1916 Legacy: Ireland paved the way for small nations

As we approach Easter weekend and the major commemorative gatherings across Ireland that have been organised to remember the events of 100 years ago, there continues to be many television programmes and newspaper column inches dedicated to the topic, reflecting the keen interest in the issue across the country and beyond. One particular programme that’s caught my eye has been the Insurrection mini-series being rerun by RTE, featuring one of Ireland’s greatest actors, Ray McAnally. Originally broadcast in 1966, it set out to portray how the events of the week would have been presented had television existed at the time.

Of course, there are many contrasting interpretations of the events of Easter 1916, and some of those have been outlined on Slugger in the past few days (here and here.)

In The Irish News yesterday, Brian Feeney was in sparkling form, confronting what he termed “The Easter Rising tide of historical nonsense”:

There’s a lot of balderdash talked in the last couple of weeks about the Easter Rising being ‘undemocratic’. So it was as people today view democracy.

However that doesn’t mean the existing government in Ireland was democratic. It wasn’t, not in our terms today, that is.

It is utterly ridiculous and a childish, unhistorical cardinal error to project the values of the twenty-first century backwards onto the early years of the nineteenth century.

In Ireland in 1916 women didn’t have the vote and they, as always, were the majority of the population.

A lot of men didn’t have the vote either. It’s no good saying, ‘ah but people in 1916 thought they were living in a democracy’. No they didn’t.

The suffragettes who were protesting and campaigning didn’t. Republicans didn’t. Furthermore the nationalists who’d been denied Home Rule by a seditious conspiracy led by the Conservative party using Ulster Unionists as their armed wing felt it necessary to arm in turn to try to insist on the authority of the British parliament being enforced. Fat chance.

Ronan Fanning, Emeritus Professor of History at UCD has demonstrated conclusively in his recent books, especially Fatal Path, that there was no prospect of Britain granting Irish independence before, and certainly not after, the First World War.

The Rising set the train in motion because the British responded as they always did when ‘a mutiny resulted’ because they ‘knew the native mind’ and had the Maxim gun.

Curiously, people who condemn the Rising as ‘undemocratic’ never explain where Britain gained its democratic mandate to govern Ireland. Surely not the Act of Union?

Curiously they never condemn the American War of Independence strongly objected to by American loyalists. As Fanning asked, did the American bicentenary in 1976 conceal the revolt against the British or did the French bicentenary in 1989 deny the bloodshed of the French Revolution? That’s the way it was in days of empire.

For my part, I had an article in today’s Belfast Telegraph examining the significance of 1916 in an Irish and international context, some of which I have pasted below.

One of the most significant legacies of the Irish revolution was how it inspired other struggles worldwide and also led to the demise of the age of empire.

The struggle of the Irish rebels was a genuine one in defence of a small nation at a time when those who governed empires were cynically using the slogan of fighting to defend small nations as a cloak to wage war in pursuit of their imperial interests (the treatment meted out at Amritsar in 1919 and in Iraq in 1920 betrayed the cruel lie behind the rhetoric which helped motivate many to make the fateful decision to enrol and perish at the Somme and in other battlefields).

Edward Said noted that the Irish struggle triggered by 1916 was to become a “model of 20th century wars of liberation”. The significance of an oppressed European nation rising up against an imperial power was noted by Lenin and inspired others including Gandhi and Ho Chi Minh.

Today, the Rising allows Irish people to reflect upon the history of the independent Irish State, how it has developed and evolved, including when set against the vision and expectations of those who devised the Proclamation and who died in 1916.

In this Irish people are doing nothing different to what the French do on Bastille Day and the Americans on the Fourth of July each year.

But as well as being the pivotal moment giving rise to the foundation of the southern State, the Rising also serves to remind northern nationalists of our place in the Irish nation: the Republic proclaimed in Easter 1916 was one of 32 counties, not 26.

In that sense commemorating the Rising serves to reassure northern nationalists of the validity of our aspiration and place within the Ireland of 2016, with the Good Friday Agreement providing a framework to pursue constitutional change.

