31 July—6 August: That was the week that was; a round-up

Published in Blogging Irish History, Decade of Centenaries, Revolutionary Period 1912-23

WP_20140731_016It’s been a busy week in history-land. Beginning with last weeks unveiling of the CWGC Cross of Sacrifice in Glasnevin Cemetery, we’ve had a raft of official commemorations of the outbreak of the First World War in Ireland, the UK and Belgium (with Irish representation at the latter two). RTÉ have also launched an ambitious month of programming, with some fairly stark documentaries and a thought-provoking debate. RTÉ’s contributions, in particular, seem to have side-stepped the pitfall of putting forth an almost nostalgic view of the Irish involvement in the war, driven by the trope of rediscovering a ‘hidden’ history (one that might not have been as hidden in the 1920s and 1930s as is often assumed). Instead, they have delivered some stark excavations of the horrors of the war. And the letters pages of The Irish Times have thrown up some very interesting and diverse commentaries on the war. Given that Irish service in World War One took place in the British armed forces, attention should be drawn to the impressive online resources to explain and understand the First World War that that have been developed in the light of the UK centenary commemorations, and which are bound to be of interest to a wide audience.


Some might grumble that this is elevating service in the British armed forces above the struggle for independence; but August 1914 marks the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War and, as the latest issue of Century Ireland reveals, when Britain mobilised for war, so too did Ireland. At that juncture the Irish independence movement was moribund, to say the least, and would remain in the shadows until April 1916. In two years time the Easter Rising will be in the limelight, but for now the First World War is taking centre stage.


This is not to say that the echoes of both events are not being argued about. In the past few days we’ve had John Bruton’s assertions that 1916 was unnecessary, and that Redmond’s Home Rule movement would have achieved the goal of independence anyway, without violence (though it is striking that Redmond’s willingness to gamble with Irish lives when backing the British war effort seems to pass without much comment). There have, perhaps inevitably, been vigorous refutations by figures such as Gerry Adams and Éamon O Cuiv, not to mention a more measured critique on the airwaves by Brian Hanley on The Right Hook (31 minutes in). Bruton’s assertions are debatable; but they have certainly prompted healthy debate, such as this on TV3.


(Tourism Ireland)

Amidst all this one might be forgiven for not noting that the next Star Wars film was shooting on the Skelligs. The same reason why the monastic site is a UNESCO World Heritage Site—the desolate and extreme environment that attracted early Christian monks to the edge of the known world—is presumably the same reason why Luke Skywalker will be popping up on them in due course. Whether the two reasons are compatible in practice, in terms of the impact of the shoot on the Skelligs, remains to be seen (no pun).


But what is striking about all of the emphasis on the Ireland of 1912—23 over the past week is that there has been a heartening level of public interest and engagement in such debates, regardless of whether one agrees or disagrees with some of what is being said. That in itself surely bodes well for the next couple of years, once no-one loses an eye.


John Gibney



One comment on “31 July—6 August: That was the week that was; a round-up

  1. Justin says:

    Well written John, and an excellent resource page as well!!

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