Uncomfortable Questions About The 1916 Easter Rising

Today is a day of celebration in Ireland. A hundred years ago today, Irish rebels rose up against British rule and declared an Irish Republic (Although technically they did this in Easter 1916, which fell at the end of April). This is a little unusual because in Ireland we don’t really do patriotism like other countries, we don’t even an Independence Day. It is also unusual because the rebellion failed and the proclaimed Irish Republic was crushed within a week. But Irish history isn’t like other histories, it’s not a collection of successes and victories. Instead our heroes are noble failures, almost always defeated, but in a brave and proud way.

The traditional view of 1916 is quite straight forward. The rebels bravely fought against overwhelming odds before being crushed. They knew they would fail, so like Christ, they died for the rest of us (it wasn’t a coincidence that Easter was chosen as the date of rebellion). In doing so, they lit the torch of freedom and inspired others to fight and die for Ireland. Their sacrifice lead to another round of fighting known as the War of Independence and finally freedom in 1922. The rebels of 1916 were obviously heroes who liberated us from the evil British.

But history is never that straight forward. What is usually left out of the discussions of the heroic Easter Rising is that most people killed were neither British soldiers nor Irish rebels, the majority were civilians. They didn’t ask to die for Ireland, they didn’t want to be martyrs. They were just ordinary people trying to live their lives. You can’t say that a Republic improved their lives. There are no statues to them, no one asks what they died for, there are no songs or speeches about the grief of their loved ones. It is easy to speak of the glorious dead when other people are dying.

Each one of the 260 civilians killed had a name, a story, people they loved and people who wept because they would never speak again. 40 of them were children. What did they die for? Before you get too caught up in the flag waving and patriotism, stop and take a moment to think of them. War isn’t about the bravery of heroes or the speeches of leaders, but the dying of innocents. Irish freedom was bought with innocent blood, but did the rebels have the right to pay it?

What right did the rebels have to occupy buildings and force their views on the rest of the country? What right did they have to proclaim that every Irish person had a duty to their Republic? What right did they have to seize a city at the point of a gun? Nowadays it is unacceptable to use violence to achieve a political aim, so why was it acceptable in 1916? What about the people who wanted to remain part of Britain? Killing people doesn’t solve problems, it only makes more of them.

But what other option did they have? Would Ireland have received independence without violence? It’s impossible to know. Historians argue over whether it was the 1916 Rising or the 1918 election that was a larger spark for independence. Maybe Home Rule would have led to independence or at least enough self-governance. Or maybe we would have remained trapped under the heel of British oppression. Maybe the South would have followed the North into decades of sectarianism and violence.

0420

If the rebels were justified to seize buildings in Dublin in 1916, what about the rebels who did the same in 1922? In some cases it was the same buildings (such as the Four Courts) and same people. They certainly saw no difference between themselves and 1916. The anti-Treatyites too believed that they were acting on behalf of the Irish nation. Yet the people of Ireland had voted otherwise, they had voted to accept the Treaty. A core principle of a real Republic is that the voice of the people is more powerful than any number of guns. No Republic can be built without this foundation. The Anti-Treatyites didn’t care about this, they believed they knew what was best for Ireland regardless of what the actual people thought, for this reason the Free State had to defeat them.

If there had been a vote in 1916, would the rebels have won? Were the people behind them or were the rebels seizing power both from the British government and the Irish people? This is a question we can never answer. However, even if a majority was against them, I suspect that the rebels would still have gone ahead. Pearse had a romantic poet’s view of war, writing that “Bloodshed is a cleansing and sanctifying thing” and described the senseless mass slaughter of World War One as “the old heart of the earth needed to be warmed by the red wine of the battlefield.” In reality, war is not glorious or romantic, it is horror. War is hell.

The Troubles complicate matters. Like the 1916 rebels, they claim to be fighting for Ireland against the evil Sasanach. But many Irish people are horrified that the murders of innocent people are done in their name. Many are disgusted at the notion that shooting men in the back or planting bombs in pubs promotes the cause of Ireland. In songs and stories the rebels are brave and heroic and the British are deceitful and oppressive, but in real life they are both just people doing what they think is right. The songs don’t tell of the reality of war, of the pain and suffering it causes. People don’t die nobly, they die scared and in agony.

