1916 is still worth a fret or two

I’ve just finished reading my latest foray into an absorbing subject, Ruth Dudley Edwards’s magnificent The Seven, her biographical account of the main leaders of the Easter Rising, guardedly but critically reviewed by the  historian and Irish Times columnist Diarmaid Ferriter here. While Ruth may be dismissed by some as the arch revisionist, no reader can deny her command of  biographical  detail ( much of it her own research, some of it owing to many others who have written about the Rising) and  her success in capturing the appeal of the cause whether you’re susceptible to it or not.

She contributed an article based on the book to this week’s Sunday Times in which she plunges into contemporary lessons. She  also took part in a discussion on the Rising on BBC Radio 4’as Start the Week last Monday with Fintan O’Toole .The panel agreed that at the time, – and looking back  today- only 15 executions seemed a restrained response from the British point of view at  the height of WW1. (On the other hand, someone pointed out  that Gavrilo Princip, the assassin of Archduke Franz Ferdinand was sentenced to life and died in prison).  But to the Catholic nationalist sensibility of the time, martyrs were bound  to be created – and the wound- be  martyrs knew it and planned for it.

Clarke, Pearse, Connolly and the others were a varied bunch with a range of visions that more or less coalesced  in the climax of the Rising. They were all fanatics of a kind,  dogmatic oddballs for the most part, but not fanatic about everything and certainly not monsters.  Only Clarke, the main moving force and the arch conspirator might be called a terrorist. He was caught in 1883 the during the London Fenian dynamite campaign which claimed only the lives of perpetrators and spend 18 years in prison. All of them put on uniforms and got themselves shot, knowing that  the uniform would not win them recognition as surrendered belligerents and prisoners of war.  In a sense then they had a better case than the contemporary IRA hunger strikers.

The vision of the prelapsarian  Romantic Ireland all of them even the  Marxist Connolly fell in love with seems  cloying to even irreconcilables today, as outmoded as ideals of Empire on the other side.   It has an innocence about it which is so  utterly absent  today. And yet the allure of the “ terrible beauty” remains.

The lessons for today? Ruth is unsparing along lines familar in Slugger :

At present Sinn Fein is waging a propaganda war to have some of its best-known heroes, including the hunger strikers who killed themselves in 1981, most notably Bobby Sands, put on the same pedestal as the seven signatories. Former leaders of the Provisional IRA routinely condemn violence committed since then by various other IRAs (the Continuity, Real and now the New IRA), but as one of those keeping the flame alive said of the Provisionals to a journalist: “If we are wrong now, then they were wrong for all them years: and if we are right now then they are wrong.”

In logic the same applies to the men of 1916. If they were right to start a revolution because they wanted to, why can their successors as men of violence not expect to see the same legitimacy conferred on them?

Was force necessary achieve independence? Among senior politicians only John Bruton says not. Historians like Ronan Fanning and John D Murphy disagree with him and Ruth Dudley Edwards.  Murphy like the good historian he is, warns of the pitfalls of placing  the past at the service of a political present  in the official commemoration.

… the role of Oglaigh na hEireann in these ceremonies and in distributing flags and proclamation copies to schools, is quite properly being used to point up the legitimacy of this Republic, something about which Sinn Fein is noticeably ambivalent. In all of this, it should be recognised that local communities are enthusiastically in favour of centenary celebrations in their areas and that they are not unduly concerned about the warts of their native sons. Finally, it would appear that the government, supported by historians, has shrugged off John Bruton’s fallacious historical speculation: there is no evidence that Home Rule would have led peacefully to national independence. The imperial government was determined to preserve the integrity of the United Kingdom at all costs, and was physically forced to alter its mindset only by the militant nationalist resurgence from 1916 onwards.

All states need their foundation myths which almost by definition involve distortion. Who  today can believe that Britannia  rules the waves, or cares  today about those Marseilles marchers who quickly vanished from the historical record, or the dawns’s early light one day in 1812? But I wonder about Murphy’s  dogmatic assertion. Leave aside that forming the first Dail in January 1919 and launching the independence war  guaranteed the fact of partition. How could even a  feeble Home Rule southern Irish parliament have been denied more powers, if the  people had voted for them?


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  • Ulick

    “magnificent”, “no reader can deny her command of biographical detail ( much of it her own research”,

    From Ferriter’s review:
    “she acknowledges that the O’Brien-published biographies of these men are
    her “default sources” and “therefore rarely cited”. This is poor
    practice; it means citation is selective and arbitrary throughout the

    Far from “magnificent” or even used ” her own research”. Actually it sounds like she practically plagiarised it.

  • Granni Trixie

    You gloss over how damning the Irish Times review was. It accused her of being guilty of the kind of propaganda of which she accuses Republicans.. Is this the usual academics having a go at each other or is there an axe being ground? I do not feel I know enough about the subject take a view about what’s going on.

  • Ulick

    “lack of original research or sufficient interrogation of sources”

    RDE gave up trying to be a serious historian a long, long time ago.

    Magnificent? Sweet mother of… Lolz.

  • mac tire

    Well, in the interests of objectivity, here is another review of the book.


    To summarise: “Her disdain for each of the seven is obvious and she attempts to
    demonise them – and anyone else who has Irish nationalist sympathies –
    in every way possible…

    …The greatest error is that this is an attempt to examine Ireland with no
    honest look at British rule there. By the end, I wondered if it had
    been the Salvation Army rather than the British Army which upheld that
    rule for centuries.”

