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Peadar Clancy

Easter Rising Hero, Bloody Sunday Martyr
Cormac O Comhrai and Stiofan O Comhrai
Cranny Publications


From Chapter 1: The Youth

In late November 1920 a religious service was held in the parish of Kilfiddane, West Clare, to pray for the repose of the soul of a local man who had died violently in Dublin. British forces arrived at the church hoping to arrest local IRA men. Those IRA men, also known as Volunteers, were members of the First Battalion of the West Clare Brigade. There is no doubt that the arrival of the raiding party was met with terror. The Volunteers who were present would almost certainly have been unarmed and they took to their heels at the sight of the Crown Forces. Even if they were armed, a religious service was no place for a gun battle, especially one that was unwinnable. Being an IRA man at the time meant having to be quick-witted and lucky. Two local men, Paddy Clancy and Marty Corry, were about to show those characteristics. Both were IRA men, forced by their activities to go on the run. Hearing the commotion outside, they made the decision to remain in the church. Their luck held. Family folklore recalls that in the excitement none of the Crown Forces thought of checking if the church was empty. Waiting nervously inside, both men breathed a massive sigh of relief when they heard the British leaving. Being arrested might well have meant being questioned politely by competent professionals. It could also have meant torture and death at the hands of men who had rejected normal police or military discipline. The service had been organised to pray for a relative of both men, the parish's most famous son, Peadar Clancy. He was killed, in the words of an illuminated address presented to Paddy a quarter of a century later, by 'Britain's hirelings in Dublin Castle' on Monday, 22 November 1920 at about 1 lam. That was the morning after Bloody Sunday, one of the defining days of the Irish War of Independence.

Peter, or in Irish Peadar, was born on 9 November 1888 in the townland of Carrowreagh East, Cranny which was part of the parish of Kilfiddane. He was the son of James, also a Cranny man, who had married Mary Keane before settling down at her family's farm. Known to his immediate family, and even later during the Revolution to a close friend like Michael Collins as Peter, he presumably began to use the Irish language version of his name in his teens or early twenties as he explored his heritage. That heritage would have told him that his surname, Mac Fhlannchadha, meant, 'the son of the ruddy-warrior' and that his ancestors had originally been from north Clare. The Clancys were part of the McNamara clan who were hereditary brehons (judges) to the O'Briens. This would have been a source of pride to Peadar, associating his family with the second most powerful Gaelic family in Clare (the McNamaras) and with the most famous High King of Ireland Brian Boru, from whom the O'Briens were descended.

Peadar was the youngest in a family of seven sons and six daughters. Despite the loss of three of Peadar's siblings, it was a happy, loving home whose members often expressed that love with teasing or with humour. Writing in 1912 to his brother Mike's first son, the newly arrived James, Peadar informed the infant that: 'the account from home is that you are a very good-looking young man, but without meaning to brag, I may tell you that it is a family disease.'  That atmosphere didn't stop Peadar berating Mike for not writing home more often, despite clearly being fond of him. Though he was to die childless himself, it's apparent that Peadar was a loving uncle, describing one new born niece as a queen and an angel. Clancy also had a particularly close relationship with his brother Jim's family in Cranny with whom his parents lived in old age.

The year of Clancy's birth had seen evictions in West Clare and the death of one of those evicted shortly after being ejected from her home had attracted national attention." Regardless of cases of that type, rural life was improving quickly and by the turn of the twentieth century was much more comfortable than the life Peadar's parents would have experienced growing up. Farms had been consolidated, education was increasingly available and, if not always better, at least more standardised and, generally, in more comfortable settings. The primary school in Cranny that Clancy attended, for example, was built in 1890. Economically, the development of co-operative creameries allowed the pooling of resources and a cash injection into small communities. The nearby villages of Labasheeda, Kilmihil and Tarmon all saw creameries established in the late nineteenth or early twentieth centuries. None of these creameries lasted long but they were significant local enterprises that showed a new found confidence in the capabilities of small communities.

Around the time of Clancy's birth the British Government had begun introducing land acts that transferred ownership of the land from the landed class to the peasantry. In 1870 only 3% of Irish land was owned by farmers; by 1906 this had increased to just over 29% and almost 64% by 1916. The state also invested money and expertise in poor areas along the western seaboard where the Congested District Board attempted to alleviate poverty through rural employment schemes and agricultural instruction. While remaining poor and vulnerable to economic changes, agricultural labourers became among the best housed in Europe with the building of 48,000 cottages by 1921. A census was taken every ten years. Between 1901 and 1911 James' age increased from 63 to 74, while Mary's age leaped from 54 to 70, a mathematical change presumably caused by the newly introduced Old Age pension which was available to all those aged 70 years old rather than any lack of numeracy. This reform made life more comfortable for families with aged parents like the Clancys, allowing grandparents to pay their way and spoil their grandchildren. These improvements in living conditions worried some radical nationalists who feared that the Irish would become 'contented slaves', reconciled to the idea of the Union with Great Britain. Despite the fears of the radicals, the desire for self-government and memories of land agitation and evictions remained strong and poverty was common enough to be a source of resentment against the government.

The Clancys were a typical farming family in their area. Every ten years a member of the Royal Irish Constabulary, rural Ireland's armed, effective and sporadically unpopular police force, would call to a family and ensure that their census form had been filled in correctly. The census recorded the quality of houses using a system of points allocated to various aspects of the structure, including the quality of its walls and the material used in its roof. The Clancy home was awarded six points in 1901 which was the poorest quality second class house. Fourteen of twenty three other houses in their townland in Carrowreagh East also had six points. The Clancys had four outhouses in 1901 but seven by 1911 suggesting that Peadar's brother Jim, who was farming the land, was an improver beginning to move ahead of some of his neighbours.