Easter Rising seen as an exercise in futility

Opinion: There’s an overlap between views of John Bruton and cheerleaders for the IRA’s 1971-1998 campaign

‘Given the ideology he espouses, Bruton cannot acknowledge either that the Rising was a genuine strike against imperialism, whereas the Great War was a clash between rival robber gangs, with the proles as expendable fodder.’ Above, a British army soldier stands guard over Irish republican prisoners in a temporary hospital at Dublin Castle following the Easter Rising, 1916. Original publication: ‘The Graphic’, published May 13th, 1916. Photograph:  Hulton Archive/Getty Images

‘Given the ideology he espouses, Bruton cannot acknowledge either that the Rising was a genuine strike against imperialism, whereas the Great War was a clash between rival robber gangs, with the proles as expendable fodder.’ Above, a British army soldier stands guard over Irish republican prisoners in a temporary hospital at Dublin Castle following the Easter Rising, 1916. Original publication: ‘The Graphic’, published May 13th, 1916. Photograph: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Thu, Aug 7, 2014, 12:01

It’s more than a pity John Bruton has never been much of a one for mischief. He might have contributed to the gaiety of the nation if he’d ended his contribution to a debate in the Irish Embassy in London last month on the significance for Ireland of the first World War by bursting into a sardonic rendition of that most rousing of republican ballads: “Take it down from the mast, Irish traitors/That’s the flag we Republicans claim/It can never belong to Free Staters/You have brought on it nothing but shame.”

Leave aside for a moment the competing analyses of the 1916 Rising and speculation about the trajectory events might have taken had the Rising never happened. The point is, there’s a rough overlap there between the perspective long held by Bruton and the viewpoint now of the cheerleaders for the IRA’s 1971-1998 campaign in that both believe that the 1921 partition settlement fell so far short of the aims of the Rising as to reduce the event to an exercise in futility.

The shift in the official republican position has since smoothed some of this roughness away.

Blandishments of the British

Bruton’s conclusion is that the partition settlement was as much as was achievable at the time and could have been secured without an uprising. On the other hand, the tradition which the Provos set out to revive on the back on the civil rights campaign held that much more could have been won had Griffith and Collins not fallen for the blandishments of the British: the task now was to take up arms to save honour and complete the job.

“Leave it to those who are willing/To uphold it in war or in peace/To the men who intend to do killing/Until England’s tyrannies cease.” Used to raise the rafters at closing time, that.

Bruton leaves a lot out of his account. Insofar as useless waste of life is at issue, he might have mentioned – although no surprise that he didn’t – that the tens of thousands of Irish who died in the first World War died for no good reason. Indeed, he appears to believe that the unspeakable bloodletting of 1914-1918 was rather a splendid affair.

Given the ideology he espouses, Bruton cannot acknowledge either that the Rising was a genuine strike against imperialism, whereas the Great War was a clash between rival robber gangs, with the proles as expendable fodder. (The Oh, What a Lovely War account remains the most accurate of the narratives.)

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