Speech by Minister Jack Chambers TD at the annual Sean Moylan Fianna Fáil commemoration in Kiskeam, Co Cork
Published on: 05 November 2023
Is mór an onóir agus pribhléid dom a bheith anseo libh ar fad inniu agus onóir a thabhairt do shaol agus d’oidhreacht Sheáin Moylan.
Teachta Dála, Seanadóir, Aire, ceannaire míleata, fear feachtais, fear spóirt, fear céile agus athair, scríbhneoir ab ea é tráth ach go bunúsach thar aon ní eile agus é i mbarr a réime ba phoblachtánach Éireannach tiomanta agus bródúil é.
Tá mé ar an eolas faoin liosta iontach cainteoirí a labhair roimhe seo ó dhomhan na polaitíochta, an spóirt, na scoláirí agus ó go leor réimsí eile a thug an t-aitheasc seo le 66 bliain anuas.
It is a fantastic honour and privilege to join with you all today and to honour the life and legacy of Sean Moylan. A former TD, Senator, minister, military leader, campaigner, sportsman, husband and father, writer and most fundamentally of all, at his core, a proud and devoted Irish Republican.
As I stand here today, I am conscious of the impressive list of previous speakers from the world of politics, sports, academics, the media and many other fields who have given this address over the past 66 years. Taoisigh, presidents, GAA All Stars, - that’s a tough act to follow.
I appreciate this opportunity to share my own perspectives on the life of Sean Moylan, the important legacy he left behind and how the example set by his generation can continue to inspire us all still in 2023.
I would like to acknowledge my political colleagues present today____________________________
I would also like to thank my Parliamentary Party colleague Michael Moynihan for the invitation to address you.
This is not my first visit to Kiskeam and on every occasion I have been here I have been taken by the warmth, character and rich history of the village and community.
I didn’t think it would be possible the place could ever live up to the hype Michael often spoke about over the years. He is a one man tourism agency for Cork North West. But in fact, I can safely say it merits all the praise - and more.
As Michael very, very occasionally reminds me, Kiskeam took on and defeated the empire.
As is recalled in the famous book which I was presented with on my last visit here:
“That place was a republic during the whole trouble and we would never have succeeded but for the people who lived in it. They must have been the best in Ireland. They had a tremendous spirit and I haven’t heard of any place in Ireland which had a spirit comparable to the one around here.”
That was the spirit from which Sean Moylan emanated and flourished. It's also clear to me here that that spirit lives on and is on show here today - and every year you gather.
Events like this one don’t just happen. It takes time, dedication and effort from committed volunteers who believe in a common goal and a shared cause.
Everyone involved in organising this event, and everyone attending, should be very proud of the contribution you make to supporting your community and honouring your history.
You will all be very well versed in Sean’s biography – from his early formative years in the Gaelic League and the GAA; to joining the Volunteers and putting his life on the line, alongside his comrades, in the struggle for Irish independence; and his career in politics as a TD, Senator and Minister.
In my research and studying for today I looked back on previous speeches delivered here. I was struck by how Sean Moylan’s accolades and legacy inspire different responses to those who experience them.
The Cork hurling great Sean Og O’Hailpin spoke of growing up on the far side of the world being raised on stories and songs of Sean’s heroics from his father in Sydney on St Patrick’s Day.
My Fianna Fáil party colleague Lisa Chambers recognised his devotion to public service. Tomás O’Sé made the case that for Sean, pride in your country begins with pride in your community.
And Michael himself observed here last year, Sean’s commitment to community solidarity as the bedrock of our democracy.
For me, Sean demonstrated his republican values through his actions. He was a leader on the field of battle but he was also a leader in his ideals.
In my research I noted that in 1921, when he was the same age I am now, he became a TD for the first time. He achieved that significant feat while being a prisoner in Spike Island.
Overcoming adversity is a common theme which pervades Sean’s life and career. As well as his doggedness, his determination and his conviction to doing the right thing.
He was noted for his compassion and the care he took of his men ensuring escape routes after ambushes, never losing a man in battle and seeking out sympathetic aid for men under his command.
For all these reasons and more, Sean had the complete and unwavering support of his comrades as well as those who understood all he had committed to the cause of Irish freedom.
