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Timothy O’Grady, Kenneth Griffith, Curious Journey. The IRA and Cumann na mBan, 1916-1923

Claire Dubois
p. 187-188
Référence(s) :

Timothy O’Grady, Kenneth Griffith, Curious Journey. The IRA and Cumann na mBan, 1916-1923 [1982], Belfast, Greenisland Press, 2022, 400 p.

Texte intégral

1The title for Curious Journey can be said to refer both to Ireland’s fight for freedom and to its own publishing journey, marked by censorship. The book received little coverage when it was first published in 1982; it also includes testimonies collected in the 1970s in the hope to make a film, which was not shown. When it was republished in 1998, the book did not get much attention in Britain or Ireland, except for a few negative comments on the foreignness of the co-authors – novelist Timothy O’Grady and late actor and documentary film-maker Kenneth Griffith. The preface of this new edition recalls the story that led to the publication of the book and sets the revolutionary period against more recent conflicts and questions, including Brexit and the decade of commemorations. This revised edition also contains photographs, supplied by the interviewees’ families for some of them, that contribute to show these veterans as men and women.

2The book is based on interviews carried out by Griffith for his film and on additional interviews by O’Grady, who also wrote the narrative that provides the structure for the book. It is a set of recollections by people who witnessed and participated in Ireland’s revolution between 1916 and 1923, providing an “oral history told by nine veterans of the tumultuous and transformative period from the Easter Rising through the Civil War” (p. 9). Griffith’s original interest centered on Michael Collins and references to him in the book show that even those who opposed the Treaty felt respect for him and lamented his killing.

3The seven men and two women – “veterans from all provinces of Ireland and all strata of society” who lived into old age – recall their struggle and talk about the complexities of post-Treaty Ireland (p. 10). Some are famous, like Máire Comerford and Tom Barry, while there are also a few lesser-known names. What they all did and witnessed lived on in their minds for the rest of their lives.

4The new subtitle, “The IRA and Cumann na mBan”, recognises women’s contribution to the struggle. The two women interviewed, Máire Comerford and Brigid Lyons Thornton, both entered republican politics through their membership to Cumann na mBan. Daughter of a Fenian, Thornton was arrested during the Rising, and though she was “shattered” by the terms of the Treaty (p. 265), she accepted Collins’s offer to act as a medical officer in the Free State army. Comerford rejected the Treaty and supported Éamon de Valera, until she broke with him after he established Fianna Fáil. In the book, she castigates the mentality that predominated in the Free State and denied that Ireland was emancipated by the Treaty.

5Many of the stories told in Curious Journey vividly echo the tragic consequences of the civil war, when old comrades were torn apart from each other. Sean Harling, another Rising veteran, acted as an aide for Collins, then for de Valera. He took the anti-Treaty side and was arrested by a former friend, now a Free Stater. David Neligan, another interviewee, was part of a police manipulation to pressure Harling into acting as a spy within the IRA on his release.

6The events told are viewed from a republican perspective and they vividly capture the twists and turns of the revolutionary days, going against mainstream silence in a post-Treaty divided Ireland. Confirming the now available witness statements and pensions files from the Bureau of Military History, the book contains fascinating material that will not be appealing to historians alone.

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Référence papier

Claire Dubois, « Timothy O’Grady, Kenneth Griffith, Curious Journey. The IRA and Cumann na mBan, 1916-1923  »Études irlandaises, 49-1 | 2024, 187-188.

Référence électronique

Claire Dubois, « Timothy O’Grady, Kenneth Griffith, Curious Journey. The IRA and Cumann na mBan, 1916-1923  »Études irlandaises [En ligne], 49-1 | 2024, mis en ligne le 28 mars 2024, consulté le 29 mai 2024. URL : ; DOI :

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Claire Dubois

Université de Lille

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