Some Historical Notes on Season One of THWDY
Updated: May 9
While the plot of This House Will Devour You is fiction, and not about the politics of the time, it takes place against a specific postwar background that influences the motivations of certain characters and makes Jon Ross feel a stranger in his home land. As most of our audience is from outside Ireland, I’ve put together some non-spoiler notes that are unnecessary to enjoy the podcast but might give some listeners a deeper appreciation of the historical background that is teased, Jon’s ambivalent feelings, and a sense of just how uneasy the country was with itself at that time.
“Redmond’s Call” – John Redmond, an Irish politician who called in 1914 for Irish men to enlist in the British army to fight in WWI. He saw it as an opportunity to help deliver Home Rule (independence) for Ireland by uniting unionists and nationalists in a common endeavour, though in the end it was deeply divisive in nationalist circles.
“There have been two wars at home…” - The War of Independence (1919-1921) was a guerrilla/counterinsurgency conflict between the British Army and the Irish Republican Army ending with the Anglo Irish treaty in December 1921 which created the Irish Free State (now Ireland) and Northern Ireland. The Civil War (1922-1923) immediately followed as the IRA split between those accepting the treaty and seeking to form a new government, and those opposed. It was a brutal affair, with long lasting scars on society, ending in victory for the Free State forces.
“…last year a British soldier was killed in Cork…” - Britain retained and garrisoned three deep water ports in Ireland until 1938 when they were returned as part of the settlement of the Anglo Irish Trade War of the 1930’s. In 1924 unarmed British Army servicemen and their families were disembarking in Cobh, Cork for some R&R from the Spike Island garrison when they were attacked by men firing two machine guns from a speeding car. One was killed and over 20 injured.
“The Irregulars” - the losing anti-treaty side in the civil war, who continued on with a campaign of bombings, assassinations and robberies.
“…the new state police; the guards, they call them.” – An Garda Siochana or the Guards as they are colloquially known as, was formed in 1923 as an unarmed police force. This was both to distinguish them from their precursor the armed Royal Irish Constabulary and to protect them from attack by the Irregulars (the thinking being that they would lose popular support by killing unarmed officers, often ex-IRA colleagues they had fought alongside against the British, which worked most of the time).
“…the government has dispatched more armed Special Branch men from Dublin…” – a special armed branch of the police that targeted the Irregulars for decades, often brutally and ruthlessly and was met with the same in return (Gerard Lovett’s ‘Ireland’s Special Branch’ is well worth a read for those interested in this period of Irish history).
“the gaunt burned remains of some fine old house” – During the War of Independence but especially during the Civil War, the ‘Big House’ (such as Kilphaun Hall) was targeted as a symbol of the old order, or for reprisals, with several hundred mansions and castles burned down. Typically the affair was often quite polite, with the family given time to gather a few belongings and leave, before the petrol was applied.
“electric lights have been newly installed” – in the early 1920’s electrical supply was piecemeal by municipal or private supply with large scale national and rural electrification not taking place until after WWII.
“I’ve long heard that the Blackwater valley is a most scenic and beautiful place” – Kilphaun Hall and village may not be real but the Blackwater is, and is indeed a lovely place.
“You’re a Jackeen, so” – derogatory slang for a Dubliner.
“when local forces kidnapped General Lucas while he was fishing” – One of the more bizarre and genteel events in the War of Independence, that happened quite close to where our story is set.
“Those who picked up arms when they got home and fought their old paymasters” – Over 200,000 Irish men had served in the British army in WWI and they were often ostracised when they returned home, with some being killed by the IRA. A small number joined the IRA during the War of Independence.
“a disturbance at the Armistice Day ceremony in Dublin” – In the 1920’s Armistice Day ceremonies were often the focus of rioting as the parading of Union Jacks and wearing of poppies was seen as an imperialist provocation. In 1925, smoke bombs were let off causing a panic at the ceremony and fights occurred between students of the two Dublin universities (which would have been either strongly Catholic or Protestant).
“the daily march to the boats taking emigrants to Britain and the United States” – Ireland’s population declined from 8 million in the 1840’s to a low of 2.8 million in 1961 before rising again to over 5 million now.
“an injured Irishman fleeing Cromwell’s soldiers” – Waterford City was besieged twice by Cromwellian forces in the 17th Century, the first time by Cromwell himself. It fell on the second siege.
“I said dryly that I had not realised he was a fan of Yeats and his circle” – Yeats was a member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.