Irish History: don’t mention the war?

For our London based readers. Next Saturday the Battle of Ideas Festival is hosting a debate on the past and conflict. The focus is primarily upon the IRA’s campaign and looks at what it means to Republicans now. And it asks the rather time question (amongst others): Should we seek to reassess the conflict, or is it time to move on and forget? Timely, since the Eames Bradley team is getting close to reporting on what we should do about the past. Ignited over at Redemption’s Son is not hopeful of a satisfactory outcome for unionists, and some nationalists.Details of the debate:

Why did people join the IRA?
Was it a terrorist campaign or a war of liberation?
Should we seek to reassess the conflict, or is it time to move on and forget? 

Forty years after the civil rights campaign that gave birth to the ‘Troubles’ it’s an appropriate time to ask what was it all about? Truth Commissions, Victim Commissions and politicians argue amongst themselves over how the conflict should be remembered. As the ‘Troubles’ fade from memory to history many writers hotly contest the definition of the conflict as a war.

As part of the Battle of Ideas Festival Weekend, Irish History: don’t mention the war is an attempt to grapple with the question, what was the conflict all about?

Saturday 1 November, 10.30am until 12.00pm, Lecture Theatre 2, Royal College of Art, Kensington Gore, London

Speakers include:

Tommy McKearney: writer, trade union organiser, former Hunger Striker and leading member of East Tyrone Brigade of the IRA.

Kevin Bean: lecture in Irish Politics, Institute of Irish Studies, University of Liverpool; author The New Politics of Sinn Féin

Kirk Leech: journalist, researcher and former leading member of the British based Irish Freedom Movement.

Ticket Details: Tickets are available for the Saturday and for the Festival Weekend. Student Concessions are available.

For more details: Tel +44 (0)20 7269 9220

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  • RepublicanStones

    Just on a point of order there Mick, it wasn’t the civil rights campaign which give birth to the most recent incarnation of the difficulty between Britain and Ireland commonly referred to as the ‘Troubles’. Rather it was the unionist establishments violent reaction to it. But even then, when did the clock start, ’68 ’69 ’72…..sure there was trouble even before these dates.

  • fin

    I have issues with the 2nd topic, it will probably go the same way as alot of threads on slugger, not least because the terms used are very subjective, in particular “terrorist” its defination was widely debated following 9/11 and no agreement was reached.

    Although all 3 topics indicate it will be less of a debate and more about speeches particularily as it lasts only 2.5 hours, however sounds interesting, I wouldn’t mind popping along

  • barnshee

    Just another attempt to sanitise murder
    No surprise there then

  • Ulsters my homeland

    The IRA past and present were murdering bastards, they shouldn’t be allowed to revise history.

  • Paul

    UMH, I’d love to read your take on history lol What about those murdering loyalist bastards in ’65, The UVF gunrunning, bringing the gun into Irish politics, you sap.

  • aquifer

    And the first bombs of these ‘troubles’, at the silent valley, were laid by Paisleyites, hoping to get the ‘RA the blame presumably.

    What else is ‘Croppy lie down’ Orangeism but a form of Political Terrorism.

  • vive la republic

    A commentary that will be matched in its wit only by the pontificating of the above, well balanced, panel.

    The charge of original sin being laid at the Protestants door is agreeable only if we accept a most abrupt chronology, and as I ‘m sure your mammies will tell you equivalence is no justification. And as it can be demonstrated most of modern republicanisms justifications were contrivance….


    Croppy Lie Down is a great song that captures accurately the indomninable spirit of Protestant resistance to the thugs and partisans of Republicanism. I am amazed at the frequency with which this fine song and the historic colloquialisms it references are wilfully misrepresented in order to contrive offence, or worse, to add disingenuous authority to the defamations of real bigots like the Irish President or Nuala O’Loan.

    If the panel was anything other than provo yes men a negative answer to the first two questions would be a certainty, the vile self importance and insenitivity of the third is too much even for my strong stomach.

  • DK

    I always thought it was a product of its time – in kin with the red army brigades in germany and other marxist revolutionary groups. Petered out as marxism became less trendy, the brutality of the war and the other sides reactions, and the general rejection by the population at large. Final nail in the coffin was the fall of the ideology that nurtured the cause.

  • Greagoir O’ Frainclin

    Was it a “War”?

    Why did people join the IRA?

    Was it a terrorist campaign or a war of liberation?

    Should we seek to reassess the conflict, or is it time to move on and forget?

    Anyone here care to answer?

  • DK,

    You do realise the Provos were founded as an explicit rejection of the socialist policies being adopted by the republican movement in the 1960s right?

  • barnshee

    Irish History:???

    A pile of garbage written by those who were not there

  • Paul

    It’s about time that there was some discussion in Britain about what happened in Ireland to the aspirations for real change. Why did people join the IRA, I will ask me da on the train to this event.

  • vive la pik-axe hundle

    Sean O’Callaghan, no doubt a favourite on here, offered one explanation: to be part of a feared gang and the prestige that arises thereof. Indoctrinated ethnically delineated hatred, the need to do violence that is thusly inspired, would be one I would add. No doubt that will offend some of the readership. Anyone who can offer a genuine moral reason to join gang that do kneecappings, murders and rackets, I’d like to hear it. Given the relative value of the term ‘liberty’, the second question is not so easy to answer, if we accept a war of liberation is a war against specific oppression of a people of entity by civil society, the answer is no. The lessons of history, grief, crime and injustice must be remembered, ‘learned from’ and compensated, punished and corrected respectively.