The question of their legacy hangs over us today. The phrase “Did the men of 1916 die for this?” has become a common catchphrase useable in all situations. It can be used to describe the economy, emigration, the price of a pint, the state of the Irish language, the state of the roads, the government and pretty much anything else. It is especially flexible because no one is quite sure what exactly it was that the men of 1916 died for. That doesn’t stop commentators from claiming, though it usually turns out that they died for the opinions that the commentator happens to have.

While we certainly didn’t get the Socialist Republic James Connolly died for, to an extent we got the Catholic Gaelic Republic that Padraig Pearse died for. DeValera’s Ireland is pretty close to what Pearse imagined. An Irish speaking nation that produced itself all the goods it needed and whose people were pious Catholics not concerned with material goods.

Now you could say we didn’t live up to that legacy (most notably in our failure to speak Irish) or maybe the legacy wasn’t worth living up to. It proved impossible to make Ireland a self-sufficient island and attempting to cut herself off from the rest of the world made Ireland a stagnant and stifling place. Rejecting material goods sounds nice in theory so long as you are not living in a slum and wearing rags.  Catholic spirituality is nice so long as you don’t commit one of the many sins, like being gay, having contraceptives or an abortion, divorcing an abusive husband, disagreeing with the priest, being a woman who doesn’t want to merely stay at home or just not being a Catholic.

Yes, 1916 (eventually) led to independence, but where did independence get us? Irish poverty had been blamed on British indifference if not active malice, yet independence did little to improve the situation. The slums that were a disgrace under British rule were still a disgrace under independence. Independence is a fine word and Republic is too, but neither put money in your pocket or food on the table. If people were just as poor in an Irish Free State as they were in the British Empire, can we really say their lives were better off?

Perhaps the strongest condemnation of independent Ireland came from the fact that tens of thousands of people emigrated every year. If an Irish Republic was so great then why did so many people flee its shores? Many of them went to Britain showing that perhaps while a free Republic makes for great poetry, a solid job is more important.

What would Irish life have looked like had we remained as part of Britain? Would there have continually been fighting, troubles and shootings? Or would we have eventually learned to live together? Perhaps British prosperity would have crossed the Irish Sea and maybe the British welfare state with it. The British yoke of oppression isn’t so bad if it comes with universal healthcare. Perhaps there would have been a strong counter balancing force to the Catholic Church that would have stopped it from abusing its power so obscenely. Or maybe Ireland would continue to be a poor neglected colony whose people lacked national pride.

If you are expecting some sort of argument or words of wisdom, then I’m afraid I have to disappoint you. Honestly, I don’t know what the answer is. This is probably the most uncertain blog I’ve ever written. But life and death are rarely clear cut with good guys on one side and the baddies on the other. Instead we have to face questions, however uncomfortable they might be.

16 thoughts on “Uncomfortable Questions About The 1916 Easter Rising”

  1. “What is usually left out of the discussions of the heroic Easter Rising is that most people killed were neither British soldiers nor Irish rebels, the majority were civilians. They didn’t ask to die for Ireland, they didn’t want to be martyrs. … There are no statues to them, no one asks what they died for, there are no songs or speeches about the grief of their loved ones. It is easy to speak of the glorious dead when other people are dying.”

    Not so. Their names are on monuments and they are mourned in official celebrations. http://www.irishtimes.com/news/ireland/irish-news/relatives-of-1916-rebels-criticise-plans-to-remember-british-soldiers-1.2574574