  • the rich get richer

    I listened to the views of Ruth Dudley Edwards on the 1916 Rising in a debate.

    Basically her views of the leaders of the Rising and pretty much all Republican/nationalist resistance to British rule in Ireland is ;

    Who Did They Think They Are ?……

    Which is a legitimate view…. But

    How can One not Question ?….

    Who Did the British Think They Are ?……. What Legitimacy Did They Have in Ireland or Over the Irish People ?

    Inadvertently , She was one of the Most Pro Republican/Nationalist Speakers I Have Ever Heard !

  • Gopher

    The legal age for execution in the AH Empire was 20, Princip was under age for capital punishment several of the other conspirators were executed. I think one can safely assume the AH authorities did their utmost to ensure Princip would die in prison making that point fluffy nonsense.

  • ted hagan

    I don’t know who is the more irritating, Kevin Myers or Dudley Edwards.
    She seems to have a blind devotion to unionists and a sneering approach to everything nationalist. I listened to the Radio 4 discussion about the Rising leaders and found it rather dismissive. Forced myself to watch a Brendan O’Carroll BBC TV documentary of his uncles’ part in the Rising and actually found it enthralling, with O’Carroll an excellent guide.

  • Greenflag 2

    This reminds me of the two Irishmen in Cork when the City was burnt down by the Black and Tans . during the War of Independence .

    First Irishman : ‘ We are really very lucky Pat are we not ‘?
    Second Irishman : ‘Lucky ? Are you mad ? ‘

    First Irishman : ‘Just think according to the newspapers the British came as friends . Think what they would have done if they had come as enemies !’

  • Greenflag 2

    Murphy gets it right. Dudley Edwards is way off the mark .

    ‘The imperial government was determined to preserve the integrity of the United Kingdom at all costs, and was physically forced to alter its mindset only by the militant nationalist resurgence from 1916 onwards.’

    This is as close to the then historical truth as one can get from a century later . Why else would a British Government promise both sides in 1914 what they knew they could not deliver after the war .The British Government did act with ‘restraint ‘ in the period of the Easter Rising – certainly with a lot more restraint than the Kaiser’s army did in Belgium in August 1914 . But they lost the plot in 1918 and thereafter Irish popular resistance -boycotts etc of British administrative institutions did more to persuade HMG to grant the Free State it’s independence . HMG may have thought it would’nt last as the British Empire was then the world superpower and had a quarter of the land surface on the planet under it’s domain .Surely the Irish would eventually see sense and rejoin Brittania Inc . As it turned out Britain could get everything they wanted from Ireland without the need to politically control it .

  • Greenflag 2

    It’s 1920 and the IRA capture a British officer a regular Colonel Blimp .
    The Colonel very much stiff upper lip and all that says to his captors .

    ‘We British fight for our Empire and civilisation whereas you Irish fight only for your independence’
    “Why not ” says the Irishman . “After all each of us fights for what he needs most “

  • Anglo-Irish

    Kevin Myers or RDE?

    Photo finish on that one, too close to call.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    One of the real problems of the revisionist camp is that in many ways they simply mirror the old nationalist historical shibboleths, but, as with any mirror, simply back to front. They seem to imagine that simply selecting those instances that reverse the caricatures of the versions they are critical of in some way is a refutation. What started with Lyons, Moody and Ruth’s father as an honest attempt to bring some honest balance to our history by sketching in those things the old nationalist histories simply left out has become in the next generation of historians an exercise in simply arguing the “British” version of that history.

    There are many new directions in contemporary Irish historiography that do not simply select an interpretation of the history to underpin political agendas, but the seats at the top table are already taken by the historians of Ruth’s generation, and this is pretty much all the “history” we have on offer at the moment through the media. But some of us feel that history should be about the struggle to understand what happened with as little bias as may be possible with our imperfect understanding of these things, rather than simply trying to do down either the “Brits” or the “Republicans” by continuing to write agenda led history.

  • Saint Etienne

    A thoughtful piece Mr Walker.

  • Brian Walker

    Well, the republican case is well covered in comment, fair enough. But just to be clear, Ferriter acknowledges that “the backgrounds of the men are well covered, and Dudley Edwards has a good eye for the telling description and phrase and the nuggets that illuminate tortured character.” Nice of you to say so Diarmaid!.

    The portraits can sit on their own and are not narrowly drawn to support her conclusions. Ferriter does the sniffy academic thing from his eminence in the Irish Times of chiding her for not citing enough sources and failing to take account of fresh research but he doesn’t let us in on what difference that would have made. Not much I suspect because his own 1916 accounts differ little from hers.

    His quarrel is with Ruth’s view of the legacy, although he recognises the relevance of the debate. True, you can make too much of the counterfactual but my last sentence stands. “The British Empire” (actually the UK government) had imperfectly conceded Home Rule and actually enacted it in 1920 in the teeth of the IRA campaign. What would be called devolution today was seen as ending the Union. If a Home Rule parliament had demanded more powers how could it have been denied? By military reoccupation? Hardly!

  • Gopher

    I remain unconvinced that insurrection achieved more than a negotiated settlement would have achieved especially given the dire position Britain found herself in post Armistice. If the sticking point on Home Rule was “the North”, one would have to say insurrection failed and the partition became “hard”. The irreconcilable mindset created a face saving exercise on behalf of the Empire and one would have to conclude power rather than any lofty ideal given the outcome and subsequent events was the goal. The biggest problem with Irish Republicanism is the lack of introspection, Britain went through their “commonwealth” in the 17th century and discovered they wernt an idealogical race after all. People re inact the English Civil War every weekend but the dont want to bring back the Roundheads, that is where the Irish really need to be with 1916 and all. They probably needed a Jan Smuts figure to drag them through it, but I’m led to believe they killed the only likely candidate.

