From Pogrom to civil war
Tom glennon and the Belfast IRA
Disclaimer, I know the author. We used to go to gigs together and we have many mutual friends. My only time seeing him this century though is at St pats football matches. For Kieran is a big fan. Me! I just like football. Having said that, what an interesting read.
This is a story starting and finishing with Kieran’s grandad Tom and his part in the Belfast pogrom and subsequently role in the Irish army
The dictionary tells me that a pogrom is an organized massacre of a particular ethnic group more commonly used in conflicts representing Jews however Belfast in 1920 saw a populace being undermined due to their religion. I had never heard of the Belfast boycott, organised during the first Dail (Parliament of ireland). Some catholic workers were expelled from shipyards and other workplaces so the Dail decided to boycott Belfast. Interesting in these days of talks about boycotting Israel that we have precedence from our very first parliament. Which, of course, people had set up themselves. The effectiveness of this boycott was the “equivalent of A summer shower threatening cave hill” and it petered out.
One captivating part of the book, like most that reflect a particular time, is the mention of torture and death with the sunglasses of history. Of course time can heal wounds but ambush and murder is spoken about in practical terms and the people doing the ambushing and killing get certain forgiveness nearly a century later.
The Pogrom ultimately finished with a truce but not before another Bloody Sunday where homes and lives were destroyed. At this stage Tom Glennon was incarcerated in the Curragh, a prisoner of war for all intents and purposes. However there was a musical backdrop to their day. While the prisoners were out stretching their legs the trumpeters of the Huzzar Regiment were practicing their musicianship, not just bugle calls but music for the prisoners to remember their time by. Many of you reading this will associate a moment with a particular song. For the prisoners their memory will be the music of the Huzzar regiment. From there it was like a scene from Escape to Victory as plans were hatched for freedom.
Although dealing with events around 1921 it mirrors much of what happened 50+ years later. Bin lids being smacked on street concrete to create a cacophony of noise as a warning for locals that the security forces were entering their communities. Talks of truce, talks abandoned. Extensive killing just as it seems like there may be a respite on the cards. And kidnapping. Removing people from their families to progree your political aims. We get a run down of historic events. As plans for a northern offensive were gathering pace we hear of the facts that for the second time in six years orders were given to commence an insurrection but the countermanding order didn’t quite make it through. And so, somewhat like the opposite of 1916, some soldiers knew there was a cancellation in their plans, however word didn’t make it to all quarters. Also the plans for ira divisions to support their northern comrades by fighting alongside them were also rescinded.
And then the real cat was thrown amongst the pigeons. A line was drawn across the country and the army split. Imagine playing on a football team throughout a cup tournament and getting through to the final days of the season when suddenly the team implodes. Management decisions are questioned and the effectiveness of the direction the team are going in is questioned. Some decree that if they stick together they can make the breakthrough for promotion. Others feel that they are doing well enough and promotion will come another season. The team splits into two and they fight each other rather not than taking on the league for that final push. Ireland’s recent history can be viewed like this. It can also be stated the team might never have got promotion and could have disintegrated. But a split happened which then left northern members exposed more so.
As for Toms tale. He escaped from prison and got £10 and a posting in Donegal. Soon after the Anglo Irish treaty was signed. Not known at the time but Ireland’s war of independence was soon to be Ireland’s civil war. Tom transferred to the newly established national army which found themselves ensconced in what was previously enemy barracks
Much of the book is taken from recollections by people and published stories of the day. These can cause confusion as different versions emerge. However the amount of research Kieran must have gone through is phenomenal. For each event is painstakingly researched and detailed. We are reminded of more facts like the first election in 1921 after our war of independence was done using the voting register for 1918, had it been updated would there have been any difference in the outcome? We can never know.
And what of the IRA soldiers who fought in what was to become Northern Ireland? After the partition of the country “being left short of train fare could serve as a suitable metaphor for the provisional governments treatment of the entire Northern IRA throughout the period following the signing of the treaty…the Belfast brigade..had finally stumbled to a wretched halt”
A feature of this book is how it takes the facts and makes them a stark reality. Consider this, a new state has been set up. The island is partitioned to different and at times violent opinions. The previous force for law and order was disbanded and a new one created for the partitioned part. This didn’t reach all areas and some people who were only recently fighting for a different cause alongside some of the new force they vehemently oppose. is tragedy highly likely or inevitable. We look back generally with an overarching view, Glennon recollects the stories
The civil war petered put and elections in 1923 showed that the majority of those who voted were pro treaty and therefore ready to accept the country as was then, for the short term at least. A tense peace followed.
The climax of the book tells of tom Glennon and how he left his history behind, barely speaking of his soldier days. We also get some analysis of IRA activities up north and the repercussions of these. But ultimately this is a tale of the grandad of a St Pats fan and his journey of knowledge gathering is described to great effect in the epilogue. Fascinating