    1. There you go Steve, not hard to reply to this forelocking tugging right wing drivel:
      ——————–

      You ask:
      “What right did they have to seize a city at the point of a gun?” And you point out that: “Nowadays it is unacceptable to use violence to achieve a political aim.”
      Certainly, the 1916 rebels had no democratic right. Nor did their actions fulfil ‘just war’ criteria.
      That much is self-evident. Accordingly, if you’re from the South and middle class, there is no debate. Fine Gael is right, the British are right, the silly rebels (and the uncouth nordies and the nasty shinners) are wrong.
      Of course, the unadmitted angst for modern day Blueshirts / revisionists such as the openly-monarchist Bruton (an odd fellow to be a leader of a so-called Republic) and the “Reform Society etc is that Irish-ness is but a regional epithet to them. In their hearts, they are ambivalent about the notion of an Irish state – any Irish state. For these kind of “Irish” people, their allegiance is always conditional / half-hearted. They may reluctantly go along with “the Irish experiment” provided the place is doing OK economically and is ran along good old extremist free-market lines, but emotionally and culturally (from their wannabe accents, attire and architecture, through their Cheltenham fixation, their ‘second passports’, sniggering at ‘diddley-aye’ music, their keen class-awareness and their daily diet of extreme-right English media (Daily Torygraph / Mail etc)), their identifiers, mind-sets and preoccupations are largely Home Counties English. I’m not sure that any other former colony has to deal with, or so meekly tolerates, such a well-established cabal of influential cultural fifth columnists. I lived and worked in middle-class / white-collar / financial circles Dublin for over 15 years, and I know their stockhausen syndrome mentality very well. Every year, in Foxrock, for their annual fete, they even hang out red, white and blue bunting!
      If you cut through the habitual rage, hysteria and quivering emotion of the Southern Irish-British (Myers, Dudley-Edwards et al), there are 3 main substantive criticisms of the 1916 Rising:
      1. It was un-democratic.
      2. It was immoral.
      3. And anyway, it was un-necessary.
      Let’s look briefly at each criticism.
      ‘IT WAS UN-DEMOCRATIC’
      The glib answer to the ‘seize a city’ question is of course ‘as much right as the English ever had’; but there are some other aspects perhaps worth noting.
      Obviously, ‘electoral support’ for impoverished revolutionaries would have been a de facto impossibility in 1916. The system was rigged so that voting rights were denied to the class of men who might have been inclined to support insurrection. Obviously, no women could vote. In fact, all of Ireland’s ‘democratically elected representatives’ of that period opposed giving women the vote. And all of this was in the context of a Union which itself had never been voted on by any ordinary Irish person. Further, in WW1, over 2.5 million men, few of whom would have had the right to vote, were conscripted into the British army in WW1. Conscripted. No voting rights. So much for “democracy”.
      ‘IT WAS IMMORAL’
      Much has been made of the related criticism that the Rising did not meet ‘just war’ criteria. One of the pre-conditions for a “just war”, according to just war “theory”, is that “it must be fought by a legal recognised authority, e.g., a government”.
      However, since this effectively rules out all forms of rebellion anywhere (unless governments are to seek a popular vote to rebel against themselves), it’s arguable that the so-called “just war theory” is a skewed theory with an in-built pro-establishment bias, ideal for propping up existing forms of authority without question, regardless of their vicious colonial provenance.
      It’s of course telling that none of these right-wing Catholic figures (such as Jesuit Fr Seamus Murphy) and other right-wing Irish Unionists (such as Fine Gael) who now fulminate against the Rising on moral grounds, rarely, if ever, show any ideological balance or ethical consistency by, for instance, training their forensic right-wing moralising on the un-democratic bout of vicious imperial jostling that was WW1.
      Pope Benedict XV described WW1 as “pointless carnage”. This isn’t entirely correct. Pointless from the standpoint of the brave ordinary men who died in their hundreds of thousands, but far from pointless from the perspective of the elites. Sir Maurice Hankey, Secretary of the British War Cabinet, in a letter to Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour, noted that “control of these [Mesopotamian] oil supplies” was a “first-class war aim”. And as Lloyd George later noted, Britain came out of the war with “a nice fat profit”. We’ve all heard the usual right-wing PR flannel about “poor little Belgium” – the same Belgium that, even after 1908, was still responsible for running a vicious, racist, colonial regime in the Congo. Despite the “cause of Belgium”, it’s revealing to note that some of the first British troops deployed in WW1 were sent, not to Belgium, but to Basra, in modern-day Iraq. Of course, shortly before WW1, the British Navy had switched from using coal to oil (partly for engineering advantages, partly out of Churchill’s wish to outmanoeuvre domestic mining unions). Go figure.
      The typical revisionist / Redmondite view of the people of 1916 is a mix of moral superiority and cultural contempt. They moralise about the ‘depraved’ nature of anyone who opted to achieve independence through violent means instead of pursuing a parliamentary course. According to the naïve Redmondite worldview, Britain would have been prepared to give up Ireland without a fight! However, while naivety (even naivety on that scale) is excusable, the hypocrisy of modern Redmondites is not. Redmond’s strategy was based on a cynical espousal of murderous imperial violence that made the events of 1916 look like a teddy bears’ picnic.
      Redmond’s appalling strategy for obtaining Irish independence was to curry favour from Britain by encouraging Irishmen to butcher thousands of ‘Johnny-Foreigners’ on Britain’s behalf. In so doing, Redmond (ironically) revealed himself to be not just a man committed to mass-violence as a means of bringing about political change, but a racist to boot – seemingly, violence was acceptable if it only involved slaughtering (e.g.) the Turks.
      Far from eulogising the ultra-violent Redmond, it’s high time the Irish government formally apologised to our European neighbours for the shameful part played by brave but misguided Irishmen in a bloody imperialistic debacle that had absolutely nothing to do with Ireland.
      Incidentally, you point out that: “Nowadays it is unacceptable to use violence to achieve a political aim.” Really? Don’t you read history – or the news? Didn’t you hear of WMD? The West, including the British do little else but wage perpetual war, with relative impunity from chattering-class commentators, and continue to do so to this day. They’re wedded to violence as a way of life, to a near-perpetual state of war. If violence is indeed ‘unacceptable’, nobody has told the British. See:

