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"And the hunter home from the hill"

July 5, 2017

The Irish government was fearful when the Spanish Civil War ended in 1939. That surprised me. I thought they would have been glad to see the end of a war that cost over 500,000 lives. Mind you, they had finished their own civil war only sixteen years earlier.


The authorities knew how difficult it was to heal divisions and how easy it would be to trigger off another rebellion at home.


Returning soldiers were dangerous - trained fighters and battle hardened veterans were coming home from Spain ready to be recruited to a worthy cause.


They had seen a new world outside the Ireland where they had grown up. Being a volunteer fighter changes your expectations of life.


The politicians knew these fighters could never fit back in to the old ways.


The picture of Ireland is more complicated when you consider the position of the Roman Catholic Church. It reinforced its own position at the centre of Irish life by bolstering the stability of the State.


Russian inspired communism was sweeping across Europe In 1939. It looked like fascism was the only ideology and political structure to resist it.


The Irish government welcomed neither communism nor fascism. Where did the Church stand?


In the social, religious and political mix of Ireland in the 1930s, which way was any reasonable person supposed to go?


I wrote Snuff O’Brien’s Private War partly to explore what it was like for a soldier returning from Spain. Snuff had seen too much violence in his years fighting abroad. He wanted peace.


He came home to a country that was still in its own journey to statehood and stability.


Where would someone like him fit into the volatile mix that was Ireland in 1939?

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