It is late March in 1924, and a dim sun is setting over the city of Cork in the southeast of Ireland. Spring is coming, and in the patchwork of fields that surrounds this busy coastal town, green shoots are already poking up through rich, damp earth.
To the east, through the double-stomach of twinned harbours, the British destroyer Scythe lies tethered at anchor, a dull-grey line of glowering steel. Here, the smaller village of Queenstown is a treaty port, one of three deepwater harbours that remain under English rule as party of the bitterly contested Anglo-Irish Treaty. Signed three years ago, it divided Ireland in more ways than one, creating an Irish Free state at the expense of a partitioned Ulster and a subsequent bloody civil war.
Down at the pierhead, troops are landing from Spike Island, a former penal colony and current fortification that houses the British presence. The launch bringing the soldiers across has only just tied up to the jetty, when the thrum of a racing six-cylinder engine can be heard approaching.
Skittering through the narrow cobblestone streets at breakneck pace, a primrose-yellow Rolls-Royce open-topped tourer slews round a corner and races out onto the beach opposite the pier. Its four occupants are grim-faced and composed; the gaping air-cooled maw of a mounted .303 calibre Lewis gun swings towards the clustered troops.
It opens fire. (Read More…)