Peter Berresford Ellis reviews Seán Moylan in his own words: his memoir of the Irish war of independence, Aubane Historical Society, Cork. Price Str£12 plus p&p from Athol Books, PO Box 6589, London N7 6SG
I HAVE long argued that we still do not have the complete history of the war of independence 1919-21.
The production of this book by the Aubane Historical Society, Millstreet, Cork, is an example of what I mean.
Seán Moylan was born in Kilmallock, Cork, in 1889. Trained as a carpenter he became a building contractor, joined the Volunteers and was a company captain. Imprisoned after 1916 he escaped and became commandant of No 2 (North) Cork Brigade and commanded an active service unit. He was captured in May, 1921, the month he was elected as a member of the Dáil, and only just saved from execution by the truce.
He took the anti-treaty side and fought in the civil war. He later joined Fianna Fáil and was TD for North Cork in 1932, took various parliamentary posts becoming minister for lands in 1943, minister for education 1951 and minister for agriculture 1957. He died in November, 1957.
On 11 March 2003, the archives of the Bureau of Military History, were opened up. It was found that Moylan had, in May, 1953, written a book length account of his part in the war of independence. It is a fascinating document and one, which should now be on every Irish historian's bookshelf.
The Aubane Historical Society have added several appendices, including some of Moylan’s poems and an epilogue by local historian Bernard Clifford who takes to task those historians who would denigrate their country's struggle for independence.
He mentions Peter Hart's The IRA and its Enemies: Violence and Community in Cork 1916-1923 (Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1998) which I reviewed in this paper as one of the worst products of the pro-imperialist ‘revisionist’ school that I have come across. Hart dismissed the Volunteers as serial killers.
Moylan, even in 1953, foresaw the rise of these apologists for empire when he wrote:
“The intransigent who, when his country was invaded and overrun during the latest great war, took up arms against the invader and in secret and in civilian guise, killed, burned and destroyed the force and equipment of the invader, is lauded as a hero -- in Poland tuigeann tú -- but here in Ireland every man who took up a gun, who, with the dice completely loaded against him, went out to fight for his country’s liberty in the only fashion possible, was deemed a murderer by those who controlled all the organs of publicity.”
Moylan's memoirs reveal much that we should know of the period. This is an important historical document but reads with the excitement of a novel. I recommend it. I am told that a second edition has been reprinted, as the demand is so high.
Connolly Publications Ltd, 244 Gray's Inn Road, London, WC1X 8JR
Copyright © 2004 Peter Berresford Ellis