Kevin Myers and Myles Dungan on WWI

Published in Issue 3 (May/June 2015), Letters, Volume 23

Sir,—So Myles Dungan (Book reviews, HI 23.2, March/April 2015) could only name one Irishman, John Redmond, who had fought in the First World War? I grew up in a working-class area of Dublin in the ’60s/’70s, where most, if not all, youngsters were educated to primary and/or Intermediate Cert level only. I was lucky enough to attend a Christian Brothers’ school, where the history teacher was a brother from Kerry whose pro-British fervour would have embarrassed Kitchener. He didn’t show us lists of the war dead but he certainly let us know that Ireland had played her part in the First World War, and we were made more than aware of the more ‘prominent’ Irish individuals who had lost their lives in the conflict. Of course, we were also taught about the exploits of people like Tom Barry and Emmet Dalton, but in a slightly more pejorative way.

In the area where I lived, most of the people I knew had some relative or other who had taken part in the First World War. For example, I can still recall an old gentleman (the grand-father of a friend of mine), who lived a few doors away from me, walking down the road with a chest full of jangling medals pinned to his overcoat as he headed for Armistice Day commemorations. We all thought that he was a hero, whatever war he had fought in. His immediate next-door neighbour was a member of a very well-known republican family, and at Easter he walked down the road dressed in an old-fashioned trench coat (I kid you not!) with an Easter Lily pinned to it, sporting a black beret on his head, as he went off to attend an Easter rally of some kind. And we all thought that he was a hero because of his family connections. These two men, by the way, drank the odd pint together in the local pub and seemed to enjoy each other’s company, whatever their political differences (if, indeed, they had any) or otherwise. And I remember a piece of graffiti in the men’s toilet of that pub which read ‘de Valera is an android’, which I’m sure would have pleased both of them.

My own great-uncle had an odd career in the British Army during the First World War. While standing on the deck of a ship docked at the North Wall in Dublin, about to return to the war after a period of leave, he decided that he’d had enough of the killing and promptly dived overboard and swam the Liffey. He lived a long and happy life afterwards. Men like my great-uncle, my neighbour and thousands more were remembered by the people who mattered to them. They obviously asked for, and got, nothing. They were respected in their communities for who they were, not for what war or other conflict they had fought in. We know who these men were, and the appropriation of their lives (and deaths), for whatever end, is no business of people like Myles Dungan or Kevin Myers or any other academic johnny-come-latelys. We, as part of the ‘wider public’, were well aware of Ireland’s involvement in the Great War; we knew all about the murder and slaughter and lunacy. So, what other ‘wider public’ is Myles Dungan talking about? We have forgotten nothing, and I resent the implication that I had to be shamed into anything, least of all by Kevin Myers. We also knew, by the way, that ‘official Ireland’ had supported the building of the War Memorial Gardens in Island Bridge. How? Because we asked about the place we often played in. No more of the nasty condescension, please!—Yours etc.,



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