Snub to RIC’s dead a grubby stain on this ‘Decade of Centenaries’

We are meant to be remembering all the victims of the troubles of 1916-1923 in a mature, respected, and reflective fashion, so says John Dolan
Snub to RIC’s dead a grubby stain on this ‘Decade of Centenaries’

Sgt Daniel Maunsell, pictured right, in 1916.

ONE Saturday summer’s evening in 1920, Daniel Maunsell was strolling home from Mass in Inchigeelagh with his 12-year-old daughter, Ciss. They were holding hands when he was ambushed and shot at close range in front of her. He died within the hour.

A few months later, Tobias O’Sullivan was walking through Listowel in Kerry in the middle of the day with his six-year-old son, John, when he was shot several times.

He died instantly and at his funeral in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin, after the Last Post had sounded, John was heard sobbing the words “Daddy, daddy” as he gazed at his father’s coffin.

Then there was William Muir, kidnapped for three days in November, 1920. His ordeal affected him so badly that he became nervous, shaky and withdrawn. He killed himself two days after Christmas at Ballylongford in Kerry.

A few days earlier, the respected Roman Catholic Kelleher family in Macroom had been plunged into mourning, when Philip St John Kelleher was shot dead at close range, aged 23, in a bar in Longford. He took ten minutes to die. John’s father was a doctor in the Cork town.

Dreadful stories, aren’t they?

All these men - and hundreds more with similar tragic stories - have two things in common.

They were all Irish-born members of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC), and none of them - not a single one - has had their death commemorated on this island during this so-called ‘Decade of Centenaries’.

Do you feel ashamed about that? I know I do. And angry too, angry that in these years when we are meant to be remembering all the victims of the troubles of 1916-1923 in a mature, respected, and reflective fashion, we are clearly not. The nation is not ready to move on. Even 100 years later.

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The ‘Decade of Centenaries’ was established in 2012 and will end next year.

The aim of the State centenary commemoration programme has been “to ensure this complex period in our history is remembered appropriately, proportionately, respectfully and with sensitivity”.

The very first line in its charter promises “the centenaries programme is broad and inclusive”.

But as long as the men above and their families are not commemorated in a meaningful way by the State, then all those words - broad, inclusive, appropriate, proportionate, respectful, and sensitive - are a waste of breath.

Sadly, the project has failed at the first hurdle.

It’s a real shame to say that, as the ‘Decade of Centenaries’ began with the best intentions, and many facets of it have succeeded.

The early years - marking historic events like the foundation of the Irish Volunteers, the Home Rule and Land Bills, and the 1913 Lockout - were straightforward enough.

The events in 2016 to mark the centenary of the Easter Rising were a potential minefield, but proved to be both informative and respectful, while avoiding any undue controversy.

Most of the commemorations surrounding the subsequent War of Independence were equally successful, and, despite the fears of many people that the Civil War commemorations would open old wounds, they are largely passing by without any fuss.

However, the decision not to commemorate the RIC dead of those troubled times is a gaping flaw that has brought down the whole State project.

This was partly down to the bungling way in which initial plans to remember the RIC fallen were drawn up.

In January, 2020, Fine Gael announced a plan to host a State commemoration for pre-partition police forces - the RIC and their contemporaries in the capital, the Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP) - in Dublin Castle. However, they left themselves open to attack by bizarrely and foolishly including the hated Black and Tans and Auxiliaries among the police forces being commemorated.

Talk about shooting yourself in the foot. Nobody, in Ireland or indeed the UK, was in the mood for remembering the members of those groups.

The Government could have side-stepped this by just keeping the commemoration to the RIC and DMP, but it was too late. Critics of many hues of green had scented blood and the outcry forced the abandonment of the commemoration.

The then Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan argued that thousands of officers served their communities with honour and should not be airbrushed from history, but he was shouted down.

It’s worth recalling here that 75% of the RIC’s casualties were Irish, and, for what it’s worth, most of them were Catholics.

Many would have joined up well before the fight for independence began - Daniel Maunsell enlisted in 1891. Some of those RIC men would have been nationalists (including many of the Protestants among them), and been in favour of Home Rule - perhaps even were sympathetic to the armed insurrection when it began.

But when the troubles started in 1916, they found themselves on the wrong side of history. These men had joined the police force to serve their communities, to earn a decent wage to feed their families. They paid the highest price for that. And this State, and by extension its people, could not bring itself to commemorate them alongside everyone else who died in those awful times?

Not to call them heroes, not to say they were wrongly killed. Just to say a few prayers in their memory. They lived and died too, and many of their descendents and families are living among us.

A commemoration did take place to remember the RIC victims of a century ago, but, shamefully, not on this island. It was held instead in St Paul’s Cathedral in London in April this year - for men who had been born in and spent their entire lives in Ireland!

You may say the IRA of those times had their reasons for killing RIC men. You may say many of the dead deserved their fate for doing the work of the British enemy. But those Irish men were victims of the war, and what happened to not speaking ill of the dead? Does our President have a view on this, I wonder, or is too ‘political’?

I think it’s shameful that the likes of Daniel Maunsell and John Kelleher were not even given a moment’s thought in the entire decade of commemorations; that people didn’t hear their stories.

The suffering didn’t end when they died either, many of those men’s families would have been forced to move away, while those who stayed would have been too afraid to discuss the tragedy in their midst for the rest of their days.

In branding all the RIC people who served as traitorous Black and Tans, we are doing a grave disservice to thousands of Irish men, and that grave disservice is continuing, 100 years and more after they breathed their last.

I believe a small but vociferous minority shouted down attempts to commemorate those poor men.

Maybe Ireland will be grown up enough to do the right thing 100 years from now. I can only hope so.

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