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Revising the Rising?


Forum Magazine Editorial • April-May 2006

Over recent weeks the usual coterie of revisionists have been out peddling their anti-republican invective during the debates concerning Easter 1916. As is customary, the mainstream media has granted their dinner-table history lectures a disproportionate amount of air and column space. Thus, we have been deluged with disparaging depictions of the Rising as a nihilistic blood sacrifice which lacked a democratic mandate and as an ultimately counterproductive event in that just as much could have been achieved had constitutional nationalism been granted sufficient breathing space. It is necessary to counter these attempts at revising the Rising.

Let us firstly deal with the question of the so-called blood sacrifice. Many revisionists point to extracts from Pearse's writings to support the blood sacrifice thesis. Yes, without doubt, Pearse's use of language was often extreme, but also - and this should not be overlooked - typical of the age. Historically, leaders of advanced nationalist movements have regularly resorted to political hyperbole. "The tree of liberty must continually be watered with the blood of martyrs and the blood of tyrants". This archetypal Pearseian phrase was in fact written by Thomas Jefferson. So are we to take it that the American war of independence was a blood sacrifice?

One cannot truly appreciate the Rising unless it is placed within its proper international and historical context. To the ill-informed the Rising might appear as a historical grand gesture or yet another theatrical assertion in arms of republican aspirations. However, the Rising was anything but. In fact it represented the realisation of a coherent revolutionary strategy that was far removed from the revisionist depiction of a mindless blood sacrifice.

Any assessment of the Rising must take into consideration the 18-month-long protracted negotiations which the 1916 leaders conducted with the German general staff and admiralty from mid-1914 onwards. These negotiations resulted in the Rising coinciding with a massive German offensive on the western front at Verdun. The 1916 leaders fervently hoped the IRA would hold out for three days on Easter Week, thus satisfying the requirement that would enable a victorious Germany to fulfill its promise to give Ireland a hearing at the post-war peace conference as an independent belligerent nation. We now know the British war cabinet actually considered the possibility of suing for peace in the spring of 1916, when a German victory, or the emergence of a situation in which Germany could demand satisfactory peace terms for an end to hostilities, seemed a distinct probability. It was at this post-war peace conference that the 1916 leaders fervently hoped that Irish national aspirations would be realised. Unfortunately, history dictated otherwise. But as has been shown, the strategic approach employed by the 1916 leaders can only be appreciated within a broad international context. And contrary to the ahistorical assertions of the anti-republican revisionists, the Rising was anything but a theatrical exercise in political hari-kari. Indeed, as the eminent historian Eoin Neeson has pointed out, the lasting shibboleth of "the blood sacrifice" is "one of the most effective and enduring examples of black propaganda this country has been subject in recent times".

Revisionists also highlight the absence of a democratic mandate for armed insurrection. This is indisputable. But they fail to qualify this by acknowledging that Ireland was not a democracy in 1916. The Act of Union, designed to permanently frustrate Irish democracy, was itself contrived without a democratic mandate and British rule in Ireland had no democratic mandate. Furthermore, only half the population was entitled to elect representatives to a foreign parliament in 1916. The Proclamation sought to remedy this democratic deficit by guaranteeing universal suffrage to a native Irish parliament. Indeed the sovereignty of the Westminster parliament over Irish affairs was the precise reasons why the insurgents were fighting. Having correctly assessed British intentions, the leaders of 1916 sought a radical alteration of Irish national perspectives by acting first and seeking a retrospective mandate later. The resort to armed force was derived from the fact that British rule has no moral authority in Ireland and that Irish national demands would always fall victim to British interests and subversion. Kevin Myers may bemoan the fact that few of the 1916 leaders ever stood for election. But the fact is no Irish separatist sought to take seats in a British parliament, as none sought to lend legitimacy to a body they fervently sought to overthrow. What is indisputable is that the Easter insurgents received a retrospective mandate in the 1918 when Sinn Fein stood for election on the principles of the 1916 Proclamation.

Revisionists also contend that just as much could have been achieved by constitutional nationalism by 1921 without any recourse to physical force. They argue that a twenty-six county Home Rule entity could have evolved into an independent Irish state. However, posing the question in this manner simply confuses the issue. The 1916 rebels did not wish to hasten Home Rule for the twenty-six counties. They fought for an all-island Irish Republic, something diametrically opposed to Home Rule. Home Rule sought to co-opt the Irish urban and rural bourgeoisie in the administration of Irish affairs within the Empire. Whereas the 1916 leaders sought a democratic all-island socialist Republic and a radical break with empire. A partitioned Ireland may have been the historical outcome by 1921, but this cannot detract from the 1916 leaders' total opposition to partition, as outlined by Pearse in his 1915 essay Why We Want Recruits.

Anti-republican revisionists may attempt to disparage and dilute the visionary ideals of the Easter rebels who fought and died for an independent, sovereign, all-island, socialist Republic. However, under no circumstances should we allow their tawdry version of Irish history to stand unanswered.













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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



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Index: Current Articles

11 May 2006

Other Articles From This Issue:

The Incorruptible
Anthony McIntyre

Ruarí Ó Brádaigh: Robert White's biography of a Republican idealist
Seaghán Ó Murchú

Can of Worms
John Kennedy

The Wrong Man
Martin Ingram

Gotta Be Cruel to be Kind
Dr John Coulter

Revising the Rising?
Forum Magazine Editorial

Solving the Irish Problem
Michael Gillespie

Geoffrey Cooling

Thank You, Bobby Sands
Fred A. Wilcox

Welcome Back, David. Now, Go Away Again!
Eamon Sweeney

Give Them That Auld Tyme Religion
Dr John Coulter

Meal Ticket
John Kennedy

Examples of Dialogue
Conn Corrigan

Two-State Solution
Mick Hall

Peter King - Still Irish America's Champion
Patrick Hurley

Statements on the Murder of Michael McIlveen
RSF; 32 County Sovereignty Movement

Profile: Chahla Chafiq
Anthony McIntyre

Freedom of Speech index

18 April 2006

Grave Secrets
Anthony McIntyre

Spoiled Rotten
David Adams

Let Bygones be Bygones
Mick Hall

Urgent Memo — Judas Was One of the Bad Guys!
Dr John Coulter

Cluedo in Donegal
Anthony McIntyre

Easter Message
John Kennedy

Óglaigh na hÉireann Easter Statement
The Sovereign Nation

IFC Easter Statement, 2006
Joe Dillon

Lincoln's Despair
John Kennedy

Fred A. Wilcox

Hamas Being Forced to Collapse
Sam Bahour

Profile: Philippe Val
Anthony McIntyre

Freedom of Speech index



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