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1916 and all that (again) January 16, 2015

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, Northern Ireland.

An oddly, though perhaps no unexpectedly, one-sided view of the Easter Rising from Dennis Kennedy in the irish Times. It’s also arguably remarkably ahistorical. We are treated to a number of contentions:

The event itself was an act of armed rebellion by an extremist group outside the mainstream of nationalist politics, and with no electoral mandate. It came at a time when the state – the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland – was in all-out war with Germany. That war had the overwhelming support of Ireland’s democratically elected representatives to the UK parliament. The leaders of the rebellion had sought and received aid from Germany.

That point about ‘democratically elected representatives’ ignores deeply problematic aspects of British democracy that are fundamental to any analysis of this issue.

We often hear that those who instigated the Rising were advanced nationalists, but they were also advanced democrats – in so far as they had a much more modern and progressive view of what suffrage meant – universal, non-gender restricted, etc. These aren’t small things, for in somewhat less advanced nationalism Redmond was famously antagonistic to the very idea of female suffrage.

Moreover there’s a sort of unwillingness to accept the reality of what British power actually meant, the minority status of Irish parliamentarians at Westminster – in other words the show of (flawed) democracy, but no actual substance to it.

Add in with that the fact that the dynamic of who was represented there in Westminster was such that it was pushing against the confines of the British state. Participation in the British government was all but unthinkable given the orientation of nationalism – even soft Home Rule nationalism – given the history of preceding decades and centuries.

That latter is far from unimportant too. For Kennedy the British government was the democratic and legal entity, the actuality of Home Rule agitation and nationalism in general called that deeply into question.

But they were still ideologues with no electoral support, prepared to kill and destroy in pursuit of their political aims at a time when unprecedented progress, albeit stalled by the war, had been made by democratic processes towards the goal of an independent Ireland.

Ah, that unprecedented progress, stalled not simply by war but by Unionism itself which was responsible during those few decades for reintroducing political violence or the threat of same into the equation, and had in London pushed back even the relatively meagre measures that were on offer. Indeed it’s hard to take seriously his contention that somehow 1916 was a ‘catalyst’ to partition given the role of that issue in the years before the Rising and particularly in 1912 and 1913. Actually Unionism and its role in fracturing aspects of the British polity, or bending them to near breaking point, isn’t addressed at all in his history.

Of course there’s a more contemporary, or near contemporary spin:

Should, 100 years on, a modern parliamentary democracy, committed to the rule of law and peaceful settlement of all disputes, celebrate as the seminal event in its history an armed insurrection by a small minority with no mandate?

Should a state with a long history of sporadic armed challenge to its authority be celebrating such an event? Should it do so when there are still organisations and individuals who believe their political aspirations are such that they entitle them to kill and destroy in pursuit of them?

The answer to those questions is yes. In part because it was a seminal event, that Britain as then constituted was far from what we would recognise as a democracy as well as being an imperial power and that the very existence of an independent Republic on much of the territory of this island, one that is, for all its flaws, generally acknowledged as legitimate is in and of itself an answer. There is little or no question as to the legitimacy of this state, certainly nothing approaching that which characterised the relationship to the British state in Ireland. And perhaps here we see some of what exercises Kennedy, for if this state is legitimate, then it follows that what came before was not – however hard he may attempt to paint it. And even that part of Ireland which remained within the UK was clearly insufficiently so, to the extent that it took until the late 1990s, and even after, until a dispensation was fashioned that was satisfactory to a critical mass of the population within its borders.

Which suggests that all the talk of democracy and modernity and legality actually are evasions when set against the reality of both the period prior to Independence in the South and after it in the North. That there was deep dysfunction in both parts of Ireland during those periods and that only in the most recent past has that been ameliorated to any significant degree.

That is an uncomfortable historical perspective.


1. Jonathan - January 16, 2015

Correct me if I’m wrong here, but the ‘unprecedented progress’ that Home Rule had made was not because of some British enthusiasm for it: it was because the Liberal Party were dependent on the IPP to stay in power, for which Home Rule was the price, and because the House of Lords’ veto had been essentially removed (largely as a result of their blocking the Budget in 1909). Home Rule had gotten nowhere for thirty years before this set of circumstances allowed it to be voted through.


Pasionario - January 16, 2015

I think Gladstone is usually seen as having developed a genuine moral commitment to Home Rule. Not sure about Asquith.


