Magazine article The Spectator

Counting the Cost Violence

Magazine article The Spectator

Counting the Cost Violence

Article excerpt


by Richard Abbott

Mercier, L15, pp. 340,

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Since the start of the current 'Troubles' in Northern Ireland in 1969 some 302 policemen and -women have been killed by terrorists, principally the IRA. Shocking as this figure is, the fact remains that there is a certain brutal sectarian logic at work here; the RUC is an overwhelmingly Protestant force and their decimation by the IRA was part of the broad Catholic-- Protestant conflict in Northern Ireland. In Police Casualties in Ireland Richard Abbott, a serving inspector of the RUC, gives a careful account of the killing of some 493 members of the Royal Irish Constabulary during the `war of independence' in Ireland from 1919 to 1922. These men were, however, overwhelmingly Catholic, `racy of the soil' as the Irish phrase goes, firmly rooted within local communities, who died at the hands of their co-religionists. It is a startling fact which calls out for rather more serious historical discussion than it has received until recent times in Ireland.

This is a well-researched book but in some ways deliberately low-key and unemotional. For example, in his account of the first two murders - that of constables James McDowell and Patrick O'Connell at Soloheadbeg, in Co. Tipperary, on 21 January 1919 - he omits IRA man Dan Breen's sanguinary confession that the seizure of explosive was only coincidental in this raid and that the real purpose was to kill: `We were surprised there were only two of them - we hoped we could take on ten.' Nevertheless, it has served to unleash a revealing public debate in the Irish Republic, because the `war of independence' created a new class of losers in Ireland; politically, the moderate constitutional nationalists of the day were destroyed but those who suffered the most were undoubtedly the police families. In an important review Conor Brady, editor of the Irish Times and himself a serious historian of the police in Ireland, noted with surprise that Archbishop Cronin, a central figure of the local culture of his youth, was the son of Sergeant Henry Cronin whose murder on 31 October 1920 in Tullamore is recorded here. Cronin's family background had become invisible in a state which had to sanctify the acts of violence which had brought it into being and marginalise the experience of those - good Catholics, good nationalists in most cases - who found themselves at the wrong end of that violence. …

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