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Book recalls bloody days of the Black and Tans

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Date Published: 22-Nov-2012

“I have an absolute, incredible love for history – any history and any period. I’m very open,” says author William Henry. The books he has written provide proof of this, with themes covering everything from Galway men in the Great War, to the Battle of Knockdoe, and an account of how the Great Famine affected Galway.

William’s latest book, Blood for Blood: The Black and Tan War in Galway captures one of the darkest eras in Irish history, when the British government sent an ill-disciplined and savage gang of men, fresh from the battlefields of World War I, to quell the growing movement towards independence in this country. The Black and Tans and their colleagues the Auxiliaries caused carnage in Galway as in other parts of Ireland.

 

By its nature, war is brutal, but the brutality of the Black and Tans was “just shocking”, says William.

Blood for Blood captures this terrifying period in Galway, using a mix of contemporary accounts and stories from relatives of those involved. The title of the book is taken from the song The Wind that Shakes the Barley – the full line is Blood for Blood without Remorse.

This is the first comprehensive history of the ‘Tan War in Galway, explains William. “There were a lot of stories that had been communicated over the years in magazines and other books, but I’d never come across a book that had a complete history of the Black and Tan War in Galway.”

It was a rewarding but tough task.

“A lot of people have stories of the Black and Tans, but it wasn’t as simple as some stories portray,” he says.

William and his colleague Jacqueline O’Brien, who helps research his books, went through newspaper archives from 1919-1922 to access contemporary accounts. He also had his own archive of interviews from people who’d been in the Great War, which he compiled when writing Galway and the Great War and Forgotten Heroes: Galway Soldiers of the Great War. These contained ancillary stories about the Black and Tans in Galway.

For this latest book, they also availed of the National Archives Witness Statements, which are officially recorded accounts from people who had actually fought in the War of Independence.

 

And there were files from Dublin Castle, says William. These contained one version of an incident concerning a well-known Oranmore republican, Joe Howley who was shot dead in Dublin on December 5, 1920. This ‘official’ version differed totally from eye-witness accounts, which were also slightly at variance with each other.

 

Shortly after, another Galway man, Thomas ‘Sweeny’ Newell, was shot seven times at point-blank range in Dublin, but amazingly wasn’t killed. The College Road resident died many years later of old age, in 1962.

Willie spoke to his nephews and says that family members were a great source of information for the book.

“People were very open. I thought I’d receive more resistance, but in fact, people were extremely helpful. I was able to get information from the sons and daughters of these people and in a lot of cases, the witness statements actually bore out the stories of these people’s children.”

Several well-known atrocities are written about here, including the awful murder of the Loughnane brothers in Shanaglish and the abduction and killing of Fr Griffin in the city.

One of the tragedies that touched William most was the murder of 23-year-old mother Eileen Quinn in Kiltartan, near Gort on November 1, 1920. She was sitting on a stile in front of her house with her nine-month-old baby in her arms, when a military lorry passed and the occupants fired their guns. One shot hit Eileen in the abdomen. She was critically injured and died later in her house in great pain. She was seven months pregnant. The murder was subsequently raised in the House of Commons and a military inquiry followed, which recorded “death by misadventure”.

For more, read this week’s Galway City Tribune.

Galway in Days Gone By

The way we were – Protecting archives of our past

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A photo of Galway city centre from the county council's archives

People’s living conditions less than 100 years ago were frightening. We have come a long way. We talk about water charges today, but back then the local District Councils were erecting pumps for local communities and the lovely town of Mountbellew, according to Council minutes, had open sewers,” says Galway County Council archivist Patria McWalter.

Patria believes we “need to take pride in our history, and we should take the same pride in our historical records as we do in our built heritage”. When you see the wealth of material in her care, this belief makes sense.

She is in charge of caring for the rich collection of administrative records owned by Galway County Council and says “these records are as much part of our history as the Rock of Cashel is. They document our lives and our ancestors’ lives. And nobody can plan for the future unless you learn from the past, what worked and what didn’t”.

Archivists and librarians are often unfairly regarded as being dry, academic types, but that’s certainly not true of Patria. Her enthusiasm is infectious as she turns the pages of several minute books from Galway’s Rural District Councils, all of them at least 100 years old.

Part of her role involved cataloguing all the records of the Councils – Ballinasloe, Clifden, Galway, Gort, Loughrea, Mountbellew, Portumna and Tuam. These records mostly consisted of minutes of various meetings.

When she was cataloguing them she realised their worth to local historians and researchers, so she decided to compile a guide to their content. The result is For the Record: The Archives of Galway’s Rural District Councils, which will be a valuable asset to anybody with an interest in history.

Many representatives on these Councils were local personalities and several were arrested during the political upheaval of the era, she explains.

And, ushering in a new era in history, women were allowed to sit on these Rural District Councils – at the time they were not allowed to sit on County Councils.

All of this information is included in Patria’s introductory essay to the attractively produced A4 size guide, which gives a glimpse into how these Rural Councils operated and the way political thinking changed in Ireland during a short 26-year period. In the early 1900s, these Councils supported Home Rule, but by 1920, they were calling for full independence and refusing to recognise the British administration.

“I love the tone,” says Patria of the minutes from meetings. “The language was very emotive.”

That was certainly true of the Gort Rural District Council. At a meeting in 1907, following riots in Dublin at the premiere of JM Synge’s play, The Playboy of the Western World the councillors’ response was vehement. They recorded their decision to “protest most emphatically against the libellous comedy, The Playboy of the Western World, that was belched forth during the past week in the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, under the fostering care of Lady Gregory and Mr Yeats. We congratulate the good people of Dublin in howling down the gross buffoonery and immoral suggestions that are scattered throughout this scandalous performance.

 

For more from the archives see this week’s Tribunes here

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Archive News

Real Galway flavour to intermediate club hurling battle in Birr

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Date Published: 23-Jan-2013

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Athenry fail to take chances as they bow out of Junior Cup

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Date Published: 29-Jan-2013

Athenry FC 1

Kilbarrack United 2

(After extra time)

For the second year in succession Athenry were done in extra time in the FAI Junior Cup as last season’s beaten finalist’s came from behind to snatch an excellent game in Moanbawn on Sunday afternoon.

On a heavy pitch that was only playable following extensive groundwork by club officials all morning, the home side were by far the better side in the opening half, but failed to take advantage of a number of opportunities that came their way.

An Alan O’Donovan penalty gave them a merited advantage just after the restart, but thereafter were on the back foot as Kilbarrack took over, but for all their pressing, the home rearguard were dealing comfortably with their forays.

However they were struck a body blow just six minutes from time, as big striker Keith Kirwan was left all alone at the far post to head the equaliser and from that point on the Dubliners were the better side.

They started off the extra time in the ascendancy and enjoying all the momentum before striking for a good winning goal on 104 minutes. A strong bench allowed them to make some necessary changes and it was not a facility that was available to Athenry manager Gabriel Glavin.

With Gary Forde and Gary Delaney out through suspension following their sending off against OLBC in the previous round, and Seamie Crowe injured, it left their bench rather threadbare with just a number of young squad players available.

Playing with the aid of the slight incline and any wind advantage going, the home side had a Connor Cannon effort on target in the opening minute, while John Meleady was just over with a flick at the other end.

Meleady then tested Andrew Walsh who saved comfortably, before the goalkeeper pulled off a brilliant double save on 14 minutes.

Firstly he went full length to push away a Meleady shot and was then back on his feet to parry David Jackson’s close-range rebound.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Sentinel.

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