  • Hugh Davison

    You mean the ‘Government of Ireland Act’ that created two separate parliaments? Giving the patriotic gunrunning Unionists exactly what they wanted, painfree.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Granni, having another think about Diarmaid Ferriter’s review, I’d concur with his critiques of Ruth’s failure to contextualse the history in terms of the attitides of that time on all sides. He mentions Robert Wohl’s excellent “The Generation of 1914” which offers a brilliant and accessable “histoire des mentalités” approach to the period. Wohl’s openess to the “otherness” of that time illuminates the common motivations of the human beings involved, and avoids the mechenical judgementalism that simply reverses the propaganda tropes with the creation of other counter propaganda tropes. Ruth’s approach fails to take the discipline of this methadology into account (it’s become something of a commonplace critique of the older historiography in, for example, the kind of analysis one encounters in “Woman’s History” nowadays), and accordingly this is not either “axe grinding” or “having a go”, but plain criticism of the absence in Ruth’s analysis of something that most contemporary hitorians would believe requires our full attention, but which Ruth generally ignores when inferring our contemporary attitudes onto those she is describing:

    “Ironically, in her judgmental and crude marrying of different eras without contextualisation, Dudley Edwards is doing to history precisely what many of the republicans she denounces do: substituting proselytism for the complicated narrative that the events and sources demand.”

    I’ve been criticising two other major figures using a similar historiographic approach to that of Ruth in an extended exchange with Mainland Ulsterman over on the #Women1916 “…the war broke out in families as well as society…” thread started on the 8th March, and interestingly find that he misses this and interprets my robust critique of their historiography as “axe grinding”. But in all fairness noting the element of politicisation in such work is simply what any concerned historian does in order to demand a voice for those rendered “voiceless” (as Walter Benjamin says in a similar instance) by the utter disrespect shown for their actual lives and attitudes by such effacement:


  • Karl

    3 Home Rule Acts over 30 years had been passed by the House of Commons and never enacted. The democratic will of the Irish people had been recorded in elections since Catholic emancipation and total political integration was never reflected in the makeup of Irish MPS. The Act of Union was never voted upon by the people. The British allowed the importation of 100,000 German guns to unionists. To think that anything other than violence was going to provide the impetus for significant movement by the British is incredulous. And yet you have people asking about the legitimacy of the Rising in isolation.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    “Not much I suspect because his own 1916 accounts differ little from hers.”

    Diarmaid’s most recent account draws on what appears to be a much wider range of primary sources (not that Ruth is at all clear about where some of what she uses comes from) and though one might say his account shows the similarities that any account of the same events will show, I’d feel Diarmaid’s interpretation of these events shows very marked differences from Ruth’s, certainly in his analysis of the competing twentieth century interpretations of these events in the final part of “A Nation and not a Rabble: The Irish Revolution 1913-23.”

    And, yes, while “the republican case is well covered in comment”, this is not a football match and there is some necessity for any serious historian to ensue the temptation to simply cheer on one of the teams. Was not the original “Irish Historical Studies” project of Theo Moody and Ruth’s father Robin an honest attempt to develop a history that would seriously address every aspect of what was being researched, rather than, (to quote Diarmaid) “substituting proselytism for the complicated narrative that the events and sources demand.”

    I know that history “for” is always going to attract far more interest and support from the citizens of our painfully polarised polity, but it will always be a very poor substitute for genuine history “about”.

  • Greenflag 2

    ‘I’d concur with his critiques of Ruth’s failure to contextualse the history in terms of the attitides of that time on all sides.’

    And some attitudes they were -ranging from Rupert Brookes to Thomas Mann in the literary world to the views , expectations, and crazy beliefs ( from a 2016 perspective ) of many of the military ,political and aristocratic leaders of the time i.e 1900 through 1918 . Re reading Tuchman’s ‘Guns of August ‘ I’ve been struck this time more by her writing on the zeitgeist in the run up to 1914 and in the first few months of the war before ‘reality ‘ came back down to earth or should I say to the trenches . Whether German , French , British or Russian or anything else it’s hard to ignore that while there were voices in the wilderness trying to prevent the rush to war there were even more who could hardly wait for it to start . And yet even some of the latter saw the upcoming war as finally being the war to end all wars . Were they around now they might have to reconsider their early 20th century ‘idealistic ‘ notions .

    Hardly surprising that Ireland would have remained ‘immune ‘ to what was happening elsewhere .

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Greenflag, have you encountered Robert Wohl’s rather brilliant “The Generation of 1914”?

    Its available from Harvard:


    As my wife says about the homogenisation of cultures over the last half of the twentieth century “While retaining their cultural differences differences, their expression of these would square a very similar character, with an increasing loss of distinctness”. Similarly, Wohl’s brilliant analysis of the zeitgeist of the 1914 generation dramatically explains much that seems unique to Ireland at that time as mainstream European attitudes employed as a model for what appeared to be particular to Ireland. Diarmaid’s mention of the book in regard to Ruth’s work will have tremendous import for anyone familiar with Wohl’s work.

  • Greenflag 2

    We’ll never know . The implementation of Home Rule in the early years of the new century would have I believe defanged those who believed that only violence would achieve independence . The UVF illegal arms importation /gun running, along with the Curragh mutiny convinced the emerging independence movement that the then British Government responded more to threats and real guns than to politics or democracy . There are some that would maintain that not much has changed in that respect even today .

