Free from the shackles of nationalist rhetoric?

Irish Justice Miniser, Michael McDowell, says he believes the decision to reinstate the 1916 military parade and commemoration of the Easter Rising was the right one because “it amounts to a categorical rejection of the proposition – argued for by Provos and revisionists alike – that 1916 was in some sense the patrimony of the sectarian terror campaign waged on this island by the Provos from 1969 to 1998”. “We were right to reclaim our history and our flag from those who were abusing them to develop a grotesque historical ideology that somehow ‘morphs’ Arthur Griffith of 1905 into Gerry Adams in 2005.

“We were right to do honour to our patriots. We were right to start a great national conversation and debate on what it is to be Irish. That is the path to reconciliation of orange and green. We were right to reinstate the authentic meaning of the term ‘republican’. Ireland is not simply Gaelic or nationalist. Irishness is a complex tapestry of Gaels, Scandinavians, Normans, English, Scots and Anglo-Irish. Irish culture reflects that complexity and diversity. Like a lot of other things, 1916 is ‘part of what we are’. It does not define us or enslave us. Realising that much liberates us.”

While McDowell feels the Rising was not “the single moment of birth of Irish freedom – nor even the moment of conception which led to the birth of an independent Irish state” Alan Ruddock in the Sunday Times takes an opposite view, saying it was “undeniably, a catalyst”, that went on to generate “the chain reaction of execution, recrimination and nationalist fervour that created the conditions for the war of independence and the civil war that followed”.

Ruddock feels that before 1916 there was a chance Ireland’s divisions could be eased by joint resistance to the common enemy.

“The rebels, by choosing German rather than British imperialism, killed that faint hope and spat in the faces of the tens of thousands of Irishmen who would die fighting the Germans, just as their followers would spit in the faces of those who fought in and survived the great war.

“The rising was a consciously treacherous stab in the back, not just for Britain, but for the Irishmen who saw it as their duty to fight in the great war. Ahern sees it as a “cry of radical idealism that shook the world”, but it was not and did not.”

According to Ruddock, by celebrating the Rising, the Irish State is celebrating “division and alienation, and lauds those who set this country on a destructive and violent course from which it is only now emerging.

“The rebel leaders gave us civil war and violent, fascist republicanism. They gave us sectarianism and a false mythology on which we hung our early, failed attempts at nation building. And they gave us hate.”

He mentions how his grandfathers played no part in the Easter Rising of 1916, so, unlike many Irish people, he cannot draw republican authenticity from the bones of my ancestors.”

“One was young enough to join the North Irish Horse and served his time in France; another was too old for the trenches, but remembered the 1916 rebels as “scallywags” and “back-stabbers”.

My wife’s maternal grandfather, a teenager at the time, referred to the rebels as “blackguards”. As a boy scout his duties included hosing the mud from the soldiers who came through Kingstown harbour on their return from the trenches. They were his heroes, not the Easter Rising leaders whose treachery, as he saw it, cost more than 200 civilian lives.

“All three were southern Irish, Protestant but far from Anglo. That’s a difficult concept for those who prefer to caricature southern Protestants as part of an Anglo-Irish ascendancy rather than as a diverse minority who encompassed all the class divisions of the time.”

This line caught my attention. Indeed, southern Protestants were a diverse minority who, I might add, also encompassed diverse ideologies as well as classes. My penniless Protestant grandfather was from Kingstown too, like his father and grandfather before him, and as a teenager in 1916, he actually married a staunch penniless local republican woman, who in later years proudly sported a brass bust of Dev on on her mantlepiece.