20 April 2006 Edition
Media View by John O'Brien
Anniversary used to denigrate 1916 ideals and attack republicans
Once Fianna Fáil had decided to end the long established Southern state neglect of the 1916 Rising, it was inevitable that the major media would have to cover the celebration events. But in doing so their two-faced hypocrisy became more apparent than ever.
Let's leave aside the "Irish" Daily Mail's celebratory headline - The Nation Celebrates - and consider the Irish Independent, the paper that in 1916 editorialised for the execution of James Connolly.
The Indo presented what it chose to call a debate, with a vicious, slanderous attack on the principles of 1916 and those who upheld them by veteran anti-republican, Ruth Dudley Edwards. "We should be ashamed of [those] who praise the people who took the first steps on this bloodthirsty, ruthless, terrorist, trail," she declared in full bile, before going on to describe every action for Irish freedom as an act of civil war.
This is like saying that the Jewish insurgents in the Warsaw ghetto who rose up against, among others, the Nazi established Judenpolizei, were engaged in a civil war too.
And the question must be put: is it only the Irish struggle for freedom from the British Empire that is to be denounced, or does this denunciation of violence relate also to those Czechs who fought for the overthrow of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, or to the Greeks who in 1832 won limited freedom from the Ottoman Empire after an extremely bloody struggle?
Tim Pat Coogan was commissioned to redress the balance with one article against the rest, concentrating however on showing that nationalist recourse to violence was reactive to what the unionists were doing, while James Downey reassured readers with the point that "everyone needs flags and trumpets now and then."
Ironically, and almost certainly accidentally, the best article was by Conor Cruise O'Brien, who wrote quite sympathetically (and honestly) about his aunt, Hanna Sheehy Skeffington. She never officially endorsed Sinn Féin-IRA (sic), he wrote, but conceded that she had campaigned for the release of republican prisoners - a committed republican anti-imperialist until her death.
And in case that took you by surprise, Kim Bielenberg patronisingly talked of drinking and looting, though she admitted that the rebels were warmly applauded in many parts of the city contrary to the official revisionist line.
Obviously this wasn't good enough, so Indo editor, Gerry O'Regan, weighed in with an editorial which, in the name of celebrating 1916, backed the so-called constitutional road endorsed by the discredited Irish Party and spoke eloquently of Daniel O'Connell, the man who mobilised more Irishmen and women than anyone before him or since, and having mobilised them left them to die in the constitutional Famine.
And The Irish Times rowed in to back the O'Connell alternative with a ludicrous whinge from National Intellectual Fintan O'Toole who bemoaned the fact that no one celebrated the 150th anniversary of O'Connell's death ten years ago. Apparently thousands upon thousands celebrated 1916 this year. Have our people no shame?
So of course even the reports of the state celebrations had to get their digs in against republicans. Miriam Lord referred to 1916 as having been "pilfered" by republicans, while Gene McKenna said Sinn Féin was left out in the cold because Louth TD Arthur Morgan was the party's representative on the reviewing stand in O'Connell Street. What Arthur felt when the Army of the State marched by, I don't know; but he didn't look cold to me!
And here, of course, the meanest word was left again to The Irish Times, where long-time Fine Gael and PD propagandist Stephen Collins pointedly referred to all the party leaders being present except Gerry Adams, while not mentioning that Adams was speaking at the big Republican march in Belfast at the same time.
So for the record for Miriam Lord: 1916 was not "pilfered" by republicans, it was abandoned by the major parties in the South, and reinstated not so much to "allow the nation to slip back in step with history", as to head off the continued forward march of modern Irish Republicanism.
It's enough to make Liz McManus pretend to be Countess Markievicz. Now, Countess Wicklow .... perhaps!
While we're talking about celebrating the Rising, the same media which has been vociferous in denouncing republican "militarism" was remarkably mute about the complete absence of any civic participation in the state's ceremonies.
A military band always adds life to a parade, but 1916 was about changing Ireland, and not in the trite ways claimed by revisionists. It was about building a better society, a task that was truncated by the overthrow of the Republic by the Civil War.
For contrary to the view of the National Intellectual, the inequality of present day Ireland is not a consequence of the principles of 1916 being implemented but of their defeat.
But that's a dangerous debate, for it raises the question of what those principles are and what should be done to give life to them. And that's a debate that is not to the liking of the National Intellectual at all.
An Phoblacht Magazine
AN PHOBLACHT MAGAZINE:
- The first edition of this new magazine will feature a 10 page special on the life and legacy of our leader Martin McGuinness to mark the first anniversary of his untimely passing.
- It will include a personal reminiscence by Gerry Adams and contributions from the McGuinness family.
- There will also be an exclusive interview with our new Uachtarán Mary Lou McDonald.