WATCH: Smith – a ‘leader country’s struggle for freedom’
It was reflected upon that when the late Paddy Smith was arrested and sentenced to death by firing squad on July 12, 1921, a rally of novenas were organised to pray for his reprieve and safe return to the parish of Knockbride. He was aged only 20 years at the time, having previously risen through the ranks to become the youngest Commander of the old Irish Republican Army (IRA).
It was fitting then, some 100 years on, that what some consider to be Mr Smith’s “great escape” was commemorated in his native Tunneyduff, with a graveside oration delivered by An Taoiseach and Uachtarán Fhianna Fáil, Micheál Martin.
Unusually, persons across all denominations and the fractured political spectrum attended last Friday’s event such was the esteem in which Mr Smith was held.
Born 1901, the eighth son of Terence and Ellen Smith, like many, Mr Smith left school at 14 years, when the economic needs of his family meant that there was no alternative. He joined the Volunteers aged 16 and later worked tirelessly campaigning for Arthur Griffith in the pivotal 1918 East Cavan By-Election.
He was elected Quartermaster of the Knockbride West Company of the IRA in March 1919, and Commandant at the establishment of the Carrickallen Battalion 3rd Brigade 5th Northern Division at only 19 years.
He was a member of the County Cavan Flying Column when captured by British forces whilst on manoeuvres at Lappinduff Mountain, following which he was detained at Belfast’s notorious Crumlin Road Jail and subsequently sentenced to death for Treason.
It was only following the signing of the Truce that Mr Smith’s life was saved, and as his grand-niece, serving TD for Cavan-Monaghan and North Meath, Niamh Smyth said, he used the amnesty well, by being elected to Dáil Éireann aged 22 years. He was returned as TD for Cavan 17 elections in a row.
“Uncle Packie, that’s what we called him, left a huge political legacy behind, so today is an important one not just for our family, but for the whole community here as well,” said the local TD. “Politics often gets so consumed in policy, rightly so, but it’s important to reflect too on where we have come from, as a party, a country, and give due respect to the people who played a pivotal role in that formation. It gives me great pride to see his party commemorate his legacy in this way.”
Granddaughers, Bernie and Brenda, spoke lovingly of the late Mr Smith. He was “more” to them, they said, than the political figure regularly featured on newscasts.
It was their own mother Marie, too ill to be present at the Commemoration, who would regularly drive Mr Smith to and from Dublin. “We were reared [in politics]. It was hard to escape in our household. On days off we’d get our spin to Dáil Eireann, and at Easter when everyone else was rolling their eggs, we’d be setting off for Arbour Hill,” laughs Bernie, who brought with her Mr Smith’s pin presented for 50 years service in the Dáil, and the suitcase he used, imprinted ‘P.S.’, and “just big enough to hold an A4 sheet of documents.”
But Brenda adds that their grandfather had a “soft” side too, despite the seriousness of what might be going on beyond the family walls. “He was a family man. Definitely.”
It was Mr Smith’s son Michael, who at the graveside, opted to speak of his father “the man” rather than the political and revolutionary persona others are familiar with.
Speaking to the Celt earlier in the day, he said “little” was every spoken about Mr Smith’s escapades opposing Crown rule in Ireland, or of what happened during the War of Independence.
“There was no talk about it in our house. It was the one thing that wasn’t talked about. The Civil War had a terrible effect on families, and the split, I think, is really only healing now.”
From Tunnyduff Community Hall, the visiting dignitories were given a fully re-enacted piper-led military parade to nearby St Brigid’s Church where An Taoiseach and Deputy Smyth lay a wreath at Mr Smith’s grave as the bugling of the Last Post echoed into the darkening hillsides around.
Éamon Ó Cuív, grandson of Fianna Fáil founder, Taoiseach and President of Ireland, Éamon de Valera, and Master of Ceremonies at the commemoration, noted how Mr Smith made a “huge contribution” to Irish politics, holding with distinction various ministerial offices for 19 years.
That assessment was shared by An Taoiseach, who considered Mr Smith’s life “remarkable” by any measure given all the father-of-six achieved.
He said that Mr Smith would be very proud of how his son Michael and grand niece Deputy Smyth have “carried his tradition of service” into new generations.
“Through his life he won and maintained the support of the people who knew him best,” the Taoiseach said of Mr Smith. “He was their leader in our country’s struggle for freedom and he was their leader as we worked to build on this freedom. Today, as much as ever before, it is right that we remember his life of service and of the great legacy of his generation. Ar dheis De go raibh a h’anam.”