9 October 2008 Edition

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OPINION : War Park enthusiasts peddle imperialist myths

'WAR PARK'?: The memorial unveiled in Mayo this week

'WAR PARK'?: The memorial unveiled in Mayo this week

Celebrating war in the name of peace


THE 26 County State is drifting into celebration of an imperialist army, the British Army. Celebration of war is being conducted in the name of peace. On 7 October President Mary McAleese, opened a ‘Peace’ Park in Mayo listing the names of Mayo men who fell in the service of the British Empire, or with US forces in Korea and Vietnam. Though they went down fighting and killing, remembering is somehow an argument for peace. This is a ‘War Park’, a means of promoting war.
Myths have been peddled about what motivated the dead. False assumptions are being pedalled about the past.

Celebration of butchery
A ‘Peace’ Park propagandist, Captain Donal Buckley (Irish Army retired, rose to rank of Captain after 22 years), can’t hide his disdain for the War of Independence IRA, that made his army possible. His Military Heritage website said of the 1916 Rising: “A small band of impatient rebels staged a military flop against orders, without support, destroying Dublin”.
Buckley staged his own coup some years ago. He persuaded a gullible Fianna Fáil Minster for Defence to pose with redcoats and their muskets in celebration of the life and death of Mayoman Sargeant Cornelius Coughlan. The Gordon Highlander won the Victoria Cross putting down India’s first war of Independence in 1857. Ten million were killed. The Empire was drowned in a celebration of blood, as retrospectively endorsed by one Michael Smith TD.
The Irish Times jumped on the imperial bandwagon recently. They asked a Lieutenant Bury from Wicklow to celebrate British Army killing in Afghanistan. His regular column provoked sycophantic support but also opposition from former soldiers in the Irish Defence Forces and in the British and US armies.

From the horse’s mouth
Joe McGowan of Sligo, involuntarily drafted into the US Army, commented, “I may have wished, as Sarsfield did, ‘that this were for Ireland’”, but it wasn’t; and at no time did I consider myself to be an Irish soldier. How could I? I agree with Séamus Ua Trodd [a member of the Defence Forces] that he was an Irish soldier. But I was not. The Irish nation afforded neither me, nor my fellow countrymen in the American army, any recognition – nor did we ask for any! We were cannon fodder for empire, nothing more. The notion that Irishmen in the British army, either now or in the past, deserve special attention because they claim to be Irish soldiers or to serve Ireland, is preposterous. As a nation we have broken the physical chains of the British Empire that bound us; decolonisation of the mind may yet take some time.”
Peter Pallas of Clare wrote “I was that soldier. [I] was unfortunate to receive my “call-up papers” for [British] national service. I was completely surprised by this, not being aware of my eligibility. But for the fact that I had been engaged to my English girlfriend for only one week, I would have been on the first boat back home... However, my heart ruled my head, and I accepted my fate. Having spent all of my childhood in care, I took to the discipline and security of military life like the proverbial duck to water... I served a total of 18 years, reaching the rank of sergeant. My subsequent disillusionment, and shame, at having been a British soldier came about as a result of the treatment of Irish nationalists by the British Army during the “Troubles” in Northern Ireland, but even more so by the attitude of Margaret Thatcher towards the Hunger Strikes; to the extent that I returned the two medals awarded during my service. Had I realised that I was suited to military life prior to being called up to the British army, I would most certainly have joined the Army of my own country, and not, like Lt Bury and others, join a foreign army in order to gain adventure in assisting the occupation of another country and, let us be honest, the deaths of innocent civilians.”

British soldiers in the IRA!
The other great myth peddled by the War Park enthusiasts is that those who fought in World War One were ‘forgotten’. This is possibly the greatest nonsense pedalled to a gullible public. Irish nationalist soldiers came back from the war disillusioned. They supported Sinn Féin and the IRA in droves. The IRA were happy to have them, in particular their skills and expertise. Where did Tom Barry learn the skills he deployed at Kilmichael and Crossbarry in 1920 and 21? The Irish turned British weapons back against them. The men the British trained for imperial war now fought for Irish democracy. Those the British duped found their true calling when they saw British imperialism in action. It happened in the North in 1970 when ‘Catholic Ex-Servicemen’ burned their medals and started turning their guns on the British Army.

Last man executed
Finally, Captain Buckley wants to resuscitate the memory of the Connaught Rangers. There is a Connaught Ranger who should be remembered. Private James Daly has the honour of being the last British Soldier executed for disobeying orders. Daly led 400 Irish in India in 1920 who took down the Union Jack and hoisted the flag of the Irish Republic. In 1936 the Oireachtas passed ‘The Connaught Rangers (Pensions) Act’, subsuming these soldiers into the revolutionary Army of the Republic.
Daly declared, “If you want to know who the leader is, I am – James Daly, number 35025 of Tyrellspass, County Westmeath, Ireland”. If Daly was from Castlebar Co Mayo would Captain Buckley include him as an Irish or as a British soldier? Would he include him at all? Hopefully not, as inclusion would be a betrayal of all that Daly stood for.
Who is a better role model for supporters of Irish and of Indian democracy, Coughlan or Daly? That is the question for Irish people.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1

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