      http://www.globalresearch.ca/why-we-fight-the-nature-of-modern-imperialism/16210
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_wars_involving_the_United_Kingdom
      https://www.globalpolicy.org/iraq-conflict-the-historical-background-/british-colonialism-and-repression-in-iraq.html
      http://www.theguardian.com/environment/earth-insight/2014/mar/20/iraq-war-oil-resources-energy-peak-scarcity-economy
      http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2011/05/how-perpetual-war-became-us-ideology/238600/
      http://www.theguardian.com/books/2011/oct/19/end-myths-britains-imperial-past
      ‘IT WAS UN-NECESSARY’
      John Briton & co would have you believe that the Redmondite “strategy” was sure to work; i.e., that the English certainly would have “granted” home rule anyway and that independence was just round the corner. After all, they cry, wasn’t the home rule legislation in existence, just needing to be implemented.
      Oh dear. Any Irish person who thinks that the British establishment will ever willingly behave honourably to any Irish person, be they Unionist http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2011/dec/30/thatcher-cabinet-hunger-strike-national-archives or Nationalist http://www.mercierpress.ie/irish-books/lethal-allies/ , is naive; and anyone who, through a prism of post-WWII liberalism, shares such delusions really needs to get out more. The British have rarely conceded any colonial territory without bloodshed or some form of coercion (even if it’s only the probability of damage to their reputation and unwillingness to keep spending millions on counter-insurgency measures, as was evident in British discussions re a withdrawal from NI during the hunger strikes and also during 1974), other than Hong Kong recently when the military odds were so stacked against them that they had little option.
      It suited the British to offer – but, crucially, never actually give – Home Rule (and any other cynical moonshine they could think of) at a time when they were desperate for dumb Paddy cannon fodder to put manners on the upstart Germans who were looking like they may become a rival, especially on the seas.
      In any event, all that was being bandied about was mere home rule. That is, a puppet parliament inside the UK, a la Stormont. That is nothing to do with ‘independence’. (Let’s not forget that Scotland also had a rule bill in 1913. Despite the fact that the Scots never ‘rose up’, over 100 years later, surprise surprise, it’s never been implemented.)
      However, whatever slim chance there might have been of Home Rule being implemented was lost, not primarily by the events of 1916, but by the mass mobilisation of hundreds of thousands of well-drilled and openly-rebellious Unionists during 1912 and 1914 (Ulster Covenant, Larne gun-running, Curragh mutiny). Obviously, this give added impetus to 1916 – since the British had quite clearly caved in to UVF threats, gun-running and mutinies in 1914, it may have seemed to some in 1916 that force was the only language that Britain took seriously.

  2. Well said.
    In attempting to answer the questions you ask, we must always remember history is not linear. That the things that move nations are as hard to judge as the motives that move an individual

  3. Just because you don´t have the answers doesn´t mean the questions aren´t worth asking. In fact isn´t that exactly why they *are* worth asking?

