Statesman Seán MacBride enjoyed an incident-packed career both at home and abroad. The son of John MacBride and Maud Gonne, he was a chief of staff of the IRA, co-founder of Clann na Poblachta and founder member of Amnesty International - just some of the roles and achievements in a long and remarkable life. His memoir, 'That Day's Struggle', edited by his secretary of eleven years Caitriona Lawlor, is a fascinating read and covers in detail the main points of his 84 years.
MacBride spent the early years of his life in Paris before returning permanently to Dublin in 1918. John MacBride had been executed following the Easter Rising two years earlier and MacBride clearly recalls his father's death being announced while he was at school. He also details his mother's comical escape from Scotland Yard detectives in London.
Settled in Ireland, MacBride soon joined the Fianna, from which young men mostly progressed to the IRA. He made it into the 'B' Company, 3rd Battalion, whose chief area of activity was in Great Brunswick Street, now Pearse Street.
MacBride talks about momentous landmarks in Irish history and it is fascinating to read a first hand account of events. On the day Kevin Barry was executed in 1920, he explains how he and fellow students, including three future court judges, climbed to the top of UCD and flew a tricolour at half-mast.
In one of the more disturbing passages in 'That Day's Struggle', MacBride recalls being shot at by Black and Tans in Sandwith Street in the heart of South Inner City Dublin. It was March 1921, at the height of the War of Independence. His company had opened fire and, when the Tans returned it, his colleague Leo Fitzgerald was fatally injured. MacBride hid out in the Denzille Street area until the coast was clear and made for home, his trench coat covered in Fitzgerald's blood.
The war over, MacBride explains his role in the team that went to London to negotiate the Treaty, having been asked along by Michael Collins. With Civil War following the War of Independence, he also recounts escape attempts from military prison in Newbridge and from Mountjoy.
In 1946 MacBride was a co-founder of Clann na Poblachta. Two years later they entered government as part of the first inter-party government. MacBride was Minister for External Affairs and was instrumental in having Noel Browne installed as Minister for Health. He recalls in great detail the collapse of that government due to the Mother and Child Scheme.
Having done so much for the country since its founding, MacBride moved on to the world stage and the later chapters of the book cover the establishment of Amnesty International, of which he was a founder member. He served for 13 years as chairman of the International Executive. He was also president of the Executive of the International Peace Bureau from 1974 until his death in 1988.
In many ways, 'That Day's Struggle' is a book of two halves. The first details the Civil War/War of Independence era and the emergence of modern Ireland while the other covers the author's later political career at home and, ultimately, on the world stage. Readers may enjoy certain portions over others but, on the whole, it is an excellent first-hand account of some of the most turbulent times in our recent history. A thoroughly exceptional and recommended read.