  • Juan Kerr

    Howdy all – haven’t contributed to a Slugger discussion in over a year I’d say but I’ll give it a go – I’m at work though so my posts will have to be brief and intermittent. By the way I’m a southerner who has only ever driven through the 6 counties. Here goes…

    Was it a ‘war’?

    No, not in my opinion. It was a reaction to what was perceived, rightly or wrongly, as the unjust treatment of one particular ection of a divided population. Guerilla tactics were used by an organisation that did not represent what they claimed to represent, i.e. the people of Ireland, or the cause of ‘freedom’.

    Why did people join the IRA?

    See above. As a Southerner I can only guess at the real sense of threat that was perceived by aggrieved Nationalists, but there is no way such a movement could have been sustained for so long without the kind of motivation that can be sourced from the genuine perception of a real threat and I think Bloody Sunday was the obvious final straw for most Nationalists.

    Was it a terrorist campaign or a war of liberation?

    It changed over became many things to many different people, especially those who were involved with it. The trouble with such a campaign, and particularly once a situation was arrived at where paramilitary groups took over the policing of their own areas, is that there are bound to be a certain portion of those who volunteer or are recruited who are only in it for the sheer pleasure they get out of committing psychopathic acts. And that goes for both sides. It turned into tit for tat and people lost the point of why they began it in the first place. I often think that if the campaign had beenm brought to a halt after the hunger strikes ended, NI would look like a totally different place right now. Carrying the campaign on into the 80’s and 90’s was just stupid and pointless, and achieved nothing and I’d argue that point with any republican.

    Should we seek to reassess etc…

    So much harm has already been done to the relationship between both sections of the community at this point that it’s hard to see how anything can be solved by dragging up the past but it’s worth a try. If people can learn how to at least try to see things a bit differently than the blinkered view they’ve always taken, it may help to put things to bed eventually if that’s ever going to be possible. I think it would be nigh on impossible to just ‘forget and move on’. I can’t think of any conflict – whether it involves countries, paramilitary groups or individuals – that has ever been solved that way. It would take several generations before the memory finally lost resonance/significance. You can’t just ‘decide’ to forget something. It takes time.

  • Greagoir O’ Frainclin

    …good to see your response Juan Kerr!

    It would be good if folk from the various sections of the NI community gave their opinions!

    Regarding the last question “Should we seek to reassess the conflict, or is it time to move on and forget?” ….I agree with what you’ve said. I think everything should be reassessed, readdressed etc… regarding the conflict, get it all out in the open to clear the air, everything should be discussed, debated, it will prevent new lies/myths forming that perpetrate resentment and hatred, then it will be time to move on.

  • S L Reeves

    I have always been sympathetic to the Republican cause however, now that the IRA have accepted British Rule and settled for a partitionist solution, this changes things. Retrospectively,this may do down how the struggle is recorded in the History books. The more I think about it the more interesting this conference sounds.

  • ggn

    “Why did people join the IRA? ”

    They felt there was a war on. Others they knew joined. They agreed with the IRA’s armed struggle. They wanted to hurt the British forces in the way they hurt their own people. Victory seemed possible.

    Any one or combination of the above seems to be the experiences of people I know.

    “Was it a terrorist campaign or a war of liberation?”

    Cleary both, even taking a particular side. Could any Republican claim that the IRA never carried out an act of terrorism. Can unionists claim that the IRA did not see their own struggle as a war of liberation?

    “Should we seek to reassess the conflict, or is it time to move on and forget? ”

    ‘We’ do not have all to do the same things.

    We pay people to ‘deal with the past’ in a host of ways. We also pay professional historians to research and teach history.

    Most people will move on and forget, no matter how much some people dont want them to, thats human nature.

  • POL


    The IRA past and present were murdering bastards, they shouldn’t be allowed to revise history.
    Posted by Ulsters my homeland on Oct 20, 2008 @ 09:20 PM

    LOL.Always predictable.Would that be the 9 county Ulster or just the ulster fry variety lol.Very hard to revise loyalist history cos they aint really got one.May be a job for diamond dan there.

    Personally Mick as stated its only 2-3 hours long. How much can you get into that time.However any debate about the war is worth tuning into. The problem about moving on and forgetting, is that at present alot of what actually took place is still raw and needs addressed. in fact the Northern bank Trial fiasco and the subsequent collapse pretty much sums up that the brit establishment still carry notions that any taig will do. Not to mention the opinions of some on this board who can have a wee pop at the IRA whilst ignoring the deeds of the unionist/loyalist brit controlled militia is staggering.

  • mikpiy
  • Huge

    After Michael Longley’s sonnet ‘Ceasefire’, is there any more to be said about this war? Can anyone at this debate improve on his eloquence? If so, it would be worth attending…

    Put in mind of his own father and moved to tears
    Achilles took him by the hand and pushed the old king
    Gently away, but Priam curled up at his feet and
    Wept with him until their sadness filled the building.

    Taking Hector’s corpse into his own hands Achilles
    Made sure it was washed and, for the old king’s sake,
    Laid out in uniform, ready for Priam to carry
    Wrapped like a present home to Troy at daybreak.

    When they had eaten together, it pleased them both
    To stare at each other’s beauty as lovers might,
    Achilles built like a god, Priam good-looking still
    And full of conversation, who earlier had sighed:

    ‘I get down on my knees and do what must be done
    And kiss Achilles’ hand, the killer of my son.’