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A Book To Get Your Irish Up
on March 22, 2000
One of the problems with Irish history is that it is so complicated. The command structures of the Irish Republican Brotherhood in the Uprising in 1916 can be traced to the Fenians of 1867. Even today, the events that led to the Belfast agreement can be found in the seeds that the Irish Taoiseach, Sean Lemass, planted in the mid-1960s. Irish history is so convoluted that it is almost impossible for the average reader to sort out who was on what side during the Irish Civil War of 1922-23. Indeed, it is impossible to tell your average Irish revolutionary without the proverbial scorecard.
Finally someone has created the scorecard that sorts out this glorious mess known as Irish history. His name is Terry Golway and the book is For the Cause of Liberty: A Thousand Years of Ireland's Heroes. This is a book for not only the informed reader, but for the neophyte. Names that are legend in history such as Pearse, Tom Clarke, Sean McDermott and James Connolly, with Golway's help, finally become fresh and blood men. Icons found in the pages of Yeats ("MacDonagh and MacBride/And Connolly and Pearse") become men with a political agenda, whose sole aim is to bait the British into executing them. The Irish revolution is great drama: a David and Goliath battle that ends in disaster; 16 executions, and the start of one of the bloodiest guerilla wars in the history of the 20th century. Heroes abound: Pearse, the enigmatic poet, the "Provisional President" of the new "Republic"; Connolly, the socialist, who the British would have to shoot in a chair because of his wounds; Tom Clarke, always referred to as "the old Fenian" although only 55-years-old, is the master-mind as he gets even for all the years he rotted in British jails.
Although the year 1916 has been lionized, the revolutionary was actually won in 1920 under the brilliant direction of Michael Collins. Eamon DeValera was in America raising funds as Collins and his intelligence unit, known as the "Twelve Apostles," moved in on the British Secret Service. It would all coalesce on November 21, 1920-Bloody Sunday-when Collins' squad assassinated the entire British Secret Service in Dublin. A truce soon followed, which was in turn followed by the infamous treaty negotiated by Collins that split the island into the Irish Free State and Northern Ireland.
Golway has come up with many historic gems that will delight the aficionado of Irish history. Everyone knows that Eamon DeValera was spared execution in 1916 because he was a natural-born American citizen. Did you know that the British did, indeed, execute an American national? Do you know which one of the 16 men was the American? Give up? Try Tom Clarke, naturalized in Brooklyn in 1885. Only one of Collins' shooters on Bloody Sunday went on to become Taoiseach (Prime Minister) of the Republic of Ireland and it wasn't DeValera. Try Sean Lemass, who would greet President Kennedy on his historic visit to Ireland in 1963. Golway also relays a wonderful story about British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Tomas Cardinal O Fiaich at #10 Downing Street. "We fought the Germans and the French, and now we're on the best of terms with them," Thatcher said. "Why are we fighting the Irish?" "But Prime Minister," replied the Cardinal, "you're not occupying the Rhine."
Tears, laughter, defeat, victory. Irish history is a delicate weave of all of them and Golway brings them all to life in The Cause of Liberty. It will get your Irish up!