In Northern Ireland we are grappling with the reality of competing narratives over our history. It is entirely wrong to suggest that nationalists and republicans are involved in “rewriting history”, as such a charge erroneously implies that a uniform interpretation of history was ever agreed and is now being rewritten.

In truth, what we are seeing today is that a shared and increasingly equal Northern Irish society has allowed for the articulation of a non-unionist narrative in the public space in a manner that simply was not previously possible. This is a good thing for Northern Irish society.

The Rising struck a blow against the idea of empire and imperialism, beginning a pattern repeated across the British Empire as the 20th century progressed.

Ireland paved the way for small nations 100 years ago – and for that we should be rightly proud.

Read the whole thing here.

  • Bill Slim

    Play the ball and not the man. I haven’t called either yourself or your historical chum idiots.

  • Bill Slim

    It was a mild response given the times they were living in. The prime minister had just recently lost his son in battle as had many of his cabinet colleagues. The lives of a bunch of traitors who had just gunned down british soldiers, police and civilians in the second city of the British empire were hardly at the forefront of their worries.

  • Bill Slim

    Nope. You are a traitor if you turn those weapons against your own troops.

  • Bill Slim

    I did laugh heartily at that one myself.

  • Bill Slim

    Your more liberal posts are notable for the way you like to slip a little lie in to denigrate your opponent.

  • Bill Slim

    Being a great historian in your own right you could research what I have told you about the mcmahons and discover that I am not giving you any false suggestions. Nor am I attempting to justify any murders.

  • Bill Slim

    Do you think that Paisley would have had any support without nicra’s antics?

  • Bill Slim

    And you’ll still be raging about the lack of a United ireland from your old peoples home.

  • Croiteir

    Century of violence – which one in particular?

  • Anglo-Irish

    Well , you kind of did in my case Bill.

    You said that I was ignorant of what I was talking about, lacked logic and implied that I would find something difficult to understand.

    Not exactly a glowing tribute to my intellectual capabilities was it?

    The difference being that it didn’t bother me in the slightest, I don’t have a thin skin and I simply retort along similar lines whenever it happens.

  • Jollyraj

    Well, he’s always good for a giggle, is Anglo. Right down to the chosen nom de plume of ‘AI’ which of course has an especially amusing irony for an old Fermanagh boy like meself 😉

  • MalikHills

    God help us all, this is like debating with an especially dim-witted five-year-old.

    Let me explain to you again, the British Army were not the Irish Volunteers’ “own troops”, Not their own troops, understand? They were the enemy, just as the Volunteers were not British troops, they were the enemies of the British. Got it? They were two armies fighting each other over the future rule of Ireland.

    It happens very often you know, that two armed camps do battle with each other over a competing political ideology. In British terms it happened constantly in the middle ages, erupted again in the English Civil War (were Cromwell’s troops “traitors”? Were the Scottish Covenanters “traitors”?), It happened in the Glorious Revolution (were the troops of William’s army “traitors”? Were the men behind Derry’s Walls “traitors”?). Again in the 1745 Highland Rising and once again in the American colonies in 1776, no doubt you feel George Washington was a “traitor”.

    And it happened again in Ireland between 1916 and 1923. Simple.

    One last thing, who were those nice shiny Mauser rifles so conveniently purchased by the UVF from our old friend the tyrant Kaiser going to be used to shoot?

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Bill, I have researched this , from actual primary sources. What you are coming from is probably an attempt to camp up a “protection payment” into some kind of support. The McMahons were nationalists, but in common with most middle class nationalists of their period, supporters of the IPP, the constitutionalists.

    Wikipedia sometimes needs corrections, but its summation of this is spot on;

    “The McMahon family had no connection to any paramilitary violence. Owen McMahon was a supporter and personal friend of Joe Devlin, the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP) Member of Parliament, who rejected Irish republican violence.”

    Ireland has seldom been two teams playing one political pitch, but usually a score of teams playing across all the others. In 1922 Constitutional Nationalism was still important and influential here, with constitutional nationalists gaining an equal number of seats to Sinn Féin in the 1921 election in the north. The McMahons were nationalists yes, but constitutional nationalists who only contributed to the coffers of the IRA of their day at the point of a gun.

