SIR – One of the really brilliant and fair, as in fair play, articles on the 1916 Rising was the one by journalist Gene Kerrigan, ‘The heroes hidden in the archives,’ published on March 27th. He didn’t pull his punches – it was straight down the line.
Gene’s two grandfathers were in the British Army in 1916, but it does not lessen his respect for those who joined the Irish Volunteers and made their decisions to be in the Rising. Most of them were intelligent people, he wrote.
He had no plan of writing a book on it, until he found witness testimonies of two men in the Irish military archives and was so impressed he wrote a book, The Scrap, about them and their Volunteer regiment during the Rising.
‘There were, of course, some flag wavers among them,’ he wrote. ‘But most were intelligent people. They lived in a subordinate country, badly and sometimes cruelly governed by an empire confident of its own superiority. They assessed the options and made the choices they thought best.’
Kerrigan continued: ‘We know the independent Ireland they shaped was in turn badly and sometimes cruelly governed by a coalition of conservative politicians and Catholic bishops, confident of their own superiority.
‘History,’ he wrote, ‘doesn’t play out in a drama, with conflict leading to resolution. It’s a continuing story.’
He tells of the cruel hand of fate for Sean MacDermott. During the Rising one of his men saw a policeman on the street who was known for hassling nationalists and said this was the chance to kill him.
MacDermott said no and the man was left unharmed.
After the surrender, MacDermott was with the prisoners unnoticed when the same man saw him and arrested him as a Rising leader, leading to his subsequent execution. It shows how in that example no good deed goes unpunished.
This policeman was a marked man from then and later shot in the War of Independence on the order of Michael Collins. An eye for an eye so to speak. We can be sad at the bloodshed and loss of lives, including civilians and children and the over 2,500 civilians and combatants injured.
Those were the times with the men and women in the Rising making the decisions they thought best at the time. Mistakes were made and innocents sometimes shot dead, accidentally or deliberately. That too happened during the Rising.
We remember them all.