A tribute to a father

County View

County View
John Healy

It is a particular feature of the books launched to mark the country’s centenary events that they are invariably well researched and as scrupulously accurate as is possible. And so it is with ‘The Triangle of Violence’, written by Edward Horkan and launched by former taoiseach Enda Kenny.
The book is, first of all, a labour of love; a tribute by the author to his father, Paddy Horkan, whose heroic involvement in three conflicts – World War I, the War of Independence and the Civil War – gives the book its title.
But it is much more than that, because it takes a broad sweep, and what emerges is a fascinating overview of Mayo and its time, set against the background of the stirring events of rebellion and struggle. For that reason, it will remain a valued book of reference for future generations, tracing as it does the political, economic and cultural developments which shaped our nation.
Handsomely produced and embellished with unique photographs, it is a reward for what must have been a monumental task of research by Edward Horkan. With material drawn from a wide variety of sources, the layout of the book facilitates even the most-casual reader, with each chapter devoted to a particular time frame, and each then subdivided into readable accounts of particular people and specific events.
Castlebar folk will remember Paddy Horkan as a modest, self-effacing man, whose persona gave no hint of the chequered, adventurous military life that marked his younger days.
Indeed, like most of those who lived through those troubled times, he was reluctant to talk about events which were often painful and divisive. It was thanks to the gentle probing of his family, and perhaps his own retention of his faculties into old age, that so much of his life has been recorded and preserved.
‘The Triangle of Violence’ paints a broad canvas, but it is at heart a Castlebar book, and Edward Horkan may well ruffle a few feathers in his explanation of why this is so.
He himself, he explains, had always been given to understand that the War of Independence campaign in Mayo had been very much a Westport and Newport affair, with little involvement of Castlebar men. “I was always intrigued by the fact that many men from the Castlebar area involved in the War of Independence and the Civil War were written out of our history,” he says.
It is an opinion that, in truth, is fairly widely held in the county town. But, well founded or not, the book goes a long was towards redressing the balance.
The story of Paddy Horkan’s life is itself more colourful than fiction. Son of a committed nationalist family, he had enlisted in the British army in 1916 and saw service in France and Italy. The book details all the horrors of the Great War – the atrocious conditions of trench life, the forced marches, the wilful despatch of thousands of young men to certain death – as well as the occasional shaft of light. Paddy Horkan was awarded the Military Medal for Bravery at Arras, and personally introduced to King George at the English hospital to which he had been sent to recover from his wounds.
Edward Horkan does his father proud in this first volume of ‘The Triangle of Violence’, which concludes with the Truce. But he also performs an important service to the memory of all the Castlebar men who both died and survived the Great War, chronicling the family connections of each one, as well as those men and women who stood shoulder to shoulder with his father in the fight for Irish independence.