    Jack Benny once had a sketch playing on his proverbial miserliness. He is held up and told “your money or your life.” He hesitates and the robber says more nervously “Come on, man, your money or your life.” Jack responds “Give me some time, I’m thinking about it.” Owen McMahon was facing a similar dilemma, and are you going to blacken the memory of a family with lies and post what any decent person can only see as a justification for their cruel murder on such calumnies?

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Indeed, AG, I remember a most interesting response not so long ago where I was accused of being a Unionist stooge. All too often I can think of better arguments for the Union than most of those posting as Unionists make, it is so frustrating that I can also think of how to critique even those arguments, and critique my critique and so on. But despite this seemingly endless stream of personalised bitterness from two posters on this thread, I’d still challenge either of them to find a posting anywhere on Slugger where I’d ever supported Republican violence.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Bill, I simply point out the lack of supportable material in the postings of some other posters here. Those I critique provide the raw material for what I am pointing out by making outrageous statements without sufficient understanding of what they are affirming. Its called debate.

  • Greenflag 2

    It’s not a raging matter for me or for the vast majority of Irish people . I can understand why the very thought of a UI is enraging from your narrow perspective . I suggest another biscuit and a longer lie down and try not to get too excited .

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    They won’t find such evidence Seaan, nationalists (of either hue British or Irish) tend to batter the shape of the argument before them into a hole which suits their own perspective.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Try as I may, I simply cannot get Kipling’s “If…” out of my head with this one.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Bill, as AI says, you are constantly man-playing by simply slapping down comments without actually checking out what people say, almost always with some suggestion of political alignment or suggestion of lying even when told that this is simply not true, and even picking up that silly “Walter Mitty” tag Turgon has been letting himself down with recently.

  • erasmus

    She is an angry little Orange woman

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    “Do you think that Paisley would have had any support without nicra’s antics?”
    Perhaps not as much but the man had the gift of rabble rousing and sabre rattling and would have found something to gansh about.
    As with nearly every watershed it (NICRA) could have been handled better but blaming them squarely for starting the troubles is incredibly blinkered and from a unionist perspective the equating of ‘NICRA = IRA’ is a complete own goal as that narrative creates a vacuum for whom to award the credit for the changes that were implemented in a relatively short period of time, as such the modern nonsense message of SF i.e. ‘the PIRA were fighting for Catholic rights’ gets an undue amount of the spotlight and further ‘legitimises’ their cause in the eyes of the world, much to the annoyance of unionists and decent people.

  • Gopher

    I am not sure Otto Carius’s opinion carries much weight given that he only served for a month on the Western Front and in March/April 45. Only being in at the death in the west he never experienced Normandy or Falaise. His view was common among commanders who never experienced the west.

  • Anglo-Irish

    ‘ He only served for a month on the Western Front ‘.

    That would be a month at the end of the war during some of the final last ditch fighting.

    It would also be a month longer than I, and probably you have fought in a battle zone.

    Difficult one for me to decide on, who to believe, the German tank ace with over 150 kills and the Knights Cross of the Iron Cross to his name or a poster on Slugger?

    A poster who appears to be under the impression that the country that killed most German Troops, won the three greatest land battles of WW2 and lost over 20 million people as a result of the war wasn’t also the most significant contributor to the end result.


    Difficult, but all things considered I’m leaning toward the tank ace.

  • Jollyraj

    You mean that she writes things you wish she wouldn’t.

  • John Collins

    No, Paisley and his ‘useful idiots’ undermined Terence O’Neill, like Gusty and his mates and the crowd that were blowing up electrical installations. Forty years later the old fraud and his equally revolting chuckle brother were glad handing each other, in a fashion that Jack Lynch and Terence O’Neill would never have stooped to. As John Major might say that was a spectacle that did turn stomachs.

  • Gopher

    Lets flesh this out a bit. We can do a bit of detective work with your chap. Before your chap was wounded he served with Tiger Battalion 502. It never served on the Western front and achieved a kill ratio of 13.08. The highest kill ratio achieved by a Tiger battalion was the organic one attached to GD which achieved the remarkable ratio of 16.67. This formation also never fought on the western front. The only other Tiger battalion with a ratio over 10 was 103 SS which had a kill ratio of 12.82, guess what it never fought in the west.

