The Maze is part of a shared past

Malachi O’Doherty is magnificently right.  The best result for the Maze project would have been/ still should be  to provide  an unsparing and comprehensive account of the Troubles, murders, conspiracies and weasel politics, including the narratives without which it is a meaningless recitation of horror. Conflict resolution could come in the last gallery just before the shop.  What a powerful statement it would be coming from the post-Agreement generation of parties and what avenues it would open for collective cognitive therapy. It could  do the reputation and even the morale of the local parties a power of good. Not to mention outside opinion whose confidence may have been rocked by developments this year. There would be no better signal that the parties are serious about beginning – I repeat beginning – to deal seriously with the past. What are they waiting for?

But of course, the chances of an early rethink on the project are about zero at this moment, though one can foresee moves from Haas and the two governments over the coming months to stiffen faltering nerves.  The parties have  done so little to disentangled themselves from what I see we’re calling the “two narratives.”  Northern Ireland being an such an introverted place, many of its people do not realise – and do not care  – how  rooted in ground frozen in the second and third decades of the last century are these narratives and even more to the point, how isolated they are from their metropolitan mainstream traditions to which they profess allegiance.

Some commentators make much of how the republican narrative echoes uncomfortably and unacknowledged in the Irish national story.  But the more salient point is that, fairly or otherwise, the Irish establishment has rejected the modern IRA for the pantheon.  However strong the parallels, Bobby Sands will not take his place alongside Terence McSwiney  in the official commemorations in 2016.  Sinn Fein are not now likely win entry into the inner sanctum of the national tradition but will remain characteristically localised in the North unless they break through in the south. And even then..

Across the water, politicians and others struggling with a new concept of Britishness would run several miles before they embraced ulster unionism in spite of the efforts of intellectuals such as Arthur Aughey and Henry Patterson to  explain ulster unionism and reintegrate it  into the British story. While imperial echoes and the Glorious Revolution have their place in BBC4 history documentaries, they register only faintly in a  Britain which is embarrassed – perhaps too embarrassed –  with much of its  past.

None of this is for a moment to deny the influence of history today even in forgetful old  Great Britain.  We can see the Island Story powerfully reflected in today’s confused europhobia and in Scotland’s revisitation of 1707. But global social trends and aspirations spurred by technology are greater influences than they have ever  been.  While pride of place and loyalty to community generously expressed are powerful assets,   a globalising world  offers even our politicians  unique opportunities around which to coalesce, to develop a deeper sense of common purpose and calm the angry legacy of the past.

None of that should prevent anyone from being moved by the execution wall in Kilmainham gaol or the Ulster Division Memorial Tower.   Presented with integrity, there is no good reason why the Maze should not join  them one day as a place of reflection of terrible times past.

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  • BluesJazz
  • gendjinn

    Brian,

    You aren’t entirely correct about Sands. While he won’t be lionised in the 2016 centenary, it will be because he wasn’t involved in the Easter Rebellion. The hunger strikers have a lot of respect and admiration across wide swathes of Irish society – Fine Gael and Michael McDowell excepted.

    Unionists and British have never really understood the cultural importance of the hunger strike in Irish society. The act generates sympathy and empathy for individual, regardless of who they are and what they have done.

    Good article and it is a pity about the current Maze situation. A dirty war, with no clean hands and it’s important that we don’t sweep it under the carpet.

  • keano10

    Brian I think you have stretched artistic licence to it’s limits there. Sands was not involved in the Easter Rebellion therefore how would he or any other modern day participants even come within the radar of those historically specific commemorations?

  • Zig70

    Interesting link Blue Jazz, arguably the ulster museum has much of it covered in Troubles collection. Strangely, nobody beats their chest about it. The museum is free and I’d bet the maze would be more likely to be on Nolan about gate receipts than politics. What is it about politics that war dead and war glorification are such positive political tools? I don’t get it.

  • Brian Walker

    Guys,
    The 2016 commemorations will surely prompt wider examination of the state of Ireland beyond the formal ceremonies, along lines similar to what I’m suggesting. True the pantheon stops at 1916. I’m saying the establishment will resist any attempts to extend it to the contemporary north. 1916 is in its way a safe date for the south as it commemorates the revolutionary tradition before the 1922 split. 2020 -24 might be more complicated were it not for the fact that those wounds have largely healed.

    The Dublin establishment were for years ambiguous about Rising commemorations were they not? Collins was played down and de Valera has never been raised to the Father of the Nation status that might have been expected from his prominence and longevity. Two contrary trends changed the hesitations. One was the fear that the modern Sinn Fein might succeed in hijacking the tradition and making it a live issue again by pointing up the obvious parallels. And two, public opinion seemed to welcome an Irish narrative beyond irredentism and the revolutionary tradition in ways more compatible with a State basically at ease with itself. Modern radical republicans will deplore this but probably won’t want to rock the consensus boat too much and may leave it to a bit of conscience pricking about the south leaving the north to stew in its own toxic juices for so long.

    Recently we’ve read the famous Irish Times editorials “ Was it for this ..( the 1916 leaders fought and died etc)“ bemoaning the loss of sovereignty over the financial bailouts, so the 1916 legacy is already discussed in a contemporary southern context. I’m pretty sure there’ll be lots of discussion about how partition and the very different northern experience relate to independent Ireland. Aren’t you?

  • cynic2

    “Presented with integrity,…”

    Aye ….but there is the rub

  • cynic2

    “The hunger strikers have a lot of respect and admiration across wide swathes of Irish society ”

    …….. that’s true …..even the child killers

  • Comrade Stalin

    You aren’t entirely correct about Sands. While he won’t be lionised in the 2016 centenary, it will be because he wasn’t involved in the Easter Rebellion.

    Aye right.

  • “What a powerful statement it would be coming from the post-Agreement generation of parties and what avenues it would open for collective cognitive therapy.”

    If cognitive therapy involves ‘helping patients develop skills for modifying beliefs, identifying distorted thinking, relating to others in different ways, and changing behaviours’, we might have to treat the therapists first 😉

  • BarneyT

    The Maze (H Blocks) or Long Kesh. They resonate differently within the nationalist\republican community and I suspect within unionism, not just because they represent different periods in time, but they correspond with different events and actions.

    Most nationalists and republicans (all flavours) sang “The men behind the wire” but not all sang to the tune of the 80s.

  • “The Dublin establishment were for years ambiguous about Rising commemorations were they not?”

    It appears from the Dáil exchanges on 27 April 1966 that the 1966 commemoration was a bit of a fiasco:

    Dr. O’Connell: asked the Taoiseach if consultations were held with Opposition Parties in planning the 1916 commemoration ceremonies; and, if not, why they did not take place.

    The Taoiseach [Sean Lemass]: On the 28th July last I wrote to the leaders of the Parties opposite about the proposed arrangements and enclosed a copy of the first outline of the Commemoration programme.

    If nationalists can’t get their act together, it’s hardly surprising that unionists and nationalists find it virtually impossible.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Nevin,

    The establishment did not take the 1916 rising seriously until relatively recently. The current practice of having a military display on Easter Monday began with Ahern who sought to wrest ownership of the event from Sinn Féin.

  • CS, this newspaper report claims that the state commemoration of the 1916 rising in Dublin was discontinued circa 1971. It seems to me from that Dáil exchange that FF tried to keep the planning for the 1966 commemoration in-house.