Honouring John Redmond
Sir, – Eamon Maloney TD’s call for An Post to withdraw from circulation the first World War commemorative stamp that features John Redmond dishonours the memory of the 200,000 Irishmen who answered the call of duty, by insinuating they were in some way the dupes of a war-mongering establishment fronted by the Irish Parliamentary Party leader. A hundred years on, none of us can say with any certainty why so many of our countrymen joined up and went off to France to fight and die in the trenches. Youthful idealism, unemployment, boredom – the motivating factors were many and to depict Redmond as a butcher’s apprentice who busied himself feeding the meat grinder with raw recruits is disingenuous and I suspect Mr Maloney’s interpretation owes more to some half-remembered war poetry from the Leaving Cert and episodes of Blackadder on television than any objective study of the historical evidence.
Neither John Redmond or the then prime minister, HH Asquith, whose eldest son, Raymond, was killed fighting alongside Irish troops at the Somme in 1916 – had any idea of the appalling slaughter that would ultimately result from the inexorable slide into conflict triggered by the shots fired in Sarajevo. All that was certain 100 years ago this August was that a continent occupied by Germany from the Vistula to the Bay of Biscay would be intolerable. Indeed Deputy Maloney’s confusion seems to deepen when he refers to Irishmen “killing for Great Britain”. Is he not aware that Irishmen were in fact British up until December 6th, 1922? Or perhaps Deputy Maloney has been reading opinion polls rather than history books during his extensive summer holidays and has woken up to the impending Sinn Féin blitzkrieg into Labour’s electoral territory at the next general election. If so, then the Deputy is greatly mistaken if he thinks abandoning the red flag and brandishing a green one will snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.– Yours, etc,
Sir, – It has been said that one of the most powerful optical instruments ever devised is hindsight. With its aid, we now see the Easter Rising as the start of the final campaign for Irish independence and thus as an iconic and epoch-making event. Then, no right-thinking person, including Redmond, could have seen it as anything other than an act of high treason. Nor could anyone have expected the instigators to escape with their lives.
If a soldier would have been shot in 1916 for refusing to go “over the top”, how unreasonable was it that a similar fate should befall men who rose up against their king in his own realm, particularly in wartime? It could even be argued that a surprising degree of clemency was shown to those rebels who were not considered ringleaders, given the scale of the death and destruction which resulted from their activities.
As the centenary approaches, I hope that those who write for public consumption, and those who teach the younger generation about history, will try to take a step backwards from the official version of 1916 which has prevailed for so long in some quarters, and bring some objectivity into their perception and discussion of those events. – Yours, etc,
Merseyside WA10 4GY