    One factual question : what prevented Ireland becoming largely self-sufficient, at least in food and now possibly energy too? Also what prevented basic ´socialist´ developments like the welfare state, after all it´s really only under the present extreme Tory government that it´s being seriously attacked in Britain. Doesn´t Christianity teach that you should care for the sick and needy? (So are Catholics Christians???)

    Another observation. Given that the Republic has been less of a success than was hoped, isn´t it odd that London hasn´t tried to woo the Irish back into the fold, yet will fight tooth and nail to keep Scotland from leaving? And both basket cases according to UK thinking 😉

    Có dhiù, sìth air na h-anamaibh.

  4. The British Empire was then at its height. As shown by Gerry Docherty and Jim MacGregor in ‘Hidden History: The Secret Origins of the First World War’, the British elite were instrumental in bringing that horror about. So they were incalculably evil, no doubt. This doesn’t necessarily mean the 1916ers were saints, but it means that there was in fact a fairly clear-cut ‘good’ and ‘bad’. And this isn’t something yet relegated to history. The City of London remains incalculably evil. So I don’t really see, in terms of morality, what there is to quibble about.

  5. You ask:
    “What right did they have to seize a city at the point of a gun?” And you point out that: “Nowadays it is unacceptable to use violence to achieve a political aim.”

    Certainly, the 1916 rebels had no democratic right. Nor did their actions fulfil ‘just war’ criteria.

    That much is self-evident. Accordingly, if you’re from the South and middle class, there is no debate. Fine Gael is right, the British are right, the silly rebels (and the uncouth nordies and the nasty shinners) are wrong.
    Of course, the unadmitted angst for modern day Blueshirts / revisionists such as the openly-monarchist Bruton (an odd fellow to be a leader of a so-called Republic) and the “Reform Society etc is that Irish-ness is but a regional epithet to them. In their hearts, they are ambivalent about the notion of an Irish state – any Irish state. For these kind of “Irish” people, their allegiance is always conditional / half-hearted. They may reluctantly go along with “the Irish experiment” provided the place is doing OK economically and is ran along good old extremist free-market lines, but emotionally and culturally (from their wannabe accents, attire and architecture, through their Cheltenham fixation, their ‘second passports’, sniggering at ‘diddley-aye’ music, their keen class-awareness and their daily diet of extreme-right English media (Daily Torygraph / Mail etc)), their identifiers, mind-sets and preoccupations are largely Home Counties English. I’m not sure that any other former colony has to deal with, or so meekly tolerates, such a well-established cabal of influential cultural fifth columnists. I lived and worked in middle-class / white-collar / financial circles Dublin for over 15 years, and I know their stockhausen syndrome mentality very well. Every year, in Foxrock, for their annual fete, they even hang out red, white and blue bunting!

    If you cut through the habitual rage, hysteria and quivering emotion of the Southern Irish-British (Myers, Dudley-Edwards et al), there are 3 main substantive criticisms of the 1916 Rising:

    1. It was un-democratic.
    2. It was immoral.
    3. And anyway, it was un-necessary.

    Let’s look briefly at each criticism.

    ‘IT WAS UN-DEMOCRATIC’
    The glib answer to the ‘seize a city’ question is of course ‘as much right as the English ever had’; but there are some other aspects perhaps worth noting.

    Obviously, ‘electoral support’ for impoverished revolutionaries would have been a de facto impossibility in 1916. The system was rigged so that voting rights were denied to the class of men who might have been inclined to support insurrection. Obviously, no women could vote. In fact, all of Ireland’s ‘democratically elected representatives’ of that period opposed giving women the vote. And all of this was in the context of a Union which itself had never been voted on by any ordinary Irish person. Further, in WW1, over 2.5 million men, few of whom would have had the right to vote, were conscripted into the British army in WW1. Conscripted. No voting rights. So much for “democracy”.

    ‘IT WAS IMMORAL’
    Much has been made of the related criticism that the Rising did not meet ‘just war’ criteria. One of the pre-conditions for a “just war”, according to just war “theory”, is that “it must be fought by a legal recognised authority, e.g., a government”.

