The I.R.A. and Its Enemies: Violence and Community in Cork, 1916-1923

The I.R.A. and Its Enemies: Violence and Community in Cork, 1916-1923

The I.R.A. and Its Enemies: Violence and Community in Cork, 1916-1923

The I.R.A. and Its Enemies: Violence and Community in Cork, 1916-1923


What is it like to be in the I.R.A. - or at their mercy? This fascinating study explores the lives and deaths of the enemies and victims of the County Cork I.R.A. between 1916 and 1923 - the most powerful and deadly branch of the I.R.A. during one of the most turbulent periods in twentieth-century Ireland. These years saw the breakdown of the British legal system and police authority, the rise of republican violence, and the escalation of the conflict into a full-scale guerilla war, leading to a wave of riots, ambushes, lootings, and reprisal killings, with civilians forming the majority of victims in this unacknowledged civil war. Religion may have provided the starting point for the conflict, but class prejudice, patriotism, and personal grudges all fuelled the development and continuation of widespread violence. Using an unprecedented range of sources - many of them only recently made public - Peter Hart explores the motivation behind such activity. His conclusions not only reveal a hidden episode of Ireland's troubled past but provide valuable insights into the operation of similar terrorist groups today.


What was it like to be in the I.R.A., to fight them, or to be at their mercy? What sort of people joined the organization, and why? What forces or motives drove these men--and their Irish and British opponents--to such heights of violence, transforming them into heroes, martyrs, and killers? These, to me, are the most important and fascinating questions of the Irish revolution of 1916-23. Answering them requires looking at the whole revolution, from beginning to end, in terms of its victims as well as its protagonists. It also means exploring the families and communities in which the guerrillas and their enemies--real or imagined--lived.

This, then, is a study of the rise and fall of the revolutionary movement within a single county: Cork, the most violent of all Irish counties in 'the troubles'. Part I charts the course of the struggle and examines the origins and nature of guerrilla war, as well as its consequences. Part II asks who joined the I.R.A. and Part III asks why--and why some members were willing to do anything and risk everything for their cause. Part IV looks at the people who became targets because they were suspected or accused of opposing the revolution, or because they fell outside the boundaries of the I.R.A.'s 'nation'. The focus throughout is on how the revolution was experienced, presented as often as possible in the words of the participants, observers, and victims themselves. The book, and each of its Parts, begins with a chapter devoted to reconstructing a single event or group: one night of murder and reprisal, one ambush, one flying column, one family, one massacre. These stories illuminate the central themes of comradeship, self-sacrifice, revenge, and betrayal in intimate and often tragic detail.

That it is possible, seventy or more years after the fact, to know so much of what people were thinking and doing at Kilmichael, on Broad Lane, or in Ballinadee is a testament to the magnificent sources available to the historian of the Irish revolution. Thousands of pages of I.R.A. records survive for Cork alone, along with hundreds of interviews and memoirs. We are particularly indebted to the great collectors of such material, Siobhan Lankford, Richard Mulcahy, Art O'Brien, Florence O'Donoghue, and Ernie O'Malley. Official records have largely been declassified, and these include hundreds more statements by victims and their relatives. Vast stores of information are contained in census returns and land records and, at a very different level, in daily and weekly newspapers.

Most importantly, I was able to talk with dozens of those who were there, who could tell me what happened and what it was like. As a group, I liked the former revolutionaries I met very much and, in many ways, I admire them. They still possessed a powerful sense of fellowship, duty, honour, and honesty . . .

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