This week saw the launch of the long awaited ‘Leitrim’s Republican Story 1900-2000’ by Ballinamore native Cormac O’Suilleabhain. At its launch the Author confirmed that the work was thirteen years in the making. It certainly is an impressive hardback with lots of fascinating photographs and the book stretches to almost 500 pages.
The book deals in depth with the War of Independence period in Leitrim. It doesn’t shy away from dealing with controversial topics such as the killing of alleged informers and the curious tale of the killing of Dr. Muldoon. The latters killing is full of all sorts of intrigue as it involves a priests housekeeper becoming pregnant and ultimately the Doctor been killed by local IRA figures to protect the ‘Republican’ Priest. If only Miss Marple was on hand.
Some events are recorded that really have nothing to do with Leitrim’s Republican Story. One such incident is the killing of Paddy Reynolds, the Cumann Na Gaedheal TD by a former supporter. Other events are recorded, such as the burning of a Northern Timber lorry near Mohill, whilst similar events, such as the burning of a bus carrying English fishermen in Ballinamore, are not mentioned. There is a comprehensive account of the Don Tidey Affair in 1983 and the deaths of a trainee Garda and Longford born soldier. Nothing is unearthed concerning the whereabouts of the legendary racehorse ‘Shergar’ who was also rumoured to have been buried somewhere in Leitrim. One definitely gets the sense that Leitrim played a crucial support role in the Troubles for the provisional IRA. The County’s topography and isolation made it suitable as a place to hideout, train, test weapons and so forth. There is also an inference that the IRA enjoyed widespread ‘indirect’ support and sympathy during the troubles from Leitrim residents, including families with non-Sinn Fein inclinations and even some protestant families. None of these assumptions are explored or substantiated at any great length. It would also seem apparent that a lot of information is gleaned from unofficial sources by the Author which on the one hand can add credence to his assertions but on the other hand is very partisan and partial.
After the Civil War period the book deals primarily with IRA and Sinn Fein activities in the County. In this regard the Author’s definition of ‘Republican’ is in the narrow sense, and encompasses those who first of all were anti-treaty, and secondly those that did not follow De Valera into the Dail. The book could also be entitled Leitrim’s Sinn Fein Story in that it fails to take a panoramic view of Republicanism. This will no doubt confine its interest to a narrower group of people than was necessary.
The book is very well researched and great credit is due to the Author as this is the first attempt by anybody to explore this subject comprehensively. The overall feeling one has though, is that there is a lack of balance, and it may be that the Author is unapologetic in this regard and this is intentional. Despite the length of the book there is very little critical analysis of events and pertinent figures, nor any great attempt to deal with a wider mosaic of Republicanism. The publication is successful in recording events, but, at times it seems a shame that this is done with a particular bias and lack of objectivity. Despite this, most people with an interest in Leitrim history will enjoy the read. Great credit is due to Mr. O’Suilleabhain on his first publication, and hopefully some of the events he deals with can be the subject of more objective and critical analysis in the future by either himself or others.