    BTW -I’m not one of the some .

  • Granni Trixie

    Extremely informative.

  • Granni Trixie

    I wonder have you actually experienced the impact of the troubles? From what you say I cannot believe you have.
    Looking at how people in the South are “ruled” I also wonder is it a jot different to the lot of
    ordinary people in the Uk.
    Call me unprincipled if you like but I think that quality of life and ones health especially is what matters. By these values physical force on our island is not justified. Put another way, if unification is what you seek has not the IRA campaign set back productive relationships which might have brought this closer?

  • Granni Trixie

    It occurs to me that disagreements/ interpretations by historians over 1916 perfectly illustrates the ridiculousness of the suggestion that a way of dealing with the past is to commission a group of historians to write up the history of the troubles. This would be based I presume on previous academic accounts.

    We know what will happen – we will have a perceived ‘unionist’ academic and a Repubkican and or nationalist academic. I do concede that there are likely to be some historians who follow the evidence where it exists, they are unlikely to be appointed to undertake such a task hence so much will fall through the cracks.

    This issue also draws attention to problems of representation, in particular whose version of history gets sanctioned. Certainly not the so called middle ground version.

  • Greenflag 2

    I haven’t alas but I’ve read a lot of European history from the 1870 through 1929 period and I still can’t get my head around why with all the technological , scientific and educational advances made up to 1914 that somehow the continent descended into a charnel house and that from this low point it doubled up in part two 1939- 45 .

    We can blame it on German militarism , British determination to retain it’s Empire and it’s naval power or French revanchism for the humiliation of the 1870 Franco Prussian fiasco and the loss of Alsace Lorraine . All of the above no doubt played a role -so also did the previous 45 years of peace – the growing minority nationalisms within the Austro Hungarian empire and the ‘malaise ‘ of the times .
    Somehow given whats happening in US and UK politics and the economy , with Brexit and Russian revanchism and MIddle East turmoil and the rise of new economic powers in the East we are in 2016 – a century after 1914 1916 going through our own dare I say it not very ‘unique’ malaise .
    Not that anybody in Ni would notice it 😉 They’ve been steeped in their own unique political ‘malaise ‘ since 1972 and before .

  • Anglo-Irish

    Reminds me of when someone asked Gandhi what he thought about Western Civilisation, and he said that he thought that it would be a good idea.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Thank you, Granni, I’m always frustrated that so many commenting simply want to “pick as side” in history, and cannot see that there are many many other interpretations possible.

  • Brian Walker

    Seaan. Thank you for your instructive comments. I agree that Ferriter goes deeper into rank and file sentiment and broadens the context usefully. The clues are in the titles of the books- Ferriter attacking the idea of treating the people as the” rabble” and Dudley Edwards focusing in the Seven ( leaders). But on the big picture I honestly don’t see a big difference in their attitudes to the Rising. On the legacy of the physical force tradition there’s not much disagreement anywhere, just different narratives of how we get there. This concerns more than historians but historians have an important role. I quibble about your description of a “painfully polarised polity” There are surely signs that we’re making progress slowly.

  • Greenflag 2

    He’s probably still right although nowadays Eastern Civilisation in some parts is nothing to write home about either and yes that includes India among others 🙂 Three steps forward two steps backward going nowhere certain but ending up somewhere else . The human story in all it’s glory .

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Making progress, I’d agree, but painfully slowly in my opinion. We’re almost on the same page here Brian, but I’d still perhaps see the kind of differences of interpretation as a significant gulf. As you say, we’re all well out of the old nationalist historiography (thank heavens), but some of us are just as disenamored with the crude reversal of tropes that characterises the more lugubrious flights of second wave so called “revisionism”.

    Just an aside, I loathe this use of “revisionism”, a nonsense term, really, we all revise opinion, its what real history is always about! I know Roy Foster winces every time someone uses the term.

  • Karl

    Speculation about my experience, an inference about the legitimacy of my opinion and an incorrect conclusion. Not bad for 20 words.
    To look at the populations of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales in 1700
    5 million, 3 million, 1 million and half a million,
    Those respective populations are now 53 million, 6 million, 5 million and 3 million.
    It is very easy to see which ordainary people benefited and which didnt and if you think this was brought about by anything other than what today would be described as crimes against humanity then I suggest you look at your history books again,
    However, we should not judge yesteryear by todays standards,but the questioning of the legitimacy of violence in the early 20th century Ireland is laughable when as recently as the last 20 years, Britain has fabricated intelligence to justify illegal wars that killed hundreds of thousands.

  • Anglo-Irish

    I sometimes think that Human civllisation is an oxymoron.

    Imagine an intergalactic federation of planets like in Star Trek.

    Species only get invited in when they have reached an acceptable level of civilisation.

    Individual worlds are checked up on at regular intervals.

    They are checking up on us today.

    First alien, ” you’ll never guess how this particular species settled disputes three thousand years ago the last time we checked on them. ”

    Second alien ” How?”

    First alien ” They killed each other! ”

    ” Anyway they’ve obviously advanced technologically so let’s link up to their news stations and see how they are behaving now. ”

    Ten Earth minutes later.

