Irish Battlefield Commemoration

Down the road from me, the local pub has been trying to get permission to build a small hotel in the site next to it for quite a while. Such a development is hardly eye raising and the delay in getting said permission (going on for a few years now) isn’t either, just part and parcel of the construction system in Ireland.

Objections are standard in this kind of situation, but the one raised by the local residents association caught my attention. Aside from their main problem, the potential rise in anti-social behavior and so forth, they informed the residents that one of the buildings being targeted for demolition was an old RIC barracks.

For those not in the know, the Royal Irish Constabulary was the police force of the island under British rule, operating until 1922 when it became the Garda Siochana in the Irish Free State. They kept lots of small barracks all across the country (as opposed to the more modern Garda practice of fewer, but bigger, stations). They were frequent targets for attack by the IRA during the War of Independence.

So, it is an historical site. But my feelings are mixed.

Firstly, I am unable to find any evidence that this particular barracks was ever the subject of attack at any point. Limerick City saw little fighting in the War of Independence, and this part of the area was left out of the Civil War. It may just have been a quiet, normal station.

Secondly, it’s already been done up since ’22, and no longer resembles a barracks. No one raised an objection then.

And lastly, connected to the previous, I would never have known if the Residents Association hadn’t brought it up (yes, I’m slightly suspicious too, but not so much that I would do anything about it).

That is, up to yesterday, it was just a vacant house next to a pub (and, to be clear, the pub owners do own the site).

So, I don’t find myself really caring that much if the building is knocked. A friend suggested that the house’s history could be incorporated into the new hotel in some fashion. I’m not sure how, but certainly some form of plaque or notice would not be amiss.

But this all got me thinking, considering the battlefield status of these kind of places, about commemoration of this type in Ireland.

We have a pretty lousy record in that respect. Aside from the Easter Rising, and some minor memorials in places like Vinegar Hill, Kilmichael, Crossbarry and Beal na mBlath, we don’t do a stellar job of commemorating individual battles, especially the most recent ones. We’re happier with verbal commemorations in the form of verse and song, and general memorials located in Dublin. Compared to, say, the Protestant remembrance of the Boyne, it’s a little lacking. But it’s our last war that’s worst off.

I’m a Civil War scholar, and I know that commemoration of that conflict is neglected. The Battles fought in Dublin, Limerick, Cork and Kilmallock are cast aside, and one can find little mention of them in public monuments and the like. It is probably a by-product of the nature of that war, and the bitterness it created, but it has been nearly 90 years. We are rapidly approaching the centenary of those times, and it may be good to honor the fallen, of both sides, those who fought on either end of the Treaty divide.

I completed a thesis on the Battle of Kilmallock, around a half hour away from my current location, but you would never know such an important fight had taken place there.

This is in comparison to places like France, Germany, Russia, Spain and especially America, which get into brutal fights over the correct commemorations. One need only look at the recent trouble at the Spotsylvania Court House park, one of the many American Civil War memorials, where plans to build a supermarket near the site met with fierce opposition (I found it interesting that most of the support for the proposed supermarket came from local residents, who wanted the jobs, while the opposition came from everywhere else).

You don’t really see that kind of passion in Ireland. A few years ago, some got up in arms when a renovation of a building in Dublin’s Moore Street was proposed. The building was the site of the Easter Rising surrender and some objected. They succeeded in stopping the development, but today the building still lies empty, nothing more than a small plaque outside. Is that right? There seems to be no impetus for making a proper historical monument out of what was just a house the rebels retreated to, so it lies dormant and, being honest, looking like an eyesore. If no enthusiasm is there for turning it into a proper historic site, one that can be used for educational and tourism purposes, why not let others renovate it?

I think I’m rambling a little, but to sum up: It can’t be enough to just leave these places as they are. You either go the whole hog with the battlefield commemoration, or you stand aside. That vacant house down the road is just a vacant house. There is no sense of history of it, and no one is willing to pay for its creation into an historical monument. If not, it is time to let it go.

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