Arthur O’Donnell writes engagingly about his uncle who was shot dead by the Black and Tans in November 1920, focusing on the human side of the story, the toll taken on the family, in contrast to the public perception of the awful events of the time.
The little letter was simply written in schoolboy script – without the events that were to follow it would be just another letter from a young boy to his mother in his first term at boarding school.
It said all the things any mother would wish to hear: that he was getting on grand, eating well and saying his prayers. “Every morning at Mass, I say a round of the beads for yourself and Pap…”
The young boy in question was Alphie Rodgers and the school was Mungret College, Co. Limerick. The poignancy of that letter would reveal itself in time when other letters would be sent to that same mother, all of which would be too painful to contemplate.
Was there something in those early years that dictated the course his life would follow?
Those years were lived during turbulent times in Ireland. Alphie was born and raised in Scariff, Co. Clare – the eldest of four children born to Edward (Ned) Rodgers and his wife Nora. He grew up in a home where he was imbued with strong Christian values, enforced by a Jesuit education and influenced no doubt by events happening in the country at the time and in his own area.
This was the Ireland of the early twentieth century.
Growing up I knew little of Alphie’s short life even though he was my uncle – my mother’s brother – she rarely mentioned him. His photograph sat on our mantelpiece though not prominently displayed.
In later years searching through the family archives, I found books on the East Clare brigade, newspaper cuttings, ballads written at the time, as well as the aforementioned letters.
History deals in facts and figures, the human story getting lost, often too harrowing to be spoken of within the family. History does not highlight a mother’s pain, a family’s grief or a community’s loss.
The community will commemorate these men, laud them as heroes, songs will be written, yet at their own firesides, little is spoken – words are left unsaid, the tears privately shed.