Posts Tagged ‘ History ’

Leinster Final Preview: Meath v Dublin

It is hard to recall when there has been more than a kick of a ball between the steely resolve of the men from the Royal County and the swagger of the men from the capital.

Murmurings within Meath have suggested that this year’s campaign has many similarities to the one of 1996. That year Seán Boylan unleashed his young guns in Croke Park and Meath caught Dublin on the hop in the Leinster final.

They went on to win the All Ireland final, resulting in Dublin relinquishing their All Ireland crown. Combining that with their last encounter where Meath surprised Dublin with a clinical display beating them 5-09 to 0-13 points, there can be no doubt Dublin will be wary of their opponents.

A Meath/Dublin affair is a war of attrition and when the Delaney Cup and the bragging rights in Leinster are on offer, it adds a certain element of spice to the occasion.

Dublin have blown hot and cold this summer with a comprehensive dismantling of a poor Louth outfit and a display against Wexford that left many questions about their resolve. Come Sunday, any kind of form from both sides this year will go out the window.

Seamus ‘Banty’ McEnaney has endured in the face of adversity within Meath to assemble a team capable of pulling off a shock against any team, based on their performance against Kildare in the last round. After a shaky start to the championship against Wicklow and a dubious draw against Carlow the Meath team has started to take shape.

Injuries have however plagued Banty’s squad, with regular players such as Mark Ward, Shane O Rourke, Gary O Brien and Seamus Kenny long term absentees. Stephen Bray, a former All Star, Paddy Gilsenan and Kevin Reilly have also struggled with their fitness this year.

However, this has given opportunities for players on the fringes of the squad to stake a claim for a regular place and they have taken that chance with both hands.

Donal Keoghan has come into the team at corner back and showed tenacity and doggedness beyond his years, shackling the vastly experienced and highly dangerous John Doyle against the Lily Whites in their last outing in Croke Park.

Keoghan will have to call on every ounce of concentration and experience to contain the threat of Bernard Brogan this Sunday, the dynamic corner forward and arguably best player in the country when on form.

Donnacha Tobin has proven to be somewhat of a utility man for Meath this year but he seems to be at home in the half back line. Tobin, Shane McAnarney and Mickey Burke are tasked with the job of stopping one of the hardest working half forward lines in the country.

Bryan Cullen will typically roam the pitch picking up breaking ball and distributing it down the open channels and Mickey Burke will more than likely be the man to shadow him. McAnarney on the other hand will be faced with the constant attacking threat of Alan Brogan and if Meath want to win this game these are the players that will need to be contained.

Alan Forde and Damien Carroll have added a new dimension of pace and vision into the Meath half forward line and their youthful exuberance caused Carlow and Kildare countless problems. Throwing the form of Brian Farrell and Graham Reilly into the mix who are both in scoring form, Stephen Bray  on the bench, Peadar Byrne who has developed an eye for goal and the return of Kevin Reilly from injury at full back, Meath will go to Croke Park quietly confident of causing an upset.

Dublin, who usually don’t have too many surprises up their sleeve, have named Michael Dara Macauley, the All Star midfielder, at full forward in place of the suspended Diarmuid Connolly.

This tactic could be employed to drag Kevin Reilly out of position but also neutralise the attacking threat of Graham Reilly around the middle who has excelled this year as a third midfielder.

Don’t be surprised to see Kevin McManamon and Bernard Brogan operating in a two man full forward line on Sunday.

Macauley, a former Irish basketball underage star, views Meath as a serious threat to their Leinster crown, “I’m looking forward to the Meath game, there’s always a great atmosphere when the two sides meet. It’s hard to believe we haven’t met in a Leinster final for 11 years, so it should be a big day. Meath are flying at the moment with a lot of youth in the team breaking through which are showing huge potential. They dismantled a strong Kildare team so it’s going to be a huge ask for us come Sunday but we’re looking forward to it”.

The feeling is that Dublin are a team that haven’t quite hit top gear and may be priming themselves for the latter stages of the championship. They have dominated Leinster since the turn of the century and are aiming for their sixth Leinster title in seven years.

Pat Gilroy has made some positional and tactical changes this year, with Eamon Fennell becoming a mainstay at midfield and Macauley being given licence to roam. Their league campaign was indifferent but that may have been a literal and figurative hangover from the return of the Sam to the capital.

