A different choice this week, one of a mostly political nature: Peter Greene, member of Sinn Fein and the Volunteers in Galway, who would go on, post-Irish Revolutionary Period, to become one of that city’s more notable politicians, eventually becoming Mayor from 1954 to 1960.
Greene begins his story with some brief biographical information. He was born in 1895. He was taught in various Irish institutions, and it was in one, a school run by the “Brothers of the Patrician Order” that he had his first brushes with nationalistic education, with a teacher, “Brother Ambrose” encouraging his students to never wear the “red coat” after a lesson on Brian Boru and the Battle of Clontarf.
Greene then skips ahead to 1914, when the national sentiment in him had apparently been doused to an extent. In 1914 the Irish Parliamentary Party and units of the British Army held a recruitment drive in the centre of Galway City, which Greene was present for. He was apparently moved enough by the pleas to be ready to sign up there and then, but claims to have had his mind changed by woman singing in the crowd. The woman was singing the lyrics to the tune “God Save Ireland” and Greene makes the claim that the rendition awoke memories of his school lessons and some nationalistic streak in him, which resulted in his decision to not join the British Army. It seems a little dramatic, but it is impossible to say whether Greene is being truthful or not.
After the Easter Rising, opportunities to do a bit more for the cause were more numerous. In October 1917 Green joined the newly formed local Sinn Fein branch. After hearing a lecture on the life of Pearse that was told entirely in the Irish language, Greene decided to learn Irish himself, joining the Gaelic League and “studying very hard” for six months, after which he was deemed competent enough at the language.
At this point Greene makes a fleeting reference to his joining of the Volunteers. His comments are brief and derogatory: he claims that Volunteer operations in the city were “very sloppily handled”, something that does seem to match the historical record. IRA activity in Galway City was never very high. Greene’s focus remained on learning and promulgating the Irish language, as well as aiding the political aspect of the cause through electioneering.
In that, Greene and Sinn Fein had great success, winning elections in Galway at both the national and local level in 1918. Around this time Greene also took up a keen interest in rowing, partially because the locals involved in the sport and its organisation were predominantly pro-English. At several events, Greene and other pro-Independence rowers clashed with authorities over the flying of the Union Jack and the singing of songs like “God Save The King”.
By now the War of Independence was in full swing, and Greene notes a handful of acquaintances who were killed by Crown Forces. These included Fr Michael Griffin, one of the men who had taught Greene Irish. Greene implicates William Joyce, one day to be Nazi Germany’s “Lord Haw-Haw”, as a British informer who helped to get Fr Griffin identified and killed. Joyce is well known as being an informer for British authorities in Galway at the time, so it is certainly possible.
In a general round up of Sinn Fein members and suspected IRA fighters, Green was arrested by authorities in 1920. Greene was interrogated, accused of being a Republican policeman and threatened with bodily harm, though he does not claim to have been physically tortured at this time. Later, while being marched to a different holding area, Greene claims to have beaten by “an officer in mufti” and feared he would be a victim of the “shot while trying to escape” cause of death that so many were unfortunate to suffer at the time. However, to his surprise, he was suddenly released and allowed to walk away. However, taking no chances, he spent the remainder of the war “on the run”, until the truce was called in 1921. Throughout this time Greene kept up Gaelic League meetings in different places, but things got difficult, with the local Sinn Finn building burned to the ground.
Greene ends his account by briefly discussing the lack of Volunteer activity in Galway, which Greene claimed was one of the most heavily garrisoned places in Ireland, with a substantial pro-British civilian population who were nowhere near sharing the view of Sinn Fein. In what was a major garrison town, Sinn Fein’s perceived sympathy towards Germany during World War One was a major issue that could not be tackled. Or, at least, Greene says.
The account ends there, as most do, with no mention of Greene’s activities during the Civil War or after. He would become a member of Fianna Fail, indicating some anti-Treaty sentiments, and would eventually become Mayor of Galway, as previously stated.
Greene’s account gives us a decent insight into the life of a man more involved in the political and non-military side of things in the War of Independence, in an area where military activity of any kind was severely curtailed. He played his own part in the struggle, albeit not a very famed one, but such activities – winning elections, promoting Irish culture and resisting the Crown Forces without the use of gun – were vitally important in creating the legitimacy that “the Republic” desperately needed if it was going to become any kind of viable entity.