Conflict and remembrance


Sir, – On January 30, 1920, Robert Barton, MP for West Wicklow, was arrested, tried by court martial, sentenced to 10 years of penal servitude and deported to England. Barton (1881-1975) had been a British soldier in charge of Irish rebels during the Easter Rising; had served in the first World War; and, on returning to his home in Wicklow, had joined the Sinn Féin movement and been elected for that party in the 1918 election. He was appointed in charge of agriculture of Dáil Éireann, in August 1919, and had created a National Land Bank in December 1919. Among the directors of the bank were Erskine Childers and Lionel Smith Gordon, both of whom were, like Barton, members of the Protestant faith. Far from driving Protestants from the land, as some recent historians have claimed, Dáil Éireann had placed Protestants in charge of a land reform programme. It was the policy of the British government, forcibly implemented by the police, which made the implementation of such a programme difficult. For that reason the arrest of Barton should be remembered as an event of huge significance.

Robert Barton, himself, has left us an interesting way in which to mark the anniversary of the Easter Rising. On August 20th, 1920, he approved a proposal that 16 trees should be planted to commemorate the men executed in 1916. Acting on this advice, I planted 16 trees on the 90th anniversary of Dáil Éireann in an old walled garden of the Barrington family at Glenstal, and planted an extra one for their young daughter, Winnie, who was killed in an IRA ambush. In other words, the memory of those executed in 1916 is associated with all innocent victims of war. – Yours, etc,


Glenstal Abbey,


Co Limerick.

Sir, – I just wanted to endorse Fergal Keane’s article about the (now deferred) commemoration of the RIC, particularly his fears for the “spirit of conciliation that marked the end of the Troubles in the North” (“RIC row threatens to drag us into a dangerous place”, Opinion & Analysis, January 8th).

As a grandchild of a RIC man killed in 1920, I would like to see the many good men in that police force commemorated, but not at the cost of stirring up old wounds. Like Fergal’s, my family also included relatives on the other side. If my parents’ generation managed – with, I think, a great deal of pain, difficulty and strategic silence – to paper over the cracks between the two sides, we today should not blow up a storm over an official event which, whether or not it takes place, cannot bring any of the dead back to life. We need to remember the terrible toll violence takes on all those it touches. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 13.

A chara, – Newton Emerson writes that Irish people must accept “the creation of Northern Ireland as an act of national self-determination, every bit as valued by unionists as Ireland’s own” (“Unionists detect huge waves of anti-British sentiment in RIC fallout”, Opinion & Analysis, January 9th).

Surely he must accept then that the prior to this so-called act of national self-determination, which was agreed upon in a conference room in London, there was another act of national self-determination on this island.

One that involved an all-island vote and where 73 out of a possible 105 seats went to a party who had vowed to establish an Irish republic in its manifesto.

An election that, if the results of which had been respected, might have resulted in us avoiding all the bloodshed and strife of the century that came afterwards.

The act of national self-determination that your columnist expects us to accept only came about when the will of the majority was violently repulsed by the country he claims allegiance to today. – Is mise,




Sir, – The misdeeds of the RIC as a police force were raised numerously during the last number of days. I will await with interest for a similar response to the actions of the National Army at the inception of the Irish Free State when we reach that juncture in this decade of centenaries.

Numerous atrocities and murders were carried out by the army in the most inhumane and cruel fashion at that time. I would not suggest that reflects the behaviour of the entire army then or the Defence Forces today. However, Irish people killed other Irish people and did so in the name of the Crown, Republic or Free State. But that tragic reality only seems to be relevant when those doing so wore an RIC or British army uniform. It looks like, for now, that is how it shall remain. – Yours, etc,




Sir, – I personally believe that the Irish people are more than capable and willing to remember the complex history of British policing in Ireland in all its totality, positive and negative. However, the Government’s approach lacked nuance and seemed merely to be an attempt to enthrone one historical narrative excusing British human rights abuses in Ireland over a competing traditionalist and nationalist one.

That is not reconciliation and unfortunately is an insult to both to the victims of RIC and DMP violence and also to those individuals who honourably served in both forces in the hope of the betterment of their community. – Yours, etc,



Sir, – Spare a thought for the forgotten police force of Ireland, the Belfast Borough Police, which enforced law and order in Belfast from 1800 to 1865. Its members were popularly known as the Bulkies. If there were any commemorations on the centenary of its abolition, they passed me by. – Yours, etc,


Dublin 4.