In recent years Dublin have kept quiet in the build up to championship football and Gilroy seems to have instilled a sense of “us against the world” in the Dublin footballers with a sense of unity evident in this team that cements their position as leaders in the game.

With Meath on form coming into this game and Dublin about to hit stride, what is expected to be a capacity crowd in Croke Park will witness two of the biggest rivals in GAA history battle it out for the right to call themselves the Kings of Leinster.

Just like a Munster hurling final there is always a sense of drama to these affairs and this encounter should be no different. The oft quoted former supremo of Meath football, Sean Boylan, this week described Meath football as possessing a certain element of madness, the question remains will the reigning All Ireland champions and current standard bearers in the game rule supreme or will the madness of Meath football overcome their neighbours dominance of Leinster? It promises to be an intriguing affair.

John Fagan

Lessons from History – the Eucharistic Congress

It has been 80 years of tumultuous change since the last Eucharistic Congress was held on these shores, way back in 1932. Ireland has a different visage, a new one with which to face the 21st century. The hegemonic power of the Catholic Church has been broken in Ireland, as has that of its bedfellow, Fianna Fáil. Secularism rather than religiosity is beginning to determine our course, as people look to themselves and others to guide their lives rather than to a higher power.

The Eucharistic Congress is a week-long event, organised by the Vatican every four years, sort of like an Olympics for the Catholic Church and its people, a gathering of clergy and the religious laity to celebrate the presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. 12,000 devotees gathered at the opening ceremony at the RDS last Sunday, where events have been held over the course of the week, around 80,000 attending the conclusion at Croke Park. Of course this Congress has been somewhat tainted by the allegations and revelations concerning the priesthood and child sex abuse over the past number of years and amidst a general decline in faith among its once devoted members. Attendants come from all over the world to participate in the air of unity that the Congress brings to those who join; old and young, male and female, come to renew and strengthen their faith. The week-long celebration is over for another four years, and already the talk concerns the legacy of this year’s Congress; whether it is a new beginning for the Church in Ireland, moving towards the inclusion of a young population who feel alienated by the ceremony and rigour of Catholicism, and the disillusion over the scandals which have rocked the Church and its people.

Today, in the 21st century, outside of the Catholic Church at least, the proceedings are met with (outside of interested Catholics) either a polite interest of complete indifference. But roll back the clock 80 years and you would find a country practically quivering with anticipation, and for many different reasons. For in the life of the infant Free State and in particular the newly ruling Fianna Fáil party, the Eucharistic Congress had an indelible effect. Before Ireland’s independence came in 1922, the Catholic Church had grown quite powerful throughout Ireland. And, when the power and influence of the landlord class finally began to wane, the local priests took up the mantle of community leadership. Ordinary people were far less educated when compared to our time, and people would often look to their clerics for advice and guidance. And while the Catholic hierarchy had often been associated throughout Europe with the rich and the powerful, in Ireland the opposite was true; a priest was one of the ordinary people. Of course, it certainly didn’t hurt that the Church often supported the nationalist movements, barring the more violent ones, while their control over the education system ensured a generation of Irish who viewed Catholicism as more than simply their religion, but an innate part of their Irish identity. With independence came the support from the Church of the Free State, and they condemned the rebellion of the anti-Treatyites, and excommunicated them from the Church. As the years passed, Catholicism cemented its position in the new nation. A narrow vision of the events of the previous decades was propagated with citizens celebrated the freeing of a Catholic people from an oppressive Protestant state, ignoring the fact of the involvement of many Protestants in the nationalist movements. In 1929, elaborate centenary commemorations were organised to celebrate Daniel O’Connell and the achievement of Catholic Emancipation, and in the same year, the Pope finally agreed to send a papal nuncio to Dublin, and to receive in turn an Irish ambassador to the Vatican. Following the establishment of the Free State W.T. Cosgrave presided over the Irish helm, alongside a relatively neutral Cumann na nGaedhael government. Protestants were by no means discriminated against, and indeed many were promoted to positions to ensure the views of the Protestant minority were well represented. In 1932, Catholic bishops received a cause for apprehension with the succession to power of Éamon de Valera, one of those who had been condemned for his part in the Civil War a decade previous. However, they need not have worried as ‘Dev’, as he became known, and his Fianna Fáil government were strongly influenced by the Church and their teachings. Fortunately for the man from Clare, one of the perennial Catholic events of his time would be held only three months following his election, cementing his and his party’s place in Irish political history.

