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Home Journal Archives Journal 93 - October 2012 The Men Will Talk to Me - Book Review

The Men Will Talk to Me - Book Review

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Kerry Interviews of Ernie O’ Malley

Book Review

The Civil War (1922 – 23) which followed the War of Independent (1919  - 21) was a great tragedy for the country as it had an long term effect on Irish life and society for several decades afterwards by dividing  families, neighbours, and friends  and pitted former War of Independence comrades against each other. The Civil War was particularly bitter in Co, Kerry where the majority of the I.R.A. opted to side with the Republican cause and was one of short engagements, summary executions, reprisals, and  atrocities.

In the 1940s and 1950s, Ernie O’Malley, who wrote about his own experiences during the War of Independence in ‘ On Another Man’s Wound ‘, and       ’ Raids and Rallies ‘ and those of the Civil War in ‘ The Singing Flame ‘, all of which are currently available from Mercier Press, interviewed more than 450 survivors of the War of Independence, or Tan War as he called it, and the Civil War, at a time when the Bureau of Military History was engaged in similar work.   Many of those who would not speak to the Bureau of Military History interviewers, were prepared to speak to him as they considered him one of their own and in the process he collected a vast amount of information in his notebooks which were written down in his own unique style, the manner of which is explained in this remarkable book.  Very simply O’Malley’s method was to write down rapidly what interviewees said while they speaking to him in a series of notebooks and to later rewrite this material into a second series of more coherent notebooks. Occasionally he included drawings of the site of an ambush or the attack on a police barracks but in the re-writing process added his own comments in parentheses.  Examination of the notebooks reveals that he appears not to have used a consistent interview technique and opted to allow interviewees to ramble on and cover several topics, all of which he wrote down – the tone of the interviews recorded are conversational and he often wrote down the names of people and places phonetically – these are corrected in this new text. The notebooks themselves are part of the Ernie O’Malley Archives in the UCD Archives, Dublin.

This book focuses on eighteen O’ Malley interviews relating to Co. Kerry - fifteen those interviewed rejected the Anglo-Irish Peace Treaty, two reflect the view of those who accepted the Treaty terms and one who opted to remain neutral.

Each interview is reproduced in full, complete with blanks where sometimes O’Malley intended to insert further information resulting at times in sentences that  make no sense. The style of local phrasing has been included in the text which contains words and phrases no longer in current usage.

These interviews provide the reader with a graphic picture of the great difficultly that the I.R.A. in Co. Kerry faced in mounting operations during the War of Independence, the successes they had, and the various tensions that arose between local commanders and H.Q.  The recollections of the Civil War reminds the reader just how bitter and bloody this conflict was in Co. Kerry compared to other parts of Ireland.

The footnoting is excellent as it explains items and people referred to in the course of interviews and are of great assistance to the reader then knows what the interviewees are talking about and can subsequently cross-check references to these events and people in other books.

A biographic note and photograph is provided for each of the eighteen interviewees and this excellent and engrossing book concludes with a ‘ Chronology of Significant Events in Kerry (1916 – 1923).


Edited by Cormac K.H. O’Malley and Tim Horgan, pb, 350pp, Ills, ISBN 978 1 85635 952 8, published by Mercier Press.

Home Journal Archives Journal 93 - October 2012 The Men Will Talk to Me - Book Review

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