Anyone who has researched this period is likely to have found that those who did most of the fighting tended to talk least. Of course, there were people who shot their mouths off for years, but that was possibly the only shooting many of them ever did.
Ernie O’Malley, who was one of the most active Republicans during the War of Independence and the Civil War, published On Another Man’s Wound in 1936. It was his memoir of the struggle and was arguably the best first-hand account of the War of Independence.
In the late 1940s the Bureau of Military History began collecting witness statements; some of the more militant Republicans refused to talk to the bureau, but did talk to O’Malley.
The Men Will Talk to Me is a collection of interviews that O’Malley conducted with 18 Republicans. These interviews have been available in the archives at UCD for some years, but they posed distinct problems. Almost all of the material is handwritten, and O’Malley’s handwriting can be difficult to decipher. The papers were given to the archives on condition that they would not be photocopied. Hence it is necessary to decipher the handwriting and take notes on the spot. In the age of the word processor most young people would have no experience of deciphering difficult handwriting. Hence this book is an invaluable resource for students and can be used in tandem with the witness statements given to the bureau.
O’Malley’s interviews cover both the Black and Tan period and the Civil War, whereas most of the statements given to the bureau were confined to the War of Independence. While this book does not in any sense replace the bureau statements, it does supplement them magnificently by providing additional information, especially interviews with both Andrew Cooney and his adjutant Con Casey, who were at the heart of a bitter dispute in Kerry after Cooney replaced Paddy Cahill as head of the Kerry No 1 Brigade.
With the exception of May Dálaigh, all of the interviews in The Men Will Talk to Me were with men. Four of those interviewed were elected to the Dáil — Dinny Daly, Tom McEllistrim Snr, Johnny O’Connor and John Joe Rice. O’Connor’s interview with O’Malley in September 1949 ran about twice as long as his statement given to the Bureau of Military history in 1955, just months before his death in a car crash.
Thirteen of those whose interviews are reproduced in this book refused to provide statements to the bureau. As a result the book provides a more rounded perspective on the events in Kerry.
* T Ryle Dwyer is author of Tans Terror and Troubles: Kerry’s Real Fighting Story, published by Mercier Press