Thursday, April 09, 2015

Inclusiveness, the British Army and the 1916 Centenary

Memorial to British in 1916 Centenary - Irish Examiner, April 1st, 2015.
Memorial Sought for British Troops Killed in 1916 - RTÉ News, April 8th, 2015.

The Irish National War Memorial Gardens commemorate Irishmen who died in the Great War in the armies of the Triple Entente, which was an alliance between the British Empire, the French Third Republic and the Imperial Russian Empire under Tsar Nicholas II. (The memorial to all Irish soldiers does not commemorate any Irishmen who fought for the Central Powers, funnily enough). The memorial is located in Islandbridge, Dublin 8, but Merrion Square, just outside the Dáil, was one of the originally proposed locations.

A very telling speech was made during the 1926 debate about the location of the memorial, which seems to appropriate to current concerns about how to be “inclusive” in commemorating the Rising.

The speaker objected because he feared that locating the memorial in front of the parliament of an independent Ireland would give the impression, to those unfamiliar with Irish history, that the monuments were connected. That the deaths of Irishmen fighting for the Triple Entente led to Ireland taking her place among the nations of the Earth. He did not see this as being at all the case:

We had our talk of political dismemberment; we had our talk of partition; we had our conference on the less or more of partition; we had the shelving of the whole issue, and the hanging up of the [Home Rule] Bill until after the war, when that whole issue was to be reopened. The horse was to live, and it would get grass after the war.

The horse, not unwisely as I see it, decided it would have a bit for grass before the end of the war. Someone said, or wrote, that somehow, at sometime, and by somebody, revolutions must be begun. A revolution was begun in this country, in Easter 1916. That revolution was endorsed by the people in a general election of 1918 and three years afterwards the representatives of the Irish people negotiated a treaty with the British government. It is on that treaty, won in that way, that this state and its constitution are based, and I submit to deputies it is not wise to suggest that this state has any other origin than those. 

Let men think what they will of them. Let men criticise them, and hold their individual viewpoints. But those are the origins of the State.

It would be lacking in a sense of truth, a sense of historical perspective, a sense of symmetry, to suggest that the state had not these origins, but that it is based in some way of the sacrifice of those who followed the advice of parliamentary representatives of the day and recruited in great numbers to the British army to fight in the European war.

Fifty thousand Irishmen died in France. I hope that the memory of those men and their sacrifice and the motives of their sacrifice will always have respect and reverence in Ireland.

Who was the slavering, Brit-hating, báinín-wearing, backwoods-dwelling Republican jihadi who made that speech? It was the then Minister for Justice of the Free State Government, Kevin O’Higgins (the quotation is taken from Terence de Vere White's 1948 biography of O'Higgins, Anvil Press, 1966. p 173).

Nobody was as ruthless as O’Higgins in implementing the Treaty during the Civil War and after. But for all that, O’Higgins saw a clear line of demarcation between those Irishmen who fought under the Tricolor and those Irishmen who fought under other flags.

If O’Higgins’ shade were to return one year from now, and walk down what he knew as Sackville Street, what would he make of the Centenary? Reader, couldn’t you excuse him for wondering why he and his comrades ever bothered?