He just walked…. Ireland’s lost people 1850-1950: reflections on the Protestant experience. By Sylvia Turner
Ireland has been associated with the loss of its people through migration for centuries. The…
Brother Pat Guidera S.J. (born 1900, died 1992) was a familiar figure in Tullamore over a period of forty-two years from his transfer to Tullabeg College in 1948 up to its closure in 1990. Today the old college is falling to ruin. Many will recall its very good order up to the 1990s and thereafter it was used in part as a nursing home. Brother Guidera wrote a short ‘Story of my life’ in 1991 and this is an extract from that now very scarce memoir – of which there is a copy in Offaly Archives (courtesy of the Irish Jesuit Archives). The college was opened in 1818 and several volumes have been published on its history but few as intimate as that of Bro. Guidera. His memoir is interesting also for the marked distinctions in the religious orders between those fully ordained and those who were effectively providing support services in the college or convent. Brother Guidera was a carpenter cum painter and many will remember him shopping in Tullamore and carrying the large carton of cigarettes in the town for his colleagues in the college
Pat Guidera was born in Mountrath in 1900 and died in 1992. The family saw lean times in his early years in the town. Here he talks about his time with the IRA from 1919 and with the Republicans in the Civil War, 1922–23. Some Tullabeg Jesuits provided support services to the old IRA in the War of Independence, especially after the attack on Clara barracks. That was long before Bro. Guidera arrived.
Tullabeg about the time Brother Guidera was born
Bro Guidera wrote: ‘My life in the I.R.A began in 1919 and ended in 1923. For the first two of these years we were fighting the British in what is now called the Anglo-Irish War but was known as the “Black and Tan” War at the time. Then, after the 1921 Treaty which partitioned our country, the Civil War began. My father, and all the boys in our family, took the side of de Valera and continued to fight for the Republic.
The “Black and Tan” War was called after the colours of the uniforms worn by the jail-birds and bowsies recruited by the British Army and sent to Ireland to help crush the Republican Army. The I.R.A.., I should emphasise, was totally different from the two bodies who use that name today and bring it such disgrace. Neither the Provisionals nor the Officials have the people behind them. We did.
The “Tans” were a different type altogether from the regular British Army which was quite well respected in the Midlands of Ireland because it fought “by the rules”. The “Tans” simply swept into town one day and proceeded to shoot up the place. Bullets whizzed everywhere and a lot of them hit our house causing my mother to panic. They stationed themselves in the Royal Irish Constabulary Barracks which stood on the corner of the Rusion Road. When they weren’t drinking themselves stupid in the two local pubs, they’d be careering around the town in a couple of Crossley “tenders” – as the Lorries of the Auxiliaries were called.
Bro. Guidera, 1900-1992
I was recruited into the I.R.A by a friend of my father (who was himself a member) but I was never really involved in the Army’s plans or organisation. Like most of the young fellows in town, I was simply ‘conscripted’ without ever having to take the I.R.A. oath. I continued to work during the day, to avoid suspicion, but at night I’d be out in the hills – the nearby Slieve Bloom Mountains – going through the army exercises. We did a lot of marching and physical training and had to master a very severe obstacle-course that had been devised by our leaders.
There were very few rifles or revolvers going around, so we mainly practised with shotguns. Even though we wore no uniform, we thought of ourselves as an Army and obeyed orders promptly and as efficiently as possible. I still remember practising my shooting: we used white cardboard targets and I often scored a “bull’s eye”. Obviously, my previous experience aiming at porcelain insulators stood to me.
The barracks used by the “Tans” was only about three-quarters of a mile from where I lived, so I was often given the job of reporting on the movements there. If I were painting a house or a shop nearby, it made the job all the easier. I suppose you could call it spying but, as far as I’m concerned, that would be too serious a term for what I was doing. I was just keeping my eyes open.
Bro Guidera recalled in January 1993.His wonderful public church and the ‘college’ now feature in Rachel Brownlie’s Abandoned Ireland.
I suppose the most useful thing I did for “the cause” was when I was working in a Protestant country manor about twelve miles from Mountrath. This was in 1920 and the house was temporarily deserted, the owners having fled for their lives. I was supposed to be painting the study, but I was having a good look around all the same. Out of curiosity more than anything else, I opened a drawer of the desk and discovered two fairly new revolvers. The senior officers in my I.R.A. battalion were named Fitzpatrick, Deegan, Ryan and Miller. I gave one of them the story of my find and, when I went back to work the next day, I checked the desk drawer. I was not surprised to find that the guns had disappeared.
