To question the Rising is to be found guilty of un-Irish activity

Facing up to unpalatable truths in our history is part of accepting who we truly are

 The Remembrance Wall at Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

The Remembrance Wall at Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

 

Last week I was asked whether I was British. It wasn’t a question. It was an accusation, levelled at me during a discussion on 1916, which I said was wrong on every level.

Such is the attitude of some who defend 1916 that, where they are concerned, to do otherwise is to be guilty of unIrish activity.

If you challenge “the broth of a boy with a gun” myth you must therefore favour Ireland remaining part of Britain, or prefer to be British, or both, they suggest.

They fail to see, or choose to, that there is no contradiction between loving one’s country and its freedom, while also believing that 1916, the seminal event which led to its existence in the current form, was profoundly wrong.

Violent legacy

Even today as centenary commemorations continue, 1916 and its consequences divide.

Such consequences are the reason our two major political parties in the Republic cannot abide the thought of being in government together.

Thanks to 1916 and its legacy the centre in Irish politics today refuses to hold.

The consequences of 1916 copper-fastened a partition that led to two minorities on this island being abandoned to the not-so-tender mercies of their local majority.

The plight of the Catholic minority in Northern Ireland and of the Protestant minority in the Republic was ignored through decades of active discrimination.

Had matters stayed on a political course in Ireland during the first World War period, it is doubtful whether such bitter divisions would have grown so great.

In September 1914, politics delivered Home Rule in principle to Ireland.

It was limited and inadequate, providing for a devolved administration similar to that which they now have in Wales and Scotland.

But it was, to use Michael Collins’s description of the 1921 Treaty, “a stepping stone”.

There was one crucial difference. It was achieved without unleashing the ghouls of violence which have haunted us since 1916.

Yes, there were two major militias on the island then, the Ulster Volunteers and the Irish Volunteers.

But who knows how they might have related after the war? We can’t know.

In all of this it is proper too that, as we interrogate the log in our own eye, we should do likewise where “militaristic imperialism” is concerned and as suggested by President Michael D Higgins last week.

Gallipoli

Why did at least 3,411 young Irish men die at Gallipoli in 1915 invading Turkey, a country with which we never had a quarrel?

After all, didn’t Khaleefah Abdul-Majid I, sultan of the Ottoman empire, offer £10,000 to ease our suffering during the Famine.

Queen Victoria requested he reduce that to £1,000, as she just gave £2,000.

He agreed, reluctantly, but secretly sent five ships loaded with food to Drogheda despite an attempted blockade by the British navy.

The number of Irish dead at Gallipoli, however, highlights the role Irish men played in the British army down the centuries.

Irish men made up between 40 per cent and 50 per cent of that army at times in the 19th century. Most came from Catholic backgrounds.

Irish Protestants were disproportionately represented in both the officer class and among the British empire’s administrators, particularly in Africa and India.

The question this poses concerns the central role of Irish men in enforcing the militaristic imperialism of the British empire.

Facing up to these and other unpalatable truths in our history is part of accepting who we truly are.

It most certainly does not mean that those of us who pose questions feel any less Irish or need to be persuaded by fantasies to love our country.

Patsy McGarry is Religious Affairs Correspondent

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