This important book traces the lives of three members of the Gaynor family of Tyone near Nenagh in County Tipperary. The subjects are Fr Pat Gaynor born 1887; Sean Gaynor his step-brother born 1894 and Eamonn Gaynor, son of Sean, born 1925. Their lives encapsulate the twentieth century in Ireland and their respective memoirs, written with an honesty and integrity common to all three, pull back the veil of silence. Pat Gaynor, educated at St Flannans and Maynooth, provides a revealing account of Maynooth in the early days of the twentieth century as the young priests, influenced by the Sinn Fein philosophy of Arthur Griffith, confronted the cautious establishment which included the future Cardinal Mannix. Ordained for Killaloe diocese in 1911, Pat Gaynor served his formative years on the mission in Glasgow. In 1917 he was elected to the Supreme Executive of Sinn Fein and was prominent in the anti-conscription campaign. He presents fascinating insights on local town notables in Nenagh from the old regime who attempted to manipulate the young men of Sinn Fein. He also claims that some of the medal festooned patriots had less than heroic war campaigns. Appointed curate in the west Clare parish of Mullagh, Fr Pat helped establish Sinn Fein courts which incarcerated offenders in the open air prison on Mutton Island. A firm supporter of the Treaty he retired from active politics influenced perhaps by the harrowing experience of having to administer the last rites to three young boys sentenced to death by a military court in Birr during the Civil War. His account of their sad last hours serves to temper the glorification of violence. A curate in Birr until 1937 he was again transferred to west Clare, where he died as parish priest of Kilmihil in 1949
Fr Pat portrays the political life of a Sinn Fein activist whereas his step-brother Seán Gaynor was a man of action. He joined the Volunteers in 1917, served terms of imprisonment in Limerick and Belfast before becoming Officer Commanding of Tipperary No.1 Brigade. Seán Gaynor was immersed in the IRA military campaign in North Tipperary. Planning and participating in engagements with the Active Service Unit which made the task of the British occupation impossible. His terse prose conveys the drama and tension in a matter-of-fact fashion so different from the more loquacious style of his sibling Fr Pat. He was present at the fateful meeting in June 1922 at which Liam Lynch and his fellow officers decided to support the occupiers of the Four Courts and thereby initiate the Civil War. Returning to the south, the guerrilla war tactics so successful against the British failed against the Free State forces who also knew Ireland. Seán Gaynor was taken, at the last fateful action of the Civil War deep in the Knockmealdown Mountains, with Austin Stack, Frank Barrett and Todd Andrews. Imprisoned by former comrades in Mountjoy he recounts how their hunger strike was manipulated by prominent organisers such as Frank Barrett. Seán Gaynor resigned from the IRA in protest at this manipulation and left the political field to go back to his farm.
Eamonn Gaynor’s earlier life is a mirror image of that of his uncle. We have nostalgic accounts of his early boyhood when little was said of the events in which his father and uncle were so prominent. A scholarship boy of the new state, he was enrolled in St Flannans, Ennis where he endured and enjoyed the onset of adolescence. Religious life was almost a family profession so it is no surprise to see him in Maynooth studying for the priesthood in the 1940s. He brings us to the internal world of this institution where young men were fashioned to serve. Yet behind the austere walls he found friendship and gaiety in drama and games and delight in the eccentricities of some of the independent minded professors.