Overall, around one million attended the ceremonies that took place during the week in June of 1932. Following the concluding procession through the streets of Dublin, the papal legate, Cardinal Lauri, sent a telegram to the Pope, Pius XI, declaring that the Irish people were uttering the “cry which sums up the tradition, the faith, the very life of the whole nation: God Bless the Pope.” Dublin’s Congress and its success were very clearly appreciated at the Vatican and the official state newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano featured a favourable account of the week’s events. “Everyone is at his post from the Bishop to the clerical student, from the President of the State to the policeman on the street…It is really nothing short of miraculous – for here we see, after a century and a half of attempted laicisation, an entire people proud of its name, but prouder still of its Roman religion.” Triumphalism has been the word used by historians to describe the display of power on the part of the Catholic Church during the Congress and here was clear evidence that the Irish Free State was a Catholic state, and proud of it. Even at the local level, ordinary people were as much a part as the clerics and politicians at the top. Masses of bunting were strung up across the country, and groups and choirs practised and rehearsed for a year to ensure perfection, culminating in the enormous attendance at the week’s events. One can only imagine how the exclusionary feeling of anyone who had the misfortune to belong to another religion, or to none at all. It is hardly surprising that between this power and their already close-knit relationship with the Irish people, the Catholic Church ensured its hegemonic position in the country for decades to come.

But the good news wasn’t solely for the Catholic Church; in the political arena too were the benefits felt. Despite having been excommunicated for his anti-Treaty Republican activities during the Civil War, de Valera had remained a good Catholic, and had retained friendships with various figures throughout the Catholic hierarchy in the country. An impressive speech given in English, Irish and Latin during the state reception for the papal legate at Dublin Castle benefitted his image favourably, and he kept a high-profile throughout the week’s events. Eventually this helped to win him political appeal and when he called an election six months following the Congress, he was able to transform his minority government into a majority, and he remained in office until 1948 while his party was the largest at each general election from that of 1932 until 2011.

On the more negative spectrum, partition between North and South was further entrenched, and it is easy to see why, contrasting the Catholic Free State with the more traditional Protestant Northern Ireland who had fought for so long to ensure the Papists never gained a foothold in their own country. Some Catholics travelling from North to South were the victims of sectarian attacks, perpetrated by loyalist mobs. For Protestant Ulster, the lavish celebrations commemorated an alien religion; they who elevated individual choice and a personal relationship with God above all. The events in Dublin showed a radically different outlook in the Free State, with a high value placed on community and access to God through the clerical hierarchy. While reports from 1932 suggested that Ireland had never been more unified than during those six days, the reality is that the split between North and South was possibly starker than ever before.

Some 300 people who witnessed the events of 1932 gathered this week in a hotel outside Dublin to reminisce over archive footage of the events which helped to define a generation. Now 92 Liam Cosgrave, son of de Valera’s predecessor W.T. Cosgrave, recalled the celebrations with pride. “It was important for the State that we could do it and do it well,” he said. “It meant an awful lot to the country,” he said. “Remember we were only 10 years with self-government. There was a great turnout of Army and Garda and helpers. It was very well organised.” The effects of the 2012 Congress will unlikely be as far-reaching, considering we live in a nation attempting, to an extent, to shrug off its Catholic past. Machiavelli wrote “Whoever wishes to foresee the future must consult the past; for human events ever resemble those of preceding times.” In 2012, we are only now shaking off the legacy of the Catholic Church and the power Fianna Fáil held onto for so long. Hopefully, we don’t make the same mistake twice.

A Lost History Pieced Together

Records destroyed in a fire at the Four Courts nearly a century ago, and believed to be lost to the world have been reconstructed, the result of almost four decades of work by historians at Trinity College Dublin. The documents, from the medieval Chancery of Ireland have been made available to the public through a web project – CIRCLE: a Calendar of Irish Chancery Letters c. 1244-1509. A paper database of all references to known Chancery letters was established early on and using substitute sources from around the world, in combination with a keystone, the 1828 Latin Calender published by the record commissioners and containing a guide to the contents of original chancery rolls. The Chancery in Ireland was established soon after the Anglo-Norman invasion in 1169 and issued letters in the King’s name, bearing the seal of Ireland. Copies of these letters were transcribed onto parchment known as chancery rolls and stored away. However in 1922, a blaze whose cause is still unknown destroyed the records, which were thought to be lost forever.

