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“Freedom is a Land I Cannot See”

Peter Cunningham’s latest novel “Freedom is a Land I Cannot See” is due for release by Sandstone Press on 24th June. It is one of his best. He shows great skill and sympathy in evoking living conditions of a century ago.

 The novel is set in the Baldoyle/ Sutton area of Dublin, 1924 when the new Irish Free State was coping with their aftermath of the successive internecine in wars of the 1919 to 1923 period.  To explain why the characters were as they were in 1924, the novel then switches back to 1920. This is at the height of the fighting between the IRA and the Army, Police and Black and Tans. The killings that happened then left a mark on the surviving characters that remained in 1924.

 The central character, and narrator in the book, Rose Raven, is the daughter of a Presbyterian, English born, ex soldier, who is married to an Irish Catholic woman and living in a cottage in Sutton. 

Rose’s mother believes Ireland would be safer staying in the Empire. Her father tries to keep his head down, but Rose’s friends are all nationalists of various hues, who want out of the Empire and are prepared to act in varying degrees to achieve that.

 In 1920, the risks run by  mixed allegiance families like the Ravens in 1920 are substantial. People were suspected of being “informers” on the strength of their religious beliefs and/or past service alone. Many left the country out of fear.

By 1924, the Free State had finally been established and was trying to stay afloat financially. It was highly sensitive to its credit rating, and worried about the dissemination of bad news that might damage confidence in the State’s creditworthiness.

 The plot of the novel revolves around the involvement of some of Rose Raven’s friends in endeavouring to pass some such damaging information, about conditions in the West of Ireland, to a US newspaper.

Peter Cunningham makes the reader feel he or she is living in North Dublin, alongside the book’s characters, as they navigate the successive crises of the 1920’s.

 Peter spent much of his own early childhood in Sutton and has a great eye for local detail. That said, the characters  he describes remain something of a mystery. This a good book and I recommend it.

IS IT TIME TO REASSESS THE ARMS TRIAL, AND THE ROLE OF JACK LYNCH?

“The Arms Crisis of 1970….the plot that never was”, by Michael Heney, published recently Head Zeus, challenges the received historical interpretation of the attempt IN 1970 to import arms to Ireland for possible use in Northern Ireland . 

Rather than seeing it as a plot undertaken by a faction within the then government, without proper authority, Heney argues convincingly that this was in fact an informally authorised operation. 

He believes that the then Taoiseach, Jack Lynch, knew what was going on, at least to the extent that he wanted to know.

 Heney is able to make this case by relying on state papers which were sealed from view until 2000, under the 30 year rule. 

He shows that Jack Lynch had been told by the then Secretary of the Department of Justice, Peter Berry, as early as October 1969, of offers of arms, or of money to buy them, being made by a serving Irish Army officer to nationalists from Belfast some days earlier at a meeting in Bailieboro.

He reveals that the Chief of Staff of the Irish Army minuted that, on 6 February 1970, he  had received a direction from the Cabinet to

 “prepare the Army for incursions into Northern Ireland”

 and to have arms

” in readiness to be available in a matter of hours”

 to be given to Northern nationalists for their protection.

The legal position was, however, that under the Firearms Act of 1925, arms could not be imported to Ireland without a licence from the Minister for Defence of the time, Jim Gibbons. No such licence was ever issued.

 That was the basis for the prosecutions in the Arms Trial of Charles Haughey, Neil Blaney, Captain Jim Kelly, John Kelly and Albert Luykx. 

Strangely, the decision to prosecute these men was taken by the Attorney General, Colm Condon SC, before all the relevant witness statements had been gathered, notably the witness statement of the Chief of Army Intelligence, Colonel Heffron.  Heffron’s testimony was to blow a big hole in the prosecution case. 

There is much forensic detail in this book to which this summary cannot do justice.

 The conclusion I draw is that, from mid 1969, the Lynch government was pursuing a twin track strategy,

+  a diplomatic one, that was openly acknowledged, seeking reforms in Northern Ireland. Jack Lynch’s Tralee speech (eschewing coercive means to achieve a united Ireland) was part of this and

+  a parallel , covert and deniable, strategy to give military aid to the nationalist minority for “self defence”,  in the event of a further intensification of Loyalist attacks on them. The attempted arms importation was part of this second track.

