Recently discovered letters show that Tom Barry, the IRA guerrilla leader in the War of Independence, candidly declined to appear at the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising, due to him having fought for the British Army at the time.
Another letter, also dating from 1966, from former government minister Fionan Lynch, recalls how Sean Hurley from Drinagh in West Cork died at his side during the fighting on the rebel side in 1916.
Hurley was the only Corkman to die for the rebels during the fighting in the GPO in the Rising and the correspondence is from the 1966 commemoration of his death in Drinagh.
The letters and other documents were found in the past six months by Colm Quirke, a Clonakilty-based GP whose father, WJ Quirke, was chairman of the memorial committee in 1966.
That year, the Sean Hurley Commemoration took place in the town on May 1, and the 100th anniversary will be marked this coming Sunday, exactly 50 years later.
In the letter to WJ Quirke in 1966, Tom Barry thanks the committee for inviting him to the Hurley event but quickly points out that he had already turned down more than 30 invitations to other Rising jubilee events.
“Because of my being in a foreign battlefield long before and during the Rising, I decided it would be inappropriate for me to take any prominent part in the ceremonies just being concluded,” he said in the handwritten letter sent from his home on Cork’s Patrick’s St.
“Accordingly, as early as last November, I refused invitations to deliver the oration at London, Navan, and elsewhere. I am not apologising, of course, for where I was, but there it is.”
In his letter to the committee in Drinagh, Lynch said he regretted his “very poor state of health” prevented him from attending.
“I should have considered it a great honour to have done so, for, as you know, he fought with me during the whole week of the Rising, and was killed by my side when we were making our last stand in Church Street before falling back to the Four Courts,” Lynch wrote.
Following the events of Easter 1916, Lynch went on to become a prominent member of the first government of the Free State, secretary to Erskine Childers in the 1921 negotiations, and a minister for education and for fisheries, among other posts, as well as deputy leader of Fine Gael and a judge.
He died shortly after writing the letter to the committee in Drinagh.
Dr Quirke said that he discovered the material while he was going through old papers belonging to his father and had made them available to the committee organising this year’s event in Hurley’s hometown of Drinagh.
The town will host a series of events this weekend, including a discussion in Drinagh Parish Hall chaired by RTÉ broadcaster Jacqui Hurley, Sean Hurley’s great grand-niece, tomorrow, a slideshow of video and photographic images in the same venue tonight, and a Mass at the sacred Heart Church on Sunday, followed by a commemorative address and a laying of wreaths, with military honours.
Other events for the Seán Ó Muirthile Commemoration Weekend, beginning tonight in Drinagh, are at www.seanhurley1916.com.
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