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Taoiseach, president reflect on 'complexity' of Civil War at cultural centenary event

A cultural event was held in the National Concert Hall today.

Image: Mark Stedman

IRELAND HAS MORE work to do to fully engage with the “complexity and context” of the civil war, Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said.

Speaking at a cultural event in the National Concert Hall to mark the centenary of the conflict, the Taoiseach said that many countries have seen civil wars, but Ireland’s was unique in many ways.

“The differences between what became opposing sides were to our eyes small, but let no one doubt their sincerity or the fact they were based on a shared commitment to a sovereign and independent Ireland,” he said.

“Perhaps the greatest tragedy of 1922 is that if our respective leaders had been allowed a freer hand, a compromise was clearly possible up to almost the last moment. Yet those sitting in London continued to interfere and to block hopes for peace.

“They also acted to reinforce the artificial partition of this island which had been imposed two years earlier.

“In spite of being such a critical moment in our history, we have done too little to engage with our civil war – all too often limiting ourselves to handful of personalities and events and missing the complexity and context which is central to real engagement with the past.”

The event included music and song, and speeches from Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, President Michael D Higgins and a historian from UCC.

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In his speech, the president said: “We have long been aware that the Civil War cost the lives of many well-known public figures, other lives lost are perhaps lesser-known but should not be forgotten, nor should the livelihoods destroyed, those driven into poverty or exile be forgotten.”

Higgins’s father John took part in the War of Independence and fought on the anti-Treaty side in the Civil War.

He has previously spoken about how John and his brother were on opposite sides of the conflict.

“As part of our remembrance today, we all must recognise the atrocities of the Civil War for what they would mean not only to both sides: cruel, vicious and at times informed by vengeance, but also the role of the fingers of empire that had not allowed independence, and which would continue in provoking Civil War through their demands and impositions.

“One of the greatest omissions in our consideration to date is the very little space that has been granted to those who sought peace, or to end the conflict. Such people were aware of what had been lost, suffered needlessly, when the British Government refused to accept the will of the people as expressed freely and overwhelmingly in the election of 1918.

“They knew that conscription drew the greatest cost from the poorest and from workers.”

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