The title refers, as English reminds us, not to (as Gerry Adams propounded) the slogan that one generation's freedom fighters must rise up upon the fallen bodies of a previous generation's failed fighters to seek victory, but to the fact that it's easy to withhold pity when someone else is doing the bleeding and the dying. As a medical student before the 1916 Rising, O'Malley knew this to be more than a metaphor. His choice in a few years to take up arms against the Crown only deepened his empathy, and his awareness of the divisions that tore Irish into pro- and anti-British soldiers and then pro- and anti-postwar Treaty soldiers once the British had left--most of the island. He never confused anti-British tactics with anti-British prejudice, and one of the most memorable parts of his memoir is when he tells of his love for Shakespeare's sonnets, a copy of which he took into battle.
O'Malley was a rarity among those who were involved in the Irish war against Britain for independence that followed the failed Rising. He only was periphally involved, if at all, in 1916, but his powerfully described, deeply detailed accounts of his involvement in the war that followed show a university-educated, well-mannered, upper/middle-class Catholic who chose to lead troops most often from disparate backgrounds than his own into a guerrilla war to obtain the ideal Republic as a reality.
See also "The Singing Flame," O'Malley's incomplete Civil War account--which does not live up to the prose of AMW, but is worthwhile for its depiction of the futility and the idealism of the 1922-3 internecine strife. His letters from this period have been co-edited by his son Cormac and Prof. Richard English, who wrote the biography "Ernie O'Malley" in 1998 subtitled "IRA Intellectual"--also reviewed by me on Amazon.
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About the reviewer
John L. Murphy (Fionnchu)
Medievalist turned humanities professor; unrepentant but not unskeptical Fenian; overconfident accumulator of books & music; overcurious seeker of trivia, quadrivia, esoterica. … more
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