The West Cork Flying Column

Military Re-Enactors at Old Fort MacArthur

Military Re-Enactors at Old Fort MacArthur

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the start of the Irish War of Independence. In April 1916 a group of volunteers took over the Dublin Post Office, were captured and executed by the British. Yesterday, I went by myself (Martine not feeling well) to the Old Fort MacArthur days in San Pedro.

Present was a group of military re-enactors modeled on the West Cork Flying Column commanded by Thomas Barry (as described in his excellent Guerilla Days in Ireland: A Personal Account of the Anglo-Irish War). I have run across this group before and admire their knowledge of their country’s history and their adherence to verisimilitude. Also, they have the best music by far of any group at the show.

The Irish War of Independence went on until December 1921 when the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty created the Irish Free State.

“The Lake Isle of Innisfree”

The Lake Isle of Innisfree

The Lake Isle of Innisfree

As I lurch into another tax season (hopefully my last), images of peace have a stronger hold on me, and virtually nothing is as peaceful as the scene described in William Butler Yeats’s poem “The Lake Isle of Innisfree”:

I WILL arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honeybee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.
And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.
I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

The West Cork Flying Column

IRA Re-Enactors 2014

IRA Re-Enactors 2014 at Old Fort MacArthur

At the Old Fort MacArthur Days military re-enactments, I always enjoyed stopping over to visit with the West Cork Flying Column, named after one of the most active and successful Irish Republican Army (IRA) units during the struggle for independence between 1919 and 1921. For one thing, they always had the best music; for another, this era has always been one of the biggest gaps in my historical knowledge.

This time, I picked up a list of recommended books from the group and proceeded to read Tom Brady’s Guerilla Days in Ireland about his command of the actual West Cork Flying Column in combating British regular army units, as well as the Auxiliary Division and the much-hated Black and Tan mercenaries.

Tom Brady During the Troubles

Tom Brady During “The Troubles”

Brady’s unit was perhaps the largest, most active, and most successful unit of the IRA fighting against the British-led units. Where many other parts of Ireland were relatively quiescent, the West Cork Flying Column conducted large scale attacks on barracks, burning houses of British loyalists in retaliation for British burnings of IRA sympathizer houses, attacks on patrols, as well as sabotage of railroads and bridges. And this with a maximum armed strength of approximately 150 men against the thousands fighting under the Union Jack.

Unlike many guerrilla leaders today, Brady cared deeply for the welfare of his men. He was always careful to identify and praise the fallen both in the description of the action fought and in a lengthy Appendix at the back of the book where he lists them alphabetically and identifies their origin.

Now my appetite for more background on recent Irish history has been whetted, and I plan to read more.

 

 

Surprise: They’re Not All Blondes

Some Surprising Results from Gene Studies

Some Surprising Results from Gene Studies

All the people in the above photograph are Icelanders. What you are looking at are some of the contestants in the Irish Days festival in Akranes, a small city just north of Reykjavík. Now why would Iceland be having an Irish Days festival?

Apparently Iceland was first settled by Irish hermit monks for about a century before Ingólfur Arnarson became the first Scandinavian settler in A.D. 874. These papar (“Papists”), as they were called, did not stick around once they were surrounded by hyper-aggressive heathens. And, being celibate, they probably did not add their genes to the population of Iceland; but the Vikings did raid Ireland for slaves, and that’s where things suddenly become interesting.

Genetic studies taken of the Icelandic population show that 20% of the males and 63% of the females have Irish ancestry. I find that statistic to be interesting, but I have some trouble wrapping my head around it. Even if the Vikings preferred Irish redheads to the Scandinavian blondes, the Irish women would give birth to as many if not more males than females (the ratio is 21:20 in the U.S.). Perhaps the male Irish slaves had a harder life and were not permitted to mate, while the women were encouraged to bear children, whether within or outside of wedlock. If so, it’s just another instance of the hard life that the Irish have suffered through the ages.

Prizewinner at Akranes

Prizewinner at Akranes

By the way, the winner of the Akranes competition was one Laufey Heiða from the Westfjords. Runner-up was Vígdis Birna, who is shown above receiving her prize.

One thing I can say with certainty is that Icelandic women tend to be beautiful, whether they are blondes or redheads.

 

 

“A Lonely Impulse of Delight”

British Biplane in World War One

British Biplane in World War One

William Butler Yeats is one of my favorite Twentieth Century poets, and one of my favorites among his poems is “An Irish Airman Foresees His Death.” Although deeply shrouded in skepticism, the poem speaks to all people who find themselves somewhere between a rock and a hard place:

An Irish Airman Foresees His Death

I know that I shall meet my fate
Somewhere among the clouds above;
Those that I fight I do not hate,
Those that I guard I do not love;
My country is Kiltartan Cross,
My countrymen Kiltartan’s poor,
No likely end could bring them loss
Or leave them happier than before.
No law, nor duty bade me fight,
Nor public men, nor cheering crowds,
A lonely impulse of delight
Drove to this tumult in the clouds;
I balanced all, brought all to mind,
The years to come seemed waste of breath,
A waste of breath the years behind
In balance with this life, this death.

Kiltartan is a barony in Ireland’s County Galway, home to Augusta, Lady Gregory. Also, it was the occasional residence of the poet himself.

I am particularly drawn to the final quatrain, in which the airman makes an existential decision to fly for the RAF despite his lack of loyalty to the British cause and uncertainty that his people would be worse off if the Kaiser won. He appears to have been a young wastrel who hazards his life in an uncertain cause, joying only in the delight of flying into battle.