The annual Remembrance Day Commemoration to remember the over 700 people from Clare who died during World War 1 took place in Ennis Cathedral last Tuesday. The keynote address was given by The Clare People’s Joe Ó Muircheartaigh, who recalled the key moments in the county’s history that occurred in 1917.
Taking up the fight for Ireland
I MUST confess that prior to coming to Clare 25 years ago my knowledge of World War 1 history as it related to Ireland was scant — even though I studied history at university.
I knew that Lord Kitchener hailed from North Kerry, but when it came to the history of the area I was much more interested in Sir Roger Casement and what his North Kerry landing stood for than I was about Kitchener army.
This was because of a mix of my Christian Brothers education where much of the history that was taught tended to start and stop with the independence struggle, but also because of family connections and stories.
I had my imagination fired as a child when learning that my grandfather, Thady Moriarty, had walked the 30 or so miles from Dingle to Tralee for a rendezvous with Casement and his German arms, after which Kerry was supposed to rise up in revolution.
My grandfather was from a townland next door to where Thomas Ashe hailed from. He knew him growing up and when Ashe came home to Kerry from Dublin he could always hear him outside practicing his war pipes outdoors on a headland in Kinard opposite his home place in Doonshean.
My grandfather had marched with the local company of Dingle Volunteers that had been set up by Ernest Blythe — he was a man whose background would suggest he should have belonged to another political persuasion.
He was a Northern Protestant, but instead of being a Unionist, who was loyal to the Crown and the World War he was a Republican, an IRB man, an Irish Volunteer activist and an Irish language enthusiast, who had stayed in Thomas Ashe’s home during his time in Dingle and who was intent on rising up against British Rule in Ireland.
Paying homage to this tradition is what I was brought up with, simply because it was all I knew, but it was County Clare that taught me about the parallel history of what my late mother in law from Corofin, Mary Tierney, used to call the 14/18 War.
It’s because of the sacrifice made by so many in the county — whether you think they were misguided or not. The sacrifice that saw families in towns and country throughout Clare torn apart — mothers and fathers losing their sons; wives losing their husbands; children losing their fathers — with every parish affected by what happened on the western front and many other fronts beyond.
That sacrifice was first chronicled by people like the late Peadar McNamara, who along with Reverend Bob Hanna and Fr Tom Hogan was a driving force being this annual Remembrance Day Commemoration that started over a decade ago.
I think when it comes to remembering pivotal events in our history, this 2017 year is more perhaps more significant than any other year for County Clare during this Revolutionary and World War 1 period that straddles a decade from 1913 to 1923.
That’s because of two men — Major Willie Redmond and Eamon de Valera.
Both are huge figures in Clare history, but Redmond is somewhat overshadowed by De Valera, maybe because Dev lived to tell the tale and in a way script his own history and Redmond died at a time when public opinion had turned against him and towards what 1916 stood for.
Redmond was East Clare MP for 25 years from 1892 to 1917 and was a great unifying figure in the county after Irish Nationalism was split by the Charles Stewart Parnell/Kitty O’Shea affair.
For instance, at a real grassroots level in the county the GAA had gone into meltdown after the Parnell Split and there was no activity in the association for five or so years after 1891, but Redmond really played his part in the healing process.
He became a patron of the GAA, doing this initially by donating trophies, the Redmond Cups, for competition in football and hurling, that were only second in importance to the county senior championships of the day. Meanwhile, fast forwarding a couple of decades when Clare won the 1914 All-Ireland hurling title he was a patron of the team, he led them out onto the field in Croke Park and hosted a reception in the team’s honour in Wynn’s Hotel on Abbey Street after the game.
This was a man who had gone to jail for Ireland during the Land War when he was in Kilmainham with Parnell.
And after the outbreak of the war in 1914 he was a man who went to war for Ireland. “I have all my life long done my best for Ireland,” he said after enlisting in early 1915.
“I am far too old to be a soldier, but I intend to try to do my best for what ever life remains in me to show that Ireland is at least true to her treaties….I believe that the men of East clare will approve of my action,” he added.
Up to 4,000 from Clare went with him and over 700 died with him, but to the last Redmond believed he had done right by Ireland and for Ireland. In his last speech to the House of Commons in early March 1917 he pleaded to Prime Minister Lloyd George who was sitting before him:
“In the name of God we here who are about to die, perhaps ask you to do what largely induced us to leave our homes. Make our country happy and contented, and enable us when we meet Canadians and the Australians and the New Zealanders side by side in the coming cause and in the common field to say to them: ‘our country just as your, has self-government within the Empire’.”
