|Michael O'Brien in the uniform of the Irish Free State army, about 1923|
Now I need to say that this coat turning business is something that Eileen and I disagree on. Mickey is held to have supported the wrong side in the 1922-23 civil war. The pro-treaty government side that is. But to my way of thinking Mickey’s conduct was perfectly consistent. During the War of Independence he gave his allegiance to Dáil Éireann and after the 1921 Treaty he continued to give his allegiance to Dáil Éireann. It seems to me that it was O’Connor and de Valera and their followers who turned their coats. They disregarded the Dáil vote to accept the Treaty, and started the Civil War. But within Eileen’s family that’s never been a popular view.
|18th August 1922: one of the Crossley Tenders in the convoy|
Of course his claim to have been at BealnaBlath on 18th August may not have been a claim to have been on duty in the actual convoy that conveyed Michael Collins. Doubtless troops would have been despatched urgently from Macroom as soon as the report came in. Suppose Mickey was amongst these, that would still count as being at BealnaBlath on 18th August. Or indeed the whole thing could just be a colourful tale he made up. BealnaBlath is in Co Cork about 80 miles from here.
Mickey had huge charm. Eileen remembers him from when she was five. After falling into a clump of nettles she had to have iodine, and fled from anyone who threatened to apply the dreadful stuff. But when Uncle Mickey called her she ran to him even though she knew he would hold her down while the purple stinging liquid was dabbed on her nettle burns. I'm sorry I never met him. Eileen says he would “light up a room”.
Mickey’s descendants have only sketchy details of his participation in the War of Independence and the Civil War.
|Black & Tan Medal (no bar)|
If Mickey applied for a War of Independence pension (which Patrick says he likely did, and was rejected) and a Free State Army pension, files will exist. All medal and pension applications are being processed to be available to the public in 2016, an event eagerly awaited by historians and family researchers. The date has been selected to mark the centenary of the 1916 Rising.
The old cliché
Uncle Mickey’s story illustrates the old cliché about the Civil War pitching brother against brother. But Eileen says there was remarkably little animosity within the family arising from these events. Nobody spoke of them and it was years later that she first heard the stories I've related here.
Mickey’s son John (Eileen’s cousin) has some memories worth sharing. Chief amongst these, that his father was a devoted follower of Michael Collins and from time to time would literally cry about his being assassinated. This would turn into a tirade against Dev (de Valera), whom he held to be responsible, fervently praying that he should be shot.
John adds: “As kids we took no notice, knowing nothing of these matters, regarding all his mutterings as little short of rubbish. Anyway my mother had a very curt and common sense way of dismissing such things as totally irrelevant and a complete waste of time.”
Mickey’s occasional outbursts aside, John never at any time while he was growing up heard the civil war mentioned, or opinions being expressed anywhere, inside or outside of the home. Nor was it touched on at any school he attended. No more than if it had never occurred. He supposes that in the 1940’s everyone was too close to the events for dispassionate views to be expressed: not history yet, but rather a subject to steer clear of as memories could still be explosive. It was as if the entire nation was in denial, he says. Moreover Hitler and the world war seemed to tie up people’s thoughts in other directions.
John adds that when he was young, relations with his uncle Jonty were always most cordial “so fortunately the incident in the borheen was passed over with no lasting ill effects.”