Bloody Sunday memorial

Sent in by Séamus O’Murthaile

Croke Park Massacre

Kevin Myers

It’s more than possible that Queen Elizabeth will make an apology for what happened in Croke Park in November 1920, as desired by many people. But before one is entitled to have strong opinions on historical matters, one must at least go to some trouble to learn about them.

Otherwise, one is responding merely to historical mythology, of which the Irish have far too much, and the English (and I do mean English) have almost none at all. This imbalance is one of the many permanently destabilising factors in the relations between the two peoples: one has an energetic narrative, rich in dramatic (and usually inaccurately-recollected) events, and the other has almost a completely blank-sheet about even their own history, never mind Ireland’s.

In my childhood in Leicester, whereas the Irish Myers family were all fascinated by the history of the town — supposedly named after the local king named Lear (yes, the Shakespearian chap), it was where Richard III and Cardinal Wolsey spent their last nights on this earth — none of the local children appeared to have any interest whatever.

There seemed to be almost no communal memory of any event — not even the Luftwaffe bombings in 1940. This is probably true for most of the English — and I have a virtually untestable theory that during the quarter of a millennium of a brutal Norman economic and cultural subjugation of the Anglo-Saxons, ordinary English people learnt to forget as a psychological survival mechanism. But how does one then unlearn amnesia, when one never remembers that one has it?

The Irish, however, “remember” a great deal: the problem is that their narrative is often far worse than the English blank-sheet. The general Irish account for Bloody Sunday is that some 14 British secret agents got their thoroughly deserved come-uppance that morning, and that British soldiers later murdered 14 unarmed people in Croke Park in revenge. Any attempt to correct this compares with Mrs O’ Malley’s valiant efforts with her mop the day that the Ardnacrusha dam wall broke.

There’s a wonderful book about Bloody Sunday by Michael T Foy, ‘Michael Collins’s Intelligence War'(Sutton) that I sincerely recommend, from which most of the following details are taken.

A Captain Newbury was staying with his wife at a ground-floor flat at 92 Pembroke Street that morning, when two IRA volunteers arrived at the front door. Still in his pyjamas, he fled to the back window, where a third volunteer was waiting: the three men cut him down in a ferocious volley of shots, while his wife screamed beside him.

After throwing a blanket on her husband’s corpse, she collapsed, and gave birth to a stillborn baby. Some days later she herself died. Michael Foy thinks that Captain Newbury was not an intelligence officer. Of the 13 defenceless men murdered in their bedrooms that morning, Foy reckons eight were intelligence-officers: the other five were “unlucky”.

These included two Irish Catholics, an RAF officer (and cousin of Oscar Wilde) Lt L E Wilde, and Captain Patrick McCormack, an army vet, who were both murdered in their beds in the Gresham Hotel.

It could have been far, far worse: many decent IRA men simply ignored their orders, and shot no one.

In the aftermath of this slaughter, Dublin Castle correctly sensed that many soldiers and RIC Auxiliaries would be thirsting for revenge, and confined as many as possible to barracks. Alas, some Auxiliaries, aided by untrained recruits from the Depot at Phoenix Park, arrived at Croke Park, and perpetrated the infamous and legendary slaughter.

But according to Michael Foy — and I am inclined to believe him — these RIC men were out of control. They were not following orders, nor were they implementing policy of any kind.

Six of the Croke Park dead were buried in Glasnevin Cemetery, along with the bodies of the innocent Wilde and McCormack.

These evil events now exist largely in a realm of legend, which states that the British secret service was crippled in one brilliantly organised stroke, and so the cruel British army got its revenge with a massacre of the innocents of Croke Park.

But no soldiers opened fire at Croke Park, just policemen — and most of the recruits doing the shooting were Irish. And if the British intelligence was so crippled by the assassinations, how come the terms of the Treaty 13 months later so comprehensively favoured Britain’s strategic interests?

Queen Elizabeth was not born when Bloody Sunday occurred, and neither she nor any of her family had any association with it. This cannot be said of the Irish State, of which the third Taoiseach, Sean Lemass, was involved in the shooting of an unarmed army officer that morning — the one-legged Captain Baggalay, who was not involved in intelligence, but in civil administration.

His murder was an atrocious affair, but no intelligent person would seek an apology for such a deed in the middle of a very dirty war so long ago.

For the queen to offer a one-sided sorry for Bloody Sunday would merely give a fresh and needless lift to the wings of nationalist mythology; while for the poor dead Newburys in their pitiful Pembroke Street flat, no one either knows or cares.

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