IRELAND’s Minister for Justice, Charlie Flanagan, has sought to reassure Protestants in the state that forthcoming commemorations surrounding the War of Independence (1919-21) and the ensuing Civil War (1922-23) will be handled sensitively.
He was responding to the Bishop of Cork, Cloyne & Ross, Dr Paul Colton, who said at a ceremony to honour one of the Gaelic Athletic Association’s (GAA) most famous figures, Sam Maguire, from Dunmanway, West Cork, that many Protestants were fearful of the commemorations to come.
Maguire, a local Anglican, presented the trophy for the All Ireland Senior GAA football championship cup, which still bears his name. He is buried in the churchyard of St Mary’s, where the ceremony took place.
In April 1922, West Cork was the location for the massacre of 13 Protestants after the truce that led to the founding of the Irish Free State, and the beginning of the year-long civil war between supporters of the partition government and its opponents. The truce involved the establishment of a separate government in the north-east of the country, which was to become the present-day Northern Ireland.
Many Protestant families, particularly from the Cork area, had to flee in what was generally seen by their clergy and co-religionists as sectarian violence.
Dr Colton told the Dunmanway gathering: “Among some in our Church of Ireland community — and I’m sure they are not alone — the commemorations are anticipated fearfully and with a certain dread.” Acknowledging a reluctance to label anything from the past history of the founding of what is now the Irish Republic as “sectarian”, he said that pretence was not an adequate response either, nor was a historical quest for justification by either side.
He warned: “Be in no doubt, in our new Ireland, 100 years on, the coming centenary years call for careful thought and even more careful and sensitive commemoration. . . Memories are still raw.”
He recalled a TV documentary interview with Canon George Salter, now in his nineties. The Salter family, including the Canon’s father, two uncles, and six aunts, had fled Dunmanway after the massacre in 1922, after a warning that their lives were in danger.
Justification for the murders and “ethnic cleansing” of the area came from the anti-treaty forces who wrongly labelled Protestants as spies and informers, thus heightening suspicions of the minority faith.
At a ceremony held in the Co. Laois village of Rathdowney to honour the Irish Guards Lance-Sgt. Jack Moyney, Mr Flanagan responded to the Bishop’s remarks: “I agree with Bishop Colton. As Minister for Justice and Equality, I wish to assure Bishop Colton and communities of careful planning and most sensitive handling of these events.
“In this context it is fair to acknowledge that the 2016 events were well received, and we will strike the same sensitive note for future events.”