Many thanks to Pat Flynn, a reporter in Co. Clare for help with this piece which, I think, adds to the growing body of evidence that disappearing people is not something that was confined to the Northern Troubles, or the Provos, but has been part of an all-Ireland republican tradition going back at least to the 1920’s and, who knows, even long before that.
The story that Pat wrote about this week, and which the rest of the Irish media has studiously ignored, concerns the re-burial of a British soldier, one Private George Duff Chalmers, a member of the Royal Scots regiment who was shot dead by the IRA in Co Clare in June 1921, a month before the Truce, and buried in a local bog.
He apparently deserted from his unit and was either on a spying mission against the IRA or on his way to meet a girl who had won his heart; nobody really knows which was the truth. Why the IRA did not publicly claim his killing is another unanswered question.
His body was discovered by chance in the 1950’s by turf cutters who ignored a warning to stay away from a place which it seems nearly every local knew harboured the remains of the slain Royal Scot as well as, Pat believes, another soldier also hidden somewhere in the bog.
Pvt. Chalmers’ remains had been deposited not far from the surface, resulting in the deterioration of his skeleton by peat acid. Bone fragments were all that was found along with parts of his uniform. Someone placed a slab over the grave and erected a cross, and there he lay until last week when he was dug up, at the request of his family, to be re-interred in a British Army cemetery near Dublin.
According to Padraig Og O Ruairc, an historian and civil servant, three other members of the British forces stationed in Co Clare, two soldiers and a member of the RIC, were killed and buried secretly by the local IRA. You can read about that episode here. One body has never been found.
O Ruairc is also the author of a claim that twenty-five of the 196 people killed by the IRA as informers during the Tan war between 1919 and 1921 were also ‘disappeared’.
Add to that Harry White’s account in his autobiography, ‘Harry’, of a plot during the 1956-62 campaign to ‘disappear’ a Belfast informer which was, allegedly, frustrated only because frozen soil made it impossible to dig a grave in the hills of South Derry and it begins to look as if disappearing people was part of a long if less than proud Irish republican tradition. You can read about that incident here.
All of which begs this question: isn’t it beyond time that the authorities in the South, instead of sneering at the barbarous Northerners, did something about their own disappeared problem? Like making some sort of public acknowledgement that this happened, apologise to the relatives of victims and even organise an effort to try to identify and locate the missing remains? It is never too late to make amends.
Body exhumed in Clare of British soldier killed and secretly buried in 1921
By Patrick Flynn
The body of a British soldier executed and buried in Co Clare almost 100 years ago has been exhumed and will be reburied in Dublin.
18-year-old Private George Duff Chalmers was a member of the 2nd Battalion of the British Army’s Royal Scots based in Clare during the during the War of Independence.
He died on June 10, 1921 at Drumbaun, Co Clare after, it’s believed, he was captured and executed by members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA).
Early today, representatives of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC), working alongside the Office of Public Works (OPW) and Clare County Council, exhumed the remains of Pvt Chalmers from a site near Miltown Malbay. Gardaí also attended the exhumation.
Pvt Chamlers’ remains were taken to Ennistymon Church where a brief prayer service was held outside. He will be reburied at Grangegorman Military Cemetery in Dublin while a rededication ceremony will take place later this year.
A spokeswoman for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) said: “In 2017 the CWGC was contacted by the family of Private Chalmers who enquired about the possible relocation of his remains to an alternative location. CWGC identified that as the current location was difficult to access and maintain, relocation of the remains would be possible.”
The CWGC is responsible for commemorating the men and women of the Commonwealth forces who died in the First and Second World Wars, including the building and maintenance of cemeteries and memorials across the world.
War graves from the First World War located in Ireland are managed on CWGC behalf by the Office of Public Works (OPW).