The Secretary of the Department of Justice, Peter Berry, saw the danger in the second track approach, hence his warning to Jack Lynch in October 1969.

 The notion that weapons, once supplied, would or could only be used for “self defence” was ludicrous. The Irish State would have had no control over how they might be used, once outside the jurisdiction.

 Such an involvement by the Irish state in military actions across the border would have exposed to attack isolated nationalist communities far from the border. The situation would have become far worse even than it became.

 The effect on relations with the UK would also have been potentially disastrous. Imagine how one might react if the British Army was supplying arms to a political group in this jurisdiction!

 Jack Lynch did not seem fully to see these risks, until Liam Cosgrave went to see him on 6 May 1970 with information he had received from an anonymous Garda source naming the Ministers supposedly involved in the plot to import arms (including the Minister for Defence, Jim Gibbons).

 Michael Heney argues that this second track approach (of the Irish state preparing to arm Northern nationalists) might, by reassuring them that they were not alone, have forestalled the re emergence of the Provisional IRA.  I do not believe this at all. It is dangerous historical nonsense.

 The Republican ideology, dating back to the Fenians, is based on the false idea that Unionists can be coerced into united Ireland, and that nationalist have a moral right to use force to that end, and that only pragmatic considerations should inhibit them from doing so. 

This is  still a widely held view among “Republicans”, so the Provisional IRA Republicans would have gone down the cul de sac of violence, no matter what the Irish state did, or did not, do in 1970.

Michael Heney does show, however, that the prosecutions in the Arms Trial of 1970 were unjustified. This is principally because the accused believed sincerely that they were acting with formal or informal government authority. 

How then ought the matter have been resolved, if not by the Arms Trial?

 Jack Lynch should have put a stop to the whole arms importation exercise much earlier, when first warned of it by Peter Berry in October 1969. He should have done so long before May 1970, when he did eventually act by sacking some of the Ministers involved.

 After all, Jack Lynch had already won an overall majority in the Dail in June 1969, and had the political authority to assert himself. By October 1969, reforms in Northern Ireland were under way. The B Specials were being disbanded and effective security powers were being withdrawn from Stormont.

 He should have concentrated all his efforts on the diplomatic track, in the United Nations, the United States and among the Irish in Britain, in pushing for much more rapid reform in Northern Ireland. Instead he allowed the covert strategy to continue in parallel…….a big mistake.

The use of weapons, by whomsoever supplied, and for whatever ostensible purpose, was always a waste of time and of lives.

“SAY NOTHING”

….THE DECEITS THAT FLOW FROM THE USE OF VIOLENCE FOR UNACHIEVABLE ENDS

“Say Nothing” by Patrick Radden Keefe was recommended to me by two friends whose judgement I respect.

Radden Keefe is a writer with the “New Yorker” magazine.  His book is published by William Collins. A native of Boston, Keefenow lives in New York. He has an arresting writing style.   It is hard to put his book down.

 It starts with the 1972 murder of Belfast widow, and impoverished mother of ten small children, Jean McConville. It ends by naming the female IRA member the author believes shot Mrs McConville.

 Jean McConville was suspected, on flimsy grounds, of having given information the British Army. She was a Protestant, married to Catholic and living in Divis tower, in the heart of Republican Belfast. 

Her religious background would have drawn suspicion upon her.

 The author names the senior Republican, who claims never to have been in the IRA, who ordered her murder, and the “disappearing” of her remains across the border.

“Say Nothing” expands from this sad story to delve into IRA violence in Belfast and the response of the security forces to it. 

Things need not have turned out as they did.

 In 1968, the IRA had actually sold off some of its remaining weapons to the Free Wales Army. 

Then came the Loyalist attacks in 1969, and the start of an intense cycle of violence that lasted over 30 years, and which was only ended by a series of convoluted ambiguities that satisfied no one.

It all had its origin in the Proclamation of the Irish Republic on Easter Sunday 1916. 

The terms of this Proclamation made compromise by its sincere adherents impossible.

 The Proclamation claimed a “fundamental right” to a 32 county Republic. No one had a right to compromise that right.

 As the author of the Proclamation, Patrick Pearse, wrote, justifying the rebellion;

“We go in the calm certitude of having done the clear, clean, sheer thing”.

