North Kerry’s Civil War under spotlight in Fergal’s Wounds
BBC Special Correspondent Fergal Keane is returning to his ancestral Kerry home for the launch of a work that is being anticipated with relish by history fans.
Wounds is Keane’s deeply personal history of the War of Independence and the Civil War, with particular emphasis on the bloody way the latter played out in North Kerry. It’s being launched in Listowel in one of the highlights of Culture Night in the county - at the Listowel Arms at 7pm on Friday next, September 22.
At the heart of the book is the figure of his father Eamonn’s mother Hannah Purtill, who took up arms against the British in the War of Independence and those whom she fought alongside - including her brother Mick and their friend, Kerry footballer Con Brosnan.
Few historians of the period have been as qualified to write about the nature of war as Keane. As one of the BBC’s pre-eminent foreign correspondents he covered some of the grisliest conflicts of the late 20th Century including Rwanda and the Balkans - winning countless accolades for his insightful reporting, including the Amnesty International Press Awards in 1993 and, in 1994, Amnesty’s television award for his account of the Rwandan genocide Journey into Darkness.
Keane has also garnered massive acclaim for his work as an historian of war - rather than firsthand reporter - with his narrative of the Siege of Koshima in WW2, Road of Bones, described as ‘ The equal of [Anthony] Beevor’s Stalingrad’ by General David Richards.
Now, Keane brings his hardwon appreciation of the evil men do and the resilience of those who survive it to bear on the darkest period of modern Irish history - in a county where it raged with particular viciousness and where it might even continue to be felt (witness the second, recent defacing of the monument to Free State casualties in Knocknagoshel).
Wounds encompasses all sides of the conflicts - with another of the central characters examined that of Tobias O’Sullivan; a district inspector of the RIC and father-of-three gunned down by the IRA on January 20, 1921.
Keane offered very revealing insight into his motivation in an interview with The Sunday Independent at the weekend. “I was constantly seeing the links between the violence of the revolution and the wars I have spent my adult life reporting on...Also I kept wondering how I would have acted in 1920, the same year my grandmother became fully active in the IRA. I am sure I would probably have been swept up in the revolutionary fervour of the time,” Fergal Keane said.
His mother Maura Hassett’s grandfather Patrick Hassett was meanwhile a sergeant in the RIC and he figured large in Keane’s thoughts. “The past is complex, personal and public.”
Expect little room in the Listowel Arms as North Kerry pours in to hear the author talk about it all in person.
Brenda Woulfe will be selling copies in the Listowel Arms on the night and it will be available in her Church Street bookshop from Friday, September 22 on. It can only be hoped that the memoir will inspire the county to think deeper and harder about its divisive struggles in the interests of healing the wounds.
BBC special correspondent Fergal Keane pictured at McKenna’s Castle in Ardmore, Co Waterford, recently. Photo by Tony Gavin