    However, since this effectively rules out all forms of rebellion anywhere (unless governments are to seek a popular vote to rebel against themselves), it’s arguable that the so-called “just war theory” is a skewed theory with an in-built pro-establishment bias, ideal for propping up existing forms of authority without question, regardless of their vicious colonial provenance.

    It’s of course telling that none of these right-wing Catholic figures (such as Jesuit Fr Seamus Murphy) and other right-wing Irish Unionists (such as Fine Gael) who now fulminate against the Rising on moral grounds, rarely, if ever, show any ideological balance or ethical consistency by, for instance, training their forensic right-wing moralising on the un-democratic bout of vicious imperial jostling that was WW1.

    Pope Benedict XV described WW1 as “pointless carnage”. This isn’t entirely correct. Pointless from the standpoint of the brave ordinary men who died in their hundreds of thousands, but far from pointless from the perspective of the elites. Sir Maurice Hankey, Secretary of the British War Cabinet, in a letter to Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour, noted that “control of these [Mesopotamian] oil supplies” was a “first-class war aim”. And as Lloyd George later noted, Britain came out of the war with “a nice fat profit”. We’ve all heard the usual right-wing PR flannel about “poor little Belgium” – the same Belgium that, even after 1908, was still responsible for running a vicious, racist, colonial regime in the Congo. Despite the “cause of Belgium”, it’s revealing to note that some of the first British troops deployed in WW1 were sent, not to Belgium, but to Basra, in modern-day Iraq. Of course, shortly before WW1, the British Navy had switched from using coal to oil (partly for engineering advantages, partly out of Churchill’s wish to outmanoeuvre domestic mining unions). Go figure.

    The typical revisionist / Redmondite view of the people of 1916 is a mix of moral superiority and cultural contempt. They moralise about the ‘depraved’ nature of anyone who opted to achieve independence through violent means instead of pursuing a parliamentary course. According to the naïve Redmondite worldview, Britain would have been prepared to give up Ireland without a fight! However, while naivety (even naivety on that scale) is excusable, the hypocrisy of modern Redmondites is not. Redmond’s strategy was based on a cynical espousal of murderous imperial violence that made the events of 1916 look like a teddy bears’ picnic.

    Redmond’s appalling strategy for obtaining Irish independence was to curry favour from Britain by encouraging Irishmen to butcher thousands of ‘Johnny-Foreigners’ on Britain’s behalf. In so doing, Redmond (ironically) revealed himself to be not just a man committed to mass-violence as a means of bringing about political change, but a racist to boot – seemingly, violence was acceptable if it only involved slaughtering (e.g.) the Turks.
    Far from eulogising the ultra-violent Redmond, it’s high time the Irish government formally apologised to our European neighbours for the shameful part played by brave but misguided Irishmen in a bloody imperialistic debacle that had absolutely nothing to do with Ireland.

    Incidentally, you point out that: “Nowadays it is unacceptable to use violence to achieve a political aim.” Really? Don’t you read history – or the news? Didn’t you hear of WMD? The West, including the British do little else but wage perpetual war, with relative impunity from chattering-class commentators, and continue to do so to this day. They’re wedded to violence as a way of life, to a near-perpetual state of war. If violence is indeed ‘unacceptable’, nobody has told the British. See:

    http://www.globalresearch.ca/why-we-fight-the-nature-of-modern-imperialism/16210
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_wars_involving_the_United_Kingdom
    https://www.globalpolicy.org/iraq-conflict-the-historical-background-/british-colonialism-and-repression-in-iraq.html
    http://www.theguardian.com/environment/earth-insight/2014/mar/20/iraq-war-oil-resources-energy-peak-scarcity-economy
    http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2011/05/how-perpetual-war-became-us-ideology/238600/
    http://www.theguardian.com/books/2011/oct/19/end-myths-britains-imperial-past

    ‘IT WAS UN-NECESSARY’
    John Briton & co would have you believe that the Redmondite “strategy” was sure to work; i.e., that the English certainly would have “granted” home rule anyway and that independence was just round the corner. After all, they cry, wasn’t the home rule legislation in existence, just needing to be implemented.

