Monday, November 28, 2005


Monday Madness - 1916 bashing

Why do so many unionists feel the need to bash the 1916 Rising, an event which played a great part in the formation of the Irish State? I was disgusted to read this trashy, historically inaccurate letter in the News Letter, by someone called 'Braidman', who wrote a piece that is absolutely brimming with vitriol. Permit me to tackle this individual's misunderstanding of the Rising by highlighting some of his/her remarks:

"The Easter Rising is a malign myth which has cast a dark shadow over events since 1916.

"It stands in comparison, for example, to a similar myth, sedulously promoted by Hitler and the Nazis, that the German army had not actually been defeated in the Great War, but had been "stabbed in the back" by defeatist politicians at home."

The author didn't waste much time going for the obligatory Nazi reference, did s/he? This is a flawed analogy to put it lightly. The view of the 'November Criminals' who had stabbed Germany in the back in World War I was easy to promote because Germany itself was not reduced to rubble in the way the country later was in the Second World War. Dublin in 1916 however was reduced to rubble. A view was definitely not put forward in Ireland that the Rebels had not lost. It was blatantly obvious to the man on the street that they had lost! However in losing, they mananged to attain a reawakening of Irish separatist thinking - thanks largely due to British incompetence it must be said.

"Contrary to the received wisdom of Irish nationalism, those who celebrate 1916 worship an empty tomb."

Wrong. The way I see it, the 'empty tomb' was Ireland's involvement in the UK. After all, the things that were promised to bring about the Union originally, like greater rights for Catholics, were not given and had to be attained by Daniel O'Connell at a later date. The way I see it, 1916 opened up a light in the tomb of Irishness which had been closed for some time.

"As Enoch Powell, the most profound and original political thinker of the 20th century, has pointed out..."

Yes I laughed at that myself!

'"No power on earth could have prevented Britain" from granting selfgovernment to nationalist Ireland in the early decades of the 20th century'

The point is, Britain didn't want to grant self-government to Ireland (the island) in the early decades of the 20th century. Unionists were getting results through threat of force and in my eyes, the proposal for division of the natural territory gave Irishmen the right to use force.

"In other words, an independent Irish state would have come into existence in much the same timescale had there never been a shot fired in anger or a bomb planted with malice."

That is far from certain. The Irish Free State ended up with far more power than the Southern Ireland parliament would have received under Home Rule.

"The 1916 Rising, therefore, was not merely a mistake - it was a crime."

It was neither a mistake nor a crime. The real crime was on the part of the British for denying the Irish people their right to self-determination.

"It falsely established the IRA as the driving force of Irish nationalism where it has remained to this day - a malign tumour in the body politic."

This is historically inaccurate. The Easter Rising established Sinn Féin as the driving force of Irish nationalism not the IRA, and the Irish volunteers (later the IRA) who kicked off the War of Independence were not acting on the orders of Sinn Féin. It took some months before the Dáil accepted responsibility for the IRA's actions. I would argue that British ineptitude helped establish the IRA as the driving force of Irish nationalism though I do not accept the author's attempt to portray the IRA of the War of Independence as akin to the Provisional IRA as they are two very different groups, just like the UVF of 1912 are very different to the modern version.

"Bertie Ahern and his Fianna Fail party cannot denounce the IRA on one hand while, at the same time, plan a major celebration of 1916 on the other, since their actions clearly contradict their words."

They don't contradict as I pointed out above. Indeed, Fianna Fáil can trace their roots to the Sinn Féin and the IRA of the War of Independence. Fianna Fáil are more than entitled to distinguish between the IRA of the War of Independence and the Provisional IRA as most Irish people currently do.

"It should never be forgotten that, in the context of the Great War, the 1916 Rising is only a mere footnote."

Cheap shot. Inaccurate yet again. The Rising is of significance to the British and most certainly to the Irish.

"Within weeks of Easter 1916, countless thousands of young men - the flower of a valiant generation - would perish in the terrible Somme offensive. To the unionist people, these are the real heroes of 1916 and truly worthy of everlasting remembrance."

To most nationalist people, you can regard the men of 1916 and the men who died at the Somme as equally heroic. Many of those who died at the Somme, such as those of the 16th Irish Division, were fighting for Home Rule and these men weren't always acknowledged by unionists.

Here's an interesting bit of information for my readers. The Ulster Unionists were quick to latch on to the Battle of the Sommes for its significance but did you know that a memorial was erected on the Sommes in 1919 to the Ulster Division and the Ulster Division ONLY? It was formally dedicated in 1921.

If the author wants to talk about myths, let's talk about the myth that the Irish people thought badly of the men who fought in World War I. Did you know that in 1919, the Irish National War Memorial Trust raised a huge sum from the Irish people to remember the Irishmen who fought in World War I? The original intention was to build a hostel for British soldiers but due to the War of Independence, a proposal was instead put forward for an official war memorial. That war memorial is today located at Islandbridge here.

In closing, I'd like to say that I find it very annoying and disappointing that some unionists continue to berate the men of 1916. Let's not forget that unionists too took up arms at this time over the Home Rule issue. I believe in order to move on we need to show respect for events of the past and while I disagree fundamentally with what the UVF and those who signed the Ulster Covenant did, I don't hold any hatred towards them.

It's time to look forward. We are where we are so let's make the most of the present and build a better future.


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