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.
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,
to Mrs McAleese, the Easter Rising was neither exclusive
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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".
"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
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.
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.
1916 leaders could not possibly have foreseen the
first, or even begun to imagine the second, much
less plan for either.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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".