An Tánaiste, Micheál Martin TD - Centenary Commemoration of the Executions of James Parle, John Creane and Patrick Hogan
Published on: 12 March 2023
Céad bliain i ndiaidh an Chogaidh Chathartha is den bhfíorthábhacht é go leanfaimid orainn ag comóradh na mblianta corraitheacha uafásacha sin i saol ár dtíre.
Is den riachtanas é am a thógáil chun éisteacht le focail na rannpháirtithe sa chogadh tragóideach seo.
Is pointe tábhachtach é nár theastaigh uathu agus bhí siad diongbháilte nach leanfadh an choimhlint ar aghaidh go glúinte nua.
Inniu i Loch Garman, táimid uilig bailithe in ómós agus i gcuimhne ar thriúr fear óg a cuireadh chun báis i mí dheireanach an Chogaidh Chathartha. Bhí agus tá fós a gcrógacht, a misneach agus a bhfocail dheireanacha mar theist agus mar chomhartha ómóis orthu.
Bhí siad freisin mar achasán agus cúis mhíshásta leis an bpolasaí uafásach a bhí freagrach as iad a chur chun báis. Cuimhneoimid ar na laochra seo inniu.
As a country we have many things to celebrate and many great moments in our history to remember with deep pride. However, to only remember the times of unity and heroic achievement is to distort history – to miss the complexity which is the reality of our past.
In recent years I have been honoured to visit Wexford and the South East on many occasions. It has been a privilege to join with you in celebrating the centenary of events which were central to the remarkable achievements of our revolution and a unique generation of men and women.
Just as we have come together to mark the high points of those times, it is right that we come together today to remember James Parle, John Creane and Patrick Hogan, three young men so cruelly and pointlessly executed in the dying days of the civil war.
When we remember them and those years we should take the time to acknowledge that the events here were also being seen internationally. There are times when we make the mistake of seeing Irish society and our movement for independence as being very traditional. In fact, the reality was quite the opposite. While inspired by the past, our revolutionaries, just like those found in many other countries, wanted to build modern societies and show how even small countries could prosper if given control of their own destinies.
Those were days of rising national sentiment and challenges to old empires. Cultural revivals and new national organisations emerged at a rapid pace – inspiring a new generation to dream of a different future.
James Parle of Taghmon was a wonderful example of this. He participated with great enthusiasm and good nature in Gaelic sport and culture, something which led him naturally to join in the struggle for independence. And the achievements of him and his colleagues inspire us to this day.
The years immediately after the First World War saw the greatest period of state formation in European history. But Ireland was unique because we were the only new state which secured independence from a country which was on the victorious side of the War – an Empire which dominated many parts of the globe.
However, a near universal outcome of independence for new states was civil conflict and this was something we were unable to avoid.
When you look at the details of those times, there is no way of missing the fact that our civil war was fundamentally caused by the fact that the departing power demanded the right to retain some elements of control on the new state. This was seen in the insistence on measures in the Treaty which it was known would cause division and in the constant pressure placed on the new government to be aggressive against opponents.
I believe we have a duty to respect the good faith of those who had served as comrades but disagreed fundamentally over limits placed on the new state.
It is a tragedy that the leaders were not allowed the freedom to find accommodations which would have avoided the conflict.
And it is also a deep tragedy, and the source of nearly all of the worst events of the civil war, that once the military outcome of the civil war had become clear the voices with the most power called for escalation rather than conciliation.
James Parle, his fellow Taghmon-man John Creane and Wexford’s Patrick Hogan were deeply-committed to the idea of an Ireland free to control its own future. The civil war was something they, and so many, deeply regretted but ttheir commitment to republican ideals was sincere and without rancour towards others.
On a cold, wet Thursday, February 15th 1923, the three young men and their colleagues were seeking much needed rest in barn in Horetown when Free State troops burst in and arrested them all.
There had been many incidents in Wexford during the previous half year but March would go on to be the bloodiest single month of the conflict.
When they were arrested they must have thought that they faced the same fate as thousands of other republicans, which was indefinite internment. It was this policy which had actually been key to breaking the core strength of the republican forces.
However, they were not to know that in January a special meeting of the government had enacted a new policy which meant that military executions were to be spread throughout the country.
The executions had been underway for only a few months and had caused deep outrage even amongst many supporters of the government. They marked a move to a frankly lawless period of escalating severity which stood at the core of much of the later resistance and bitterness.
In looking at the 81 military executions as well as the killings which didn’t even have the sanction of going through a military tribunal, you don’t have to use the values of today to find them wrong. Everywhere in the debates of the time, including amongst Treaty-supporting TDs in Dáil Éireann, you find desperate appeals for the policy to stop because of the principles it was destroying and the divisions it was deepening. The fact that an indemnity law was later passed and many records were destroyed showed that even the government itself could not defend much of what happened.
There had been no military executions in Wexford but this was about to change.
At the start of March the men arrested at Horetown were brought to Wexford where they were convicted in a military tribunal presided over by a senior officer sent from Dublin for the purpose.
It was late on March 12th, nearly four weeks after their arrest that the three men heard that they had been singled out for execution and were led away to make their final arrangements.
It is when you read what they wrote and said in their final hours that you see both their exceptional characters of these men and the message which they wanted us to remember.
John Creane was only 18. A shop assistant, he had two brothers who were a civic guard and a member of the Free State army. In spite of his youth and the emotions of the moment, John Creane wrote to his parents, as his last wish, a call for for forgiveness.
“I trust that you will bear no ill-will to anyone connected with my arrest, as I freely forgive them all.”
Patrick Hogan was just twenty two. Son of farrier and already training in his father’s profession, Patrick left us a message of enormous generosity, writing to his parents:
“Forgive the men who are carrying out this, because they think they are right; so my last prayer is that you forgive them, as I have done”
James Parle had the benefit of a few more years and was a big character who knew how much he had to live for. But his final moments were not consumed with bitterness, but an urgent hope that his death would not cause the death of others. Father Patrick Walsh afterwards recorded that James had implored him:
“will you advise Bob Lambert and his boys to do nothing rash by way of reprisals.”
There is a nobility and a humanity in these words which we should do more to reflect upon. Just like so many of those who did survive the civil war, their wish was to avoid a never-ending cycle of violence. I never cease to be inspired by the fact that the overwhelming majority of those who participated in the civil war committed themselves to making sure that the days of violence would end. They are the men and women who built our country – a country which has many challenges but has overcome many more in the past century.
Tuesday March 13th 1923 was a clear, early-Spring day. At 8 in the morning these three proud sons of Wexford and of Ireland were led out in front of a firing squad.
There was shock and dismay in the community when the news was spread. The Transport and General Workers’ Union and others immediately passed resolutions attacking the executions and calling for their end.
The civil war would finally drift to an end in the following weeks, with acts such as this playing no significant role in making this happen.
Wexford was left with the memory of three young, idealistic men whose lives were taken so cruelly and senselessly.
Three men who could have played such a positive role in building a new Ireland.
Three patriots who left us a powerful message of forgiveness.
It is right we gather today, a century after their deaths to honour and remember the short but inspiring lives of James Parle, John Creane and Patrick Hogan.
Ar Dheis Dé go raibh a n-anamacha dílse