Three months later to the day Redmond was dead, dying in the Battle of Messines on June 7th, 1917.
In many ways his was a blood sacrifice as much as the 1916 Rising was for Pearse, Connolly, Clarke and company. “I’m going back to get killed,” he had confided in friends when insisting on being on the front line, even though he was 56 years of age and as he said himself “far too old to be a soldier”.
“Major Redmond’s blood was indeed for Ireland,” said his obituary in the Observer newspaper.
And his death was also for County Clare, because when he went over the parapet into battle for the last time he’s reputed to have shouted ‘Up the County Clare’.
And it’s true to say that the people of Clare grieved at his death — something that was best summed up by what happened in Ennis Cathedral just over a week after his death.
Ennis had a funeral for Major Redmond, even if his body lay in a grave in Belgium. There was a coffin and a hearse drawn by four horses that travelled up Jail Street (O’Connell Street) from the O’Connell Monument to Ennis Cathedral. Thousands lines the street and then funnelled in behind the cortege as it went. There were marching bands and after the funeral mass The Last Post sounded in the Cathedral.
That very same weekend Eamon de Valera was released from prison in England and minutes after being set free was informed that he was selected to contest the East Clare vacancy caused by Redmond’s death.
It was two traditions colliding in a way — the strains of The Last Post for Redmond have just died down by the time de Valera came to Ennis for the first time.
Instead of The Last Post, the Soldiers Song was played by the marching bands that paraded him from Ennis Train Station to the Old Ground opposite us here, where de Valera told the world that his allegiance was to Ireland and the Irish Flag and not the Union Jack, that
It’s my view that the key thing 100 years on is that the two traditions could co-exist along parallel lines — this is summed up by the attitude of Dr Michael Fogarty, the Bishop of Killaloe. He genuinely grieved at Redmond’s death. The two had been in correspondence with each other right throughout the war, but along the way the bishop had become something of a Republican.
“The memory of that great and loveable man deserves all the honour we can pay it,” the Bishop said after Redmond’s death. “All of us were proud of him as our representative, and as the most sterling and attractive of all our public men. We will not get his likes again and perhaps we don’t deserve it,” he added.
But at the same time Fogarty silently supported the 1916 Rising — giving absolution to Clare volunteers beforehand as they prepared to go out and fight — and he had also supported de Valera’s election in 1917, covertly at first but then he very publicly became known as a force within Republican Ireland in the aftermath of the death of Thomas Ashe in September 1917 by force feeding while he was on Hunger Strike.
“This is the sort of cruelty we were accustomed to hear of as possible only in the ancient Bastille, or the dungeons of Naples or the black prisons of Russia, but altogether impossible under British Rule,” he said in a letter to the Freeman’s Journal after Ashe’s death.
“We have no need to wait for the future to inform us. The world sees already in these hideous atrocities what the triumph of English culture means for small nationalities,” he added.
It just shows how conflicted people were 100 years ago. There was gathering support for what 1916 stood for, but at the same time the huge contribution to the war effort made by the people of Clare
Against those two distinct backdrops that ran simultaneously, it is only right and hugely important to commemorate the 14/18 war, just as it it right to commemorate 1916 period and beyond.
And I think that Willie Redmond’s story is the best way that both traditions can be commemorated at the same time, with the comments of Colonel Maurice Moore after his death 100 years ago last June best capturing this mood.
Colonel Moore was a staunch Redmondite follower — a disciple of the Irish Party under John Redmond and his younger brother Major Willie Redmond, but after 1916 he changed side and converted to the Sinn Féin cause.
But still after Redmond’s death he said the following:
“Ireland will grieve over Willie Redmond’s loss as sorrowfully as she does over Pearse and The O’Rahilly. They died for Ireland, north and south, not for any party organisation, and their names should not be used as party cries or to aggravate party hatreds. They belong to all of Ireland and were volunteers in her defence,” he added.
In many ways, all that’s left is for The Last Post to sound out in the Cathedral, just like it did 100 years ago.
For those people from Clare who died in World War 1, but also for those people from Clare who died in the cause of Irish freedom.
They all believed they were fighting for Ireland.