    ” Ohhkkaaay, make a note, let’s leave it five thousand years next time “.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I think you over-politicise the leading historians and under-academecise them. There are political historians of course, but really you don’t get very far (it seems to me, married to one) in academic history by being too political. What they are above all at the top end is thorough, serious about getting to deeper truths and about busting myths. Much of that myth-busting work can be done by historians in a fairly non-controversial way. Let them at it and we may be surprised.

    In my view, many of those keen to keep historians out of the process of how we understand and move on from the Troubles (and I don’t include you here) have quite a lot to lose from the current “received narrative” the media uses being challenged by the actual truths of what happened. The current fog suits them very well. In particular, Republican violence is massively under-played in media summaries of the Troubles, which frame the IRA campaign as a “conflict” (as if everyone else was as keen as Republicans were on ongoing violence over 30 years).

    The rigour of an academic approach to the facts of what happens – which comes down ultimately to the work of historians – is essential if we are to move on properly. Because trying to sweep the Troubles under the carpet, or airbrushing them to fit nationalist narratives as currently happens, is ultimately not only rubbing more salt into Troubles wounds but highly unlikely to engender genuine reconciliation.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    does that not worry you?

  • ted hagan

    What exactly?

  • MainlandUlsterman

    The legislation was passed and on the statute book. And remember most of nationalist Ireland did not feel at the time of the Rising that using violence in that way was justified. But you say: “To think that anything other than violence was going to provide the impetus for significant movement by the British is incredulous (sic)” Except, non-violence was the Irish nationalist majority position until after the 1916 Rising. Nationalist Ireland may have changed its mind after the Rising (though there’s debate about to what extent violence was explicitly supported, even in 1918), but it was against such violence before and during the Rising.

    The Larne gun-running (not “allowed” by the way, it was illegal and irritated the government considerably) was several years earlier. If it caused nationalist attitudes to change towards violence, why did this mainly happen in 1916 after the execution of the ringleaders of the Rising, not in 1915, 1914 or 1913? It does suggest there is more going on with nationalist attitudes towards anti-British violence in 1916 than merely a delayed response to pre-war Ulster Protestant manoeuvrings. I don’t think they ever saw unionists in Ulster as the sole or even the main adversary – the eye was always more on the bigger prize of what they call ‘Britain’, i.e. government from Westminster and Ireland being part of the UK. Much as it would be great (and rather convenient) to blame unionists for all Irish violence …

  • Granni Trixie

    First hand experience and from the window provided by an academic spouse, I’m afraid I think that it is too risky to trust such a task to professional historians. Some people may have touching faith in the objectivity of academics but not me.

    I do see the merit however in employing people to gather up multiple stories which will produce versions of experience as well as facts.

  • Greenflag 2

    300,000, 000 BC on a spaceship in Earth orbit

    First Alien
    “Any sign of intelligent life on Earth yet”

    Second Alien :
    “None that you or I could communicate with but the lizards may have potential .’

    8,000 BC on a spaceship over the Middle East

    “Any sign of intelligent life on Earth yet”

    Second Alien :

    “We think the biped hairy primates show signs of great potential ”

    3,000 AD on a spaceship above New York City

    “Any sign of intelligent life on Earth yet”

    Second Alien :

    “None the bipeds appear to have disappeared but the lizards are doing fine as are the rats . ” Another example of a Stage 12 civilization suffering self extinction a couple of centuries after the explosion of a nuclear device . Happens all the time and with greater frequency in the Andromedan and Milky Way galaxies .

  • John Collins

    Well I think that if the Marshall plan had not been put in place after WW2 there might have been more conflict

  • Gopher

    But we do know, all that was achieved was civil war and a hard partition. If you look at things objectively there was always a physical force strain to Irish nationalism no matter what the UVF or the Irish gentry in the British officer Corps did. Whilst one cannot condone rebellion one would have to say Carson and all made an ostentatious display of getting popular backing for their position. To be fair to the British Government I think it was more inclined to avoid a bloodbath in Ireland than bow to threats. They would have facilitated any agreement between the parties. No agreement was there. No compromise was there. One always has to ask why. Partition was accepted at independence from harder men than Redmond, Northern Ireland right to exist has been codified in the Irish constitution with the GFA. so it begs the question why no compromise in 1912?
    One must also note that are we are not 100% sure if Home Rule was enacted with agreement of Unionists that it would still not have been an an attempt to be subverted by militant nationalism. We can to this very day see the “irreconcilable mindset” still exists.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    “I do see the merit however in employing people to gather up multiple stories which will produce versions of experience as well as facts.”

    Granni, this is what I’ve described in an earlier posting below “histoire des mentalités”:


    But as your first posting above suggests, the temptation to simply regurgatate the exhausted “political” interpretations of our history will probably prove simply too compelling for anyone “officially” (or perhaps more accurately “politically) commissioned to define the troubles for us all. I’ve hit this problem already, and occasionally have authorative historians quoted back to me to explain to me that events I personally experienced in the early years of the troubles were not at all as I’d perceived them. Interestingly, most of these “authorative sources” are working from the representations of others (such as myself) in texts.

  • tmitch57

    Nice piece. But just a minor factual correction: the dawn’s early light at Ft. McHenry outside Baltimore occurred in 1814 not 1812. The war was named after the year it started, but most of the battles took place after that year from 1813 to January 1815.

  • Cushy Glen

    Ironic that it was ‘loyal’ Ulster unionists who first took up arms against the crown in 1912 & their success encouraged the republicans to do the same. The only difference was that the unionists had friends in high places & the republicans didn’t.