    When you study the Tiger battalions that fought in the west the Kill ratio whilst good are not spectacular in Italy for instance 508 only achieved 1.28. Most formations that spent time on the Western Front have a ratio between 4 and 5 kills per loss. The Kills being mainly in the East the losses in the west. The statistics dont lie the Western Front was more lethal for Tigers than the East.

    Tiger Tank aces of the eastern front were much like fighter aces of the eastern front when they went west, they became dead aces. Or captured aces like your chap.

    The month your chap spent in combat was largely in the Ruhr pocket like I say I’m underwhelmed. If he’d been under 16 inch naval gunfire or carpet bombed like his pals in Normandy he might have something to say about the Western fighting.

    At Stalingrad 91,000 troops surrendered 5,000 returned home. No doubt if the western Allies allowed the troops they captured to die they could improve the ratio somewhat.

    Your forgetting the Battle of Moscow in your three greatest Land Battles. But the war was won on the sea and in the air, strategy was driven by the availability of shipping and the range and number of fighter aircraft. Russia lost 20 million people by incompetence, she brought the war upon herself. Always admire Russia who could not and she certainly did soak up German manpower but like I said it had nowhere else to fight and Russia made sure it would be in Russia.

  • Anglo-Irish

    Let’s not flesh it out a bit, my interest is nowhere near as involved as yours.

    Let’s simplify it shall we?

    The second world war was eventually won by a large number of allied forces combining and fighting against the axis forces.

    Whilst it took the combined weight of all of those allies working together and none of them can claim sole responsibility for eventual victory it is a simple fact that the Soviet Unions involvement played a major part in the eventual result.

    Without the kill rate inflicted upon the Germans by the Soviets and without the German military involvement required on the Eastern Front the outcome would have been effected dramatically. .

    The resources and manpower needed to kill over 20 million people was enormous and had the Germans been able to employ that against the Western Allies then the outcome would have been different.

    That is what I’m saying, no one single country can claim that they, and they alone, were responsible for the outcome of WW2, however the USSR came closest to be able to make that claim.

    They would be wrong to do so, but no one else has a better claim.

  • Gopher

    I have no more to add except one thing merely for consideration and it comes from my study of history and conflict specifically. Denial of resources is generally the biggest killer whether civilian or POW. ie starvation and its by product disease. It is also efficient.

  • Anglo-Irish

    I totally accept that fact, starvation has been used as a weapon by several empires in order to remove people who existed in numbers and places inconvenient to the rulers.

    The famine being a case in point.

    My only disagreement with you was the fact that you appeared to be denigrating the Russian impact on WW2 whilst I – accepting that it involved many nations – feel that the Russian contribution was crucial.

    As was American input, without their provision of material the remaining allies would not have triumphed.

  • Gopher

    Far from it and may I say I have paid my respects at more than one WWII Russian memorial. I am merely giving perspective. Whilst in actual army formation s the bulk of the German Army was on the eastern front the technology and productive capacity was in the west. When you strip the hype away from Kursk you will find that Moscow and Stalingrad are the more important. Scouring the eastern front to find 1800 hundred planes and only around 400 of them single engined fighters, the Red Army despite a few local reverses never had to fear the Luftwaffe again.

    The Russian contribution was vitally important but when you look at the shoot yourself in the foot list, they top it. From the purge to the non aggression pact, annexing Petsamo in Finland and Bessarabria In Roumania. Hitler was very sensitive about his nickel and oil. You at least think you would be ready for war after pulling off those stunts, but nope.

  • Anglo-Irish

    Then we are more or less in agreement. It is simply that I find the common habit of ignoring the Russian contribution to the war as somewhat lacking in either knowledge or respect.

    It seems to me that the probable reasons are twofold, firstly everyone wants a bigger slice of the credit than they’re actually due and secondly it damages the narrative somewhat.

    The narrative being Allies = good Axis = evil, bit difficult to maintain that point of view with a straight face when you have to include ‘Uncle Joe’ into the equation.

