04/07/2013 11:35 BST | Updated 03/09/2013 06:12 BST

A British MP and an Irish Journey

A recent visit to the Irish Parliament with a group of fellow British MPs led me to reflect how the events that led to the creation of an Irish State played a part in my own personal history.


A recent visit to the Irish Parliament with a group of fellow British MPs led me to reflect how the events that led to the creation of an Irish State played a part in my own personal history.

My father, Michael Brennan was born in West Cork in 1918. I remember as a child he'd sometimes say dramatically, "I was kicked out of the cradle by the Black and Tans!" Of course as a young boy growing up in South Wales with a Welsh mother I had little idea what he meant.

As time went on more stories emerged from him and my Irish Grandmother who lived around the corner from us in Cwmbran, South Wales.

The family story was that the Brennan home had been raided in 1920 when my father was an infant, by the British irregulars, known as the Black and Tans, searching for weapons. In the melee, the baby's cradle was turned over with my sleeping father tumbling out.

The roughneck tactics only stopped when a regular British army officer intervened, to the eternal gratitude of my Grandmother.

They had come in search of Denis Brennan, which was indeed my Grandfather's name. But they'd been deliberately thrown off the scent by locals, as the Denis Brennan they sought was not my grandfather but my father's first cousin of the same name.

The family story was that Denis was part of the local IRA brigade fighting against British rule. My own grandfather was in his 50s by this time, and clearly not the Denis Brennan they were looking for so they left, as my Grandmother told me, with an apology from the British officer for the trashing of their possessions by the Black and Tans.

I was told that the other Denis Brennan, known to the family by his nickname 'Bob' had ended up running a pub in Wales having had to flee Ireland after being shot in the leg.

When my father came to Britain many years later looking for work it was natural that he lodged with his older cousin 'Bob' who was by then the landlord of the 'Cymro' pub in Brynmawr. That's how he came to marry a Welsh miner's daughter, Beryl Evans, settle down in South Wales, and that's how me, my brother Patrick and sisters Nuala and Colleen came to be born.

I always wondered whether this was a somewhat romanticised bit of family folklore, then recently, at the suggestion of a distant relative, I borrowed a book via the House of Commons library.

The book is called "Guerrilla Days in Ireland" by Tom Barry, and was published in the 1930s as an account of the activities of the Flying Column of the West Cork Brigade of the IRA.

One of the actions recounted in the book was the planned attack on Rosscarberry Barracks in 1920.

Eschewing their usual tactic of billeting with supporters, it was decided they would instead take over one of the local country mansions, Burgatia House, and put the occupant, thought to be a British collaborator, on trial to be executed. The next day they would launch an attack on the garrison in nearby Rosscarberry.

According to Barry's account they decided that the owner of Burgatia House was not an active informer, and sentenced him instead to exile from Ireland and that his house would be burnt down.

Early on the morning of the planned attack the local postman called at Burgatia House. Barry allowed him to leave on the promise of his silence, but he immediately informed the British authorities of their presence.

The house was bordered by the sea at the rear, road at the front and woods on either side. Their fate would have been sealed had not an over eager soldier alerted them by firing a bullet through the window before the house was completely surrounded.

They were able to fight their way out through the unguarded flank with only one man shot. According to Tom Barry:

"Our only casualty was volunteer Brennan who was badly wounded in the leg."

The brigade then melted back into the countryside; hence the search for Denis Brennan and IRA weapons at my grandfather's farm near Drimoleague just a few miles away.

Incidentally Barry and his men returned later to carry out their threat to burn down Burgatia House, and it still stands as a ruin today just off the road between Rosscarberry and Glandore in West Cork. He also gives credence in the book to the account of fairer treatment of the local populace by British officers in the Drimoleague area than elsewhere in Cork.

Had it not been for these events almost a century ago, 'Bob' Brennan would not have ended up running a pub in Wales and my late father and mother would not have met.

So for me the visit to the Irish Dail at Leinster House was a poignant and moving experience, but also a hopeful one. With British and Irish relations better than ever following the Belfast Agreement and Queen's remarkable visit to Ireland, we can approach the traumatic and sometimes brutal events of those days with a sense of historical reconciliation and relief that the people of these islands can now co-exist in peace. W.B. Yeats said of the Dublin Easter 1916 Rising and the events that followed,

"A terrible beauty is born."

As fate would have it, my own birth and subsequent career in the British Parliament have its roots in those turbulent events.

Let's mark The Rising's centenary in 2016 as part of the history of Ireland and Britain, and not let it interfere with the beautiful friendship that has blossomed in recent years.