Comedian Paul Merton said he can “completely understand” his grandfather’s decision to quit the British Army and join the IRA.
The Have I Got News For You panellist discovered that his ancestor James Power did so after being ordered to fire on his own countrymen during the 1916 Easter Rising.
Mr Merton, 62, who made the discovery whilst learning about his family tree on BBC’s Who Do You Think You Are?, said it was important to point out that the IRA of the 1920s was very different to the Provisional IRA that emerged in 1969 and carried out bombings and terror attacks during the Troubles.
“I think my mum would have taken the attitude that it was a long time ago and [the IRA] was a different organisation then, and it was about getting away from British rule,” Mr Merton, who was raised in his mother’s Roman Catholic faith, told The Radio Times. “They were an occupied country fighting for independence. Having gone through the experience he’s gone through, I can completely understand why my grandfather would have been anti-British. It was very plausible, very understandable.
“As an Irishman in British uniform, James is ordered to shoot fellow Irishmen on the streets of Ireland. That sort of thing could, to use a modern phrase, radicalise you, I could imagine,” Mr Merton continued.
“You think you’re going to France to fight the Germans, and then you’re in Dublin and ordered to shoot at your mates.”
Mr Merton said his extended family in Ireland had been moved by the episode.
“This was the old IRA. Some of my Irish relatives were very firm on the distinction between what it used to be and what it became, 50-odd years afterwards,” he explained.
During the episode, Mr Merton learned that his grandfather, James Power, a farm labourer from Co Waterford, enlisted with the British Army during World War I.
However, Mr Power, who went on to serve in North Africa and the Middle East, left the service, returned his medals and signed up for the IRA, becoming a first lieutenant in the East Waterford Brigade in the Irish War of Independence between 1920 and 1921.
He died in 1927 and Mr Merton’s mother, Mary Ann Power, who was very young at the time, was raised by foster parents and spent time in children’s homes, as only days after her father’s death, her pregnant mother also died and lost the baby.
The episode of Who Do You Think You Are? featuring Paul Merton airs tonight on BBC One, 9:00pm – 10:00pm.
Picture: Left: Paul Merton. (BBC/Wall to Wall Media Ltd/Stephen Perry). Right: James Power – Paul Merton’s maternal grandfather. (BBC/Wall to Wall Media Ltd/Angela Martin).