Dark days in Kerry

Ian McKeane reviews Tans, Terror and Troubles: Kerry's real fighting story 1913--23 by T. Ryle Dwyer, Mercier, IR£12.99 pbk

T. Ryle Dwyer, an American historian who has been living in Tralee for years, is best known for his work on Collins and De Valera. He offers nearly 400 pages which cover in great detail the events (and the individuals concerned in them) of the years 1913-23 in Co. Kerry.

There is a useful chronology, a totally inadequate map of Kerry and a few photos of some of the characters in the story.

A detailed knowledge of the county (and the town of Tralee) is needed to get the best from the book.

The text reads well, although one of the author's rather irritating foibles soon surfaces. He tends to repeat information about individuals whenever they are mentioned.

Thus we hear that Tom Crean distinguished himself on the Scott and Shackleton Antarctic expeditions and then some 20 pages later we are reminded of this and told that he had been in the Royal Navy.

This is not terribly relevant but interesting nevertheless. Yet one does wonder about the value of learning that Maurice Ryle, editor of the Kerry Sentinel and Redmondite supporter in 1916, was the grandfather of the singer Dusty Springfield!

One of the major events in Kerry was the take-over of Tralee by the Black and Tans in November 1920.

The Author reproves Dorothy McArdle for only according it a sentence in her Irish Republic. Ryle Dwyer quotes a French journalist of Le Journal but fails to include the paper in his bibliography. Nor does he include R. Bennett's book, The Black and Tans, from which the quote is taken.

The terrorising of Tralee is mentioned in most histories of the period and reported in the French press, as were outrages elsewhere.

There was more than one French journalist in Ireland at the time and Tralee's agony was noted in some detail -- even the stuffily sober Revue des Deux Mondes quotes a Kerry Priest lamenting that "We are all living in terror of our lives!"

The section covering the civil war is relatively brief but no less grim for all that. The civil war was fought hard and bitterly in Kerry and some of the worst outrages by both sides were committed in the county.

These are recorded and the readers are left to draw their own conclusions.

For those who know Kerry or are interested in its role in the decade in question this is a readable and timely work.

October/November 2001

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