Tom Hurley is an author and radio documentary-maker from West Cork.
The Irish Civil War ended in 1923. Eighty years on, I wondered if there were many civilians and combatants left from across Ireland who had experienced the years 1919 to 1923, their prelude and their aftermath. What memories had they, what were their stories and how did they reflect on those turbulent times?
In early 2003, I recorded the experiences of 18 people, conducting two further interviews in the United States in 2004. I spoke to a cross-section (Catholic, Protestant, Unionist and Nationalist) who were in their teens or early twenties during the civil war. The youngest interviewee was aged 92 and 13 were 100 or more. The chronological approach I have taken to my book spans fifty years, beginning with the oldest interviewee’s birth in 1899 and ending when the Free State became a republic in 1949.
Among those I spoke to was Norman Douglas, born in 1909, who grew up in East Belfast. He discusses his early life, school, attending 12th parades, his brother’s service in WW1, black and tans, curfew, the Specials, a Catholic neighbour taking him to the pictures at Willowfield Picture House, James Craig, being present at the opening of the Northern Ireland Parliament in 1921, tramcars, death of a soldier in 1922, establishment of the RUC, Protestant decline in the south, his honeymoon in Dublin and his hopes for the future.
Another interviewee was John Parkinson, born in 1907, who grew up on the Grosvenor Road. He recounts his memories of seeing Titanic on three occasions, his father’s membership of the UVF, his cousins death in WW1, his membership of the Boys’ Brigade, playing soccer, presence at the unveiling of the Belfast Titanic Memorial in 1920, seeing Craig, Carson and de Valera in Belfast, attending the opening of the Northern Ireland Parliament in 1921, tramcar attacks, the treaty, riots, a neighbour who was shot in 1922, Belfast Boys’ Model School burning down, becoming a teacher, a 1932 soccer match in Dublin and his memories of Belfast during WW2.
Other interviewees had stories pertaining to Ulster also. Patsy Holmes, born in 1902, from Cork was interned in Ballykinlar Camp in 1921 and spoke of the northern men he met there including a priest named Father McLister from Co. Antrim who used to visit to administer to the internees. Anthony McGinley from Co. Donegal was born in 1905. During WW1 his family moved to Strabane to take over the running of a public house. When in 1915 the poet Thomas Kettle of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers visited the town to encourage enlistment into the British army, Anthony’s father challenged him as to why Irishmen should fight for England.
100 years after the Civil War ended, I feel that these 20 interviews which I recorded come together to create a unique oral account of the revolutionary period and the tensions that were brewing in the run-up and aftermath. Together, theirs are the Last Voices of the Irish Revolution.
Last Voices of the Irish Revolution by Tom Hurley is available in bookshops across the island of Ireland and can also be ordered on Amazon. It is published by Gill Books.
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