Jonathan - January 16, 2015

In 1902 Asquith said: “”Is it to be part of the policy and programme of our party that, if returned to power, it will introduce into the House of Commons a bill for Irish Home Rule? The answer, in my judgment, is No.” I think that in general the 1900s Liberals were lukewarm at best towards Home Rule, which is why they did nothing about it while they had an overall majority.


2. Michael Carley - January 16, 2015

What is it about 1916 that makes some people believe it should be apologized for? Plenty of people, especially on the CLR, have long arguments about the nature of Irish state after independence, and how that independence has been squandered, just as we have arguments about the US, France, and other powers. I don’t think anyone, of any political view, would expect the US to apologize for 1776, or France for 1789, or Soviet republics for becoming ex-Soviet republics. Why is Ireland expected to apologize for its independence?

Liked by 1 person

FergusD - January 16, 2015

I agree, it is truly pathetic. Amongst my English friends at least there is no such expectation. And I suspect that is the view of most English people – who are even aware of 1916. Spineless Irish elite afraid of their own shadow!!


Gewerkschaftler - January 16, 2015

I agree about the having to apologies – that’s a remaining symptom of cultural cringe perhaps.

But comparing 1916 with 1776 or 1789 seems inappropriate – the later led to secular democratic states.

Soviet republics to oligarchic pseudo-democracies is perhaps more appropriate.

Feeling bilious this fine Friday.


shea - January 16, 2015

its the logical outworking of thinking that does not recognise or allow themselves to consider the power of the shadow of the british gun man on the affairs of this island.


Michael Carley - January 16, 2015

1916 “also contained many other germs, a mass of other germs, and those who lived through the enthusiasm of the first years of the first victorious socialist revolution ought not to forget it. To judge the living man by the death germs which the autopsy reveals in the corpse – and which he may have carried in him since his birth – is that very sensible?”


3. An Sionnach Fionn - January 16, 2015

If one were to follow Denis Kennedy’s logic (and that is a charitable use of the term) those organisations and individuals who participated in or supported the French Resistance between 1939-45 also formed an “extremist group” outside the mainstream of nationalist politics who were in an “armed rebellion” against the established forces of law and order in France during that period. Namely the French State in Vichy and the German Military Administration Authority in Paris. Which means the Third Reich and the collaborationist puppet regime in southern France were arguably justified in their suppression of the Maquis “rebels”.

I’m not sure that is the sort of historical comparisons British apologists want to be making.


Starkadder - January 18, 2015

I don’t agree with Kennedy’s article, but I stand by
my view that your 1916 Rising/French Resistance
analogy is inappropriate.

For a start the “established forces of law and order in France during that period” had in fact only been in existence for
a few years, and as a result of a military defeat by
a foreign power. By contrast, the UK “established forces
of law and order in Ireland” had been ruling Ireland
(unjustly) for centuries.

Also, there were numerous groups pre-1916 openly
calling for the end of British rule in Ireland-openly
calling for the end of German rule would have been
impossible in Vichy and Nazi-occupied France without
being arrested.


4. sonofstan - January 16, 2015

Didn’t Rosa Luxemburg say something about revolutions being by their nature premature? That the justification is always retroactive?


Michael Carley - January 16, 2015

The revolution is its own justification.


5. Jim Monaghan - January 16, 2015

Brilliant takeoff of teh IT article here. http://ansionnachfionn.com/2015/01/16/condemning-rebellion-in-occupied-france-and-ireland/

Today’s Irish Times newspaper carries a deeply offensive article examining the period of 1939-45 in France and what the author of the piece characterizes as the “armed rebellion” of the French Resistance against the mandated administration of the country by Nazi Germany and it’s collaborationist partners during World War II. In particular the journalist questions the continued veneration of the militant movement by the modern French state and its celebration by political parties of all hues: read on


Pasionario - January 17, 2015

By all means debate 1916 but this is grotesque and insulting. Asquith was not Hitler and Redmond was not Petain/Laval. Get a grip.


Starkadder - January 17, 2015

And the RIC and DMP, bad as they were, did not
drag off Irish Jews to British extermination camps. The
analogy An Sionnach Fionn uses is inappropriate.


Mike Atkinson - January 17, 2015

A somewhat unwise choice of analogy for
An Sionnach Fionn there, given the dubious record
of Celtic-language nationalists in WWII France
(Bezen Perrott, anyone? ).



