ISBN: 094796231x c1936
This book is an attempt to show the background of the struggle from 1916 to 1921 between an Empire and an unarmed people.
The title of this book is taken from an old Ulster proverb It is easy to sleep on another man’s wound, and it details his life as an IRA soldier during the War of Independence between 1916 and 1921. He was a student in Dublin at the time of the 1916 Rising, and initially had no real feelings for the rebels. But as time passed he became more caught up in the Irish nationalist movement. He joined the Volunteers, later organised other companies, was taken prisoner, and eventually was appointed commander of the Second Southen, the 2nd largest division of the IRA.
This is a fascinating account of the war, showing how people from all backgrounds ended up on the same side. O’Malley’s family were supporters of Britain, like many other Dublin families they had a member in the British army; Ernie’s brother was an officer. A fact which helped him gain arms and ammunition for the Volunteers on occasion. It also shows the viciousness that is such a part of trying to put down an uprising, or insurrection. While he captured O’Malley used an assumed name, Bernard Stewart, but this didn’t save him from rough treatment and beatings. But at the same time he tells how many of the British officers were polite and fair to him. And he never shirks from telling about the violent acts he committed, such as the shooting dead of captured British officers.
“It’s a rotten job, this,” said a man with a Scotch accent. “But what can we do? I was out of work.” There was a difference in their tone of voice ; they dropped the official soldier manner. I had a glimpse of men who did not believe in what they were doing , but who would carry out their work thoroughly.
But this isn’t just an account of bloodshed and violence. As he travelled the countryside O’Malley came to appreciate the countryside, and he sets it all down in this book.
Trees thrusting upwards with added power, or bulking sideways ; they were arrogant at night, they filled the mind and they ruled the dark.
The style of writing is quite conversational. Almost as though O’Malley were telling the story out loud. And while this helps create a sense of atmosphere, it does on occasion jump in narrative and you have to stop and figure out exactly what happened. But for the most part this is a wonderfully well written account that offers a glimpse into a different mindset.
O’Malley went on to fight on the anti-treaty side during the civil war, and has another book detailing those years; The Singing Flame. I’ll have to see if I can lay my hands on it.