From what I recall from Leaving Certificate History, the Irish Civil War effectively ended when Liam Lynch was gunned down by Free State soldiers in the Knockmealdown Mountains on April 10th 1923.
But quite what persuaded Fine Gael Senator Liam Twomey to re-ignite Civil War politics in his Irish Times letter of August 12th escapes me.
Could we attribute it to his ingesting too much fresh air during the Seanad recess? Could it have anything to do with the former Wexford TD hoping that the beat of a tribal drum will register with voters come the next general election?
Could it be that Dr Twomey’s broadside was delivered at a time of year which would ensure maximum publicity for his condemning the decision to invite Brian Lenihan to deliver the Michael Collins commemorative address?
If the latter was his intended objective, then bravo Dr Twomey, you’ve got your name back into the political mainstream.
But if he thinks that attacking the selection of Minister Lenihan to speak at Béal na mBláth on Sunday last will win him votes, then he’s got it badly, badly wrong.
His letter to Madam Editor began: “I do not see why a Fianna Fáil Minister like Brian Lenihan, whose predecessors murdered Michael Collins, should be making the oration at the Michael Collins commemoration in Béal na mBláth on Sunday, August 22.”
It’s been tough enough on Minister Lenihan to have inherited an economic mess that can largely be attributed to the three previous Finance Ministers, without being tagged as the successor of those who killed ‘The Big Fellow’.
In the ‘how long is a piece of string’ world of Irish politics, such Neanderthal thinking would have halted the Northern Ireland peace process in its tracks right from the get-go.
Remember too that Bertie Ahern, who returned to (Good Friday Agreement) negotiations at Stormont just hours after burying his mother, rightly deserves credit for helping bring about a peace many considered unthinkable.
Fianna Fáil has, like virtually every other party that has held power since the foundation of the State, got some things wrong, spectacularly so at times.
Said Marc Anthony in Shakespeare’s ‘Julius Caesar’: “The evil that men do lives after them, the good is oft interred with their bones.”
How these words must resonate with Messrs Ahern and, across the Irish Sea, Tony Blair, the greatest friend this county ever had in Downing Street.
Senator Twomey’s letter added: “I acknowledge the courage that Brian Lenihan has shown in dealing with his illness. As a medical doctor, I am not sure that it is appropriate for him to continue working like he is.”
Brian Lenihan is, in Fianna Fáil terms, that rarest of contemporary commodities: respected by virtually every citizen in this country, and seen as a man of immense integrity. That he has put his country first despite his illness is an act of true patriotism.
For Dr Twomey to comment on Minister Lenihan’s current health was wholly misguided and entirely inappropriate.
Should Minister Lenihan need to step down on medical advice, then he shall. Clearly he has not yet received such counsel and therefore is entitled to continue to do the job he intends to see through until the end of this Dáil term.
It’s not for Liam Twomey, a newspaper columnist or anyone else other than Brian Lenihan’s doctor to state what is best for Brian Lenihan from a medical perspective.
The question of the inheritance of Michael Collins’s political legacy has also been re-examined given Senator Twomey’s interjection.
The truth of the matter is that Michael Collins’ achievements shouldn’t be considered as the property of a single political tradition on this island.
What he did he did for Ireland, not for Sinn Féin and not for the party which was to become Fine Gael. He was a man of his time, a man who did what the circumstances of the period demanded of him, a man of action, of resolve, of immense loyalty.
To reference Collins also demands referring to Eamon De Valera, another historical figure whose die-hard opponents would have you believe never did anything right.
There’s little question that Dev didn’t distinguish himself in the post-Treaty period, yet nor was he the callow caricature depicted in Neil Jordan’s ‘Michael Collins’ – a great film, albeit one which played loose with the facts.
Bunreacht na hÉireann, electrification, keeping us out of World War II (regaining the Treaty ports) and the strong, independent stance established at United Nations level, cannot be dismissed on a whim.
But as De Valera himself famously conceded: “It’s my considered opinion that in the fullness of tune, history will record the greatness of Collins and it will be recorded at my expense.”
Concluding a well-received speech before a 3,000-strong gathering on Sunday, Brian Lenihan stated: “In meeting challenges, in seizing opportunities, the Irish people have always shown courage, determination and creativity – just as Michael Collins and his comrades and colleagues did in the campaign for independence and the establishment of our State.
“The spirit of Collins is the spirit of the nation and it must continue to inspire all of us in public life, irrespective of party or tradition.”
Has Brian Lenihan got everything right in the wake of the near-collapse of our banking system? Many will already and sternly say ‘yes’, that Anglo Irish Bank should have been left go the way of the dodo and that both main banks ought to have been fully nationalised.
Yet these remain uncertain times and it remains premature to judge Brian Lenihan’s stewardship of the national coffers.
What is certain, however, is that Senator Twomey’s comments were ill-advised, out of touch and thoroughly regrettable. The Civil War is long since over, so let’s leave it that way.