November is a reflective time as we remember our loved ones who have died. It is particularly a time of remembering those who died in war and strife. For us in Ireland, remembering our fellow countrymen who died fighting for a British army has not always been easy.
In recent years we have come a long way as the relationship with our nearest neighbour has matured and relaxed somewhat. However, tensions may still exist in some quarters and I had an interesting insight into all this during the summer.
My good friends Andrew and Ruth McKinlay came to stay with me for a few days. Andrew was a British Labour MP for many years and while having no family roots in Ireland he has an extraordinary knowledge of Irish history and a love for this country which he visits as often as he can.
Andrew’s uncle Frank was a member of the British army stationed in County Tipperary during the War of Independence. In January 1921 Frank was part of an army unit which was ambushed by a local IRA Column in Poynstown near Glengoole, Co. Tipperary. A number of British soldiers were killed and while Frank survived he spent the rest of his life in a psychiatric institution traumatised by the whole experience.
During Andrew and Ruth’s stay with me this summer we paid two visits to Glengoole and on the second visit we met up with a wonderful local woman Joyce Kiely and some members of her family.
Joyce’s godfather had been the commander of the IRA unit which had staged the ambush in January 1921.
As we enjoyed Joyce’s warm hospitality, I was fascinated to witness the animated conversation between two people whose beloved relatives had been on opposite sides of a bitter and violent struggle almost 100 years ago.
Both Joyce and Andrew have a great knowledge and love of a history which is also part of their own family story. Neither of them are naïve regarding the sensitivities involved in this story common to both of them and I was particularly struck by Andrew’s fears arising from the implications of a messy Brexit.
Both sides want to mark the event in some way that honours their loved ones”
These fears highlighted the danger of a certain anti-Irish attitude taking root in Britain again and thus reversing the incredible progress that has been made in the last few decades.
As the centenary of the Glengoole ambush approaches in 14 months’ time, both sides want to mark the event in some way that honours their loved ones but is not triumphalist or insensitive to either.
In this month of remembrance and reflection I pray that all our loved ones may enjoy the Peace and Hospitality of the Father’s house.
A priest hearing children’s Confessions was puzzled to find child after child adding, after the recital of more familiar and intelligible sins, that of ‘throwing peanuts in the river’. He wondered whether they were repenting of wasting food or of river pollution, and then decided to press for a little more explanation when the last child came in. But the final penitent failed to confess this. “Yes,” said the priest, “is that all – isn’t there something you’ve forgotten? What about throwing peanuts in the river?” “But Father,” said a bewildered voice, “I am Peanuts.”
A reflection for November
I have got my leave. Bid me farewell, my friends! I bow to you all and take my departure. Here I give back the keys of my door – and I give up all claims to my house. I only ask for last kind words from you. We were neighbours for long, but I received more than I could give. Now the day has dawned and the lamp that lit my dark corner is out. A summons has come and I am ready for my journey.