A Chathaoirligh, Muintir Clann de Barra, a Chomhairleoiri agus a dhaoine uaisle go leir, is onoir domsa bheith libh um thrathona agus muid ag ceiliuradh agus ag smaoineamh ar saol eagsul, stairiul, Donnacha De Barra.
Ba mhaith liom traoslu leis an foireann cuimhneachain ar son na hoibre ata deanta acu chun an comoradh seo a chur cun cinn thar na blianta agus ta me an bhuioch dibh go leir faoin cuireadh a thug sibh domsa an Oraid a thabhairt inniu.
Chairman, members of the de Barra family, Councillors and friends, it is a singular honour and privilege for me to be asked to speak here in Riverstick at this year’s Donnacha de Barra Commemoration.
I am very grateful to those of you who have kept this annual commemoration on the calendar of key republican events and I thank you sincerely for allowing me this opportunity of addressing you here today.
I belong to a generation that was not conceived when Donnacha de Barra and his contemporaries planned and executed what was to be the fight for freedom of our nation.
No one present today would have known him personally or could claim first-hand information about what motivated him, what inspired him and what led him to make the ultimate sacrifice for his beliefs –the belief that Ireland was entitled, in the words of Emmett, to take its place among the nations of the earth.
All the more remarkable then that we should be assembled here today in his memory, ninety years after his death.
And as we anticipate the 100th Anniversary of the Easter Rising, how important it is, on reflection, that the memory of such a remarkable Irish patriot has been kept alive here in the heart of Rebel Cork all these years.
Donnacha de Barra was a man in tune with his times, a man of deep principle, a man of great courage.
Like many of his contemporaries, he was drawn to the cause of Irish freedom through his involvement in things Gaelic – the Gaelic League and the Gaelic Athletic Association.
As a Kerryman, I cannot claim to know too much about our nation’s greatest sport, but de Barras achievement on the hurling field is well known.
It was on the sporting field with Cork or Glen Rovers and Lees that he was moulded into the fearless patriot he became just as many in my own county were inducted into national service through their passion for our other great national game.
De Barra’s generation were presented with a very bleak political choice as Irish Nationalists.
The door to constitutional reform had been slammed in their faces by the failure of British politicians to allow even the most diluted form of Home Rule.
The men and women of 1916 took a stand against what was then the most powerful empire in the world and, although their rebellion ended in military defeat, their selflessness and idealism inspired de Barra, and his great comrades such as McSweeney and MacCurtain, to take up the challenge in a way that was to make Cork a by word for rebellion, courage and leadership.
The overwhelming cry for national independence, as evidenced by the huge Sinn Féin majority in the 1918 General Election was met with repression and coercion.
Normal constitutional politics had no traction despite the clear mandate of the 1st and 2nd Dáils and the only option, and it was a legitimate option, despite what the revisionist historians might argue, was to resort to physical resistance.
And that was no easy option. De Barra and his comrades in the Cork No 1 Brigade were on a hiding to nothing. The might of the Empire, the military, and later on the Black and Tans and Auxiliaries were out to smash them. That they failed to do so is the reason we are here today just as others are gathered in Kilmichael as we speak and others again were in Kiskeam last Sunday.
My Party Leader, Micheál Martin, addressed you here just a year or two ago and on that occasion he told a good story to do with the visit to Ireland of President John F Kennedy, whose tragic passing we remember particularly at this time, 50 years on.
As he passed through Cork city, accompanied by Eamon De Valera, he spotted a banner in the crowd which read,
‘’ JFK and Dev/ For Boston and New York
But the boys who beat the Black and Tans
Were the boys from the County Cork’’.
In case you might think that I am buttering you up as a Kerryman, I should state that my mother was a proud Kanturk woman whose family, the Buckleys were all involved in Seán Moylan’s struggle in North Cork.
I would also like to tell you that in my research for this oration, I was able to confirm that two granduncles of mine, Stephen and Dick Barrett from Listowel, were on the same hunger strike as de Barra, also in Kildare but in the Curragh – De Barra died in Hare Internment Camp in Newbridge – they fasted for 23 days each before the hunger strike was called off after the deaths of de Barra and other leading hunger strikers.