Mike Atkinson - January 17, 2015

Sorry, that should be “Bezen Perrot”.

Also, An Sionnach Fionn wrote a long piece about
Gerry McGeough (about 4,500 words) that
did not once mention McGeough’s
reprehensible views on homosexuality, nor him
working with hyper-reactionary Justin Barrett:



shea - January 17, 2015

the blog you say is about mcgeough is actually about prison conditions in magaberry in 2012 with a link to a blog from pat ramseys PA emmet doyle detailing a visit.

Is there a counter point to harsh treatment in magaberry experienced by mcgeough expressed in that article that can be better understood or qualified by highlighting that he Mcgeough also has reprehensible views on homosexuality and he campaigned with barrett? Was Mcgeough in jail for holding those views or campaigning with barrett? Not seeing the relevance myself, unless its justice for people who’s views match our own.


Pasionario - January 18, 2015

Not to mention the less than illustrious record of the IRA itself during those dark years. If there had been a collaborationist regime in Ireland, then someone like Tom Barry would have been in charge of it.


shea - January 18, 2015

was barry with the staters during that war?


6. roddy - January 18, 2015

Journalists who would claim to be left wing have also done pieces on McGeough which fail to mention his obnoxious views.They present him as a man of principle ,persecuted for his opposition to the SF charlatans !


7. roddy - January 18, 2015

Why single out Tom Barry? Others who went on to preach about “peace ,work and class politics ” could equally have donned that mantle.


Pasionario - January 18, 2015

Ha ha! I knew you’d take that bait. The combination of Barry’s prestige and somewhat blinkered view of things would have made him the ideal figurehead of a puppet government.


Garibaldy - January 18, 2015

Given that Goulding was born in 1922, one wonders about that. This is just a total non-sequitur, and is unhinged.


8. roddy - January 18, 2015

Goulding, Smullen or the member of the waffen SS that was in the wp?


WorldbyStorm - January 18, 2015

Though for historical accuracy we must note that he was – without complaint from anyone involved – a member of the pre-split SF in the 60s. It does on the face of it appear preposterous that a former member of the waffen SS would be a member of OSF or indeed pre-split SF. It would be interesting to discover his war record and when he joined the waffen SS and how long he remained within OSF.


sonofstan - January 18, 2015

Can someone elucididate?!


WorldbyStorm - January 18, 2015

A member of SF who was from Holland I think had been a member of the Waffen-SS and during the split stayed loyal to the Officials.



que - January 18, 2015

43-45 in the SS. Formed part of Skorzeny’s unit.
Originally from a left wing family he was a gung ho national socialist.


9. roddy - January 18, 2015

Garibaldy,Pasionario, mentioned the “less than illustrious record of the IRA” during WW2. Goulding was an active member of the IRA during WW2. Tom Barry was not.That less than illustrious record is only mentioned today to smear modern day republicans who had no act or part in it.I am pointing out the fact that many who use this smear were followers of those like Goulding who was actually there at the time.I dont want the usual WP / SF slanging match to ensue and would not have mentioned Goulding had the provocative post not been posted.


Garibaldy - January 18, 2015

My point roddy being that Pasanario has nothing to do with the WP, so why not point out the fact that the largest force in Ireland with fascist sympathisers was indeed not the iRA, by then a shell of its former self, but Fine Gael, and not a few in FF either? Why drag the WP in at all? Simply in pursuit of some cheap shot that had nothing to do with the issue at hand.

There were plenty of pro-Soviet IRA members too during the War.


10. CL - January 18, 2015

“the cases of those Breton nationalists who were granted asylum in Ireland appear particularly susceptible to misunderstanding. All too often, what was a disparate group representing a broad spectrum of Breton autonomist opinion is portrayed simplistically as a bloc of pro-Nazi war criminals. ”


11. roddy - January 18, 2015

Fair enough Garibaldy especially with regard to FG but for once can you agree with me that WW2 should not be used against either WP or SF.


12. Brian Hanley - January 18, 2015

Tom Barry joined the Irish (Free State) Army during 1940 but was out of it pretty quick; some allege he expected a senior post and wasn’t offered one. He supported neutrality.
If we were looking for heads of collaborationist regimes (didn’t this thread start with 1916?) the former minister JJ Walsh or the Irish Army general Hugo McNeill might have been in the frame.


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