Guns and hoses

Published in 18th–19th - Century History, Issue 4 (July-August 2013), Letters, Letters, Volume 21

Sir,—There are a number of small points that I would like to address in relation to the review of my book Dublin Fire Brigade and the Irish Revolution (HI 21.3, May/June 2013). Kevin Myers pointed out the lack of an index, an omission that is entirely mine. He also took me to task for ‘factual inaccuracy’ in relation to the number of Auxiliary police killed in the Kilmichael ambush. He is of course correct in saying that sixteen Auxiliaries were killed in the ambush, with another, Cadet Guthrie, being killed later. As with all facts presented in the book, I referenced my original statement to my source. Since writing the book I have found a better source for the details on Kilmichael in the Aubane Historical Society’s The origins and organisation of British propaganda in Ireland 1920.

In relation to my remarks on recruiting figures to the British forces in 1914 from the fire brigades of Dublin, Belfast and Cork city, I referenced my statements to my sources, which were respectively the Cork Examiner and The Flaming Truth, the official history of Belfast Fire Brigade. I deliberately kept my research on recruiting to the three main fire brigades in Ireland at the period rather than all local authority employees, as I felt that firemen as an occupational group were potentially a prime recruiting source. I think it is fair to describe the make-up of Belfast Fire Brigade at the period as ‘unionist’. It was not then, nor for many years afterwards, known as a beacon of multiculturalism.

I think your reviewer dismisses too lightly the appendices as ‘45 pages of photocopied reports . . . that have no clear purpose’. The reports reproduced as appendices include the Dublin Fire Brigade Annual Report for 1916, a document that is not readily available in any archive, including the National Library. The other two reports were directly relevant to the formation of the Dublin Fire Brigademen’s Union and the working and living conditions of Dublin firemen at the period when the union was set up. As the book also explores the history of trade unionism within the Dublin Fire Brigade (DFB), I felt that these reports were of direct relevance not just to the story told in my book but also to provide other scholars of the period with newly discovered material which might assist them. These documents turned up among the papers of Captain Thomas Purcell, which I had on loan from the Purcell family. I would like to thank them again for their permission to reproduce them.
I would like to join with Kevin Myers in stating my unbounded admiration for his great-uncle, Captain Jack Myers. I should, however, point out that the photograph on the cover is of Captain Myers in 1922 and not 1916 as referred to in the review. Captain Myers, along with Captain Purcell, was one of the great chief officers of the DFB and his courage and service to this city should never be forgotten. He was very well thought of within the Republican movement both during the revolution and in the years that followed the Civil War, when he recruited quite a number of republican ex-prisoners into the DFB at a time when these men had great difficulty gaining employment in the new state. His actions at the Rathmines church fire in 1920, when he covered up the discovery of arms during the fire and allowed the local Volunteers to remove the evidence before handing over the fire to the local brigade (the sacristan in the church was also an assistant quartermaster with the local IRA unit), is also evidence of at least some sympathy for the national cause.

The above points are relatively minor in an otherwise positive review and I certainly could not fall out with a reviewer who describes me, as I totter towards my 54th birthday, as a ‘young and energetic’ historian!—Yours etc.,

Dublin 20


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