Must Ireland remain a prisoner of the past?
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Must Ireland remain a prisoner of the past?

IT is hard not to feel saddened by some of the thinking here.

The fact that the pandemic has left some minds on this small island fundamentally unchanged can only be a cause for despair.

Listening to politicians in the North of Ireland is to hear entrenched opinions impervious to, even, a global health crisis.

It seems as if the end of the world would still find certain voices on this small space of earth trying to edge their tradition ahead of the other.

On this tiny, geographically insignificant, piece of land I can’t help but wonder just how different we all actually are. Never mind those in an even tinier, six county, part of it.

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A book that came out last year, The Dead Of The Irish Revolution, is a detailed list of all those who lost their lives during the years that led to the founding of our island’s two states.

In the course of looking through it I looked up my own surname.

It is not the commonest of Irish names and there were just the two.

This is how their details are listed:

George Horgan, 22 years of age, killed on 12 December 1920.

From Cork he was a Catholic and as an ex-serviceman had been a member of the British Army. Horgan, reportedly on friendly terms with the military and police, used frequently to speak with them, was kidnapped by an IRA group from his home on 9 December.

A notice appeared in the press next day stating, ‘If G. Horgan is not returned by 4 o’clock today 10th December, rebels of Cork beware, as one man and one shop shall disappear for each hour after the given time.’

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He was killed and buried at Lakelands, Blackrock. It is said his remains were returned to his family after the Civil War. In January 1922 his mother secured £900 compensation.

This may be the Horgan whose death was described by IRA Officer Stan Barry. ‘He was between tears and acts of contrition before we shot him, and we buried him then and there. Nobody knew where he was buried and nobody but ourselves knew that he had been shot.’

William Horgan, 20 years of age, killed on 28 June, 1921.

From Cork he was a Catholic and a member of the IRA. Horgan, of 254 Dillon’s Cross, Cork, was a railway fireman.

At about 02.00, he and another man were arrested near Dillon’s Cross. The Crossley Tender carrying them broke down near the Opera House. While the driver was performing repairs, the officer in charge took the prisoners out to search them.

When a document was found in Horgan’s pocket, he tried to grab the officer’s revolver. There was a short struggle during which Horgan was shot. The other prisoner escaped.

These two young men died just six months apart and were only two years apart in age.

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They were both from Cork and both Catholics. One, though, had been in the Crown forces and seemed to still be on friendly terms with those forces.

The other was in the IRA. In a small city like Cork they could not have lived that far away from each other.

They may have known each other. It is very likely that they knew some of the same people.

Yet, in the strange ways of the past, they have come to represent the historically different strands of identity on this island.

Is that just the distant past, though?

Well, we all know who Gerry Adams is. But one of the main loyalist representatives during the Troubles and ensuing peace process was David Adams.

We all know Martin McGuiness. And we all know the Unionist Ken Maginnis. Mere letters apart. Mary Lou McDonald? Sounds like a very Scottish name to me.

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Michelle O’Neill, the Sinn Féin leader in the north?

Terence O’Neill, one time Unionist Prime Minister of the north.

Lenny Murphy, one of the most notorious sectarian killers during the last troubles?

Despite the name he was a loyalist killer.

Now all of that name playing, perhaps, means nothing.

But, at least superficially, does it not tell us something?

Is there something we could simply realise about sharing this small island?

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About how intertwined we all are? Or has this pandemic, this global health crisis, taught us that no matter what happens, the North is so married to its hatreds that even the world falling apart won’t change it?

And if that is so, will Ireland always be a prisoner of the past?