Bandon Valley killings

Published in Issue 5 (September/October 2018), Letters, Volume 26

Sir,—In their letter (HI 26.3, May/June 2018), Andy Bielenberg and John Borgonovo quoted from an article in the May 1922 issue of Poblacht na h-Éireann by Erskine Childers. He denounced strongly what had happened in the previous month at Dunmanway: ‘Sectarian crime is the foulest crime’. They omitted, however, another part of the article where Childers explained why these murders occurred.

Childers wrote of what he called the ‘provocation’ behind them, namely the recent murders of Catholics in Belfast. At the time, these sectarian murders at Dunmanway were seen and condemned as nasty reprisals for sectarian murders in the north. Further correspondence (HI 26.5, July/August 2018) on this subject has likewise carried no reference to what was commonly thought by contemporaries, including Michael Collins and Éamon de Valera.

On Sunday 30 April 1922, Dr Daniel Colohan, Catholic bishop of Cork, asked: ‘Where would they find themselves if in the north Protestants continued murdering members of the Catholic community and in the south Catholics took reprisals on the Protestant community?’ Canon Hayes at Castletownbere, the same day, stated: ‘If a mad Orangeman murdered a Catholic, he saw no reason why an innocent Protestant should be shot in the south as a reprisal’.

In all the press coverage of these events I have not come across a single suggestion that any of the victims were informers, members of an anti-Sinn Féin society or even ‘hostile’, to use Bielenberg and Borgonovo’s provocative term. For some at the time, such a suggestion would have explained or excused these murders. Press reports also recorded the death of a senior IRA commander (with the consequent death of three Protestants) at nearby Ballygroman shortly before, but I have not seen any comment suggesting that what happened at Dunmanway was a reprisal for Ballygroman.

Bielenberg and Borgonovo are correct to say that the murder of ten Protestants in one incident was unprecedented and not repeated. Nonetheless, in the period of the Civil War that followed, members of the Protestant community experienced widespread violence against them, as Peter Hart pointed out.

An Irish Times editorial (22 October 1922) described ‘losses which have fallen with peculiar severity upon the ex-unionists of the south—upon farmers and shopkeepers as well as upon the owners of great estates’, and stated that ‘the exodus from Southern Ireland will continue so long as the campaign of destruction flourishes’. It rejected the idea that there was any ‘well organised system’ in this violence but also claimed that the southern minority were the ‘foremost sufferers’.

In February 1923 Bishop Colohan stated that ‘Protestants have suffered severely during the period of the civil war in the south’ and urged that ‘charity knows no exclusion of creed’. Speaking at Nenagh in north Tipperary in May 1923, Bishop Michael Fogarty appealed to a higher sense of patriotism, noting that ‘their Protestant fellow countrymen—he regretted to have to say it—were persecuted and dealt with in a cruel and coarse manner’.

Comments by these two Catholic bishops confirm reports of the harsh treatment of Protestants at this time. They also show their strong condemnation of these events, a view expressed by other important Catholic political and religious figures.—Yours etc.,

BRIAN M. WALKER
Professor Emeritus
Belfast

'


Copyright © 2022 History Publications Ltd, Unit 9, 78 Furze Road, Sandyford, Dublin 18, Ireland | Tel. +353-1-293 3568