He said on another occasion;

“We have the strength and peace of mind of those who never compromise”.

It is remarkable that the 1916 Proclamation is officially celebrated in Ireland , given that the Irish State is BASED on a compromise, and  that the Good Friday Agreement IS a compromise.

 The  ritual annual incantation of the words of the Proclamation every Easter, gives a false  and deeply misleading message to Ireland’s school children, and to future generations.

The absolutist and uncompromising nature of the 1916 Proclamation went against human nature.

 It helped make compromise by the Four Courts garrison impossible in 1922, and it made decommissioning of weapons, in more recent times,  much more difficult to acknowledge or admit by those who based their republicanism of the Proclamation. 

 There was nothing that was “clean, clear or sheer” about the civil wars in Ireland from 1919 to 1923.

Nor was there much   that was “clear, clean or sheer” about the so called Armed Struggle of the IRA in Belfast, as Radden Keefe’s book shows.

 And there was nothing clear or sheer about the British security forces response to it, either. They were mirror images of one another.

Radden Keefe’s claims the IRA hunger strikes of the 1980’s were deliberately prolonged by the IRA leadership, because they were yielding electoral dividends for Sinn Fein.  An offer acceptable to the prisoners had been made by the authorities, but the outside IRA leadership vetoed acceptance of the offer, and six more prisoners died, all for electoral considerations the author claims.

He also explores why many ex IRA people had difficulty with the peace process.

 He says that Dolours Price, who was involved in many IRA actions including the abduction of Jean McConville, felt a sharp sense of moral injury from the peace process and the compromises it required.

 He says she believed that it had

“ robbed her of any ethical justification for her own conduct”.

This is the sort of sadness that inevitably flow from the use of force to obtain goals on which there can be no compromise.

NOT QUITE SUCH A DECADENT AGE, 1880-1914

“The Age of Decadence, Britain 1880 t0 1914” by Simon Heffer is an ideal book to have tackled during the Covid 19 lockdown.

It consists of almost 900 closely typed pages, and covers every aspect of this eventful period, from the rise of organised labour to naval rearmament, from the campaign for votes for women to that for Home Rule for Ireland.

An overriding political constraint on elected governments in this period was the veto the unelected and unrepresentative House of Lords had on all legislation. A Crisis over this had been avoided for many years by the Lords exercising restraint in its use of the veto. Once the Liberal Party came to power in 1905, a clash between the Commons and the Lords was inevitable.

The crisis came in the 1910 to 1914 period, as a result of a combination of two phenomena.

 The first was the fact that the Irish Party, demanding Home Rule, held the balance of power in the House of Commons from 1910 on.

The second was the contents of Lloyd Georges’s budgets of 1909 and 1910, which proposed very progressive taxation (to pay for naval rearmament). 

A  majority of Lords took violent objection to both Home Rule and the tax policies.

 The Lords saw their property in Ireland under attack from Home Rule, and their investments in England under attack from the budget.

 They wanted to stop both.

 Eventually the King had to threaten to appoint hundreds of new Lords, drawn from the Liberal Party, to overwhelm the Conservative majority in the Lords. This forced  the Lords to climb down and pass the legislation.  Home Rule became law on 12 September 1914.

But this is a social history as much as it is a political history.

 Simon Heffer draws on the novels of authors like John Galsworthy, Virginia Woolf and HG Wells to show how different classes of society inter acted with one another.

 I am not sure he justifies the claim in the title of the book that this was an age of decadence.

 Certain members of the aristocracy did indeed live idle and extravagant lives, but there were major advances taking place in medicine, housing standards, social welfare. Old Age Pensions and the Social insurance were introduced.

 It could be argued that more radical social reform was made by the Liberal government before the First World War, than by the Labour government after Second World War.

 People could imagine the future. The writings of HG Wells in this period foresaw many of the technological developments of the following hundred years. Eugenics were advocated by George Bernard Shaw and opposed by GK Chesterton.

Heffer’s book is full of pen pictures of the interesting characters who populated this period of rapid change.

 He tells their story well and holds the reader’s interest.

IRELAND AND THE BATTLE FOR EUROPE, 1688-1691

I have greatly enjoyed reading “Kingdom Overthrown” by Gerard Fitzgibbon, published by New Island in 2015. Gerard Fitzgibbon, a history graduate, worked as a reporter with the Limerick Leader. He writes history in a lively way, with colourful portraits of the main characters, and of the places in which they fought and died.

