I recently read “The Flame and the Candle....War in Mayo 1919-1924” by Dominic Price. It deals with the fighting in one county during this grim period.
Dominic Price is a history teacher and his book is published by the Collins Press.
Because I know the places where some of the actions in this war took place, and can recognise many of the surnames of the victims and perpetrators, this book brought home to me the horror of this civil war, in a way that a more general account would not.
I say “civil war” advisedly because most of the participants on both sides were Irish from the beginning.
The first victim was a resident magistrate, John Charles Milling, who had grown up in Westport, who was shot dead through the front window of his house on the Newport road in his home town in March 1919, when he entered a room where the light was on to wind up the clock before going to bed.
Most of the RIC members who lost their lives were as Irish as the people who put them to death. Even after the RIC was disbanded after the Treaty was signed, its former members were killed.
For example, ex sergeant Tobias Gibbons from Westport was shot eight times in his hospital bed in Galway on 15 March 1922, as was his colleague Sergeant John Gilmartin.
As the RIC was no longer a force that could threaten anyone at that stage, this was pure vengeance, with no military purpose. The file on this murder subsequently disappeared.
This book deals with the atrocities committed by the RIC themselves, led by District Inspector White, who was from Roscommon.
It analyses the main military actions of the war, the ambushes at Kilmeena and Carrowkennedy and other actions.
The national politics of the time is skillfully woven into the local story. The land conflict also played its part in the background, and probably lay behind some of the local violence.
This is a sad and salutary tale of idealism perverted by the supposed “necessities” of war. It is a period to be remembered rather than celebrated.