Many times during the last 222 weeks, since we began the Ballyhea bank-debt repudiation campaign, from inside and outside the country we have heard the Irish people denigrated, described as sheeple, as a cowed and beaten race. Always, it has annoyed me.
If I have any touchstone for Irishness it’s the Nunans and the Ryans, two families with whom my own was hugely intertwined during our formative years in Ballyhea, from childhood, through teens, to adulthood.
I think especially of the Nunans, whose farm adjoined our little quarter-acre plot, and by whom and with whom we were largely raised.
A SAFE HAVEN
To use the euphemism of the day, ours was a ‘troubled’ home (my mother eventually left, aided in her escape by the three oldest of us, in a family of ten) and Nunans, well, that was our safe haven, a house of hard work and hard workers, yes, but also a house of harmony and gentleness and laughter and love. Unspoken love, as was (and remains, unfortunately) the way in so many Irish homes, but a deep love nevertheless.
There was also a strength about the Nunans, physically, mentally and emotionally, and that too was deep and understated.
David Nunan was the patriarch, in a true union with the woman we always knew only as ‘Mrs Nunan’ (Alice Dillon her maiden name), a partnership which, over the decades, saw the 30 acres they got from the Land Commission parlayed into a farm of over 60 acres through fields claimed from the mountain (ah, picking stones!), through acquisition also of adjoining land.
David had come to Ballyhea from nearby Liscarroll, and it’s there this story starts.
A ‘SAFE HOUSE’
During the War of Independence the Nunan home, at the end of a long passage and well off the road, was what was known as a ‘safe house’, a place where IRA activists (including some of David’s older brothers, he being just a child at the time) could hide out when on the run.
One evening a couple of lorry-loads of Black-and-Tans came trundling up their long passage in search of one of the most prominent of those activists, Paddy O’Brien, a cousin of the Nunans. Failing to find Paddy, they turned instead on David’s older brother Paddy, then 19, took him outside, and shot him. 13 times. According to contemporary written testimony from his father, he was first to reach Paddy after the Tans had left, asked him if he was badly hurt, to which – he swore – Paddy replied “’Tis nothing, give me a mouthful of water.” Stoic? Courageous? You could say that.
COURAGE IN THE FACE OF DEATH
Fearing his son was near death Paddy’s father immediately called for both doctor and priest but despite all his wounds, Paddy survived, lived to the age of 73. A miracle? Yes, of sorts, and decades later he was still able to show us the scars from the exit wounds, though some of the bullets remained lodged in his body.
There was no massive fanfare at Paddy’s funeral, no 21-gun salute, yet it was Paddy Nunan, and families like his, who helped sustain that War of Independence, whose sacrifices enabled those who were doing the fighting to keep going.
PADDY NUNAN – SAME NAME, SAME COURAGE
David Nunan’s oldest son was also called Paddy, after both his uncle and his grandfather. This week, we buried Paddy and again, there was no massive fanfare but again, we buried a hero, a quiet hero.
For the last 25 years, while working his small hill farm and doing shift-work in the Kerrygold factory in Charleville, Paddy cared for his wife Margaret. He did so with a smile on his face, willingly, lovingly, ably. Late last year however he could no longer manage and very reluctantly, he allowed Margaret be taken from him and into a Nursing Home.
What we didn’t know, however, what Paddy himself didn’t know, was that he too was ill. On St Stephen’s Day last year, December 26th, he was finally persuaded to go to Cork University Hospital for tests. Motor Neurone disease. Not just a death sentence, a truly horrific death sentence.
He bore it with true strength, a strength of which most of us can only dream. In those final months, and just as he had done for his wife all those years, Paddy was supported and cared for by his own family, by his sons David (who moved back into the family home) and Micheál (who came back from France for his final days), by his daughter Helen and her husband Antonio; also by his sisters Ellen and Mary and their husbands Pat and Ray, who lived nearby, and by his brother Davy and Davy's wife Mary.
|Paddy and Margaret with (left to right) David, Helen, Micheál|
THE WELL RUNS DEEP
Paddy Nunan never marched with us on the Ballyhea Says No campaign. He couldn’t, because his Sunday mornings were tied up. But he was with us in spirit, gave me words of encouragement (and were they needed!) every time I met him at Ballyhea shop. His sons and daughter march with us, his brother and sister march with us, and even their young kids likewise – the Nunan connection has been there from the first week.
Likewise the Ryan connection, and so many other families like the Nunans and the Ryans in the weeks between that first march, back on March 6th 2011, and this Sunday’s march in Ballyhea, week 222. Some are ever-presents, some dip in and out, some can simply no longer afford the time, and some have – understandably – simply lost hope.
THE SPIRIT OF A NATION
The heart and soul of this country, generation after generation, is represented by people like Paddy Nunan. The likes of Enda Kenny, Michael Noonan and Joan Burton of the Fine Gael/Labour coalition, the likes of Bertie Ahern and Fianna Fáil before them, can sell off for a song national assets like Aer Lingus, like Irish Water, like our gas and mineral reserves; guys like Denis O’Brien can wheel and deal and revel in their millions and billions, use them to spin and dictate as they will. But the Kennys and Noonans of this world can never sell that heart or steal that soul, the O’Briens of this world can never have it. Why? Because it’s not theirs to buy, to sell or even to steal.
We will win this war. I believe in the Irish people, the old Irish people from the traditional families, the new Irish people who have embraced us and made this country their home. I believe in their strength, in their goodness, in their courage. We see it in people like Catherine Murphy in the last few weeks as she disdains all threats in her efforts to shine a light on a lot of shady happenings over the past decade and more – a true representative of the people. But we see it also in the growing numbers who are facing down this government on issues like the water charges, on the silencing of an already largely subjugated media by powerful interests.
A century ago, just below the surface, an eruption was brewing. History does repeat and now, we are again on the cusp.
We are strong, stronger than most of us realise, stronger than most of THEM realise. We must act.
There is no longer even a pretence of democracy in this country; there is only dictatorship, legislation being rammed through the Dáil and rammed down the throats of the people, while a cowed and captured media sits silently by.
The people, though, are rising.
Tomorrow, Sunday May 31st, Ballyhea church car-park at 10.30am, week 222 of our campaign and as it was for the last four years plus, the spirit of Paddy Nunan will be with us. You're welcome to join us.