An announcement: My new book –now titled “IRELAND BECOMES ITSELF” has undergone some significant transformations in recent months. It has become “the story of Ireland’s last 100 years told through the lives of two men –The Revolutionary & The Poet, Liam Lynch and Seamus Heaney”.

by Malachi McCormick

Recent events in the news have brought both enhancement & final closure to my story that begins in the Ireland of the early 1900’s: to reflect these I will use a new title “Ireland Becomes Itself”. It is a story of Ireland’s last century told through the lives of two men –one a revolutionary and one a poet. It’s a uniquely Irish story of War & Peace, Revolution & Poetry –but now with Reconciliation & Transformation added.

General Liam Lynch (1893-1923), Chief-of-Staff of the Irish Republican Army, fought in the War of Independence (1919-21) to free Ireland from British rule. Committed to a “No Other Law” freedom & a full 32-county Irish Republic, his side’s rejection of the Anglo-Irish Treaty led to the Civil War of 1922-23. He died, aged 29, in that war –shot as he delayed the truce he knew he must make. He is buried at Kilcrumper, near Fermoy.
[Liam Lynch was my uncle. My mother, Annie (O’Neill) McCormick of Mitchelstown, Co. Cork (1906-1994) was very close to her cousin. Her memories & insights form the core of this book. Her story of Liam is being told here for the first time –without her there would have been no book.]

Ireland was partitioned (1922): the South (26 counties) became the Irish Free State. (The Anglo-Irish Treaty split the Irish forces & was the cause of the bitter Civil War. Liam Lynch opposed its signing. Because he held the casting vote in the IRA’s Military Executive, & had always voted to fight on, Liam was inevitably blamed for the bitter war. However, it is clear to me that he died with regrets: his dying words, on April 10th, 1923, were “This should never have happened”. Michael Collins –Liam’s erstwhile comrade in arms- had been shot some months before. (Both men left bethrotheds behind)
* * * * *
The dream of a full 32-county Republic lay dormant until the late-sixties Civil Rights marches in Ulster –intense but non-violent— revived it. But when 14 marchers were gunned down by the military on Bloody Sunday in Derry in 1972, Ulster became a place of violent conflict for Nationalists & Unionists for 20 years ( with some 3,600 deaths!) until the Peace Process of the 90’s.

* * * * *
The gifted Irish poet, Seamus Heaney was born (1939) near Derry into a “2nd-class” Catholic community severely suppressed by the Protestant “ascendancy”. Poetry was “a way towards something better…beyond bigotry, blame, revenge…an impulse towards transcendence”. He had early success (& a Nobel Prize later). His pacifist temperament kept him from any involvement in IRA & Brit propaganda wars –Propaganda, presumably, the antithesis of Poetry.) He fell into self-censorship & silence.
Like many others, I considered Heaney’s silence a failure. Was it not the job of The Great Poet to write The Great Poem -–The Inspiring Poem that brought resolution & reconciliation to a torn Ulster. In this he failed: he was aware of these expectations & rejected them. The 80’s brought the added anguish of Ten Dead Hunger Strikers. Heaney became “more depressed…ethically confused.” Less was heard from him; he was variously accused of elitism, of escaping into academia, of deserting his roots.

But unknown to us all, Heaney’s poetic impulse to transcendence was very much alive. He adapted (1991) the Sophocles play “Philoctetes”, adding a 33-line allegorical poem which was a clear “formula for reconciliation” in an Ulster that lay 2500 years in the future! Ulster is never mentioned! Its profound understanding of the essence of Ulster’s conflict –indeed, of all conflict– & the power of its language, made a huge impression on the group of Peacemakers forming in Ulster in the early nineties –such as John Hume, Gerry Adams, Senator George Mitchell, Mary Robinson, David Trimble, Bertie Ahern, Bill Clinton & Tony Blair.
The poem, “The Cure at Troy”, became “ the Peacemaker Text”. Many –incl. Clinton—memorized it & wd. quote lines as encouragement. Both Clinton & Adams used one line –“between Hope & History”—as title to their own autobiographies. Clinton & Heaney were to become close friends.)

The Peace Process was in full flower. The people of Ulster on all sides were exhausted by war and death. The Peacemakers came from a wide spectrum; justice & fairness were key. Lord Widgery’s 1998 exonerating report on Bloody Sunday was dismissed as “a whitewash”. Tony Blair –the new face of Britain—courageously ordered a second: the Lord Savile report came out in June 2010 & found the British soldiers’s shooting of 14 people unjustified. Prime Minister David Cameron’s extraordinary apology was greeted with jubilant applause by a mostly nationalist crowd in Derry.