 The war in Ireland between Jacobites and Williamites was just a small part of a wider European war between the allies of King Louis XIV of France, who included the Irish Jabobites, and a large multi denominational coalition of European powers who wanted to curb French power.

 France wanted to expand its territory along the Rhine so as to make its territory more defensible. Louis XIV launched the war by crossing the Rhine to besiege Philippsburg to this end in September 1688.

 This upset the Holy Roman Emperor and led to the formation of  anti French alliance (the League of Augsburg)  which included the Emperor himself as well  William of Orange but also the Pope,  and the Kings of Spain, Sweden and  Savoy. 

In addition to Ireland, the war was waged at sea, in modern day Belgium, in the Rhineland, Catalonia, and there were engagements between the French and the English as far away as New York, New England and the Caribbean. As well as the Irish campaign on behalf of King James, there was a Jacobite rising in Scotland, aided by some troops from Ireland.

As long as the Catholic King, James II was on the throne in England, the British Isles might have remained neutral in the conflict between Louis XIV and his enemies. But when James was deposed by William of Orange, Louis regarded this as an act of war against himself. 

Without the financial and military support of France, James II, and his viceroy in Ireland the Duke of Tyrconnell, would not have been able to sustain their campaign in Ireland from 1688 to 1691.

Religious affiliation was a determining factor in the war in Ireland, with relatively few Protestants supporting James, and even fewer Catholics supporting William. But across Europe, many of the powers who opposed France were Catholic.

 This suggests that territorial ambition was an even stronger force that religious affiliation.

 In Ireland too, the war was about who would own the land….the families who had had it in the past, and remained loyal to the  old Dynasty, or the newly arrived settlers, who had arrived with the Ulster Plantation and the Cromwellian confiscations, and put their money on  the usurper, William of Orange. 

The events of 1688-1691 have shaped the way Ireland is today.

 The fault lines on 1690 are there still in Ireland, and will be accentuated by Brexit.

 In contrast, the fault line between France and its eastern neighbours, which so preoccupied Louis XIV, has been dissolved in the European Union. 

SHARED RESPONSIBILITY

SHARED RESPONSIBILITY, AS WELL AS SHARED POWER, MUST BE RESTORED IN NORTHERN IRELAND

The scandal of Northern Ireland’s Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) is one of bureaucratic failure, sloppy political oversight, and culpable procrastination, all leading to a colossal waste of public money. It is exposed in a book entitled “Burned” by Sam McBride, a well known Belfast based journalist.

 This book will be avidly read in the UK Treasury, from which a large overall net subsidy comes to maintain Northern Ireland’s excellent public services.

 The author draws heavily on evidence given to the Public Inquiry into RHI, which will publish its findings in the New Year.  

His book shows that simply restoring the Northern Ireland Assembly will not guarantee good governance. There must be a complete change in mindset among the civil service as well as among the politicians. Structural irresponsibility must be tackled head on.

 Sam McBride shows that, even when the power sharing Administration was working, there was no collective responsibility or proper communication among Ministers. Each government party ( DUP and Sinn Fein) treated the Ministries it held as independent fiefdoms. Checks and balances did not work. The opposition parties ( SDLP, Ulster Unionist, Alliance and others) did not call the government to account, until it was too late.

The RHI started with a good idea, that of incentivising businesses in Northern Ireland (NI) to use renewable fuels (like wood), rather than ones that would eventually run out (like oil, coal, and gas) to heat their premises.  It followed the model of a scheme already launched in Britain. That scheme was deliberately generous in the initial period, in order to promote a step change in business mentality about heating.

But the Northern Ireland version of RHI went further and contained some fatal flaws.

 The rate of subsidy was so generous that it exceeded the cost of the fuel! 

So the more heating used, the more profit was made.

 And the overall budget for the scheme was not capped. These were elementary errors. When firms discovered big upfront profits could be made from abusing the scheme, there was a huge rush of applications, and no limit on the UK taxpayer’s liability. 

The fact that such a flawed scheme could ever have been put forward by civil servants for approval by their Minister (Arlene Foster at the time) is a damning indictment of the culture of public administration in Northern Ireland. This book shows that that culture is characterised by an unwillingness to ask hard questions, evasion of responsibility, and poor record keeping. Restoring the Assembly alone will not solve that.

