John Arnold: 2020 has been the worst of times but let’s look to the future

The portrait of Michael Collins will have joint pride of place with Éamon de Valera in the Taoiseach’s Office for the next few years. To some it might seem a small gesture but John Arnold thinks it is a 'mighty one'.
John Arnold: 2020 has been the worst of times but let’s look to the future
Eamon de Valera working under a plaque of Michael Collins. Picture: Carl Mydans/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images

I NEVER thought the day or night might come when I’d be really looking forward to going to a pub. As a Pioneer I’ve nothing against alcoholic drink, it’s just it never held any great interest for me. Back in 1880’s my mother’s grandmother was married out of a public house. By all accounts that girl’s father was a shrewd kind of a man. A farmer at Moulane just outside Rathcormac village, John Murphy had seven in family. One son Michael ‘went off to make his fortune’ and never returned. He became a cable-layer in Peru, died young and is buried in Lima. John Murphy and his wife Hanora and their remaining family of five girls and one boy were still in Moulane in the 1870’s. Anxious to get the girls ‘suitably married’ John Murphy thought that marketing and ‘product visibility’ were important factors to be taken into account in the matrimonial stakes. The Murphy homestead was down a short side road from the Rathcormac/ Kildinan/Glenville road. Anecdotally it has come down the generations that John Murphy felt that as his daughters were, as they say, ‘in off the road’ prospective suitors mightn’t get the chance to admire their pulchritude. As I said he was cawny and needing five possible sons in law he decided to purchase a public house at a strategic cross roads on the outskirts of Rathcormac village where the girls would be ‘seen’.

Well the five girls did marry. Messrs Sweeney, Gowen, Ahern and Twomey all got wives out of the pub. They settled in Rathcormac and Ballyhooley and two in Castlelyons. The fifth sister stayed put and a Ring man from Walshtown in Lisgoold parish married into the pub and forever after that the place became known as Ring’s Cross. Though the relatives and connections of the Ring family sold the premises in the early 1970’s nearly half a century later it’s still ‘Ring’s Cross’ to many. It’s changed a lot since my great grandmother Bridget Murphy married out of it in October 1884.

It wasn’t that I had a craving for 7-Up or Tanora on last Tuesday night that caused me to go to a licensed premises just 24 hours after the place had reopened. No, but our local GAA Club Lotto was back in action after the Covid-19 ‘lock-down’ and ‘twas restarted there this week.

So different from last March when the virus first struck. Meals being served and consumed as well as drink of both hard and soft varieties. I though ‘twas lovely to see so many people enjoying good food, a drink and, at last, good company and conversation. Ok we were talking, in the immortal words of Nanci Griffiths hit, “from a distance” but it was great.

Anytime I go in there I look at the fireplace and smile! It was said that back in Murphy’s time running the pub a girl working there was cleaning out the big open fireplace of a morning. Whatever piking or raking she was doing with the shovel and tongs didn’t a big flag-stone at one side of the hearth give way. She pulled it out and by all accounts she discovered a fine stash of gold sovereigns. ‘Finders keepers, losers weepers’ is what the old rhyme says so the lucky girl gathered up her treasure. She went off to America and probably lived happily ever after. The money was there before the Murphys so myself and my many cousins have no claim on it!

Ah yes indeed there was great feeling of ‘we’ve made it through’ at Ring’s Cross on Tuesday last. As Bob Dylan sang and still sings ‘The Times They Are A Changin’.

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And so the portrait of Michael Collins will have joint pride of place with Éamon de Valera in the Taoiseach’s Office for the next few years. To some it might seem a small gesture but I think it’s a mighty one. Collins and de Valera were men who at one time had a common aim, a simple one, to gain Irish freedom. What a pity the split came.

I can remember as a nine-year old boy in 1966 shouting ‘Up de Valera’ as my mother and auntie Jo and Paddy Geary went up the boreen to vote in the Presidential Election of that year. de Valera was the outgoing President and was opposed by Fine Gael’s Tom O’Higgins who lost narrowly by just 1% of the vote. That year was the 50th Anniversary of the 1916 Rising. I was only five years in National School and no great student of Irish history at the time. de Valera’s name was everywhere that year as half a century on he was by far the most senior survivor of 1916, saved from execution because of his foreign birth.

I can say it now all these years later that I grew to loathe de Valera. Nothing will ever convince me that he didn’t cause the Irish Civil War and the disastrous Economic War of the 1930’s. Why didn’t Michael Collins tell him to negotiate the Treaty himself? After all he was the de facto leader of the Irish people when the War of Independence ended so he should have been dealing with the British. Collins went because ‘the Boss’ told him to do so.

I cannot count the number of books I’ve read over the last forty years on these two men. One who masterminded our freedom was slain in his prime. The other man lived a fine long life and held every leadership position in this state. What really irritates and maddens me was the infamous ‘Oath of Allegiance’ that proved such an insurmountable obstacle to de Valera and his colleagues and led to the Civil War. A decade later it still existed, as it was in the Treaty, but it was easily cast aside in 1932 and dismissed as an ‘empty formula of words’. It makes my blood boil. Am I a twisted anti FF Blueshirt ? Call me whatever you like but in this day and age I can absorb and believe what the ‘real’ historians tell us. I’ve a great interest in history but I’m no historian and would never claim to be. No I’m not bitter about what happened, angry definitely, but in no way bitter. So as we approach the centenary of Michael Collins’ death a Government of Blue and Green is in power and I hope the men and women of the three parties in this Coalition do a great job. It’s a daunting task to rebuild our country, economy and morale but a decade ago we did it and can do it again.

The bitter Civil War is part of our history and will forever remain so. It dictated and determined how this country was governed for a century. Now Civil War Politics is over and unions and alliances once frowned upon are the new norm.

In the last week or so we’ve heard of ‘Party stalwarts’ threatening to resign - they use words like ‘treachery’ and ‘betrayal’ words that reflect hatred and backward glances. Truly 2020 will long be remembered as a year of change and difficulty. Yes it’s been the worst of times but I say look to the future which can be the best of times. It won’t be easy but, ah yes, the times they are a ‘changin’.

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