Augusteijn on Coolacrease

Published in 20th-century / Contemporary History, Issue 4 (Jul/Aug 2009), Letters, Revolutionary Period 1912-23, Volume 17

Sir,

—Without wanting to start a long discussion, there are a few pointsmentioned in last issue’s letters pages (HI 17.3, May/June 2009)concerning my review of the Coolacrease book that apparently need someclarification. In essence these criticisms come down to two issues: theresults of the 1918 elections and the consequent democratic mandate ofSinn Féin, and my personal affiliations.
Although the constraints of a review did not allow me to present a fulldiscussion of the 1918 elections, I am, of course, aware of the 25constituencies in which no election took place. A good reader wouldhave understood that with the sentence ‘It is certainly possible toassume that a majority of the people voted for Sinn Féin’ I tried toshow my awareness of the reasonable assumption that most people inthese constituencies would have voted for Sinn Féin had they had achoice of candidates. Even if we accept that, the question remains:what  were they voting for? The Sinn Féin election manifesto did notcall for a republic, nor did it make clear that force was going to beused.
O’Connor Lysaght goes a step further and argues that because I questionthe democratic mandate of Sinn Féin I justify British brutality andtherefore am an authoritarian. In this he mirrors the more stridentcriticisms of my review in the Irish Political Review by BrendanClifford, who argues that I am an imperialist and therefore also arevisionist. I am afraid they fail to fully understand what I wastrying to do. Basically I wanted to show that the legitimacy of bothsides’ actions cannot be ascertained objectively, but that allcertainly believed that they were right in what they did. That in doingso I showed why the republican position was not necessarily democraticis a logical consequence of the unquestioning acceptance of that asfact by several authors of the Coolacrease book—whether they arerepublicans or not. They have not understood that, although there is areasonable claim to be made, there is no natural law that makes theisland of Ireland necessarily a political unit. I was therefore notrepresenting my own point of view but explaining how many people inIreland, Britain and abroad looked at it at that time. In all this Inever presented myself as a neutral arbiter. In the review I explicitlystate that I view the past and present with my own blinkers on, but Itry to become aware of as many of these blinkers as possible. Regardingmy own affiliations, let’s just say I did not leave Queen’s University,Belfast, in 2000 because I was seen as a revisionist or animperialist.

—Yours etc.,
JOOST AUGUSTEIJN
Leiden

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