Between the 28th of June and July 5th, a week of street fighting raged throughout the Irish capital. Furious at the acceptance of the Anglo-Irish Treaty, recently ratified by Dáil Éireann, around 200 anti-Treaty IRA members occupied the Four Courts in Dublin on the 14th of April, led by Rory O’Connor. Thousands of British troops remained in the city, awaiting evacuation under the terms of the Treaty. O’Connor and his Irregular (as they were also known) followers wished to reignite the conflict with the British thereby reuniting both factions of the IRA (which had split over the Treaty), going on to fight for a 32 county Republic.

However, those who occupied the Four Courts had miscalculated. If those leaders at the helm were to transform the Free State into a true and self-governing state, then it was they who had to shoulder the responsibility of putting down the rebellion. The death of Sir Henry Wilson in London at the hands of two IRA men on the 22nd of June brought British pressure to bear on the provisional Irish government to take action against the garrison in the Four Courts. Four days later, Free State General J.J. O’Connell was kidnapped by the anti-Treaty troops at the Four Courts and it was decided to move against the agitators. An offer of weapons support by Winston Churchill was accepted by Michael Collins and two 18 pounder field guns were placed across the Liffey from the Four Courts. After one final ultimatum, the bombardment began on the 28th. Between Free State troops attacks and the incessant shelling, the Irregulars began losing men to injury, death and arrest. Early on the 30th, Ernie O’Malley had taken command of the Four Courts following Paddy O’Brien’s shrapnel injury. Word filtered through from Oscar Traynor, the anti-Treaty IRA commander in Dublin, that he couldn’t reach their position to assist, and ordered the garrison there to surrender. At 3.30pm, O’Malley officially surrendered to Brigadier General Paddy Daly of the Free State Dublin Guard.

By this stage, the Four Courts was ablaze. Several hours prior to the surrender, between 11am and 3pm, the Irish Public Records Office, located in the western block of the Four Courts, was destroyed. The office, which had been in use by the Irregulars as an ammunitions store was part of a huge explosion and a thousand years of Irish history was turned to ash, scattered by the wind across the Dublin skyline. Accusations have flown around regarding the cause of the explosion and the subsequent destruction. In fortifying the Four Courts before the bombardment began, the anti-Treaty forces mined the complex. It has been alleged by some that the Public Records Office was also deliberately booby-trapped, causing the explosion. Seán Lemass, future Taoiseach, among other anti-Treaty supporters, vehemently denied this. The insurgents maintained it was Free State shelling which ultimately destroyed the priceless archive.

Following the clearing of O’Connell Street, victory in Dublin meant that the Free State army could move out around the country, and crushed resistance by anti-Treaty forces. Major towns were taken and even the use of guerrilla warfare, so effective when presided over by Michael Collins, could not save the Republican side. By early 1923, the anti-Treaty IRA’s capability to launch offensive operations was seriously damaged. Republican Liam Deasy called on his compatriots to lay down their arms and when Liam Lynch, the IRA leader, was killed in action and replaced by the more realist Frank Aiken, the 30th of April saw a ceasefire and the ending of Civil War.

The effects of the Irish Civil War have resonated through the decades in Ireland and not just in terms of our records and history. The death of Michael Collins not only cost Ireland an invaluable and promising leader, but it also ensured hostilities between both sides sharpened, and bitterly. With all of the damage caused by the Civil War, the fledgling state ended 1923 with a budget deficit of £4 million. Being unable to pay their share of Imperial debt as per the Treaty led to an adverse effect on the Boundary Commission of 1924, which left the border unchanged, instead of reducing its size as promised, weakening the North and making a union with the South inevitable. And a bitterness has resided in Ireland since the early 1920s. Families and localities during the Civil War were often divided by their loyalties to the Free State or the Irregulars, and those decisions were carried for decades. Up until last year, the two biggest parties in the country were Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, direct descendants of the two warring forces during the Civil War. Politicians during the following four or five decades were more often than not veterans of the conflict. And when their children entered the political arena, a second and third generation of bitterness continued to permeate the Irish political landscape. While in the North, no one can deny the impact of the IRA up there, who could claim ancestry to the breakaway anti-Treaty IRA of the 1920s and who dedicated themselves to ridding Northern Ireland of British rule in 1948.

