Easter, 2006

Some time ago, I wrote an article on Northern Ireland. It is the only time, I think, that I’ve dealt directly with the topic. I’d only go back to it if something had changed, either in my mind or in the world. Neither has happened.

This year sees the 1916 Rising commemorated by the State for the first time in decades. I can’t bear to listen to the endless discussions on the radio or read any of the acres of words expounded on the topic. The emotions raised by something that happened 90 years ago betray that these commemorations are less about Dublin 1916, or even Dublin 2006 than they are about Sinn Fein 2006. This is a proxy war for history’s judgement on the Provos.

So, here is my contribution to the conversation- “The North is a Foreign Country…”. When it went up last time, Slugger O’Toole’s commentators suggested that I ought to get out more- if I thought NI was foreign, I’d obviously never been to Asia. Any assistance with explaining this line of thinking would be welcomed.

To finish up this paramilitary themed post, I’ll leave you with an extract from another essay I’m proud of. This is from The Weak Empire. Mostly it deals with the US response to the mass murders of 9/11. But I also touch on Ireland’s own psychological politics.

Ireland fought with its own evil genius in the shape of Sinn Fein and the Provisional IRA. They played on our secret sickness, our need to prove we were better than the Brits, that they’d only managed to have the upper hand for 800 years through a sequence of bad luck, treachery and freak weather conditions. As the IRA started to blow up mothers and children, as well as fathers and anyone else that moved, a serious bloc in the mainstream of society here cheered them on. That’ll teach them, we said. We’re just as good as them. Or we’re just as bad. I can’t remember which, now.

But, Our Day Will Come!, went the slogan! Then we’ll be strong and they’ll be weak. Lilies, a symbol reaching back into a well of death, a self-described blood sacrifice of other people’s children, sprouted on people’s lapels. As the 1970s crawled in, the Irish psyche teetered on the brink of being dragged back to the universal mud and blood of the First World War.

That was the real threat to our civilisation, and we escaped. At the price of walking away from what we thought we believed in, a united Ireland, we kept what we had, a civilised one. But it was, and still is, a close run thing.

Empire and madness.
Commemorations of Easter 1916 oughtn’t pass without a reference to the evils of them both.

I’ve said my piece now. Let’s all go back to our chocolate eggs and look to the future.


  • Fence says:

    Obviously emotions raised by the Rising have something to do with current affairs today. From my personal perspective SF are irrelevant to the commemoration of the Rising. I don’t care that they think they are only ones loyal to that cause, or whatever they may think.
    But it does matter to me that the Rising happened. And I would suggest that in many cases how it is percieved has more to do with people’s own responses to the North & SF than the historical event itself.

  • Simon McGarr says:

    I agree with you, Fence. The discussions over the Rising, particularly over whether it ought to have happened, are too heated to be an academic discussion about something that happened 90 years ago. These debates are all about the last 30 years.

  • copernicus says:

    Garrett Fitzgerald’s article in yesterday’s IT was a welcome anecdote to the revisionist crap being spouted hither and yon.

    I had a little something to say about republican culture on Sunday myself. I might return to the thesis at some point.

  • EWI says:

    From my personal perspective SF are irrelevant to the commemoration of the Rising.

    Provisional Sinn Féin have very little claim to the legacy of 1916 compared with FF, FG or Labour. None in fact, either way.

    (If they try to argue the technicalities of who split from whom in the 1920s, then someone should remind them that they themselves split from what has since become The Worker’s Party, not the other way around)

  • For bonus points, if they insist on purity of vision and maintenance of the struggle as a justification for taking ‘the cause’ with them when they abandoned (Official) Sinn Fein, then I think they get trumped by RSF. And when you’re trumped by RSF you’re onto a losing argument.

    Oh, and it’s such fun to trace the genealogy of Irish political/armed groups for colleagues here in the States. It certainly makes their heads spin, and amply demonstrates Behan’s aphorism about the split.

  • Garreth Byrne says:

    There were various thinkers among those who went out in 1916. There was Connolly on the labour question, Pearse on the matter of child education and national sovereignty. There was Arthur Griffith (founder of 1907 Sinn Fein) who gave much thought to the matter of Irish industrialisation. I regret that we home in on the martyrdom and the subsequent fratricidal civil war and forget about these individuals as thinkers. Many years ago the Field Day group published an anthology of Irish writing, mainly literary pieces. I feel that another worthwhile publication would be a compilation on non-fictional writings on philosophy, religion, education, science, travel, language, politics and so many other topics by Irish thinkers over the centuries. The writings of the 1916 thinkers could be well represented in such an anthology and their relative contribution to independent Irish thought be better estimated. Historical hagigography honours people more for their deaths than for their thoughts. As a society we should start honouring thinkers more often and give thought a position of high cultural esteem.

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