It was early morning as I came round the barn and saw Calraigh’s Ford puttering up the hill.
He’ll have news, then, I thought, and no more.
Ciaran was in the barn tending our mutual friend, as we called the hostage.
He wasn’t a bad sort, the Major. In Killylastin we’d be reared to hate the English as we would the Devil, but it’s hard to keep a heartful of spite when you see a man’s face every morning, break bread with him, play a hand of cards and even share a tint of whisky now and again.
Calraigh’s face was grim as he got out.
“The truce has failed, Sean. They hanged MacBride this morning.” He tugged his Webley pistol from its holster, handed it to me butt-foremost. “No sense in waiting.”
Reprisals were to be swift and merciless.
Still, the Major wasn’t a bad sort. I hoped he’d still be asleep.
On Easter Monday, April 24, 1916, a group of Irish nationalists proclaimed the establishment of the Irish Republic and, along with some 1,600 followers, staged a rebellion against the British government in Ireland. The rebels seized prominent buildings in Dublin and clashed with British troops. Within a week, the insurrection had been suppressed and more than 2,000 people were dead or injured.
Both the British Army and the Irish nationalists made a practice of taking prisoners hostage, often executing them when peace talks failed. “An eye for an eye” was the usual refrain in such cases.
The great Irish writer Frank O’Connor brilliantly addresses this subject in his famous short story Guests of the Nation, the inspiration for this piece.