Political fighting, deep and bitter, has been a hallmark of Ireland since we won our independence all those decades ago. And the years that have passed by since then have seen little change. Had the country seen a unified stance on the Treaty, in recognition of the bigger picture, things might be very different today. Some lessons, it seems, are never learned.

TG4 Documentary On Female IRA Members Causes A Stir

A new TG4 series has become mired in controversy after the broadcast of its first episode on Thursday night. Mná an IRA is a six part documentary series which, according to its makers, Loopline Film, will investigate the “involvement of women in active service with the provisional IRA in modern times.”

The series begins with a look into the life of Rose Dugdale, born to a wealthy family in England, educated in Oxford University, before becoming increasingly politically radicalised during the late 1960s and early 1970s, culminating in her joining the Provisional IRA in 1973.

There is something rather unsettling, however, about the way in which she is portrayed. From the beginning, she is referred to, for example, as a former soldier, and a member of Oglaigh na hÉireann, a title reserved for the only legitimate armed forces on this island, the Irish army. The programme charts her ascension in the socialist movement in England, moving over to republicanism in Ireland, interspersed with snippet interviews with former jailed republicans, or academic authorities. They paint a very bleak picture of life for Catholics in the North during the 1970s, certainly evoking sympathy for their existence as second class citizens. What is disturbing is the way in which the violent response, the campaign waged by the IRA which claimed the lives of more civilians than occupiers, is almost normalised. As Rose herself says during one of the many clips of her interview, one had to accept, when taking up the cause of Ireland’s freedom, that you might have to kill people. Darker still is the assumption, “that’s the only way you deal with them.” And this seems quite normal, acceptable. That is not to lay the blame solely at the feet of physical force Republicans; obviously each of those groups in the North was as bad as the other. Dugdale comes out of the programme looking like a freedom fighter, enjoying a well-earned rest after a hard life of necessary violence. And, although the focus of the programme, as stated by its makers, is on those involved in the IRA campaigns and why they joined in the first place, noticeably absent are any hard questions about her decision to pursue the violent route, and, of course, the impact of her actions on the victims and their families.

In an interview with John Murray on RTE radio, Dugdale went even further, dismissing the notion of IRA atrocities. “I wouldn’t accept that the IRA has carried out atrocities,” she contended, “I think that is your language, it is certainly not mine. I think that is a fairly ridiculous statement…” In the end, this is a woman who took part in the raid on Russborough House, pistol whipping an old man and his wife before tying them up in a chair, who threw bombs inside milk cans from a helicopter hoping to land them in a barracks, and who completely condoned a plan in which her boyfriend kidnapped a doctor in an attempt to release her from prison. “Fair play to anyone that was involved in that,” she says. The whole programme seems like a celebration of her life of violence rather than a condemnation. If these were the actions of Unionists, would they be glorified in the same way by TG4?

People may argue over the cause at the heart of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, and even more so about the violence wielded by those on either side. That period in our history is a shameful one, regardless of stance, and cannot be understood as well by those of us examining it second hand. What can be understood, however, is that the violence and bloodshed suffered in the North over those 30 years is nothing to be praised, nothing to be glorified, not forgotten certainly, but remembered, something to be learned from. The one positive about these programmes is the insight into the mindset of the people involved in the IRA’s campaign against the British state, the complete willingness to use violence even when there are other methods available, and the way in which they completely rationalise attempts at murder.

Since the programme aired last week, a board member of TG4 has criticised the series, arguing that executives must now take a closer look at the direction of the remaining five episodes. Concubhar O Liathan stated that Mna an IRA is a “serious stain” on the television channel. Writing in the Sunday Independent, O Liathan argued that “If the first programme is any indication of what’s to come, it will be nauseating and heartbreaking for the victims of the IRA and their relatives.”

Kevin Myers, writing in the Irish Independent earlier this week warned of the dangers of halting free speech, speaking of Trinity College’s decision to prevent BNP leader Nick Griffin and Holocaust denying historian, David Irving, from speaking at the Hist. Freedom of speech, he argued “is not dependent on intellect or eloquence or political content. Quite the opposite. It tolerates ideas that are offensive, cretinous, ludicrous, bizarre, grotesque and nauseating, merely drawing the line at incitement to hate or to inflict violence.” People like Rose Dugdale should indeed be allowed their platform, regardless of whether we agree or disagree with her. We just have to be careful what they say from it and how we shape it.