Peter Berresford Ellis reviews Florence and Josephine O'Donoghue's War of Independence: a destiny that shapes our ends, John Borgonovo (ed), foreword, J.J. Lee, Irish Academic Press, ISBN 0 7165 33715, €27.50/£19.95 pbk
I GREW up knowing the name and work of Florrie O'Donoghue. It was indirectly through him that my father was `lifted' when taking some papers about the burning of Cork from Florrie, as the IRA's intelligence officer, to Frank Gallagher in Dublin in 1920.
We had several books by Florrie such as No Other Law, his biography of MacCurtain, the contributions to Rebel Cork's Fighting Story and so on. Like Ernie O'Malley, Florrie was not only a man of action but a man of the pen.
The current work is some memoirs that Florrie began writing in 1961, aged 67, and they were not for publication but personal reminiscences for his six children. But it is right that they should be edited and commented on for they provide an authentic and personal account of what happened during the War of Independence in Cork and are a necessary corrective to the rubbish recently put out by Dr Peter Hart in his pro-imperialist apology The IRA and its Enemies: Violence and Community in Cork 1916-1923.
Not only does he recount his experiences but details his wife Jospehine's role as the top IRA agent in Cork's British army headquarters. The memoirs include 47 letters in diary form written by O'Donoghue to his wife while he was 'on the run'. They provide a graphic account of the daily life of the republican guerrillas.
John Borgonovo has done an exceptionally fine job and corrected much of the misinformation and misinterpretations that have been put out about the independence struggle in Cork. This is one of those accounts that is a 'must' for those interested in the truth of the period.
If I have any issue with it, it is the brief account Borgonovo gives about the day after the burning of Cork, when Bishop Daniel Cohalan, ordered the excommunication of anyone involved in arson, murder or kidnapping. The editor mistakenly believes that this was impartially directed at both IRA and Crown forces.
My father was then a reporter on the Cork Examiner and attended the emergency meeting of Cork Corporation on the day after the rampage of the British forces in Cork. Moreover, my father's cousin had been a councillor since 1916. William Ellis became acting Lord Mayor of Cork after MacSweeney's successor, Donal Callaghan had to go on the run.
The Corporation debated Bishop Cohalan's order as it was clearly directed at republicans and not the British Crown forces. While a motion of censure against the Bishop was proposed and seconded by alderman J J Walsh and alderman Barry, the councillors finally decided censure was an ecclesiastical matter and it should be left to the report of the feelings expressed at the meeting, which the Bishop would read.
My father's memoir on the burning of Cork city and that debate was recently published in the Aubane Historical Society publication The Burning of Cork: an eyewitness account by Alan J. Ellis (ISBN 1 903497 16 7), March, 2004. Unfortunately, in his otherwise detailed sources, John Borgonovo failed to pick this up. But this is merely my nit-picking of an otherwise excellent work.
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Copyright © 2001 Connolly Publications Ltd6 Peter Berresford Ellis