Hiraeth (Welsh pronunciation: [hɪraɨ̯θ, hiːrai̯θ]) is a Welsh word for longing or nostalgia, an earnest longing or desire, or a sense of regret. The feeling of longing for a home that no longer exists or never was. A deep and irrational bond felt with a time, era, place or person.
I have never felt comfortable with my existence, often escaping it into daydreams of other places. Perhaps that is why I eventually pursued history for my undergraduate degree and spent time studying literature and cultures of the world, both recent and ancient. A feeling of belonging has never existed in my life, but there are places and times that have felt far more intimate to me. These are subjects I have devoted considerable time and thought towards. One of these is early Twentieth Century Ireland.
A long question to myself is why? I remain uncertain as to the patriarchal ancestry of my family, but mother’s certainly did dwell there, having fled Scotland, but more about that at another time. Had I been born among them, it is doubtful that I would have possessed the allegiance I am building up to, as they were Protestants and may well have considered themselves British. That is speculation, naturally, but what calls to me is Ireland itself, a place possessing connotations that have impacted much of my life, and, in particular, the struggle for independence.
No preconceived notions existed when I began to study that specific period, but a certainty did develop as it continued. Those events became so entwined with my thoughts that my chronic depression and anxiety deepened to the point that it would have certainly destroyed my sanity or driven me to eventual suicide. Ultimately distance had to be made and that study was pushed back. Books purchased remain unread, although a few that were remain my favorite books and I jealously guard them. Reading of murder and torture of people you spent countless hours researching and that came to feel so familiar will fracture a damaged brain such as my own. The study of history is not one of memorizing dates and names, but of creating a rapport with events, sussing out fact from fiction, and creating a deep bond with your chosen study.
I wanted so much to have stood the line at the GPO, listening to the city being shelled by the British navy, hunkered down with Pearce, Connolly, and Casement and many other brave souls that were fanatical about a free Ireland. I would have wept and screamed at the execution of our leaders, especially that brave man Connolly, wounded in the leg and tied to a chair before the firing squad. But, a future leader existed within our numbers. Mick, the Big Fella, Michael Collins. Imposing, charismatic, and utterly ferocious in his chosen tactics, I would have trampled men to rush forward and swear allegiance to him. To enlist in the Irish Republican Brotherhood. To be one of his Apostles would have been the grandest honor of all time.
The Apostles. Mick’s personal hit squad. They were cold and ruthless men, dressed impeccably, and possessed of a remorseless willingness to walk up to the door of British officers, politely inquire about their presence, and shooting them in the head before walking away. Does that disturb you? That I would have idolized such killers? I despise violence and conflict, knowing that it would drive my mental state to ruin, but coldly shooting a man dead at his own door is acceptable to me?
This rapid devotion came out of nowhere in my life, yet felt as natural to me as breathing. A willingness towards brutality against people who viewed the Irish as possessing no worth beyond labor? This is one subject that will easily bring me to a illogical and fanatical state of mind that would be unrecognizable to anyone in my life.
The Big Fella would have been my chief, my commander, and my life would have been his to dispose of as needed. I was, and am, a Collins Man. He made Ireland possible. A brutal man, though also known for his compassion and devotion to his people. Brave and unflinching in his life, these qualities also brought him to death.
1922. 31 years old. The machines stopped, taking fire. The treaty had been signed and a free Ireland established, but at the cost of surrendering the Six Counties to Britain. That was why Collins’ motorcade was attacked. Some viewed him as a traitor for the concession. I would have been one of the futile voices screaming for our leader to flee when he charged out of his vehicle, weapon in hand. My life would have been well-spent to have stood in the path of the murder’s bullet, to die for my living hero. But, no such miracle happened.
He was shot at Beal na Blath, dying in the muddy road.
I have not studied this in many years, so yes, there is probably more poetical and romantic presentation in this than fact, but I am not writing this as a product of historical research, but based on the impressions of a brain-damaged man. I most likely would not have been the man that was described, but it feels so natural to me to think otherwise. A longing not for recognition or valor, but one of following in the great man’s shadow and offering my life at his command.
I am a Collins Man, but I can never be one.
This will be an ongoing series on different topics.