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More on that northern contribution to the 1916 debate. April 1, 2016

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
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One of the most interesting aspects of Arlene Foster’s contribution to the 1916 debate is her unwillingness or inability to understand the reasons – even if not agreeing with them – why the events took place or what motivated people to take up arms. One might think that she might be well aware of the centrality of issues like democracy, representation, religious freedoms (of a sort) and so on. Perhaps it is particularly telling that the political analysis is near absent while a faux-psychological one ‘1916 leaders were egotists’ is presented. There’s contradictions in that too – she argues that the leaders acted to ‘bring glory on themselves’ without working through how that would have functioned – clearly only if there was an acceptance amongst the Irish people that their goals, aims and to an extent methods were legitimate could that case possibly be sustained.

Of course one can take a cynical view and suspect that she knows full well that these motivations that were part and parcel of those who did participate in 1916 weren’t entirely alien to her own tradition while also feeling unable to articulate that for fear of showing weakness or any hint that there was some degree of legitimacy to them.

There’s also something horribly clunky about the effort to shoehorn in the more recent conflict, thereby ignoring the roots of that – and like so many before her, suggesting that all would be well absent 1916. As noted here the roots of the conflict in the north were grown a lot closer to her home and in some respects are much deeper than the events centred on the GPO. That’s not to say there’s no connection at all, but it is not a clear casual one. And I feel it is almost redundant to point out that the broader context of political violence and threat of same did not start in 1916 on this island. Nor is the tradition she is such a doughty defender of innocent in that regard, either before during or after.

Finally her criticism, and this has been well dealt with in comments, as regards the statement of the President in regard to imperialism is so churlish as well as – as noted previously – missing the point to an almost risible extent that one has to wonder how seriously she can take it.

It certainly is a curious situation when the British state itself is more nuanced – and I hesitate to use the word understanding for fear of condescending connotations implicit in it – than those who profess the staunchest loyalty (well, bar TUV) to that state. But it is an illustration of how far a distance has yet to be travelled when the First Minister of the Assembly is so clearly unable to offer anything but the most grudging acknowledgement of an history that led to the Republic of Ireland.

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1. roddy - April 1, 2016

Maybe people will now have some inkling as to what the likes of McGuinness has to put up with and acknowledge his efforts in keeping a very shaky process afloat.

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2. Michael Carley - April 3, 2016

Tangentially connected, from Henry MacDonald:

The taoiseach, Enda Kenny, led the service, which was attended by his predecessors John Bruton and Bertie Ahern. Northern Ireland’s justice minister, David Ford, also attended, making him the first non-nationalist politician on the island to take part in any of the main official events to commemorate the rising.

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/apr/03/man-arrested-dublin-1916-easter-rising-memorial-dissident-republicans-ireland

Where does he place (Irish) Labour politicians on the nationalist spectrum?

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WorldbyStorm - April 3, 2016

It is a bizarre thing for him to say. Isn’t it? Perhaps he means non-RoI politician. That would make more sense.

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Michael Carley - April 3, 2016

He says `on the island’, so he doesn’t mean RoI. Very odd.

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3. roddy - April 3, 2016

At the time of the “new Ireland forum” and other establishment attempts at a settlement,Spring defined the free state labour party as”nationalist”.

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Michael Carley - April 3, 2016

Does anybody else?

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4. Michael Carley - April 3, 2016

So somebody whose judgement I would normally trust said Portillo’s programme about the British view of 1916 was worth seeing. So I’m watching it. First three people Portillo speaks to: Pauline Neville-Jones (ex-head of MI5, not a historian, but you can see the point), Roy Foster (fair enough, he takes a particular view but he is a proper historian), and Kevin Myers.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b075f1f2

Has the BBC nobody with a clue?

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EWI - April 3, 2016

The program was actually commissioned by RTÉ, I believe. So mystery answered. Foster isn’t a historian, not in this. It’s clearly a political crusade with him, and no coincidence to have himself and Geldof pop up with a supposed two-part Yeats documentary on RTÉ in the past few weeks.

By the way, the supposed 1916 interpretative centre in the GPO has an entire section devoted to so-called revisionism – and narrated by none other than Myers.

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Michael Carley - April 3, 2016

That explains a few things. I thought Charles Townshend was good, Fisk not nearly as good as I would have expected, Richard Dannatt a disgrace (when he talked about how terrible it is for a squaddie to be shot at when he’s hiding behind a red pillar box, was it North King Street he really meant), and Kiberd alright. Portillo was reasonably good, but if you Michael Portillo sounds like the voice of reason you really need to think hard about the company you’re keeping.

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EWI - April 3, 2016

I have always found Townshend to be consistently patronising in his attitude to the 1916 rebels, but YMMV.

It appears to me as an outsider to mean academic career death in Ireland to seem at all sympathetic or understanding to the 1913-23 revolutionaries on their own terms. Feminist, socialist (to a degree) or revisionist (clearly the path to attention and money) approaches are fine, but not actual studies of the revolutionary movements (John Regan clearly painfully felt the need at the Kieran Allan-organised 1916 event in UCD earlier this year, speaking on a relatively anodyne topic, to have to repeatedly deny that he was speaking at all from a republican viewpoint). And I know of at least two others who have told me privately that they’ve been subject to what amounts to blacklisting here.

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Michael Carley - April 3, 2016

I liked Townshend’s book on the Civil War though I haven’t read his one on 1916. I thought he was quite fair in the Portillo programme though after Myers …

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EWI - April 3, 2016

I haven’t read his Civil War book – the only one I think I’ve ever read specifically on that topic was Padraig Yeates’ very neutral work on Dublin through those years.

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Michael Carley - April 3, 2016

Yeates is good and in total those books form a labour movement history of Dublin from the lockout to 1925. Personally I think they’re excellent.

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EWI - April 3, 2016

And make no mistake – I think they’re wonderful, too, and I’ve recommended them to other people without hesitation.

But I think, not least from hearing him speak, that he’s yet another good historian who’s yet quite cautious (overly cautious, I would say) about sympathising with the revolutionaries of those times.

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CL - April 3, 2016

“I do not believe we can regard the B-Specials as a manifestation of militarism, although the personnel were primarily drawn from the ranks of the old UVF, because they were answerable to a democratically elected government”-Padraig Yeates.
http://www.academia.edu/6612675/Commemorating_Whose_Past_and_For_What

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