Human side of the MacCurtains’ lives

March 21st, 2020 5:10 PM

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SIR – This month saw the 100th anniversary of the assassination of Cork Lord Mayor, Tomás MacCurtain, shot in his home in Blackpool after midnight on March 20th, 1920. There were many tributes but I think the human side of his life can get lost in the politics of it.

He endured many ordeals from 1916 to his death on his 36th birthday for which his wife prepared a cake and gifts for the next day. Instead they found themselves preparing a funeral.

They had a great St Patrick’s Day weekend. His children enjoyed seeing their father as Lord Mayor drive a new Ford tractor at an event. A loving husband and father arrested many times for being in the Cork Volunteers.

Their home raided many times. His wife, Eilis, also known as Elizabeth, had amazing fortitude. He was a cultured man tremendously respected by the men he led in the Cork branch of the Irish Volunteers. He was elected for the first time in January to Cork City Council and as Lord Mayor which delighted his wife and family.

He was a member, with Michael Collins, of the IRB but was uncomfortable with the IRB policy of also targeting and shooting ‘off-duty’ policemen. He felt, I guess, it wasn’t honourable to do it that way.

Yet his home was raided again soon after his death. The RIC police searched the house lifting the mattress of the bed on which he was placed after he was shot and died on the landing. They roughly tipped his body to the floor.

The attending priest and doctor were shocked as the family were. They were searching for weapons, found none and left.

He wrote from prison in Fronngach, North Wales, in September 1916 of his wife to his brother-in-law: ‘... I met Lizzie and ‘tis then only life for me began, whether sorrow or joy, even heavy sorrow loses its bitterness when in perspective and when that sorrow is shared by a loyal and true partner, a person looks back upon it as a victory over adversity and it becomes tinged with having borne up well under trying difficulties and standing the test of being tried and not found wanting. I only know now, after Lizzie who certainly is splendid when trouble knocks at the door ...’ – Fionnuala MacCurtain’s family memoir (Mercier Press 2006).

We are in the Decade of Centenaries 2012 to 2023 with remembrance and reconciliation the key words. It is low key in our times how we commemorate the War of Independence out of respect for lives lost and the toll it took on families from all sides.

Mary Sullivan,


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