Saturday, 17 August 2013

Killala Ghosts

It's not often a British Union Flag flies over the streets of my home town of Killala in County Mayo. But there it is in recent days, a ghostly memory of different times.

We are celebrating the events of 1798, when a French force invaded these parts to assist in the rising of the United Irishmen.

The French were led by General Humbert, a revolutionary soldier who had spent his earlier career slaughtering unrevolutionary peasants in his native country.  But hey, who's counting. He came here to help us and he's our guy.

He and his army arrived in Kilcummin, a remote enough spot some miles from the town. And yesterday our ceremonies kicked off out there, the flagship of the Irish Naval Service (paid for by the EU) moored out in the bay and a giant Sikorski helicopter of the Irish Coast Guard (run by a Canadian company) clattering overhead.

Independence was well worth the struggle.

It was a great morning. A "military re-enactor" gotten up as General Humbert landed in a small boat, his soldiers presented arms, and speeches were made.Quite a few in fact, one by a local TD, John O'Mahony. No-one here actually knows that much about the same John, he being a sort of gofer and sidekick and local point man for our real TD, Enda Kenny, who is the Taoiseach.  John last came into prominence when he wrestled with his conscience over the abortion legislation. He won, and he still has his job. Not that anyone knows what his job is. Apart from welcoming Frenchmen dressed as 18th century generals to the shores of Kilcummin. And he did it very well indeed.

Onward then to the streets of the ancient town of Killala, streets which were  occupied by British forces. Sort of. The streets were actually occupied by British military re-enactors. My camera found the beautiful one, and here she is.  The rest were mostly jovial sorts of blokes who looked like they also had a serious interest in real ale, lots of real ale.  In this they were pretty well matched with the French re-enactors marching on them from Kilcummin, those Frenchmen too a jovial sort, no strangers to the well stocked table and the convivial bar.

The forces clashed in the town.

Muskets crackled and cannons roared. 

The French troops were assisted by a motley crowd of Irish irregulars, Pike Men as we call them. Several of these I knew well as staunch supporters of the declining pub industry in these parts,  and so irregular was precisely the right word. It was all very authentic.

We won.

I did hear a call from the defeated British ranks, "we'll be back", and, though I think it was a joke, he wasn't kidding.

The British did come back in 1798. After initial successes the French and Irish forces were defeated, and British troops and their supporting militias swept back over the countryside. Think Syria. Things were especially bad right here in the town of Killala. Hundreds were killed by the militias, dozens hanged by the army. 

I know this well, being somewhat of an historian. But I also know it in a different way. Our house on the edge of the town was formerly a couple of ancient cottages. And the roadway here was one time known as The Path of The Slaughter. For the simple reason that the militias coming into the town after the collapse of 1798 came into all the cottages along and killed the inhabitants.

My children brought up here, they know this too. Not as historians, no, but as little ones complaining of ghosts. And now as adults being none too keen to visit, lest their childhood ghosts come back to haunt.

Ah sure, ghosts don't bother me. 

It's the living sometimes worry.

And  hey, I've just got an email from Ryanair, reminding me I'm off to Italy next week.

Oh well, needs must.

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