Harding and history

 

Sir, – Michael Harding tells the story of an unnamed Cavan man who joined the RUC after a period as an RIC constable (“‘My father was on the streets of Dublin in 1916,’ he said. ‘On the wrong side’ – winners write the history but there are other stories worth remembering”, Life, February 26th).

In your columnist’s account, this RUC officer was the sergeant in charge of a station on the Fermanagh-Cavan border which came under attack from the IRA. According to him, a Catholic RUC officer (also unnamed) died in the raid – murdered by his Protestant colleagues rather than by the raiders.

Between 1921 and 1972, only one RUC officer was killed in Fermanagh, Constable John Scally. As Constable Scally was a Catholic and as he died in Derrylin (on the border with Cavan) it must be assumed that Michael Harding means to refer to him.

There can be no other candidate for the part of his anonymous murdered policeman.

John Scally died on Sunday, December 30th, 1956, during a raid on the RUC station in Derrylin by the Teeling column of the IRA under the command of the late Ruairí Ó Brádaigh (the future president of Sinn Féin).

Your columnist’s account has the RUC officers going outside to fire at the IRA; in his version, Protestant officers took advantage of the confusion of the attack to murder their Catholic colleague.

This version is at variance with newspaper reports at the time. Constable Scally was in fact inside (as were all of his fellow officers) shot by a gun fired through the station’s letterbox.

He died some time later after receiving the last rites. The RUC returned fire on the IRA from inside the station.

The Teeling column fled across the Border; some of its members were later arrested by officers of An Garda Síochána.

Mr Harding has made a serious accusation.

It is not one that has (to my knowledge at any rate) been made previously about the death of John Scally.

If he cannot substantiate his claims, he should withdraw them. – Yours, etc,

CDC ARMSTRONG,

Belfast.

Sir, – I was was astounded and dismayed when I examined in depth the possible basis for Michael Harding’s piece on what can only have been the December 1956 IRA attack on Derrylin RUC barracks in Fermanagh. No date is given by him or even names.

If – as Michael Harding claims – the RUC sergeant in Derrylin in December 1956, identified not by him but by ex-RUC Sgt Sam Trotter in his 2011 book Constabulary Heroes, as Hubert Friel, was an RIC constable in 1916, but still a sergeant in the RUC in December 1956, it is possible that he had just joined the RIC in 1916 at 19 (the minimum age to join unless your father was in the RIC, when you could get in at 18) and was so 59 in 1956.

But no Friels (of any faith) are anywhere in Cavan in either the 1911 or 1901 online census.

Your columnist says the sergeant’s father had a farm in west Cavan and it was also the sergeant’s own home place.

No RIC units were deployed to or fought in Dublin city in 1916, it was only British army units. The RIC had its full-time standby reserve force based in the Phoenix Park depot but it was never used that week.

If the future Sgt Friel was really “outside the GPO” that week, he only went there off-duty to buy stamps.

Constable John Scally (23 ), a Catholic from Ballycastle, was in the barracks dayroom on December 30th, 1956, with Sgt Hubert Friel, and other constables and was hit while sitting on a chair there. He fell onto the floor. He was hit in the first burst of fire from the IRA. There was no chaotic RUC firing at that point. In fact the RUC only subsequently returned fire. He was hit by automatic fire from the IRA gang fired through the barracks’s front door which they had blown to bits.

Michael Harding’s claims are impossible. – Yours, etc,

TOM CAREW,

Ranelagh,

Dublin 6.