Healing Civil War Wounds


Sir, - It seems that in the Republic we may, at last, be on a learning curve about peace - peace with and in the North which, of course, means peace both with the poppy and with the lily. The poppy certainly is showing signs of growth. Unrealistic as it was to raise the question of our newly-elected President wearing one at her inauguration, the fact that the idea was mooted so freely was a far cry from days, not so long ago, when many participants at the St Patrick's Remembrance ceremony would hastily cover or remove their poppies before facing out into the streets afterwards. And then there is the good news of the monument in Flanders to which the Government has committed a sizeable donation. Congratulations to Paddy Harte and to Glenn Barr for their initiative in this!

The lily too has experienced some growth: whether it is worn as a sticker or on a pin is no longer an issue. Democratic Left has played a valuable role in government and Sinn Fein is currently taking part in the Stormont talks. With all this going forward, why raise on RTE such sensitive subjects as Ballyseedy, one might be tempted to ask? But it is my believe that, as long as the atrocities of the Civil War are ignored and left unattended to, we cannot grow our shamrock of peace and fully develop our peace process. So it may be fortunate, although intensely painful, to be reminded of such horrors.

Your columnist Vincent Browne can be a formidable confronter on radio but, on reflection, I found something important in his recent accusation to Nora Owen TD that Fine Gael, while priding itself on its part in founding this State, had never openly expressed sorrow for the 77 executions and for such incidents as Ballyseedy carried out in the name of its predecessor, Cumann na nGael. I utterly refute, however, his facile taunts that Cumann na nGael paid no price for all of this. For a start they lost Michael Collins and I think, among other things, of the assassination of their Vice-President and of his father (my father and grandfather). But this letter is not about "what-aboutery"; rather it is an attempt to suggest the necessity for some structured way of together remembering, expressing sorrow for, and maybe even repenting of, the violence of our shared past.

If I have difficulty with this word "repenting" it is because I don't see how succeeding generations can really take responsibility for what was done before their time in circumstances with which they are not familiar. But, insofar as we have overlooked the anguish of the other side and failed to attempt reconciliation with them, we do have matters of which to repent.

Some years ago the leaders of Ogra Fianna Fail and of Young Fine Gael (grandsons of Sean Lemass and of Kevin O'Higgins respectively) together laid a wreath of shamrocks at the Four Courts in shared remembrance of all who had lost their lives as a result of the Civil War - part of a Walk of Remembrance organised by the Glencree Centre for Reconciliation. At that time it would not have been possible to have had participation from Sinn Fein. But at a concelebrated Mass in Booterstown on the 60th anniversary of the assassination of O'Higgins, he was remembered in the company of the three Republicans who had killed him - something which brought great peace to at least two of the families involved.

I think that if we want our current peace process to succeed we must consider appropriate ways in which we might try to heal the wounds of the past - wounds which can still throb surprisingly painfully after so many decades. Would the new Taoiseach with the support of the Opposition approve, for instance, of a special inclusion in the Remembrance Service held annually at Kilmainham in July of prayers for forgiveness and healing of the Civil War? Many other ideas could be floated by a representative group facilitated, for example, at Glencree. I believe it would be good to address this unfinished business before the end of the century and the start of new millennium. - Yours, etc.,

Una O'Higgins


Castle Court, Booterstown, Co Dublin.