Peter Berresford Ellis reviews Remember… it's for Ireland: a family memoir of Tomás Mac Curtáin by Fionnuala Mac Curtain, Mercier Press, ISBN 1-85635 552 2, €24.99. hbk
THERE SEEMS to be a large number of books being published recently on Cork and the War of Independence period. And the trouble is, from the book-buying viewpoint, most of them are excellent.
The assassination of a democratically elected public representative of their people was something almost unthinkable early in 1920. But the British forces soon demonstrated that no one, however prominent in Irish life, was safe from its assassination squads.
Tomás Mac Curtain not only became the first republican Lord Mayor of Cork but the first to be assassinated. He was of course, not the last.
While his successor, Terence MacSweeny, was arrested and illegally transported to London, and died after 74 days on hunger strike in protest, people tend to forget that other mayors of towns were targets of the death squads of the 'security forces'.
For example, on 6/7 March 1921, the Mayor of Limerick, Seoirse Clancy, was murdered, as was the former Mayor of Limerick, Michael O'Callaghan. MacCurtain, Clancy and O'Callaghan were all shot down in front of their wives and children during a night time raids on their homes by members of the RIC's Auxiliary wings.
It also seems to be forgotten that, after MacSweeny's death, Donal O'Callaghan, was elected Lord Mayor of Cork, and when he went 'on the run. William Ellis became 'Acting Lord Mayor'. I put this in because, when some years ago, Derry elected a republican Lord Mayor, many Irish newspapers actually claimed he was the first Sinn Féin mayor since MacSweeny. It is sad how history is forgotten and thence distorted.
This is a book that puts some human flesh on the facts of MacCurtain's life and death. It brings him out of the sad facts of history to show a family man, loved by his wife and children, an idealistic man committed to the welfare and betterment of his people. But it is also an important historical document for it has a translation in English of Tomás's diary kept during his imprisonment in 1916, mainly at Frongach internment camp and some documents that do not appear to have been in public domain before.
This is, therefore, one of those important books that help reveal the reality of the War of Independence in Ireland but specifically, of course, in Cork City.
Connolly Association, c/o RMT, Unity House, 39 Chalton Street, London, NW1 1JD
Copyright © 2007 Peter Berresford Ellis