The motivation for the poor design of RHI in NI is even more troubling. The working assumption was that the full cost would be met by funds coming from London, and not from Northern Ireland’s own budget. So nobody bothered to look out for loopholes that could be abused. As money coming in from outside, so controls were not important.

 If the money had had to be raised from NI taxpayers themselves, much more care would have been taken, both by civil servants and by Ministers.

 In this sense, the careless attitude to money calls the current model of devolution into question. Devolving spending power, without equivalent tax raising responsibility, inevitably leads to poor decision making.

 This was also shown when the decisions on welfare reform had to be handed back by Belfast to Westminster, because the NI parties in the Executive could not agree or take responsibility.

Arlene Foster of the DUP was the responsible Minister when the flawed scheme was launched. When the scandal was uncovered, her party sought to delay the closing down of the scheme, because so many NI businesses were by then exploiting it.  When they found out, Sinn Fein Ministers were also slow in taking action. 

This book contains a mass of information. Its conclusions are deeply troubling, but it is not light  reading.

 It contains salutary lessons for all who would like to see responsible government restored in Stormont.

THE OTHER IRISH CIVIL WAR OF A CENTURY AGO

A book I greatly enjoyed this year was Fergal Keane’s “Wounds, A Memoir of War and Love”(William Collins).

It is a story of the Troubles of 100 years ago in North Kerry, and is built around the killing of RIC inspector, Tobias O Sullivan, on Church Street in Listowel of 30th January 1921.

 O Sulllivan was from Connemara and his wife was from near Westport and she had worked in Gibbons’ grocery in the town before she married Tobias in 1915. 

His family were farmers on the shores of Lough Corrib and family had it that an ancestor had fought on the Jacobite side at the Battle of Aughrim.

 Tobias joined the RIC in 1899, shortly after the GAA had banned RIC from GAA membership in 1897.

 He was talented and came second in Ireland in the sergeant’s exam. He was an effective and brave policeman.

He was a Catholic, as were the men who killed him, when, unarmed, he walked home for his lunch. 

The killing of members of the RIC was one of the methods used by the IRA to undermine the authority of UK institutions in Ireland.

 It is only now that the story of RIC victims of this war is being heard, thanks to books like this one.

 Tobias O Sullivan’s wife died of tuberculosis shortly after Tobias was killed. Some of his orphaned children stayed in Ireland, and one of his grandsons was in the FCA guard of honour outside the GPO on Easter Sunday in 1966. 

Fergal Keane’s family are from Listowel, and some of them were involved in the IRA in the locality, and their side of the story is told with sympathy too.

 One of those involved in the killing of O Sullivan said he prayed for him every day he lived, but felt he had done what had to be done.

This well written book shows that the War of Independence of 1919-1921 was almost as much an Irish Civil War, as was the subsequent fighting between pro and anti Treaty forces in the 1922-23 period.  

THE HISTORIC ROOTS OF CONFLICT IN THE GREATER MIDDLE EAST

News headline are occupied almost every day by a story of conflict in what was once the Ottoman Empire, an Empire that existed for over 400 years and once ruled all of the Middle East, North Africa and much of SE Europe.

We hear of

  • ethnic cleansing in the Balkans,
  • conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, 
  • sectarian conflict in Iraq and Syria,
  • tension and rivalry between Turkey and Egypt,
  •  civil wars in Libya and Lebanon, and 
  • the appalling fate of Yemen.

 All these conflicts, in what was once the Ottoman Empire, have deep historical roots that go back to the time of the Empire.

 As long as the Ottoman Empire existed, these tensions were imperfectly contained by the stratified and devolved structures of the empire. That calm did not survive the end of the empire in 1922.

Western attempts, at the end of World War  1, to restructure the territories of the defeated Ottomans on the basis of western style nation states, have not brought peace. The unresolved tensions, dating back to Ottoman times, have fed Islamic terror and fuelled migration flows into Europe.

The origins of all of this can only be understood if one takes a deep dive into how the Ottoman Empire was brought down by the outcome of the First World War, a war for which the Ottomans bore much less responsibility than did most of the other protagonists.