    Stalin was at least as much of a murdering megalomaniac as Hitler if not more so.

    Had Adolph allowed his Generals to run the military side without interference it might have been a different story.

    Had he allowed his troops to withdraw from Stalingrad for instance thousands of them would have been available for more productive use elsewhere.

    He wouldn’t allow it for the brilliant strategic reason that the city was named after Stalin, and he wanted the satisfaction of taking it.

    Obviously we had our own megalomaniac in Churchill but the political system allowed for some measure of restraint on his ego. In my view one of the main things we had in our favour was Alan Brooke who managed to rein in some of Churchill’s wilder flights of fancy.

    Fortunately, the type of lunacy that allowed people such as that to gain control of major powers doesn’t exist anymore, and when President Vladimir Putin sits down with President Donald Trump to discuss matters in a shared spirit of mutual trust and friendship the world will a better place for it.

  • Gopher

    I find it is the other way around, Russia post second world war in the narrative sense benefited from a surge in socialist Historians like the AJP Taylor of the other thread, Rommel, Model and Kluge did not survive their commands in the west to write memoirs whilst Manstein and Guderian did. Then you had the pre war military writers of the tank school seeking vindication through events in the Eastern Front and finally you had the large pool of untapped records released after the fall of the Iron Curtain. I believe only recently with the likes of Tooze and Bungay or we getting a more realistic perspective.

    Had Hitler let his generals run the show they would have defeated far sooner. “Victory has a thousand fathers defeat is an orphan” Hitler never had the luxury of writing his memoirs like the generals who bad mouth him yet on July 20th they to a man hide behind their oath. Absolutely no respect for any of them. The superiority in equipment carried them for the first half of the war the fighting ability of the German soldier carried them for the second half.

    You bring up Stalingrad the generals messed up Hitlers plan from the get go Hoth got involve in a street fight in Voronezh expressly against Hitlers orders enabling the armies facing him to escape throwing the timetable from the start. Practically every single inteligence report on Soviet capability Hitler received since the start of Barbarossa was erroneous leading him to rely on intuition. Russia’s ability to wage war flowed along the the Volga past Stalingrad including the bulk of lend lease. Nothing as poetic or as vain, it could have been called anything. Holding 9/10 of the city he took a punt that he could have taken the rest.

    “History will be kind to me, I intend to write it.” If you have one-thousandth of the life of Churchill you would be happy. Grade A people don’t hire bozo’s as Steve Jobs used to say. Churchill hired grade A people. The British high command were so superior to every other nations its laughable now. That is down to Churchill and of course liberal democracy. Churchill knew Churchill. if he wanted to be a meglomaniac he could have been.

    Unfortunately today a Churchill lifestyle would be front page of the Sun stuff and AlanBrooke would have been cashiered for crashing his car killing his first wife.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Bill, so your source for this “devistating” claim is Rex Taylor, ho humm. Have you actually read Rex Taylor’s “Assassination, the Death of Sir Henry Wilson and the Tragedy of Ireland ” or did you encounter this little gem on “Nelson’s View”, March 2013?


    If you had looked at the book itself you might have noticed that it is a popular “history” book designed to attract a particular type of reader, rather than serious academic history. Now an historian will always (when publishing between covers) cite his sources so that his peers may evaluate just how much confidance they may place in any affirmation.

    In this instance Taylor certainly uses what might be loosly called “gossip” at points in both this book and his biography of Michael Collins to add colour or some striking image. There was certainly a “justification campaign” mounted privately at the time by the partisans of Nixon (the Brown Square police inspector responsible for the murders) to “excuse” the murders at the time. It was even suggested in the press that the murders were IRA murders, something that was quickly dropped as its absurdity became evident. Taylor is using this kind of anecdotal “evidence” here, probably told him in the course of his researches by old RIC hands. I’d read the actual Royal Irish Constabulary report of the period into the murders that was released during the 1990s (“primary evidence”) and there is no mention whatsoever of any of this story which Taylor mentions, because it simply was not credible with regard to a man well known as a very “integrated” Catholic with numerious protestant business friends. Even Nelson points out in re-publishing Taylor’s claim that “this is something I have never seen before.” A more likely story was Seán Montgomery’s claim of bank notes found in the pages of a book as a method of transmitting the enforced payment to the IRA, especially as the IRA had just begun targeting the family with the robbery of Owen’s brother’s business the Century Bar a few months before the killings. Both of these possibilities are far more consistent with the pressuring of local business interests owned by “undependable” constitutional nationalists to forcably contribute to IRA coffers than the concocted “bank transfer” story. The message being sent by a squad of Specials led by a rogue police inspector was clearly, “if you contribute even half a crown under duress your life is forfet. Better simply let the IRA kill you.” My own belief is that the wish to underline such a threat was the reason for such a grossly disproportionate atrocity.

