Wednesday, January 20, 2016

What Irish Revolution? What Independence?

Robert Fisk, the war correspondent, can always be relied upon to bring his critical eye to popular misconceptions. In the Independent hereviews the upcoming centenary of the 1916 Dublin Uprising. Fisk quotes the Irish journalist Patsy McGarry who wrote that the 1916 Rising was "an immoral and anti-democratic act organised by a minority within a minority who, looking into their own souls, saw there what they deemed was right for the Irish people". 

“1,200 men under the command of Padraig Pearse (described in a Irish school textbook as "one of the noblest characters in Irish history") stormed the general post office and other Dublin landmarks on Easter Monday, 24 April. A Gaelic scholar, schoolteacher, patriot, pseudo-fascist, poet, believer in the idea of blood sacrifice and certainly a very brave – if not suicidal – man, the Irish are this centenary still debating the good and bad of this ethereal figure and his colleagues in rebellion. Seven men signed a declaration – Pearse appeared in the third row of names – which was pasted to the wall of the post office under the title of "The Provisional Government of the Irish Republic" and addressed to "The People of Ireland".”

“The first paragraph of the Easter declaration was a political winner – until you started thinking about it. "In the name of God and of the dead generations from which she receives her old tradition of nationhood," it said. "Ireland, through us, summons her children to her flag and strikes for her freedom." The problem lay in the expression "through us" – not because the Irish signatories doubted it, but because no one had elected them to stage this romantic, bloody and ultimately hopeless military operation against the British on behalf of the "sovereign independent state" which they had declared. Unlike the constitutionalist O'Connell, whose Irish emancipation was achieved through the British parliament 87 years earlier, the Easter Rising was more of a "putsch" than a revolution, an attempted coup that had absolutely no democratic credentials.”

Fisk continues his observations:

“In the second paragraph of the declaration in which Thomas Clarke, Sean Mac Diarmada, PH [Padraig Henry] Pearse, James Connolly, Thomas MacDonagh, Eamonn Ceannt and Joseph Plunkett claimed that they were supported by Ireland's exiled children in America "and by gallant allies in Europe". This was a killer paragraph in every sense of the word. For the "gallant allies" were the Kaiser's armies, which were at that very moment slaughtering British soldiers in the titanic war in France and Flanders. While the British, along with 80,000 Irishmen in British uniform, fought the Germans who had invaded "little Catholic Belgium" in 1914, Pearse and his friends – and not all of his comrades were his friends – were fighting for little Catholic Ireland on the side of Britain's enemy.
If its creators had not declared for Germany, the British might have been able to brush the Rising aside as a violent but hot-headed local rebellion. But for a British government facing the German onslaught in 1916, this was an act of gross treachery, one that would inevitably provide Pearse with the blood sacrifice of which he spoke so admiringly.”

Fisk points to the date 2 January 1922:
“when members passed the Anglo-Irish Treaty – after which the Sinn Fein party divided and the civil war began? It was to be the saddest and most brutal of modern Irish conflicts, with up to 4,000 dead, many of them former comrades-in-arms; the provisional government organised firing squads, and its soldiers – predecessors of the same army that now proudly wears the UN blue beret around the world – committed executions and a few war crimes. So did the anti-Treaty forces and their nominal leader, Eamon de Valera, who had narrowly escaped British execution in 1916.”

Robert Fisk concludes:
“The revolutionaries scarcely changed the foundations of Irish society. Constituency boundaries in the new "Eire" – it would not become a republic until 1948 – remained the old Westminster boundaries, Lord Mayors were still elected with their antique British chains of office. The "martyrs" of 1916 posthumously and predictably bestowed their names upon dank Irish railway stations, and the old British red post boxes were painted green.


anon scotland said...

They were certainly brave. Maybe not men and women of precise SPGB class analysis, Abolish the Wages System etc, but reacting against the military, economic and cultural impositions of a more powerful capitalist neighbour.

ajohnstone said...

Indeed, many individuals were courageous, as were many of the "tommies", many Irish born, who went over the top in the trenches in France but the point really is, on who's behalf. Connolly's Citizen's Army spilled their blood for the same class that they were set up to fight against in the Dublin Lock-out of 1913.