The buildup of trust & confidence in the opposing sides; the appeal of reason to “better angels”; the promise of a legacy of peace & a far better life for the next generation; the obligation of responsible leadership –all exerted
powerful positive pressure. And it left the once utterly-opposed enemies [loyalist-unionist firebrand Rev. Ian Paisley (now 85) & the fierce ex-IRA nationalist Martin McGuinness] effectively no option but to try cooperating!
In fact the two men are now best friends. As elected First Minister & Deputy First Minister at Stormont they work together as Ulster’s leaders. And Paisley has even said to McGuinness “We can run this thing together!”
* * * * *
A terrible death toll –3600 in 40 years! Though each new decade did see fewer deaths: [1970-79: 60% of total]; [‘80-89: 24%]; [‘90-99: 14%]; [‘00-09: 2%]. Even the 8 in the last 5 years was less than the 10 in 2000 alone!]
* * * * *
“In a good play, everyone ends up in the right” has become something of an “article of faith” for me. “Ireland Becomes Itself” powerfully makes the point, especially the fact that erstwhile sworn-enemies Paisley & McGuinness now embrace full cooperation & friendship! Their Resolution and Reconciliation have brought Peace & Transformation to Ulster!

In 2008, Taoiseach Cowen came to Liam Lynch’s Kilcrumper grave-side to give the Memorial Day speech –after 85 years of silence (from 1923); The Taoiseach praised Liam’s heroic sacrifice & inspiring legacy.
* * * * *
This week Queen Elizabeth (invited by President Mary McAleese) laid a wreath in Dublin at a memorial for “all those who died to free Ireland”.She bowed her head in silence –to Michael Collins & Liam Lynch & all the rest.
* * * * *
[Excerpts: Reserve pre-publication copies(@ $25)
by email: Questions by email or 718.720.5976.]

A Book–Arts note to Stone Street Press customers:
A special edition of books will feature an unique “Ireland Becomes Itself” front-cover painting –at no extra charge. (The things I do for books!)


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One Response to “An announcement: My new book –now titled “IRELAND BECOMES ITSELF” has undergone some significant transformations in recent months. It has become “the story of Ireland’s last 100 years told through the lives of two men –The Revolutionary & The Poet, Liam Lynch and Seamus Heaney”.”

  1. Malachi

    Dear Frances,

    You ask an excellent question and make an excellent point with your list of “good plays”.

    When you and I write our “good play” we will start with a conflict worthy of a “good play”, with characters
    who represent –brilliantly, of course– all necessary sides of that conflict. Plot and character development will be superb, and by the end of the play our audience with understand –completely– how each character (and all the choices that they made in the course of the play) ended up. Our play will be such a “good play” that all those choices are completely understood.
    After this “true understanding” will come our “true forgiveness”. We will understand both Shylock AND Portia (by the way, I do not regard “M. of E.” as an anti-semitic play; Portia I do find more problematic.)

    In the “good play” now being acted out in Ulster, we started with two people violently opposed and hostile to each other (Paisley & McGuinness) who end up “in the right”. I’m not sure I understand completely yet how that happened, but –happen it did! The choices that the two made to get there cannot have been easy. But clearly they were always available as choices. And –in the end– clearly, they made the right choices.
    (Had they made the “wrong choices” it would only have delayed the ultimate “right choice”. More acts and more scenes, but in the end –everybody ends up in the right.

    Which may describe the (as yet) unresolved Israel-Palestinian conflict.)

    “Between hope and history” –as Seamus Heaney put it. With hope, and a vision, –and committment to it– we might have many more “good plays”.

    PS-1 By the way, did you know that Brian Friel –who is a good friend of Seamus Heaney– played a vital part in getting his friend to write the play and poem, “The Cure at Troy”, which was the key to the resolution and reconciliation in Ulster?

    PS-2 Many plays of course are “morality plays” and simply end with the good guys triumphant and the bad guys taught a lesson. But –as we say in Ireland– “The devil is not as black as he is painted” –and that will be our touchstone.

    Unless we split up because of “creative differences”. That would be a pity; our “good play” might never get finished.

    [Interested to hear your reply.]