    You can also read about the release of the “X Files”:


    Taylor’s comment about the “lull” in volunteer/IRA activity in Belfast after the murders would find a more sensible explanation with the date, 24th March 1922. Shortly before this, in late January, Lloyd George and Churchill had brought Craig and Michael Collins to London for negotiations. These had at first looked promicing but with disagreements a new upsurge of violence began from both camps in Belfast. Churchill spoke of “an underworld there with deadly feuds of its own”.

    With this new spate of RIC/Special killings of Catholics linked with IRA kidnappings of important border Unionists Churchill ordered both of them to stop supporting their men of violence in such extra-legal activities. The outcome was the Craig Collins pact of 30th March 1922. It is of some interest that Churchill himself described the murders during negotiations as “worse than cannabalism.”

    And it is important to remember just how shocking this was for the decent people of the protestant community. Owen McMahon was considered to be an “integrated” Catholic who lived in what was thought of as a middle class “protestant” street with good protestant neighbours. Numerious members of the protestant business community attended the funeral in solidarity with the family. Many of Owen McMahon’s close friends were from the protestant middle classes he lived and worked among and he was even a director of Glentorn FC, recommended by some of his closer personal protestant friends. The most authorative research published to date on the murders , Tim Wilson’s article in “Irish Historical Studies” (2010) clearly states that “the occasional attempts that have been made to link the McMahon household to the republican cause lack plausability.” (p. 95).

    Regarding Nixon’s claims for some recognition for such “services” even someone as hard line Unionist as Dawson Bates could say:

    “Originally, Mr Nixon was a capable DI, but latterly he has mixed up in politics and, undoubtedly, has shown a strong party feeling which is unbecoming a police officer. In his district he has also allowed the feeling to develop that there is only one law—that for the Protestants and, in consequence, the Protestant hooligan element is allowed to interpret in its own fashion the laws of the country.”

    No, Bill, you will not find any “justification” for what was one of the most shameful episodes in our bitter and violent history, and one which united both ends of the community in its condemnation.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    AG, I know no-one from either political camp wants to hear this but there were “liberal” Unionists active in the NICRA (and they were even represented on the committee) and even some of them mixing with us dangerious lefties at the PD demonstrations in 1968. It’s unbelievable just how simplified that particular story has become as every political interest other than Unionism tries to get a big bite of the cherry. You even get people nowadays muttering “Trotskyist” when they hear the PD was formed around the “Young Socialists” but hey, it was the boring old NI Labour Party Young Socialists, not the Socialist Labour League “Young Socialists” which is what even some of the uninformed thought at the time (including amusingly the Special Branch Reports at PRONI).

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Oh, so you were there, and saw all this, Bill? Actually, some who were connected with the IRA were there, certainly, trying to find some advantage in what was happening, “fishing in troubled waters”. Which, as the Bunting Sr response confronted the civil disobedience with some real violence, the republicans could begin to develop, and absorb the credit for “fighting back”. But the “Great Republican Plot” to use the Civil Rights Movement to develop a war on British Imperialism needs to be shelved alongside “The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion” on the fiction shelves. They IRA did get their war, but without the shenanigans of Ronnie Bunting Sr, all the IRA would have got was a lot of marches and sit downs, and a draining off of political steam as Britain forced the Unionist hand on Civil Rights and some real equality kicked in. And they wouldn’t have been interested in that kind of thing at all, nothing they could use.