Thursday, August 04, 2005


Thursday Thoughts: Great Irish figures

Let me put a question to you - Is there a famous figure in Irish history that can be regarded as being truly great by all sides? By the North as well as the South, by nationalist as well as unionist? The more I think about it, the more I don't think there is!

There are figures in America that I'm sure are hailed as truly great by everyone. George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and so forth. In Britain, you think of a figure like Churchill who seems to be regarded as a great man by everyone there. But what about Ireland? I know there are historical factors that need to be considered but I don't think we have a figure here that is universally acclaimed! Let me present some famous figures and show you what I mean:

- Michael Collins - We don't even have to factor the North into the equation as down here, opinion is divided. Some criticise him for signing the Treaty. Others criticise the methods he used during the War of Independence. So Collins doesn't make the grade.

- Eamon de Valera - Like Collins, opinion is split in the South. Some hate him for his role in the Civil War as well as for his policies as Taoiseach. And like Collins, he'd be hated by most unionists.

Padraig Pearse - Definitely doesn't make the grade! Though I personally admire him, plenty of others can't stand the man.

Edward Carson, James Craig - Respected by unionists, not by nationalists.

Daniel O'Connell - Now here is a guy you would like to think is widely respected for getting Catholic emancipation, but his efforts to have the Act of Union repealed would place him in a negative light in the eyes of most unionists I suspect...

Charles Stewart Parnell - Would not be looked on well by most unionists for his efforts to attain Home Rule.

Wolfe Tone/Robert Emmet - Though I think the Republicans of this era should warrant respect for their type of Republicanism, they would not be looked on fondly by unionists.

St Patrick - Now you would think finally we've hit on a winner but the reality is that many unionists object to the St Patrick's Day parade and resent the way Patrick seems to have become associated with Irish nationalism over tme. So I think he can be ruled out too.

I struggle to think of a figure that the people of the North and South, both nationalists and unionists, admire and respect. I can't think of anybody. Is there such a figure out there that I'm forgetting?

Can you think of a figure in Irish history who is regarded as a great man or woman by all traditions on the island?


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