  • Granni Trixie

    But then (like yourself?) once exposed to anthropology one cannot get away from thinking in terms of “versions” rather than “truth”.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Indeed, my wife is an anthropologist. Her constant holding me to a continuous reckoning over the layers of representation that any mediated version of events must account for has been a most informative tool for my own historiography.

    And this is why I would find that that Diarmaid Ferriter, with his intelligent and honest appraisal of the convolutions of such representations regarding Easter 1916 in the third part, “Legacy and Commemoration”, of his “A Nation, not a Rabble”, is doing something very different both in import and value from Ruth’s book.

  • Greenflag 2

    Probably . The fact that in France and Italy communist parties were getting up to 40% of the vote in post war elections was an indication that the peoples of western europe were not immune to the alternative economic and political order in the east .

  • Greenflag 2

    Can’t disagree with most of your above . You might have added that it took 40 years to get to the GFA . As to why no compromise in 1912 ? There was no compromise from political unionism until 1998 with the brief sole exception of Brian Faulkner’s Sunningdale .

    Just as we can’t be 100% sure about the political or economic future in 2016 we can’t be sure of how Home Rule might or might not have developed had it been implemented before WWI . Had the Belgians not resisted the Kaiser’s breaking of their neutrality in Aug 1914 WWI would have been over by Sept 1914 and France defeated and 18 million young lives saved in Britain , France , Germany Russia etc .

    The past -future perfect doesn’t exist except in imaginations – As for irreconcilable mindsets . To paraphrase Orwell – some irreconcilable mindsets are more irreconcilable than others . Those who recall the strident Dr No of the 1960’s and 1970’s and even unto the 1990’s will also recall his much reduced No- ness before he departed his office .

  • Gopher

    I don’t think continually keeping revolution on life support one builds a rational state. All revolutionary ideals are subject to interpretation and when your revolution is not complete your state is alway open to question, you will never be defending what you have created only indefensible abstracts. (You fools) The French Revolution never “got it” Hitler to the detriment of the SA leadership did and one could argue Dev ended up believing in neither political revolution or evolution . Making him hewed from the same stone as your Dr No. Stagnant.

    The dead have facilitated the present to evolve the state not define it. Being executed by firing squad does not make one a good politician nor did it create utopia and things may actually have been better if they had not bothered. , Passing EU referendums and the GFA and numerous other legislation probably does qualify you, it certainly is tangible. I would pull the plug on the revolution life support and start celebrating evolution and what people in their present achieved. Unless of course you want to shout “I’m Spariticus” at Bodenstown forever.

  • Greenflag 2

    ‘I don’t think continually keeping revolution on life support one builds a rational state.’

    The Republic from a public support and constitutional legitimacy point of view is NOT on life support . It’s continued existence has the support /acquiescence of probably 100% of the population . Northern Ireland is not in that happy position yet and may never be . The GFA back in 1998 got the support of 70% of the voters in NI with those opposing it making up approx half of unionist voters and about 10% of nationalist/republicans.

    The Irish State is not open to question . There is no provision for it’s citizens to vote themselves out of the Republic and into the UK .
    That may seem too obvious a point to make but I do so only to contrast that situation with what applies in NI . While the 1916 Rebellion led ultimately to a ‘nation ‘ once again for five sixths of the island – in NI its been more like political and economic ‘stagnation ‘ once again and again etc at least until very recent times and that only because of the GFA mandatory power sharing ‘fix’.As for evolution I’d guess that the vast majority of people in the Republic believe evolution to be a fact of life unlike say the USA or Turkey where some 40% of the adult population opt for the instant magic wand formula of an extra terrestrial creator although they never stipulate from which galaxy or universe this creator hails . There is no Creation Museum in the Republic purveying scientific untruths and fairy tales to those who while believing gravity to be obvious somehow find human evolution a bridge too far to cross ..

    But perhaps you meant political evolution in which case even there the Republic has a huge advantage over Northern Ireland . To be fair the Republic has been slow to tamper too much with it’s Constitution and it’s system of government /voting system Senate powers etc.

    Spartacus did not succeed immediately and neither did Wolfe Tone Rome as they say was’nt built in a day . Not that any UI would have any illusions of it’s import in a world of 8 billion people or an EU with 550 million people .

    Like many other Dubliners I deplored the wanton destruction of Nelson’s Pillar . Had our City Fathers or Government at the time any foresight or even hindsight they would have removed Horatio from his plinth and replaced him with Wolfe Tone and perhaps others of the 98 Rebellion and the Admiral could have been transferred to a spot in the Phoenix Park close to the Wellington monument as a tourist attraction for British tourists and others .

  • Gopher

    I did not say it was,it is the revolution that is on life support. To be fair the plug might have been pulled if SF never stood in the South but one could see the palpable fear from those using charlatan dark arts themselves for so long that SF might be able to conjure the ghosts of 1916 to haunt their houses and breath life back into the body. What you call the Republic I simply call Ireland. I keep saying for good or ill 1916 largely created the conditions we live in now but it does not define our actions today in a rational state. Claiming its spirit does, it keeps alive the violence of 1916. Put 100 foot statues to them, put Wolfe Tone with them, stick them in a pantheon even better, But practicing augury with them in 2016 when you sit in an established parliament that reflects the will of the people is not only plain dumb but dangerous
    I’m sorry I thought it was clear I meant political evolution. I am trying to explain Rome was not built in a day you have probably 70% of it already which is why the revolution should be left to die and political evolution is better. It is noticable since the signing of the GFA that that has accelerated, proof that the plug should be pulled on the revolution. 100 years on is a good as time as any to let go.

