Published in Issue 3 (May/June 2022), Letters, Volume 30

Sir,—In his fine article, ‘The “Good Old IRA”—remembering republican veterans after 1969’ (HI 30.2, March/April 2022), Jack Hepworth recalls the contradictory attitudes of Old IRA veterans towards the 30-year campaign of the Provisional IRA in Northern Ireland. Having read in the French media that General Tom Barry, the legendary commander of the 3rd West Cork Flying Column during the Irish War of Independence, was a staunch supporter of the Provisional IRA, I took the liberty to write to him in my capacity as co-editor of the French scholarly journal Etudes Irlandaises, asking him to clarify his position. He wrote back a letter dated 11 October 1977 from 64 St Patrick Street, Cork, which said:

‘Dear Pierre Joannon,
Illness and the handicaps which are inevitable when one reaches 81 years delayed this reply to your gracious letter and the photostat wherein I am described as ‘a firm supporter of the Provisional IRA’. Those are also responsible for the brevity of this letter.

This allegation is simply not true. Since I cut adrift from the IRA on the passing of a resolution at a convention to start a 1938 bombing campaign in Britain, I have had no connection whatever with the IRA, any of its numerous splinter groups or any political party. While a lifelong believer in the Irish people’s right to use armed action to force the British out of the 6 Counties, I cannot accept or support many of the activities attributed to the IRA in that area. I most certainly do not do so.

Thank you again for sending me the photostat and your complimentary references to myself.
With all good wishes to yourself and may your review prosper and grow.

Sincerely, your friend
Tom Barry’

The content of this letter from one of the most famous commanding officers of the Old IRA of the War of Independence is a perfect example of the complex attitude of republican veterans to the recent troubles in Northern Ireland and helps us to reassess those sets of events.—Yours etc.,



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