History: Public And Private

Here is an interesting thing…well almost.
Consider the domestic scene in suburban Dublin in the 1960s. An elderly gent hears the postman drop the mail thru the letterbox. He picks up the bank statement, the phone bill and finds a postcard from Rome and he brings the postcard into the kitchen where his wife is making breakfast. Kinda exotic to get a postcard from Rome in the 1960s…even for an affluent Dublin family.

But here is the (almost) interesting thing. The elderly gent is General Richard Mulcahy. He fought at Ashbourne in County Meath during the Easter Rising of 1916….a victory for the Rebels. He was imprisoned for his part. He was Michael Collins second-in-command during the War of Independence. He was Minister for Defence during the Civil War. He commanded the Free State Army.
An pro-Treaty Man. An Army Man.
And he would issue an order which stated that any anti-Treaty volunteer found carrying a weapon would be liable to execution. An Order that would lead to the executions of about sixty-five volunteers (many of them old comrades who had fought alongside him from 1916-1922).
And he might be considered to have been responsible for a legacy of bitterness which was still enduring in the 1960s when the post,an delivered the postcard from Rome.A figure of Hate to a generation of Fianna Fail people. And perhaps…to northern republicans the very personification of Fine Gael treachery. “Take It Down From The Mast Irish Traitors” as they/we might say.

Richard Mulcahy became a politician. And actually Leader of Fine Gael in the 1940s But was never Taoiseach. After the 1948 Election, a coalition government was formed but Mulcahy never led it…although still leading his Party. This has always intrigued me. The Irish Army … The Defence Forces are I think an Irish success story. Its role…post-1924 in staying out of politics as The Free State embraced Democracy cannot be over-stated. But I wonder if that had any bearing on Mulcahy standing aside for John A Costelloe in 1948.
Or…alternatively was Mulcahys bloodstained past too much for Sean MacBride, the former IRA leader who would have had difficulty serving under him.
Either way, it was a good thing for the Nation itself that Mulcahy was never Taoiseach.

Those transition years were difficult, post-Civil War. I would not underestimate the legacy of bitterness.Nor would I under-estimate the genuine effort to put it all firmly in the Past. For people like Mulcahy, De Valera, Cosgove, Aitken…it must have been difficult.
And yet they made a Nation…(almost?)
And the personal friendships, personal animosities were part of it all.
Michael Collins, Cathal Brugha, Erskine Childers were among those who did not see how it ended.
Others did.
Like Mrs Richard Mulcahy, wife of a Fine Gael leader who had TWO sisters married to Sean T O’Kelly, the Fianna Fail President.
Richard Mulcahy died in 1971.

That postcard from Rome ended up in a Dublin street market and I bought it about twenty years ago. Postcards, especially from the Golden Age (1900-1920) are fascinating sources. Whether for postmarks (Irish place names in English), “old” names like Maryborough or Kingstown, interesting messages sent by maiden ladies or Royal Irish Constabulary members (both eager correspondents) and in the case of the Mulcahy postcard, the interesting feature is the addressee.

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7 Responses to History: Public And Private

  1. Fascinating. I love collecting bits of historical memorabilia and that is good one.

    I agree with you about the success of Óglaigh na hÉireann (oifigiúla!) after the 1922-23 Counter-Revolution. The period of the mid-1930s when many former “Irregulars” joined up under the Fianna Fáil government and then the mass recruitment of the 1939-45 Emergency had a significant effect on healing the memories of the civil war. When Tom Barry and Florrie O’Donoghue donned the army uniform the civil war was truly over. That era represented a reunification of much of the old Anti- and Pro-Treaty IRA forces. Perhaps that’s why it is so rarely studied or discussed by academics.

    • You will know this better than me and will point out if I have got this right.
      But I have seen a “full set of IRA” medals, including the 25th anniversary of 1916 and 50th anniversary.
      As I understand it…you might be able to put me right on this…a medal was struck for a Dublin IRA unit which joined the Army in the Emergency.

      • I think that may be the 26th Infantry Battalion, formed in 1940 with former Volunteers of the Old IRA (mostly ex-Dublin Brigade). As far as I know they were part of a reserve force but I’m not sure of their exact relationship with the Fórsa Cosanta Áitúil or FCA (“Local Defence Force”). The Defence Forces were divided along several lines during the Emergency, with various layers of reserve.

      • Thats the one.
        They had their own medals minted.
        Its funny how “knowing stuff” is very uneven.
        When I first saw the set of medals and the story of a Dublin Battn made up of IRA men, I couldnt believe that it was something I didnt know. It seemed too big an event to be practically airbrushed out of History. I feckon I dont know as much as I think I know 🙂

  2. Actually the 26th Inf. Btn. may be part of the Volunteer Force, formed by the FF government in 1934. The purpose of the Force was to serve as a mechanism to recruit former Anti-Treaty Volunteers into the Defence Forces, as I referred to above. It was a part of the reserve with the FCA/LDF. I shall ask around and see if anyone knows its exact history as I’m not sure myself of the chronology.

    • It was explained to me as part of the Emergency.
      A “reserve” unit seems more feasable. By 1939, a lot of these guys were surely too old for regulars.

      • Many would certainly have been in their 40s and 50s. The organisation of the Defence Forces in the 1930s and ’40s was complex due to shifting political considerations. The Volunteer Force was a reserve grouping like the FCA/LDF and recruited both before and during the Emergency. I’m sure there must be a study on it somewhere 🙂

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