They were invalids all their lives and never recovered from their ordeal.
For, a chairde, hunger strike is not an easy option. It’s not an easy death.
De Barra and his comrade McSweeney carried their cross for Ireland and we are right to remember them and to reflect on their sacrifice here today.
The Anglo Irish Treaty, signed in London in December 1921, fractured the tremendous unity that had been so vital during the war of Independence. It was a black time in Ireland, as erstwhile loyal friends and comrades fell out and went to war against each other.
The protagonists on either side believed passionately in the validity of their argument. British policy succeeded in splitting the Republic and left us with a legacy of division which, thank God, is now consigned to history.
Donnacha de Barra, along with the founder members of my party, Fianna Fáil, stood by the Republic. The Legion of the Rearguard continued the struggle in arms as long as they could and within a short number of years, their espousal of the constitutional route was vindicated when De Valera, Lemass, Aiken, Moylan and all those other great men were in government where they speedily set about dismantling the treaty and building a new republic.
Donnacha de Barra did not live to see that day. Neither did Cathal Brugha or Erskine Childers or Liam Mellows or Liam Lynch.
And there is a great sadness in that as there is in the deaths of other great patriots on the other side, men such as Arthur Griffith and Michael Collins.
It really was a terrible time. Austin Clarke’s great poem, ‘The Lost Heifer’ is an allegory for the sadness of the Civil War. The heifer, Ireland, is lost in the ‘gap of the pure cold wind’ in a place that ‘ no hive can find.’
But the poem ends on a happier note –
‘Brightness was drenching through the branches
When she wandered again,
Turning the silver out of dark grasses
Where the skylark had lain.’
Clarke looked through the clouds of doom and saw better days ahead when Ireland would return from the horrors of civil strife to a time when things would be better.
And so we did and for many decades Ireland, or at least the 26 free counties, has been a shining example of what a living republic means where all are equal and every child is entitled to every opportunity.
My party, in government for most of those exciting times, did more than anyone else to develop a vibrant economy, a strong industrial base, an ever expanding farm output, while constantly ensuring that the old, the sick and the needy were cared for and looked after.
That is why we were returned to Government time after time. And that is why we will be again, under the leadership of Micheál Martin who has managed to renew Fianna Fáil under the most difficult circumstances.
We are in the final days of the IMF bail out. Our people have had to sacrifice a lot over the past five years. No one has been immune except, perhaps, some of the greedy individuals who were the primary cause of our domestic implosion. Our young people have emigrated in droves and people are fighting hard to retain their very homes.
The global downturn and the international bank crisis was something that no small independent nation like Ireland could have been immune from or escaped.
Mistakes were made certainly, but it is only now, I believe, that the courage and vision of Brian Cowen and the late Brian Lenihan is being vindicated.
Because, despite all the odium and calumny that was heaped upon them by the then Opposition, it is quite clear that Lenihan’s blue print for economic stability and eventual recovery is the very same blueprint that Michael Noonan has adopted, letter by letter, and it is the only possible plan today just as it was back in 2011.
Many of you will have read, I’m sure, Victoria Whites excellent article in last week’s Irish Examiner and if you have not, I strongly recommend it to you. There you will find the truth about the bail out and there you will read, and I quote, – ‘there is one thing sure, if we get to Dec 15 and successfully exit the bailout, we have learned absolutely nothing if we pretend it wasn’t the courage of Brian Lenihan who charted our course.’
In conclusion, a chairde uilig, our problems today are many and difficult but they pale into insignificance against the ordeals suffered by our patriot dead, from Tone and Emmet to Pearse and O’Donovan Rossa.
We are a resilient people and we have never given up the good fight.
And, yes, we will pick ourselves up just as we picked ourselves up in 1923, and, yes, we will continue to be inspired by the example and sacrifice of Donnacha de Barra and his comrades, for if we do, Ireland will surely rise again to the bright new day they fought and died for.
Go raibh míle maith agaibh go leir.