From the Editor…

Published in Issue 5 (Sep/Oct 2007), Reviews, Volume 15, World War I

‘Schizophrenia of aspiration’?
In his thought-provoking address to the Merriman Summer School recently, speculating on the possibility of Irish unity, former Stormont civil service mandarin Sir Kenneth Bloomfield remarked on the ‘schizophrenia of aspiration’ of newly independent Ireland. While aspiring to unity, the new state asserted its independence by policies that he described as ‘non-Britishness’, or even ‘anti-Britishness’.
Surely he has a point. One of its manifestations was the wilful disregard of the legacy of the tens of thousands of Irishmen who fought and died in the First World War, eloquently expressed by the dilapidated state into which Sir Edwin Lutyens’s Islandbridge war memorial was allowed to fall. This issue has since been addressed: Islandbridge has been restored; the state takes a full part in First World War commemorations; and no-one can now seriously argue that Ireland’s role in the First World War has been ‘airbrushed out of history’.
This year’s 90th anniversary commemorations of the Battle of Wijtschate-Messines Ridge are particularly significant. As Tom Burke explains (pp 28–33), this was the last time ‘loyal Ulstermen and Irish nationalists fought side by side against a common enemy’. Such an effective and successful common enterprise between nationalists and unionists has an obvious appeal in the light of recent developments north of the border.
But we should not allow contemporary political needs, however well-intentioned, to blind us to the reality of that time. The nationalists and unionists who volunteered at the behest of their leaders did so for diametrically opposed motives: the former to ensure the implementation of Home Rule, the latter to ensure its repeal. And while some nationalist leaders saw participation in the war as a means towards reconciliation with unionists, others saw an opportunity to gain the necessary military experience for ‘their’ side in anticipation of the expected conflict back home.

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