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LETTER: Equally as proud of two great uncles

January 18th, 2020 5:00 PM

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A CHARA – In 1919, my wife’s granduncle, Michael Downing, a 23 year-old unarmed constable of the Dublin Metropolitan Police was shot as he walked his night beat in the Liberties area of the city. Back in Adrigole, his brother, Mark, was an IRA volunteer, active in the Beara campaign of the War of Independence.

As a young garda based in Kevin Street in the 1980s, I pounded that same solitary beat as Michael Downing, performing the same duty. Last year, the Beara Historical Society held a commemoration at his graveside, to the delight of his many relatives in West Cork, Dublin and elsewhere.

In 2016, one of several 1916 centenary events organised by our society was at the grave of Castletownbere-born John Hurley, a 24 year-old RIC constable shot in Co Tipperary in Easter Week 1916, whose nephew still runs the family farm.
In 1920, my granduncle, John D O'Sullivan, was a 22 year-old volunteer when he was wounded in the attack on Durrus RIC barracks. A few months later, he fought under Tom Barry (the son of a policeman) at the Kilmichael ambush of the notorious Auxiliary mercenaries.

For months afterwards, while 'on the run,' he hid in a cave near his home outside of Bantry. He rarely spoke to his family of that period of his life. He died suddenly of a heart attack at the age of 61 while reading his copy of Tom Barry's ‘Guerilla Days in Ireland.’
Both of these men were described by those who knew them as having been ‘quiet and inoffensive’ by nature.
In 21st century Ireland, I consider it reasonable that my children should feel equally as proud of their great-uncle, who lost his young life while preserving the peace in the community he served, as of their other great-uncle who as a young man played his patriotic part in the struggle for Irish freedom.

Is mise, le meas,
Fachtna O’Donovan,
Beara Historical Society,
Castletownbere.

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