    Oh dear. Any Irish person who thinks that the British establishment will ever willingly behave honourably to any Irish person, be they Unionist http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2011/dec/30/thatcher-cabinet-hunger-strike-national-archives or Nationalist http://www.mercierpress.ie/irish-books/lethal-allies/ , is naive; and anyone who, through a prism of post-WWII liberalism, shares such delusions really needs to get out more. The British have rarely conceded any colonial territory without bloodshed or some form of coercion (even if it’s only the probability of damage to their reputation and unwillingness to keep spending millions on counter-insurgency measures, as was evident in British discussions re a withdrawal from NI during the hunger strikes and also during 1974), other than Hong Kong recently when the military odds were so stacked against them that they had little option.

    It suited the British to offer – but, crucially, never actually give – Home Rule (and any other cynical moonshine they could think of) at a time when they were desperate for dumb Paddy cannon fodder to put manners on the upstart Germans who were looking like they may become a rival, especially on the seas.

    In any event, all that was being bandied about was mere home rule. That is, a puppet parliament inside the UK, a la Stormont. That is nothing to do with ‘independence’. (Let’s not forget that Scotland also had a rule bill in 1913. Despite the fact that the Scots never ‘rose up’, over 100 years later, surprise surprise, it’s never been implemented.)

    However, whatever slim chance there might have been of Home Rule being implemented was lost, not primarily by the events of 1916, but by the mass mobilisation of hundreds of thousands of well-drilled and openly-rebellious Unionists during 1912 and 1914 (Ulster Covenant, Larne gun-running, Curragh mutiny). Obviously, this give added impetus to 1916 – since the British had quite clearly caved in to UVF threats, gun-running and mutinies in 1914, it may have seemed to some in 1916 that force was the only language that Britain took seriously.

    1. I´m not altogether sure just how much sense your arguments make, but then being officially ´British´ I´ve long since given up any hope of ever understanding the Irish …

      You conveniently forget the gradualist path to autonomy followed by the likes of Canada, Australia, NZ … No rebellions afaik, and yet by now they are all effectively independent, both politically and culturally, although no doubt a few old folks still worship the Queen, all rather quaint really.

      From the way you describe many of your fellow countrymen, it seems that this kind of ´dominion status´, i.e. indy with a fig-leaf for Britain´s arrogant pride, would have worked quite well. Especially when weighed against the price you paid for taking the violent road. I.e. War with the Brits, war with yourselves, war with the North, a border where for years people stuck a gun in your face, lasting political tension in the North, and apparently political stagnation in the South … and I didn´t even mention the economy, do you have one?

      So yes, I can legitimately ask you all, Was it Really Worth It?

      Can ´Irishness´ ever free itself from its past and go forward to a bright confident future? It struck me the other day that the Sean Bhean Bhocht resembled a victim of rape or perhaps long-term domestic abuse. Years after the escaping from that situation, she´s still handicapped by the trauma, even though on the surface she bravely soldiers on in daily life. Who can lift that curse and how? Has it become somehow embedded in your ´cultural DNA´? After all I doubt if anyone who was old enough to appreciate the events of 1916 is still alive today.

      All you have is myth and legend. Time to invent some new ones maybe, after all you´re rather good at that I think …