  • Greenflag 2

    I don’t see any revolution. It’s not 1916 . There are no ghosts . Nobody is going back to 1916 . In ancient Rome they may have believed in auguries . Most people in modern Ireland don’t at least not in the Republic . There has just been an election . If one or other political party chose to use the spirit of 1916 to ‘ augment ‘ their vote – it had little or no effect on the results . People remember 1916 because a small group of idealists in the middle of a World War somehow managed to propel a nation towards political independence from the world superpower of the time. They eventually succeeded despite their defeat against overwhelming military odds . The rest-prequel and sequel and the political aftermath today is history . Not unimportant or insignificant just history which people will choose to remember or not as per their political preference or anorak .

    I’ve no idea what you mean by pulling the plug on an event that happened a century ago . As for letting it go ? Perhaps letting go 1690 might be even more rational after all its ghosts are a couple of centuries older than those of 1916 ?

    In 2116 they will have a bicentennial . By then the political map of Ireland may have changed as will the political map of the world . I have a world map from 1914 in front of me and one from 2014 . They are not the same ..Change happens .

    1916 did change Ireland . In my opinion for the better not that they or anyone else at the time could have foreseen that outcome .

    I’m sorry if we have misunderstood each other . Perhaps you read too much into the 1916 hype or overly fear that some gobshites disrespect the commemoration events by violence . ? Even if they did all it would merit would be a jail sentence for public disorder . There was only one 1916 and I think you may agree with me that on this island anyway -one was more than enough !

  • MainlandUlsterman

    “touching faith”??
    Easy to paint it as naive, but ultimately, while we need lots of stories out there and there are lots of truths, we also need to make sense of them. The sense-making is the thing – it’s what it all means that matters. And it’s not all random – there are truths and there are untruths. They need to be sifted. Historians and indeed lawyers are people used to doing that.

    If you leave that task undone by serious people trained in this and with a duty to be truthful – imperfect though they may be as individuals – then myths will grow in its place. Often dangerous, hurtful and poisonous ones.

    Arguably, it has already done so and we quite urgently need to bust those myths. Certainly, that’s what one group of leading academics working on Northern Ireland thought (though it has gone quiet in the last couple of years).https://arkivni.wordpress.com

    My view is that Northern Irish society is being further poisoned by the tolerance of myths and half-truths in the stories we tell ourselves about the Troubles. It’s allowed a party inextricably linked to thousands of Troubles atrocities like Sinn Fein to prosper and be treated as ‘normal’. This is what’s happened already from letting fear of “objectivity” trump the need for a big picture view of the Troubles most of us can agree on. Not all, that’s impossible – but most of us, yes. And it matters what that big picture view is.

    Too many of the decent and the sensible people in the middle, unionist and nationalist, have lost their nerve, cowed into limp acceptance of the unacceptable. The less scrupulous, the pedlars of ethnic myths, rub their hands in glee. They have a free hand.

    I don’t think it’s enough just to offer the public a mess of information and then say, just make up your own story, whatever you believe is true, is true. The impossibility of perfection in that shouldn’t be a bar to producing “good enough” versions people can digest and understand.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    that you were more at home watching the semi-informed fumblings of O’Carroll than listening to more informed discussion among serious writers and historians. If you’re not hearing what you want to hear from them, it might not be their fault. Nationalism made a dreadful mistake when it subsequently rubber-stamped the Rising and virtually beatified its organisers. Happily, sections of nationalism realised that long ago and other sections are waking up to it now. Don’t side with the old stick-in-the-muds clinging to the debris of the busted myth. They’ve had their day.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    “disrespect the commemoration events by violence” – there’s an irony in that surely … what are nationalists commemorating if not the use of violence by its hardened fringe, teaching the constitutional and peaceful a lesson? If you venerate the Easter Rising, using violence seems to me entirely logical – but wrong of course, because it’s wrong to venerate the Easter Rising.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    As Bew pointed out on the Radio 4 documentary about the Rising, people were regularly shot for not following orders in the armed forces of Europe at the time, let alone leading an active armed rebellion. The decision to execute them is easy to understand and it wasn’t disproportionate for the time. The shock from many people in nationalist Ireland after the executions came from being somewhat distant from the realities of what the Army was going through in WW1 and the fact that this Easter Rising “battlefield” was on the home front and the personalities were people they knew. Actually Ireland had got used to quite a long period of fairly benign dealings within the UK state – dealing with things like the coming of unemployment benefit, pensions and so on. Things had improved considerably and had been doing so for many years. There had actually not been much in the way of perceived English-on-Irish brute force for decades. So the executions felt like a throwback to a more oppressive past.

    Isn’t that often the combination that makes it possible for an “insurrection” to gain some support? They often happen after conditions have actually ameliorated; there is an empowered, self-confident body of people there, but who carry resentment from the more oppressive past they or their parents experienced. They are sensitive to any sign of the mistrusted authority going back to its bad old oppressive ways. That is why the executions had the effect they did – they were a throwback. What they weren’t was typical of British administration in Ireland at that time.

  • Greenflag 2

    I said commemorate not venerate . No irony . By your own logic above it would be wrong to commemorate the Battle of the Boyne ( a coup d’etat) or the Battle of the Somme (mass slaughter ) as they both were events which puts the 1916 ‘violence ‘
    in the shade .

    Your logic may be affected by the hype surrounding the commemorations and your preferred political /constitutional bias , Thats fine . But there is an easy antidote to any hype that bothers you . Ignore it . The commemorations will go away . Ireland and its history won’t .

