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President Reinventing Our History


David Adams • Irish Times, 3 February 2006

In her speech at a UCC conference on the 1916 Rising, President Mary McAleese did not so much attempt to rewrite large chunks of recent Irish history, as try to reinvent it completely.

She did not just apply a touch of gloss to some awkward little pieces of historical furniture, but tried to deconstruct and refurbish an entire, 90-year, historical edifice.

According to Mrs McAleese, the Easter Rising was neither exclusive nor sectarian.

Yet how, other than exclusive, to describe an unelected, unaccountable, elite embarking on armed insurrection against the wishes of the vast majority of its fellow citizens? What appellation, other than sectarian, can be attached to the subsequent campaign of intimidation, assault and murder directed against scores of Irish Protestants on the pretext that, because of their religion, they must surely be British sympathisers and collaborators?

To suggest, as the President did, that the 1916 Rising was inclusive and non-sectarian simply because some women and a very few highborn Protestants played a part, is risible.

That is like arguing that the National Party of South Africa wasn't racist because, as was the case, it had a tiny sprinkling of ethnic Asians and Africans within its midst.

Similarly, Mrs McAleese claimed that Irish nationalism was never narrow. Bizarrely, she based this assertion largely on the fact that many nationalists "belonged to a universal church that brought them into contact with a vastly wider segment of the world than that open to even the most travelled imperial English gentleman".

There is something deeply ironic in the President taking a sideswipe at English (notably, not British?) imperialism while, in the same breath, lauding the supposed benefits of belonging to a "universal church" that historically has been more imperial in outlook and operation than any nation.

More telling, though, is her failure to recognise that it was precisely because of its unhealthily close association with one religious denomination to the exclusion of all others that Irish nationalism was so narrow and partial.

President McAleese dismissed those who might have suspected that post-1916 nationalism would seek "the domination of one cultural and ethnic tradition over others", though she did concede that it was easy to see how people might have "fallen into that mistaken view".

A "mistaken view"? Did the President not notice, then, the virtual theocracy that, between them, the church and a subservient nationalism created and maintained in Ireland from independence until recent times?

I agree with President McAleese that today's Republic of Ireland is a modern, prosperous, democracy with, as she put it, a widely shared political philosophy of equality, social inclusion, human rights and anti-confessionalism. I disagree profoundly, however, with her on how it arrived at that point.

The President would have us believe that the liberal democracy of today flowed from the 1916 Proclamation. The truth is that prosperity flowed directly from Ireland's membership of the European Union, and liberal democracy from the implosion of an institution given so much rope in the form of unelected and unaccountable power and influence, that eventually it hanged itself.

The 1916 leaders could not possibly have foreseen the first, or even begun to imagine the second, much less plan for either.

I have no strong view on whether or not there should be an official parade to commemorate the 1916 Rising: that is a matter entirely for the people of the Republic and their elected representatives. What I do take exception to, is propaganda posing as historical truth: irrespective of whether the object is to reclaim a particular event, elevate a political party or rehabilitate a religious organisation.

Last Friday, the President did not present a differing "analysis and interpretation" of recent Irish history but, rather, a history almost totally divorced from fact. Far worse, there was nothing in what she had to say about the "idealistic and heroic founding fathers and mothers" that could not equally be said in defence of the Provisional IRA and its actions (or, for that matter, its would-be successors in the Continuity and Real IRAs).

After all, they too were a tiny elite of extreme nationalists who took it upon themselves to drive out the British at the point of a gun.

They too, claimed to be wedded to the principles of equality and civil and religious liberty for all, while prosecuting a murderous campaign against their Protestant neighbours.

If we follow President McAleese's uncritical analysis and reasoning to its logical conclusion, in intellectual terms, all that separated the modern IRA from the rebels of 1916 was the passage of time. To heap retrospective adulation upon the leaders of the 1916 Rising while denying it to the Provisionals, is to differentiate only on the grounds of the relative success of one and complete failure of the other.

Surely, it is not beyond the President and others to find a way of celebrating independence without glorifying the manner in which it was achieved. Until then, nationalism will continue handing a blank cheque to successive generations of "freedom fighters".



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Index: Current Articles

5 February 2006

Other Articles From This Issue:

Murder in the Street
Anthony McIntyre

The Murder of Brian Stewart
Marie Duffy

Eamonn McCann

President Reinventing Our History
David Adams

End Coalition with US
Michael McKevitt

"Do Not Become Recruiting-Sergeant for PSNI", Reiss is Advised
Sean Mc Manus

An Endless Circle
Mick Hall

The American Dream – Camp Sister Spirit Mississippi
Sean Mc Aughey

Call Centres
Liam O Ruairc

Reaction to GEM Article
Pascal Stil

More Spies May be Lurking in Sinn Féin's Cupboard
Anthony McIntyre

30 January 2006

One Year On
Anthony McIntyre

SF's Support 'Lay With the People Involved in Robert's Murder'
K Quinn

Our Fenian Dead
Brendan Hughes

Murky Maghaberry
Anthony McIntyre

Rebutting a Defamatory Article
Declan Carroll

Getting the Facts Right
Statement from McKevitt & Sands Family

"Close Enough for Government Work"
Chris Fogarty

Boxing Shadows
Dr John Coulter

When is Enough, Enough?
Mick Hall

Serving the Agenda of Two Masters
Anthony McIntyre

St Pat's Day
Niall Corey

The Letters page has been updated.



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