On Saturday, March 5, in the grounds of Dungarvan Castle, a special event took place to mark the centennial withdrawal of British forces from the garrison and its subsequent handover to the local IRA, ending an 800-year British presence in the County Waterford town.
According to a report in the Waterford News and Star, the event brought together local historians and authors, descendants and family members of local IRA Volunteers involved in the transition, along with political and community representatives.
The signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty on December 6, 1921 kickstarted a 12-month transition period which would see Britain gradually relinquish control of 26 counties in Ireland.
Although the British would retain sovereignty over three ports, the Treaty recognised the right of the Provisional Government to establish a separate military force which would be responsible for the defence of the state.
Following the formation of the Provisional Government on January 14, 1922, the process of British military withdrawal formally began, and British barracks began falling into the hands of the IRA, both pro- and anti-treaty factions.
Originally the plan was to have the evacuation completed by Easter, however encouraged by the pro-Treaty Provisional Government, the process was stalled with the outbreak of the Civil War on 28 June.
Indeed, the remaining troops were placed on a “…watching brief to assert Imperial authority should the need arise” and British eighteen-pounder guns were used by the Free State forces to shell IRA positions in Dublin’s Four Courts.
By the close of the year, it was clear that the Free State forces would prevail in the conflict, and the military withdrawal was completed on schedule, with the last British troops leaving Ireland in December 1922.
Nine months prior to this, on Saturday, March 4, Crown forces departed Dungarvan and West Waterford.
Local author and historian Edmund Keohan described an almost carnival atmosphere as onlookers stood in the doorways of shops and houses and watched the spectacle of the British trooped out of Dungarvan Castle, to be replaced a few hours later, by members of the local IRA who drove into the courtyard in three motor cars and took possession of the Castle (pictured).
There was a minimum of ceremony, although the tricolour was raised over the ramparts, symbolising “the change that had taken place, that the rule of which the people had so long complained was at an end, and that the affairs of the country were now in the hands of their own representatives”.
One hundred years on, the goals of Irish freedom and unity were again the main topic of the commemoration, held on Saturday last, March 5.
The keynote address was delivered by former Sinn Fein press officer Danny Morrison.
He spoke of his honour in being invited to “an occasion which marks an important part in our history. And I am especially honoured to be in the company of the relatives of those IRA volunteers who a century ago made so many sacrifices in a gallant effort to see our country rid of British rule, only to have their efforts subverted by a combination of factors and the continuation of tragedy.”
Morrison told the large gathering inside the castle yard: “We came through a bitter conflict because the establishment of the Free State and the partition of our country 100 years ago solved nothing and only bequeathed conflict to a future generation.
“There have been momentous changes in the South and in the North. But still, we have a situation where the two main unionist parties – almost a quarter of a century after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement – refuse to say if they will accept the outcome of May’s Assembly elections, if they will accept a nationalist or a republican as First Minister.”
Morrison said such a stance echoed “the old supremacist mindset, and that it is a product of the original sin by the British of not accepting the democratic wishes of the Irish people in the 1918 general election. Fair arrangements could have been made so that unionists would have found the new Ireland back then one that they could live with and prosper in. What’s more, such arrangements can and will be made as part of the process of re-unification.”
He also called on Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael “to ceasefire, to stop the war of words, the hostility, and the almost civil war-like rhetoric that they constantly fling at Irish republicans when there are exchanges over contested social and economic policies. If the demonising is meant to isolate republicans, it is not working”.
Mr Morrison continued: “I appeal to those in the establishment to recognise as equals whom the nationalist community of the North – so long abandoned by the Republic of Ireland – has chosen as its representatives. Recognise that they have the same right to lead or serve in a government in the South, as they have to the position of First Minister in the North. Casting up IRA actions whilst ignoring the crimes against the Irish people by the British government, including its bombings in the South, only exposes you to the charge of selective amnesia.
“Casting up IRA actions, long after that conflict has been over, while honouring the IRA of the Tan War, and honouring Michael Collins, who was no pacifist, only opens you to the charge of hypocrisy and double standards. Worse, I believe, it is insulting to the dead.”
In his closing remarks, Morrison stated: “That empire is gone. We have a path of peace and a path to unity and to reconciliation. Let us take it.”
As the event drew to a conclusion, members of the 26 County military raised the Irish Tricolour in the castle yard, which was followed by the playing of Amhrán na bhFiann.