"War is not an adventure. It is a disease. Like typhus.”
Antoine de Saint-Exupery, French poet, writer and journalist
IT doesn’t take much for a journalist to grope around for a war hyperbole in peacetime.
A few short weeks ago, we would have routinely read of Jurgen Klopp leading his ‘troops’ into ‘battle’, about Mary Lou McDonald declaring ‘war’ on poverty, and of the ‘sacrifice’ an athlete has put in to make the Olympics (sporting types are particularly fond of an auld war analogy).
Then the coronavirus invaded our lives, and suddenly war and sacrifice seemed apt descriptions of our attempts to overcome it.
Our Taoiseach borrowed Winston Churchill’s most famous wartime line to describe our health workers in the ‘frontline’ of this new war: “Never will so many ask so much of so few.”
The Secretary-General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, starkly declared: “Our world faces a common enemy. We are at war with a virus.”
In putting his country on lockdown, French President Emmanuel Macron told his people several times: “We are at war.”
While HSE chief Paul Reid said the coronavirus fight “is a war against a very silent and dangerous enemy. It is not one we can win with armed forces. It is one that we can win with communities.”
And therein lies the difference.
This is a war in which many people will die, but it is a war against an invisible enemy. What’s important, as Leo Varadkar stated at the start of this crisis what seems a lifetime ago, is this: “We will prevail.”
By coincidence, 100 years ago this week, Ireland was invaded by another foreign body which wrought havoc across the land... and we prevailed then too
LAST Sunday, like many other families, we took a break from a house which had become a little too much like the four walls of a prison, and went out for a drive and some fresh air.
Wisely, we opted against flocking to the busy spots and decided to drive through the quiet mid-Cork countryside and seek a layby to park where we could observe social distancing rules.
After a while, we came upon a memorial stone on the side of the road in Carrigthomas, a townland near Ballinagree. Normally we would have sped past it in a blur but we were taking our time and pulled to a halt to read it.
The memorial told a story of unspeakable tragedy.
On Thursday, April 21, 1921, a seven-year-old local boy, Patrick Goggin, told his father, a farmer, that he was going to count the cows in a nearby field. It was 4pm and when he came back, his tea would be ready.
Within minutes of his departure, a scream filled the West Cork countryside. His father ran towards the sound and found his son on the ground.
He had been shot by a party of Black and Tans, who were in a lorry which was bogged down half a mile away in a dirt track overlooking the field.
When his father reached his stricken son, one of the soldiers was searching the boy’s pockets. The soldier helped the father bring the injured boy back to his farmhouse while an officer absurdly claimed that the soldiers would not have fired at the boy, only they thought he was bigger.
Young Patrick had been shot twice in the buttocks, but his family were told he would not be able to get the care he needed that evening in hospital in the nearest large town, Macroom, owing to the military curfew in place. That may have cost him his young life.
Patrick was taken to hospital the next day and, tragically, the wounds became septic. He died two weeks later, on May 5, of toxaemia, in the South Infirmary in Cork city.
In his book, Memoirs Of An Old Warrior, local historian and author Dónal Ó hEalaithe summed up the tragedy.
“Of all the 30 murders the Tans and Auxiliaries committed throughout mid-Cork, the killing that caused the greatest resentment, anguish and sorrow was that terrible act when they shot seven-year-old Patrick Goggin as he returned to his parents’ home having counted his father’s cows.
“It was a foul, wicked and revolting act.”
It was also utterly inexplicable. How could soldiers mistake a boy of seven darting across a field for an IRA guerrilla, even from half a mile away?
I defy anyone to remain emotionless, even 99 years after this tragedy, when I tell you that little Patrick had been weeks way from taking his First Holy Communion when he died. He was buried in his Communion suit in Clondrohid Cemetery.
A Court of inquiry was later held into the death, in lieu of an inquest. The boy’s father sobbed as he gave evidence and said heaven only knew what he had been robbed of, with the loss of a son.
The Black and Tans arrived in Ireland for the first time 100 years ago this week, on March 25, 1920.
As the conflict in Ireland worsened, it had become clear to many in Britain that reinforcements were required by the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) to face down the IRA uprising.
Recruitment for a new force began in January, 1920, and about 10,000 enlisted. This sudden influx led to a shortage of RIC uniforms, so the new recruits were issued with khaki army trousers and dark green RIC tunics, caps and belts.
This made them stand out from the regular RIC and army and earned them the nickname ‘Black and Tans’.
Their barbarism was such that in their short reign of terror in Ireland, a period of less than two and a half years, they engendered a hatred that lasts to this day.
Many Black and Tans were damaged by World War I, and a few apologists have tried to claim their deplorable actions were inevitable once the IRA decided on a guerrilla campaign.
But their many atrocities, such as fatally shooting a boy of seven frolicking across a Cork field, paint the only picture we require of them.
The Black and Tans were perhaps the most lethal enemy force we have ever seen in this country’s history, posing a threat to our very way of life. The only vaccine was to hunt them down until the war was over. There were many casualties of that war, including a boy who will be forever young and was buried in his Communion suit.
Now Ireland finds itself at war with another enemy that hides in plain sight. It is a war we can and must win, and we all have a part to play.
Your country needs you: like our forebears at a time of national crisis, are you willing to make the sacrifice required?