousness, if I am to engage in fair argument.

Unionist treatment of Northern Catholics was abusive, bigoted and wrong by any standard of morality. I think it was David Trimble who admitted that it had built “a cold house for Catholics to live in”; I grew up in one such house that had to be lit with Tilley lamps and watered with what we bucketed from the pump because our Unionist masters would have had us pumping and bucketing daylight to make mornings if they could have so arranged things with the sun. The system of government that non-Unionists had to endure under our corrupt polity was indefensible. We all suffered under it and our parents and grandparents suffered worse.

But, as I refute nonsense before engaging in debate about Haig’s strengths and weaknesses, before engaging in debate about the evils of Unionism it may be appropriate to point out that those evils came about in part because of Nationalist abstention, which permitted Unionist bigots to dismantle safeguards that were incorporated into the Government of Ireland Act. The point seemed relevant in my review of your book, as that deals with the formation of the state, but perhaps in making it I should have clarified that the author might not share the reviewer’s opinion.

Yes, the Wild Birds Act is notorious in its uniqueness, but it doesn’t prove that nationalist attendance at, or abstention from, Stormont was “supremely irrelevant to the unionists”. Not at the outset, when the terms of the Government of Ireland Act ensured proportional representation and other safeguards and the Council of Ireland looked to eventual unification of Northern and Southern Ireland, albeit, as things were envisaged, within the British Empire. If we never had the critical mass of votes to affect the passage of new legislation at Stormont, we did, at the start, have power of veto over changes to legislation previously passed at Westminster. By our abstention we forfeited this and did, indeed, render ourselves “supremely irrelevant”.

I’m sorry if my review appeared to impute to you views you do not hold, but I’m glad you found it “kind”. From Pogrom to Civil War was an enjoyable and informative read, one that I again recommend to the forum.