But if Sean’s legacy shows us anything, it is that the real test of strength and character comes when the chips are down.
It is easy to do the right thing when things are going well. Less so in darker times, like the ones Sean and his comrades endured for so long – on the run and away from family; sleeping rough in barns on cold nights; the pain of losing comrades in battle.
As we reflect today on the bravery those men and women showed 100 years on, as well as the bitter Civil War that followed, we think of the darkness that is cast from the long shadow of war and conflict.
Of course the Rebel county knows this better than anywhere. As part of the decade of centenaries in recent years we have commemorated events like the burning of Cork and the death of Terence MacSwiney.
For so long, it must have seemed that the darkness was never ending, that the shadow would cover our nation eternally.
And as we look at conflict around the world today, in Ukraine and Gaza particularly, it is easy to feel that same sense of hopelessness.
To fear that the light will never return.
But Ireland’s story is one of hope; a story of reconciliation; and ultimately a story of peace.
This peace was hard earned and came about because of the bravery and courage of Sean Moylan and the men and women of his generation.
A generation who resisted through every means possible; a generation who moved arms and gathered intelligence; a generation who confounded British oppression.
And then a generation who knew when it was time to pursue democratic principles in the interests of all.
Let us all hope now that today we possess that same courage and that the darkness of the long shadow is again replaced with the light of a brighter future filled with hope and possibilities.
For my part, reading about Sean’s exploits and motivation prompts me to reflect on my own republicanism.
Another Sean, former Taoiseach Lemass, who was of course a contemporary of Moylan’s, left an indelible mark on this country – and on my own sense of republicanism.
I understand Lemass is the only former Fianna Fáil Taoiseach not to address this gathering so I think it appropriate to quote him today.
Lemass said, “Patriotism, as I understand it, is a combination of love of country, pride in its history, traditions and culture, and a determination to add to its prestige and achievements”.
Lemass was forward thinking, open minded, progressive and knew the key to building a successful, independent state was through developing an Ireland which was open, enterprising and ambitious.
It’s clear to me Seán Moylan shared this view and knew better than anyone, in his role as Minister for Education, the importance of education in transforming Ireland’s fortunes and economic prosperity.
Sean was a reforming minister and placed a huge emphasis on expanding vocational education in secondary schools.
He opened 129 vocational schools in one year alone. He even offered up his own house to become such a centre for learning. In doing so he was emblematic of a generation who recognised that the actions they took would not bring immediate benefits but would bear fruit in the decades to come.
That vision is borne out by the highly skilled, highly educated workforce we have today that is the envy of the world.
Sean set the wheels in motion for the transformation that would change Ireland radically. He lay the foundations of our future prosperity for others to erect the walls and apply the paint.
Sean knew by failing to educate our children we were dooming our future generations to a lifetime of deprivation.
He saw education as the passport to opportunity.
That same desire to create a country for all with opportunities for the many not the few is ultimately what drove and inspired the cause for Irish independence a century ago.
It’s also what drove Lemass, Moylan and their generation to modernise Ireland half a century ago.
And in my view it is exactly what should drive and motivate us in the Fianna Fail party, and all in our country today in 2023.
I am very clear about this vision.
It is one where everyone has the chance to fulfil their potential and their ambition – young families looking to own their home; the student setting out on their journey of discovery; those with different abilities flourishing in our society; the displaced people from overseas settling down here; and the older generations finding fulfilment here.
A country where everyone can contribute to our national success, and where everyone’s contribution to a healthy society, safe communities and a strong economy is properly rewarded.
A country of aspiration and ambition and opportunity for all.
A country which embraces and brings forward the open, inclusive republicanism which was embodied by Lemass and Moylan and all those who fought, and who died, and who succeeded alongside them.
A country born out of ideology; shaped by the experience of overcoming conflict and oppression; and now firmly focused on delivering for all of our people.
As a Minister, as an elected representative and as a proud republican, I look back at what was achieved by Sean Moylan’s generation as the embodiment of that old phrase- A society grows great when old men plant trees in whose shade they shall never sit.
The message to all of us currently, those involved in politics and not, is of the need to continue on that legacy; to pick up the mantel that has been laid down by those who have gone before us; to do what must be done so that the next generation can benefit from the seeds that we plant today.
Go raibh mile maith agaibh go leor.