OVER THE last three years or so, there has been a continuous growth in the number of books published inside and outside Ireland relating to the 1916 Rising, the War of Independence, the Irish Civil War, and Irish involvement in the First World War.
One of the more refreshing aspects of most of these books is an underlying common desire to tell the story as it really happened without reference to the mythologies or accepted narratives that surround both conflicts or to local political prejudice.
Another welcome aspect, especially those that deal with the War of Independence and the Civil War is the willingness of many of the chief protagonists on the ground to finally break what seems to have been a communal vow of silence and to finally publish the full story of their personal participation in both conflicts.
Indicative of this tendency is the blurb on the back of the new title from Mercier Press The Men Will Talk To Me, Galway Interviews by Ernie O’Malley, edited by Cormac KH O’Malley and Cormac Ó Comhraí, the first paragraph of which reads:
“For the first time in published form, The Men Will Talk To Me – Galway Interviews records the experiences of the Galway based survivors of the War of Independence and the Civil War in Ireland. Many of the individuals whose accounts are in this book were reluctant to speak of their experiences even to their own families. However, they were willing to talk to Ernie O’Malley, the senior surviving Republican military commander from the period of these struggles, who took on the task of preserving the participants’ memories in the 1940s and 1950s.”
The book consists of the edited versions of eight interviews, four from west Galway, three from Galway city and east Galway, and one as an appendix, this last being the only female interviewee in the book. Of its nature, the narrative voice of the book is somewhat sporadic and it is useful to bear in mind that these interviews took place some 30/40 years after the end of the Civil War and that the interviewees’ memories would naturally have been selective. It is also to be noted that all the interviewees were anti-Treaty which would explain the republican tenor of the book.
The sporadic nature of the narrative is in stark contrast to the clear and concise introduction. In it, Cormac Ó Comhraí gives us an overview of the Galway republican activities from 1913 to 1924. This serves as an informative and useful reference to the main body of the book and hints at the legacy of bitterness the Civil War left behind.
Perhaps the most striking aspect of the book is not so much the information that the interviewees divulge as their calm demeanour and the matter of fact tone in which all the personal stories are told. To them the danger they lived in and the deprivations they suffered were just part of the job. There is no sense of heroics. It’s as if going on the run, crossing mountains in the darkest and wettest of nights, running the risk of imprisonment, torture, and even execution, were just part of the daily routine, tasks that had to be completed to get the job done. In no uncertain manner, these were the foot soldiers of the Irish rebellion, the theatricals and the rhetoric was left to the politicians.
In this we have the real value of the book. It highlights the fact that Independence would never have been achieved if it were not for the courage, endurance, and commitment of these ordinary men who calmly laid their own lives on the line, and that their vital contribution would never have seen the light of day if it were not for such people as Ernie O’Malley who recorded their testimonies and achievements without comment.
These men and women could justifiably be called the true heroes of the War of Independence.