14 November 2014: 1914, 1916, 1989, etc: a round-up of the week, 7 Nov-14 Nov

Published in Blogging Irish History

Image 1In 1928 the Irish Times, when reporting the commemoration of the end of the First World War on 11 November, Armistice Day, observed that ‘already a new generation has arisen to which the war is little more then a legend’. That can hardly be said of the ‘Great War’ in the centenary year of its outbreak. It has received a huge degree of attention, but an understanding of the war in 2014 can only benefit from the vast array of new resources with which to understand it: amongst a wide range of such new toys, contributions from such venerable British institutions such as the BBC and the British Library stand out, while Europeana 1914-1918 and the International Encyclopedia of the First World War are welcome multinational initiatives. And all are free to use.

Irish soldiers in WW1 usually fought in the British armed forces, so the British initiatives are naturally of relevance to an Irish understanding of the war. But usually another British initiative is seized upon to prompt a ‘debate’ that always generates heat rather then light: should Irish people wear a poppy to commemorate the dead of the war? It can be misleading in one sense, as the prevalence of poppies in the UK in October-November arises from the Royal British Legion’s annual fundraising drive (a fact that is often overlooked). Mercifully, we had less of this annual shouting match this year. In the contemporary incarnation of the Irish Times, Frank McNally lucidly set forth his reasons for declining to wear a poppy; and to choose not to wear one should not be construed as disrespect for the dead of the war. Following on from that is the much more widely-publicised stance of Wigan Athletic’s Derry-born Irish international James McClean, who gave his reasons for declining to wear a poppy on his jersey last week in a dignified letter to the club’s chairman. His measured stance on this perennial issue got a more measured response than is usual, which is surely no bad thing.

In any case, Armistice Day was marked in Dublin, and the day after the centenary plans for the Easter Rising were released to a mixed response, with the accompanying promo video coming in for a good deal of grief. On a related note, material from all periods of Irish history went under the hammer at Whyte’s on 8 November: check out what you may have missed here. And with regards to the revolutionary period 1912-23, this very interesting review of Senia Paseta’s new book on Irish nationalist women is well worth a read. Mention should also be made of this Irish Times interview with John A. Murphy from last week. And having dealt with things that divide, no harm in ending with people being brought together: 9 November marked the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.


John Gibney


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