This is brilliantly described in “The Fall of the Ottomans”, the Great War in the Middle East 1914-1920” by Eugene Rogan. Rogan is also the author of a book on the Arabs and a lecturer on history in Oxford University.

This book is much more than a narrative military history. The political origins and consequences of the war are explained.

 In 1914, the Ottoman Empire had had a long term conflict of interest with Russia. Russia had supported its enemies in the Balkans, coveted its territories in the Caucasus, and had earlier expelled Ottoman subjects from the Crimea. 

Russia also wished to control the Dardanelles straits, so as to have access to the Mediterranean. Russia, then as now, saw itself as the defender of the Orthodox Christian faith which had been supplanted in Constantinople by the Ottoman conquest of that city in 1483.

In the nineteenth century, Ottoman interests had been defended against Russia by Britain and France. But, in the early twentieth century, France allied itself with Russia, in order to counterbalance the rising power of Imperial Germany. That left the Ottomans isolated. 

Then, on 1 August 1914, at the very moment of the outbreak of the War, Britain refused to deliver warships, built in Britain for the Ottoman Navy, and already been fully paid for by public subscriptions of Ottoman citizens. The Ottomans had to find new allies so, the day after the British refusal to hand over the battleships, they secretly allied themselves with Germany.

 They then formally entered the War on the side of Germany in November 1914.

Rogan’s book is full of insights into a world that was very different from today.

 The First Arab Congress, which sought to resist the “Turkification” and centralisation of the Ottoman Empire, took place in Paris in 1913.

 23 Arab delegates attended- 11 Muslims, 11 Christians and one Jew. 

The presence of a Jewish Arab at an Arab Congress seems remarkable nowadays, but the Arab identity at the time seems to have been based on a shared language, and not on ethnicity or religion.

The Armenian genocide by the Ottomans during the First World War is described.  It was the result of suspicion and fear. Armenians were to be found in both the Ottoman and Russian Empires. Many lived in the Ottoman capital, Istanbul.

With modest justification, the Ottomans suspected the loyalty of the Armenians and sought to move them by force to Syria, as far as possible from the Russian frontier. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians died. 

Assyrian Christians also suffered from similar suspicions, and a third of their pre war population perished during World War I.

The British attempt to knock the Ottomans out of the war by an attack on the Dardanelles in 1915 was an attempt to help the Russians, whose forces were thought to be in danger of being encircled by Ottoman forces in the Caucasus. In fact, this information proved to be false but the attack went ahead anyway, with disastrous results. 

The tenacity and loyalty of the Ottoman forces was underestimated here and on other fronts in this terrible war. The attack on the Dardanelles in fact strengthened the Ottoman/ German alliance and prolonged the war.

Rogan also describes the warfare between the Ottomans and the British in modern day Iraq(where the British suffered severe defeats) and in Palestine. There were in fact three battles in Gaza before the British eventually broke through there to capture Jerusalem and Damascus in late 1918.

In order to win Arab support in August 1915, Sir Henry McMahon, the British High Commissioner in Egypt,  had pledged British support for 

“the independence of Arabia and its inhabitants together with our approval of the Arab khalifate when it should be proclaimed”

Obviously Arab aspirations had moved some distance from the non sectarian demand of the Arab Congress of 1913. The notion of a khalifate was, as we know, taken up by ISIS in recent times.

As we know, these promises were not kept, and British and French protectorates were established in the conquered Arab lands (Iraq, Syria, Palestine and Lebanon) after War under the Sykes/Picot Agreement.

But it did not stop there.

 At the Peace Conference, the terms imposed on the Ottoman Empire by the Allies also required it to surrender territories in modern Turkey to Greece, to Italy, and to new Kurdish and Armenian entities. 

The acceptance of these terms by the last Ottoman sultan was too much for the Turkish Army led by Kemal Attaturk. He drove the Greek and Italian forces out of Turkey,  deposed the Sultan and proclaimed a Turkish Republic. 

Eugene Rogan’s book is well written and helps us understand some of the fears and resentments that are causing deaths up to this day.

Tom McIntyre, RIP

Cavan County Council and Cavan Arts Office pay Tribute to Tom McIntyre

I wish to pay tribute to the life and work of the poet and playwright Tom McIntyre.

Tom was a noted athlete in his youth, playing for Cavan as a goal keeper.

