[Once more into the breach then – Ed] In yesterday’s Irish News, Patrick Murphy posited three theories to explain what he describes as “the latest dismantling of Irish political and cultural nationalism.” That would be Martin McGuinness, et al, at Windsor Castle in white tie and tails, and the GAA deal with Sky. From the Irish News
The first theory suggests that the process has been largely fuelled by Britain’s determination to give political cover to the PIRA’s defeat in a futile and unnecessary war. In a standard neo-colonial tactic, London agreed that friendly natives should govern the place on their behalf.
So, the theory goes, the politics and pomp of recent years have been a public relations exercise to rewrite history (defeat dressed as peace) re-define Irish culture (Protestants have their own language) and replace the opportunity for normal politics with formalised sectarianism (Britain was the good guy all along). All three were packaged as improved Anglo-Irish relations.
Britain then selectively applied its own legal system for political effect. This week, for example, a man was charged in connection with the Omagh bombing (undertaken by dissident IRA) but there will be no new inquiry into the Birmingham pub bombs (undertaken by mainstream IRA).
A second theory suggests that the collapse of the Catholic Church means that nationalism is no longer a holy day of obligation. Since penal times, nationalism has been associated with Irish Catholicism, as exemplified by this newspaper’s 1891 Pro fide et patria motto (for faith and fatherland).
With the fide fading, the patria could do what it wished.
With the Church’s decline, Sinn Féin not only became the guardians of nationalist morality, it now uses its new authority to exercise a similar form of social influence.
These days, only Sinn Féin can define and forgive nationalist sin, a point appreciated in Britain.
A third strand of thought argues that nationalism’s usually sectarian and apolitical nature rendered it too superficial to survive. It was a form of territorial Catholicism, with little social or economic awareness.
Thus, when the concept of Irishness was re-defined for political purposes, our largest cultural organisation, for example, had no social or economic landmarks. So, the theory goes, the GAA abandoned the sometimes dubious morality of a declining Church for the more lucrative immorality of capitalism – and Sinn Féin’s £60 million for Casement Park helped to smooth the transition.
As Patrick Murphy goes on to say [Here’s the history part – Ed]
But perhaps this was inevitable, because maybe Irish nationalism is nothing more than a manipulative middle class fashion for sourcing money and power. A book has already been written on this theory: The Clanking Chains (1919) by Brinsley McNamara. These days you can read his novel for free online. Read it. Literature often explains events better than political theory.
You can accept these explanations or develop your own. Either way, we can only appreciate where we are by understanding how we got here. These theories suggest we are back to 1603 when, after nine years of war, self-interested Irish chiefs surrendered to Elizabeth I.
Through the foggy dew of Ireland’s feeling of inferiority, Britain has once again emerged victorious.
In that case, this is not progress. It is not even change. It is just the same old story, with some new explanations.