Mountrath Catholic church
Not long afterwards, the I.R.A. carried out an ambush attack and several “Tans” were killed. Nobody felt sorry for them, I’m afraid, because they had killed a lot of innocent people and had terrorised the town. They were forever carrying out “raids” on the houses of innocent victims. The worst part was that they took women and children with them in their Crossley tenders when carrying out these “raids” – supposedly to give them directions but in fact to act as hostages. They also made children act as spies.
Spying, of course, did take place on a serious level on both sides. I distinctly remember the death of one of my neighbours. I remember his name, too, but I’m not going to write it down here. He was dragged out of his house in broad daylight by some of my confreres in the IRA and left dead in the gutter right outside his own front door. A neatly printed sign was pinned to his body saying “Spy and Informer”.
During their occupation of Mountrath, the “Tan” went from bad to worse. There was only one of them that seemed to be a decent sort of a fellow. He was only there for the beer, as far as we could tell, because (when he wasn’t asleep in the corner of a bar) his life seemed to consist of one non-stop pub crawl. But he wasn’t violent.
The rest of them were violet. Even the British Army was ashamed of them. The worst incident that occurred in Mountrath was the day when a tender-full of drunken “Tans” roared into town and killed a woman dead on the Camross Road. They simply ran over her with Crossley tender. They didn’t bother to avoid her. And they didn’t bother to stop.
After the cease-fire and the Treaty in 1921, I went to work in Johnswell, which is in County Kilkenny about eight miles from the city of that name. I became attached to the local branch of the I.R.A. Some people called us the “Irregulars”. Despite my allegiance, however, I was shocked by the tragic death of Michael Collins in the Civil War.
Pat’s old I.R.A. leader, Micheal Collins, was ambushed and killed here at Bael na Blath in 1922.
The routine was the same as before: we’d go “drilling” in the hills by night and keep our eyes open by day. We were better armed in Johnswell, having rifles with bayonets. One of our duties was to guard the banks during Fair Days. Even if I was working somewhere else, I’d be called up for duty on a Fair Day.
My father, God be good to him, was a fairly prominent member of the “Irregulars” and would often be up in Dublin with de Valera. My brother, Tommy, was also very “active” at this time. He was a dispatch rider, which was a particularly dangerous occupation. He had a few hair’s-breadth escapes from the “Regulars” – and, when it was all over, he had many a tale to tell.
As for myself, during the day I was at work decorating the lovely little church in Johnswell. As night came down quickly in the winter, I often had to work by candle-light. After work, I’d go back for a bite to eat in the farm-house where I had my “digs”. Some evenings my father would come over from Mountrath for a mixture of “I.R.A business” and pleasure. The woman of the house was a member of Cumann na mBan – the women’s branch of the I.R.A. – and she’d have lots of her members come to the farm-house at night. Red-haired colleens, they were, and all of them lovely young girls.
After the meeting was over and the “Irregulars” had made their plans, my father would start the music. He was a great musician and played the concert flute for hours, often until two o’clock in the morning or even later. There were plenty of girls to dance with and we had great crack.
Things grew more serious when “our” side began to lose the Civil War. De Valera’s men were being pushed further south. I remember one Saturday night in Johnswell we were all ordered to go to confession by the local curate, Fr. Holohan, who was a very holy man. He had a tip-off that there was going to be a raid or a shoot-out in Johnswell and he wanted us all to be prepared, body and soul, in case anyone was shot in the attack. As far as I recall, we all escaped into the mountains where we knew lots of secluded places for hiding. We had tins of food hidden there, so we could hide out for a long time.
I was soon back at work in Johnswell where I had a perfect “cover”. Seen as I was working on the church for Fr. Holohan who was respected by everybody. I remember well that, as soon as I finished the job, I got a terrible toothache and went home to Mountrath to have the tooth extracted. Its funny things that stick in one’s mind.
I took a rest after that since I was glad to be at home. It was during this break that the Irish Civil War came to an end. It had been a terrible struggle. As you probably know, in very many homes brother had been fighting against brother and fathers had been fighting against their sons. Luckily, that was not the case in my own family. We were all solidly behind “Dev. It’s a pity he lost.
Dev in later life by Sean O’SullivanThe Circus at Rahan with the Corvineos family – happier times for Bro Guidera