If Pointless (BBC TV., most evenings) ever had a round picking the most obscure of the ten commandments, it wouldn’t be number six: Thou Shalt Not Kill – the least loquacious of the set, with nothing in the way of wriggle room for biblical revisionists. Yet we live that commandment as if we interpret it as: Thou Shall Not Strike the First Blow.
No less a mind than Tolstoy’s asked where do you turn when your suffering has no other outlet but to violence? And recent history has taught us that nice people do dreadful things for political reasons and often return to being nice people afterwards as unmarked survivors… or do they? This is the gist of our group’s January book: Wounds by Fergal Keane (2017). The author is that nice man, the BBC correspondent, often reporting from the scenes of war atrocities and here, in this not-quite-a-history book more a retro-memoire, focussing on north Kerry in the years of rebellion and civil war mostly in and around the town of Listowel where his family was and he feels close ties.
His family, both close and extended, with a background of clattering skeletons, was riven by the ‘tribalism’ of nationalist versus republican which led to the civil war after the British withdrew from south of the new border. After Keane’s preamble on the injustices and repression leading up to 1916 insurrection and the great ‘what if’ (had the British not executed the GPO combatants) he gets down to detailing the local characters caught up in the horrors of 1920-22. But the big names are here too… Collins and De Valera… who thought decently, that to kill your neighbour in the name of nationhood, well -was not ideal – but it’s for a great ideal.
I picked up this uncomfortable book knowing Keane to be a good human being. I finished it feeling no happier. Dev came out on tops and all the blood-letting was for what? A question we still ask. And Dev would be Taoiseach and sign the sympathy book in the German Embassy, Dublin, May 1945, when the world knew of the camps by then and other neutral countries declined to do so.
The next meeting for the Book club is on Tuesday 6th of March at 8.00 p.m. in the Rectory, when we will discuss: The Greenmantle by John Buchan.