Ireland loves its history

Jim Duffy, writing in today’s Irish Times, sets out the challenge for a 21st Century Ireland that claims to be pluralistic – “Editing the awkward bits out of our national narrative”[subs req.] – an Ireland, as he points out, which “loves its history. But it likes one-sided history. The side may change, depending on each generation’s fad, fashion or political correctness.” As he says in his concluding paragraph –

The task 21st century Ireland faces is to become genuinely pluralist, to find a way to see the full complex story of Ireland; of 1914-1918 and 1916, of poppies and Easter lilies, Pearse and visiting princesses, of preserving and restoring monuments to Queen Victoria and buildings associated with the Easter Rising.

An extract from the Irish Times article, since so many can’t access it through the subscription barrier –

Take the early 20th century myth: how an oppressed Ireland rose up against its British oppressor in 1916. Not exactly. In reality only a tiny fringe rose. Far from having the country behind them, they needed protection from Dublin mobs, while nationalist newspapers called for the execution of Pearse, Connolly and the rest of the leaders.

Roll on a couple of years to the triumph of republicanism in the 1918 general election, and many of its critics jumped on the 1916 bandwagon, with far more claiming to have been in the GPO than physically would have fitted in the building. And yet, somehow Ireland was neither as anti-British nor as pro-Sinn Féin as the later spin suggested.

Throughout the 1920s Remembrance Sunday wreath-layings at the temporary cenotaph in College Green drew crowds in their tens of thousands. Catholic churches and the Pro-Cathedral were packed for High Masses for the Great War dead. Even more amazingly, only five years after a bloody Anglo-Irish war and Civil War, the king’s daughter, Princess Mary, could come and holiday in the west of Ireland, with minimal security, and be warmly welcomed.

But that side of history was airbrushed out of the official narrative. Out went the Great War dead, Redmond, or indeed those who supported Cosgrave in the 1920s. Instead came the 1916 story, with all the awkward bits edited out.

Then the reverse happened. Turned away from republicanism by the antics of the Provisional IRA, nationalists later in the century abandoned their ritualised celebrations of 1916, their Easter parades and naming everything that moved (or had a train running into it) after Rising leaders. Instead the focus was on the forgotten Irish of the Great War. Out went E Company and in came the Royal Dublin Fusiliers. The Orange Order had a plaque erected in Dublin to commemorate its founding, while long forgotten statues to royalty (those the IRA had not already managed to blow up), got cleaned up.

This line, from later in the article, which is worth reading in full, probably best sums up his argument –

The irony is that modern Ireland, in its conviction that it is pluralist, plays the same games with its history as it accuses past generations of doing.