I first encountered him when he taught me English and History in Clongowes.

He opened my mind to a new view of the world. He was unconventional, irreverent and also a very kind person, whose personality inspired many of his students to explore the world of poetry.

I attended some years ago when he was honoured by Cavan County Council.

He was very proud of Cavan and returned to live there.

JACOBITE SCOTLAND……..ECHOES FROM HISTORY

I recently enjoyed “Jacobites, a new history of the 1745 Rebellion” by Jacqueline Riding.

Recently I visited Scotland and was at Glenfinnan, where Prince Charles Edward first raised the standard of his father, James III, as the legitimate King of the UK on 19 August 1745.

 I also saw and the battlefield of Culloden, near Inverness where his attempt to reclaim the throne came to bloody end on 16 April 1746.

 This was the last pitched battle fought on British soil, and ended a struggle that had involved Ireland at the battles of the Boyne in 1690 and Aughrim in 1691.

Riding’s book is timely, as it illustrates the close connection of Scotland with continental Europe, something the English sometimes fail to appreciate, as we see nowadays as Brexit unfolds.

There was also considerable Irish involvement in Charles Edward’s campaign.

The bulk of the small number of French troops, sent to aid him, came from Irish regiments in the French Army. The leading financiers of the campaign were French based Irishmen, Antoine Walsh and Walter Ruttledge. Of the small party that landed in Scotland with the Prince in 1745, the majority were Irish.  

Charles Edward was only 25 when he set out on what must have seemed a reckless endeavour, with little chance of success. French military help was modest, and designed more to create a diversion from other theatres of war (mainly in present day Belgium) that were more vital to French interests than was securing the British throne for James III.

Initially, Charles Edward had astounding success. He took Edinburgh (except its castle) without firing a shot. He then defeated a British army at Prestonpans.

He held court in Edinburgh for a few weeks, promising, among other things to grant religious toleration to all, and to repeal the Act of Union of 1707 between England and Scotland. While there he enhanced his mainly highland Scottish Army with lowland Scots recruits.

He then decided to lead a winter invasion of England, crossing the border at Carlisle, and heading for Lancashire where there was considered to be support for the Jacobite cause. But there was just one small, easily suppressed, rising on his behalf, by Catholics in the vicinity of Omskerk near Liverpool. The Catolic clergy advised their flock not to get involved. He was able to raise a force in Manchester, mainly among local Catholics, but practical English support for his cause proved very disappointing.

After an agonising debate, it was decided in December, at Derby, that he should not continue with his invasion but should lead his Army back to Scotland, and await more substantial help from France.  Most of the Scottish forces, on which he depended and who had much to lose, preferred to fight for their cause in their native country than to wait to be overwhelmed by superior forces gathering in what was, for them, in a foreign land.

The Prince himself wanted go on to London. But that endeavour could only have worked if there was a simultaneous invasion from France, which could not be guaranteed.

Prince Charles Edward’s army could move much faster than the more cumbersome English forces, and so evaded them to get back safely to Scotland, where he did indeed prove to have more solid support.

Once back in Scotland, he got local more recruits and help from France, and won another military victory at Falkirk.

But his position was never secure.

Hanoverian forces still held too many of the strong points in Scotland and the Prince’s Highland clansmen were more suited to short aggressive campaigns, than they were to a war of attrition. Money was also in short supply. And French help did not always get through because the Royal Navy was so strong.

He was finally defeated at Culloden, near Inverness, by the Duke of Cumberland, the son of King George II, and, like Charles, in his mid twenties. Large numbers of highlanders were massacred in cold blood after the battle, while those fighting for the Prince in French uniforms were spared.

The Prince eventually escaped to France, but was ejected from there when France made peace with England.

He had to return to Rome and the protection of the Pope and of his brother, Henry Stuart, who had become a Cardinal. He continued to seek a way to win back the throne, and in 1749 he became a Protestant, presumably to make himself more acceptable to English opinion.

He was a leader of immense flair, courage, and charisma when things were going well. But seemed unable to hide his feelings when things went wrong, which demoralised his supporters.

He lived out his life in Rome, never giving up on the hope of a return to the throne. He had a daughter, Charlotte, Duchess of Albany, who survived him by only two years. In terms of public achievement, his life was over, almost before it had begun.

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