I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

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After The Glory

Padraig Yeates
Heroes or Traitors: Experiences of Southern Irish soldiers returning from the Great War, 1919-1939, by Paul Taylor. Liverpool University Press. 273 pp, £75, ISBN: 978-1781381618 Taylor answers the question posed in the title to his book at the end by saying the 200,000 Irishmen who served in the Great War were neither heroes nor traitors. It is a great pity that the exorbitant price will prevent it reaching the wide readership it deserves. He also poses important questions about the role historians and journalists can play in creating a false public consciousness, even a guilt complex, about the past. The conjunction of work around the neglected subject of Irish ex-servicemen in the 1990s with the peace process has seen veterans of the First World War depicted as “forgotten victims” of the IRA by Eoghan Harris, described as “almost non-persons in many rural Irish communities living in a condition of semi-boycott and often in one of permanent fear” by Kevin Myers, forming “a marginalised and unwelcome group in Irish Society” by Jane Leonard and classified as “types” by the late Peter Hart, killed for what they were rather than what they did. Even the then president of Ireland, Mary McAleese, speaking at the Peace Park in Messines, described the fate of ex-soldiers as “doubly tragic. They fell victim to a war against oppression in Europe. They fell victim to a war for independence in Ireland.” I must confess I was perplexed by such assessments, growing up as I did in a family with long links to the British army who had never heard of, let alone suffered from such experiences. We were neither Protestant nor loyalist, and had no affinity with the British Legion, let alone the Crown. I took much of what I was told for granted on the basis that maybe they did things differently down the country. Now I find that Taylor’s findings conform with my memories and family lore far better than those of any of the above commentators. Nor is Taylor drawn from the rival pool of “republican” historians. Rather he came to historical research from a career in business and only developed a personal interest in the fate of Irish ex-servicemen after discovering that his maternal grandfather had been an Irish soldier in the war. He concentrates on the twenty-six counties that would be incorporated into the new Irish Free State and begins by looking at…

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