    A lot of folks ignore the Battle of the Boyne commemorations . Some might suggest it glorifies religious intolerance and violence against the vast majority of people in Ireland . Some might suggest it commemorates the defeat of Catholicism in Ireland . But your logic might tell you that it instead brought freedom of religion and the Penal Laws were just overexuberance on the part of the then victors?

    Anyway I’ll be commemorating 1916 like millions of others . I’m not into veneration except perhaps for Charles Darwin but even he was no saint .

  • ted hagan

    Did you watch the O’Carroll programme? I very much doubt it somehow. You might have learnt something

  • Gopher

    I agree 1916 did not resonate with the broader electorate in the election which will perhaps encourage the parties in the Republic, the actual one that exists to stop using the language of the one that does not except in the revolutionary sense. That would be a huge step in removing the justification for murder and other violence in Northern Ireland and infact in the rest of Ireland now and in the future.

    I’m not sure it is 1690 one should let go of, just as I dont think its the actual event of 1916. People should be free to point out the truth of both in 2016 without hysteria which brings us back to the OP. I will take the liberty to suggest to you it is the 12th you should really mean and its intereptation of events. It is the ideology around the 12th and Easter that should be let go. Both have been made redundant by history and treaty, that is obvious to anyone with even a modicum of intelligence.

    One 1916 and one 1690 are more than sufficient

  • Greenflag 2

    There is no justification for political violence in modern Ireland -North or South . We can debate for ever and a day when in Ireland or Britain ‘violence ‘ against the King /Queen /Government /Protector etc was justified . Those in authority whatever the historical period would always have said never .

    Both 1916 and the 1690 (12th July ) can be viewed , analysed , interpreted from many viewpoints . Both events happened a long time ago . There were many other events in Irish and British history which also had a long term political effect on Ireland and Britain. Some of these effects were for good and some not so good . We all live with the political consequences and some of us make a very big deal out of both ‘pivotal ‘ events in this islands history .

    Historically there was politically inspired violence against British rule in Ireland long before 1916 . It would seem that the main reason the 1916 violence gets so much attention from those who favour British rule in Ireland or in a part of Ireland is because it succeeded .

    The main reason 1690 Battle of the Boyne is still commemorated is because it succeeded in the overthrow of the then ruling Monarchy in Britain and Ireland . For most of the people of Ireland it had a similar effect that the Battle of Hastings had for the people of England after 1066 i.e they became second class people in their own country in a manner much more ideological and state directed than had ever been the case in earlier times . It took centuries for the English to ‘recover ‘ their nation and language from their Norman French rulers . It took the Irish centuries also to recover their ‘nation ‘ .

    I know enough about 17th century European history to understand that some effects of the Glorious Revolution had on Britain and a part of Ireland were ‘progressive ‘ in the context of the times .

    As to both ( 1690 & 1916 ) being made redundant by history ? Redundant is not the word for both events still live in the minds of the people who commemorate them even if their interpretation of the historical events themselves is sometimes clouded by current modern day political rivalries .

    I don’t have a problem with people commemorating 1690 or 1916 . As long they don’t believe that the world or Ireland or freedom or whatever began starting from those events and that they behave themselves in their commemorations in a manner that is conducive to public order and doesn’t upset their neighbours who may not be as enthusiastic about the said commemoration as the commemorators .

    “One 1916 and one 1690 are more than sufficient’

    Indeed . You would’nt have had the former (1916 ) without the latter (1690) so like it or not both events are inextricably linked even if they arose in very different historical eras .

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Must admit I’m not a fan. Willing to accept the programme could have been interesting, just not to the exclusion of the Start The Week discussion on Radio 4, or indeed the Radio 4 documentary series on it by Heather Jones, which is excellent: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b073b5c6. Proper meaty analysis there.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I think I have a fairly consistent approach to both Easter Rising and Boyne commemoration, though I think the Easter Rising is a different kind of event, the event itself having happened in a relatively modern, democratic setting with more direct ideological linkage to the present day. The distance in time back to the Boyne, and its context of European wars between power-wielding monarchs, makes the role of the battle itself in the subsequent commemoration quite different, much more abstract and with a much more indirect route to its meaning today.

    My criticism of some Irish nationalist Easter Rising commemoration is that it has a very direct message of championing the violence of the ultras, the hardliners, over the peaceful route the majority had been taking till then. It’s a terrible message to be giving to kids and I’ve been a bit appalled by the way the Irish state feels the need to identify with the leaders of the Rising the way it does, even if it’s eased off a little compared to 20 years ago.

    Comparing educated middle class with educated middle class here, I was certainly never taught in school about the Boyne being a positive development and its leaders heroic, we were just taught what happened, how and why. It all seemed very distant and disconnected from the modern world. I never heard anything about the Boyne at home and no one we knew would have gone to 12th celebrations – quite the opposite, it was the time to go on holiday.

    The processing of the Rising in educated nationalist culture seems quite different: the equivalent people to us appear to champion the event as A Good Thing, big up the leaders of the Rising and use it as means of telling a story about how awful Brits and unionists were / are. It’s great that it’s softening now, but I think educated nationalists sometimes don’t give their small ‘u’ unionist counterparts (those fabled “garden centre Prods”, of whom I am one, if a tad more politically engaged than most) enough credit for avoiding all this kind of stuff like the plague. It would be nice if more of middle class non-violent nationalism took the same sceptical approach to its own tribe’s shibboleths and gave the Easter Rising a big body swerve.