Peter Berresford Ellis reviews Baptised in Blood: the formation of the Cork Brigade of the Irish Volunteers 1913-1916 by Gerry White and Brendan O'Shea, Mercier Press, ISBN 1-85635-465-2, €14,99 pbk
The years 1913-1916 were, even by Irish standards, a particularly turbulent time both in national and local politics.
This book sets out to examine the formation of the Cork Brigade of the Irish Volunteers. Initially called the Cork City Corps, they turned into a force that became one of the most innovative guerrilla forces in the country, confronting British regular army 6th Division, which had 3,000 men in the city and 12,500 in the surrounding areas together with thousands of paramilitary police (Auxiliaries and Black and Tans).
But this was some years in the future. The story here is of the tough years of organisation, the divided loyalties as Redmond split the movement and created his National Volunteers, and then the organisation for the planned insurrection resulting in the confusion of counter orders which led to the failure of that bid for freedom in 1916.
This book is an important work with excellent illustrations and copies of documents that, to my recollection, have not been seen before.
It is a period, and area, which I have some knowledge of. That year, 1916, was a turning point not just for Ireland but for my own family. It was the year when my father joined the Cork Examiner as a reporter and when his cousin William Ellis was elected to the Cork City Corporation.
My father also `moonlighted' for Frank Gallagher's Irish Bulletin, giving the republican side to the War of Independence and was an eyewitness (among other things) to the burning of Cork City by British troops. He became an unwilling guest of His Majesty a few days later.
William Ellis (1873-1951) became Deputy Lord Mayor of Cork to Donal O'Callaghan, who had succeeded Terence McSwiney. When O'Callaghan had to go `on the run', William became acting Lord Mayor. William resigned office in 1924 and finally stood down from the City Corporation in 1935. My father, after a few weeks in a Dublin jail, escaped to South America and in 1925 eventually settled in England as a Fleet Street journalist. So I was the recipient of many family stories and legends.
In a period where there has been much `republican bashing', such the appalling book by Peter Hart on The IRA and its Enemies: violence and community in Cork 1916-1923 (Oxford, 1998), this work is like a breath of fresh air. Carefully researched and documented, it becomes essential reading for those who want to know the real background to the development of what was to become known as 'Rebel Cork'.
The only disappointment is that it ends in 1916 and I hope that Messrs White and O'Shea will be back to write the real history of the Cork Volunteers during the subsequent period 1916-23 as a necessary corrective to Hart's diatribe about those volunteers as no more than psychotic murderers.
Once again, the microcosm of what happened in Cork City during these tumultuous years helps the understanding of the macrocosm of what was taking place in Ireland.
Connolly Publications Ltd, 244 Gray's Inn Road, London, WC1X 8JR
Copyright © 2005 Peter Berresford Ellis