Fergal Keane: My family and the empire's complex legacy

My people fought the British Empire and they defended it.

Some battled British soldiers in rural Kerry and on the streets of Cork city. A generation earlier, others wore the uniform of the imperial police.

Colonialism can throw up complex allegiances.

I had a great-grandfather who served as a sergeant in the Royal Irish Constabulary. His son – my grandfather, Patrick – joined the IRA to drive the British out of Ireland.

My paternal grandmother, Hanna Keane, gathered intelligence for the IRA and received a death threat from the Black and Tans – the police reserve notorious for its brutality during Ireland’s revolutionary war.

But when 26 of Ireland’s 32 counties became independent in 1922, Hanna supported the new state in a war against old IRA comrades who refused peace with the British Empire.

Empire and its legacies have been much on my mind in recent weeks. The protests launched by the Black Lives Matter movement are prompting calls for a complete re-evaluation of British imperial history.

My life and the lives of my forebears were shaped by the historic links with Britain.

At the end of the 19th Century, when my great-grandfather, Sgt Patrick Hassett Sr, was patrolling in Cork, the British Empire was the most powerful the world had ever seen. It covered…

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