Casting a cold eye on 1916

Published in Issue 6 (November/December 2015), Letters, Volume 23

Sir,—Dennis Kennedy’s critique of the Easter Rising and its commemoration (HI 23.5, Sept./Oct. 2015, Platform) is as notable for what it omits as for what it contains. He blames the Rising for ‘the false and terrible beauty of violence’, yet he suppresses the fact that it was the Ulster Volunteer Force that brought the gun to the forefront of Irish politics and was the inspiration for both the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Citizen Army. In its alliance with the British military officer caste, too, it was a barrier to the achievement of the outstanding aims of what Mr Kennedy calls ‘peaceful democratic nationalism’.

Similarly, he adheres to Basil Fawlty’s dictum, ‘Don’t mention the [First World] War’. It may be assumed that this conflict had some effect in stimulating militarist attitudes on both sides of the divide. What is more, the ‘peaceful democratic’ nationalists played their role in this. They tied the cause of Home Rule (a provincial assembly, less even than would be secured for the 26 counties under the 1921 Treaty) to the agreement of the British government. To ensure this, they sent to their deaths more young Irishmen than would die in all the republican revolts together since 1798. The war is also necessary for understanding Connolly’s role; so far from acting simply ‘as an extreme nationalist’, he was trying to execute the anti-war directive of the 1907 Congress of the Socialist International.

As to the 1966 commemoration, the republican movement of the time had begun to revive before it began. Many of its members were inclined, anyway, to see the official celebrations as a warm-up for de Valera’s campaign for re-election to the presidency. They were more stimulated to militancy by their steady repression from the governments on both sides of the border, particularly when they were acting in ways that would be legal elsewhere.
It seems likely that such repression will be renewed when the peace process collapses and Northern Irish Catholics have less reason to ‘express satisfaction with life in the UK’. Hopefully they will react against it more intelligently and, for their ends, more effectively than their predecessors.—Yours etc.,



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