This new month of November brings the centenary of the “Orders of Terribleness,” when the Supreme Commander of Anti-Treaty Forces, Liam Lynch, listed 14 classes of “legitimate targets” who were ordered to shoot on sight.
This included TDs, senators, judges, and journalists, and it was largely in response to the execution of Republican prisoners. We are now approaching halfway through the most difficult year of the centenary year – “difficult” due to the continued division of the civil war that shaped our politics through the 20th century to the formation of the current government in June 2020.
On the bright side, there have been no outbursts of the bitterness of the old civil war so far, although the centenary of hostilities began last June with the storming of the Four Courts in Dublin.
However, some critics have reason to argue that there has been little acrimonious public controversy, as little official commemoration of these sensitive events has taken place apart from the centenary of Michael Collins’ death.
As we pointed out earlier in this slot, Collins’ commemorations were relatively easy because he was acceptable to all factions as the true hero of the Revolutionary War. Other leaders on both sides, mainly those who survived, remained divisive figures in Irish public life for the rest of their lives.
For those critics who argue that the centenary of commemorations has “gone silent,” they see it primarily as a missed opportunity to revisit our troubled past and learn lessons from current and future challenges. There is still work to be done on this island.
A Irish times A poll last week found that six in ten Irish people find it harmless enough to sing “Up the Ra”, reflecting the controversy surrounding our superstar women’s soccer team.
A Irish Independent Last week’s report contained dire warnings of loyalist paramilitaries contemplating a return to violence over the North’s special EU trade status, as laid out in the so-called Protocol.
Let’s also remember that early 2023 marks the centenary of some of the landmark atrocities of the Civil War, including the most infamous of all, the March 7 Ballyseedy massacre. The bombing of eight anti-Treaty prisoners by the National Army four kilometers from Tralee caused an uproar in this Kerry town. But it fits right in between other scares at nearby Knocknagoshel, a day earlier, and a Ballyseedy re-run at the Countess Bridge in Killarney a day later. But you don’t have to wait for the centenary of 1923 to experience the horrors of the Civil War.
A look at the archives Irish Independent About These Weeks A Century Ago features stories of murder, arson, intimidation and the sickening destruction of infrastructure such as bridges, railroads and buildings.
These things should not be easily forgotten – even if the scale and duration of the Irish Civil War is estimated to be much less than such conflicts elsewhere in the world.
Back with Liam Lynch and what was dubbed the “Order of Atrocities” on November 30, 1922. It followed the October 22 pastoral letter of the Irish Catholic bishops, which castigated anti-Treaty forces and decreed that they should be denied confession to communion.
But Lynch’s order was more of a direct response to Free State authorities’ executions of inmates violating the treaty, increasingly without trial. On 6 December 1922, the anniversary of the Anglo-Irish Treaty which ended the war with Britain, the Irish Free State constitution was adopted and WT Cosgrave elected Prime Minister.
Lynch’s murder warrant went into effect the very next day, when Dáil leader Seán Hales was shot dead and his deputy, Pádraic Ó Máille, injured on his way to a parliamentary session.
The government’s response was swift and brutal when it singled out four top anti-Treaty leaders in prison – Rory O’Connor, Liam Mellows, Richard Barrett and Joe McKelvey – for summary execution.
Kevin O’Higgins, the new Attorney General, initially balked at the blatant move, in part because Rory O’Connor was a good friend and comrade who had been best man at O’Higgins’ wedding less than a year earlier. But he was convinced by colleagues that this was the only way to stop the break-up of a democratically elected parliament and government.
Public backlash was considerable and lasted for decades, as all four were Revolutionary War icons and were deliberately chosen to represent one from each of the four provinces. These official killings, however, had the immediately desired effect.
As the Civil War raged on, no more TDs or Senators were killed.
Donal O’Sullivan, secretary of the new Senate, later said that the ethics of the state killings were questioned – but their effect was not.
“It proved an effective deterrent, for no other member of the legislature was assassinated during the course of the irregular campaign,” Mr. O’Sullivan later wrote.
The overall result, however, was that the new Irish state was born in blood. The London Times noted that even in the darkest days of the conflict, the British authorities had never resorted to such drastic measures.
The leader of the Irish Labor Party, Thomas Johnson – then the only official opposition – did not mince his words. “I am almost compelled to say that you killed the new state at birth,” he told the Dáil.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/the-orders-of-frightfulness-and-a-dilemma-over-how-to-commemorate-key-moments-of-the-civil-war-42108710.html The “Orders of Terror” and a dilemma about how to commemorate key moments of the Civil War