An Easter Message
This Easter, as people are no doubt aware, marks the 90th anniversary of the 1916 Rising which occurred in Dublin, Galway and other scattered parts throughout Ireland and involved members of the Irish Volunteers, the Irish Citizen Army, Cumann na mBán and various smaller groups (such as the Hibernian Rifles) and myriad individuals who joined in the fight. 1916 in a real sense was the act of defiance that sparked off the struggle for complete seperation and independence in the early part of the twentieth century, and many future Irish political leaders such as Eamon de Valera (pictured above, under British guard after the surrender), WT Cosgrave, Michael Collins, Séan Lemass and others took part in the fighting, news of which was censored from the Irish public that week by a fearful British government. Arguments about the "legitimacy" of the Rising are anachronistic and miss the point that those have freedom only who are prepared to fight (and if necessary die) for it. This is no less true in today's world than it was ninety years ago, and we owe due respect both to our great-grandparent's generation and to those who came before them, who fought a long fight for Irish freedom - sometimes by arms, sometimes by politics, sometimes though their Faith. The failings of those who inherited the newly-independent twenty-six county State, won from the British through making Ireland ungovernable both politically and militarily, are not theirs to blame for.
As remarked on through this blog previously, we consider the most serious failing of the Irish State to have been the effective abandonment (post-Collins) of the plight of the large part of the population trapped by Partition in a Unionist regime built on gerrymandering from top to bottom. The birth of the Provisional IRA in the wake of the crackdown on the Civil Rights movement in the North (and the Catholic population in general) owes a great deal to the policy of the Lynch government to attempt to seal the issue off at the Border. And, it can be suspected, to a rather more widespread government understanding about causing a split within the IRA and arming the splinter group as stand-in proxy (in which they were merely following standard British practice in the long retreat from Empire) than is officially admitted to.
The other plank of this policy of containment found expression in the large-scale official effort to sterilise the Republic of all vestiges of the republican and nationalist traditions which had provided the backbone for resistance to British rule from the late eighteenth century onwards. This took the form of a corrosive policy of official censorship and in revisionist re-writing of the course of Irish history to remove the Irish nationalist viewpoint (it may be remarked that there is frequently difficulty in distinguishing revisionism from classical pro-British propaganda), with a final element in Irish political parties divesting themselves of their respective honourable heritages in the fight for independence.
The irony is in Provisional Sinn Féin (and fringe groups such as RSF) more than happily then stealing those same clothes, to what can be guessed to be considerable advantage in appealing to patriotism.
Which leads us neatly to this Easter's military parade, part of the Fianna Fáil contribution to the sudden interest of the respectable Dublin political establishment in 1916-21. (An interest, one may surmise, prompted by the alarming electoral successes of the Provos and the 100-year anniversaries rapidly approaching within the next decade or so.) Fine Gael have re-discovered Michael Collins, and amusingly also renewed their claim to the unpleasantly anti-Semitic (and dual-monarchist) Arthur Griffith. Even Michael McDowell has rediscovered his Republican roots, and no doubt is already burnishing his grandfather Eoin MacNeill's 1916 medal War of Independence medal has recently announced that the GPO is to be turned into a monument to 1916. Will this outbreak of new-found patriotism be enough to reclaim the Provos' grip on the fight for independence, or are Bertie & co. merely shooting themselves in the foot (and doing the memory of these people and events a grave disservice) by indulging in such theatrics, which are more than transparent to the bemused public? Time will tell, though it may today prove difficult to keep Gerry Adams off the reviewing stand and outside the limelight.
So what of how the other side now view 1916? The British Government are sending the Ambassador to Ireland, Stewart Eldon, in what is to be welcomed as a sign of the modern-day partnership between our two nations in peace and friendship (if the French and Germans can do it...) . Ulster Unionism, well, that's a different story. Our UUP and DUP friends in the North have reacted in apoplexy to word of the official British delegation, and it appears that within the Unionist community at large there regrettably exists the sentiment that the rebels of 1916 were (quote) "terrorists" . This is a remarkably disappointing reaction in this day and age of the Good Friday Agreement, both in terms of the historical realities of the time (the IV merely following the example of the Ulster Volunteer Force in all things) and in the grievously unjust label applied (one would not hear of the ancestors of the Ulster Unionist population being referred to as ethnic cleansers, after all). This was a golden opportunity for Unionism to return some of the considerable reaching-out by the nationalist Irish side in recent years as regards Poppy Day, the Somme, the Boyne and other British cultural values; some reciprocal respect would be greatly appreciated by us, your fellow Irishmen and women.
 The author was present to witness the reaction of a Fianna Fáil Comhairle Ceantar during the Nineties where a redesigned logo - minus FF's English-language title of The Republican Party - was put on display. Suffice it to say that at least in FF there still existed some vestige of resistance to tampering with the party's heritage, as HQ was told exactly what to do with the election literature in question... Contrast this with the Irish Times-reading, Stickie-led Labour Party of modern times (sometime roost for Conor Cruise O'Brien while out of fringe Unionist parties), one of whose apparatchiks declared party founder James Connolly 'irrelevant' recently.
 Arch-gombeenman and ardent British imperialist, Irish Party leader of the time John Redmond has also recently been resurrected and rehabilitated, and in much the same unfortunate political vein, by certain southern unionists.