  6. I’ve just spotted this article and debate and I thought I’d leave my two cents. As an Irishman brought up in a fairly (but in no way extreme) nationalistic environment who now lives in England, I find myself becoming increasingly, if not nationalistic, then certainly republican. The contrast is not simply binary between Irish and British for me but comes after years living in east Asia with most of my time spent in Japan. To my surprise, the difference between living in a republic and of living in monarchies is palpable in everyday life and from a distance the actions of the 1916 rebels seem more justified than when I was learning about the subject in history class in Dublin as a schoolboy. At that time the Rebels seemed to me little more than Romantic madmen. For me, the issues discussed cannot be fully understood without studying the ideals of the 1916 revolutionaries (and the secret society of the IRB which was their ideological base) which can be placed distinctly in the anti-monarchical, proto-socialist tradition that have their origin from the revolutions of 1848 and from the French revolution before that. The fact of the leaders’ mixed heritage – Pearse was half English and Connolly born in Scotland, others had surnames like Kent/Ceannt etc. – and in the language used in the proclamation and other official documents and statements coming before and after the rising from the participants indicates that the Rising itself was a more broadly idealistic endeavour than the state that succeeded it and less ethnically-based; its goal, the relinquishing of the “British yoke”, was not just an exercise in self-determination for the Irish Catholic working and middle classes but to overthrow a landed class trans-national elite, whether English, Ascendancy Protestant or “Castle Catholic” , to expand suffrage to women and to the landless and impoverished, deny the legitimacy of and ultimately abolish aristocracy – never mind royalty – and create an egalitarian Republic built upon the inherent equality (at birth, hence the emphasis on “cherishing all the children” of the state equally) of a nation of citizens who as free agents held their destinies in their own hands, regardless of birthplace, heritage or religion. This would have necessarily involved continuing and expanding the redistribution of land and wealth that had begun as a result of the actions of the Land League of the late 1800s. The rebels positioned themselves as vanguard agents, just as the Bolsheviks did a year later, justifying their actions as a provocation to wake a populace who through apathy and ignorance could not choose for themselves their ultimate political desires. They represent a current in Irish thought for whom Dominion status, Home Rule, Commonwealth status etc. – the gradual path to autonomy outlined above would not be sufficient to guarantee this kind of project, one of placing the dispossessed in the centre of national life. Let’s remember the Irish at height of Victorian British Imperial power were a people truly dispossessed: of their most fertile lands, with 75% of arable land in Anglo-Irish or foreign (“mainland” British) absentee landlord ownership, of their own traditional aristocracy, long since dispersed with the Flight of the Earls or neutered through conversion and absorption into the British peerage, of the legitimacy of their religion, which from the cusp of the late classical period had been more contiguous with the simple faith of late antique Roman tradition – with its own pilgrimages, traditions and saints – than the excesses of the European mainland Catholic hierarchy. Rather than being regard as a genuine and legitimate faith, the Catholicism of the Irish was viewed in Britain – by their so-called countrymen – more as adherence to an international, sinister, even Satanically-inspired conspiracy or as a membership in a fifth column whose handlers were ultimately French or Spanish. Lastly, and perhaps most tragically, they were dispossessed of their language, the second oldest extant written language in Europe after ancient Greek – and with it a whole class of people who had never existed in English or Lowland Scots culture, the filidh, who, while described as poets were as much the diarists, satirists, propagandists and cultural commentators of their times. Then came the famine and the negligent and in some cases, perhaps genocidally, inadequate responses of a British establishment as concerned with stabilising corn prices and ensuring beef imports from Irish farms as they were with saving Irish lives (#irishlivesmatter etc) . In short, the equivalences with Canada, Australia and New Zealand do not hold. These provinces/colonies, later states were built around a core of Protestant and English-speaking pioneers, whether English, Scots, Welsh or Ulstermen, with Irish Catholics as secondary, often discriminated-against participants in the Imperial project: foot soldiers, camp agents, fixers and convicts more often than captains and colonels. In motivations and perspective, the Gael, in most cases no more than two generations from Gaelic speaking near-serfdom, had more in common with the Aboriginal, the Maori and the Indian: to accept dominion status would be to accept unconditionally the Anglo-saxon view of the world, to accept his habits as normative, primary and superior and his own traditional language, customs and traditions as subordinate, antiquated and superseded; essentially to accept the extinction of his culture as a historical inevitability. For this reason, only the dual monarchy example of Austria Hungary was ever considered a suitable template for Home Rule, even by Redmondite, mainstream parliamentarians as it seemed to guarantee the survival of the Magyar (read Gaelic) cultural identity and language. The factors that turned the apparently minority IRB views mainstream were twofold and ultimately related. The first, best-recognised factor was the unconsidered cruelty of the British response to the – let’s face it – strategically inept Rising participants. Their indiscriminate shelling of Dublin city centre with gunships, marching of columns down the leafy middle class avenues of south Dublin as though it were the Hun in his trenches that laid in wait, or the indiscriminate kangaroo court executions of the deranged yet undeniably politically motivated Rebels, merely reminded the populace that the British government was ultimately as distant, uncaring and alien as it had been a half a century earlier when Irish men, women and children had been dying in roadside ditches clutching grass stalks for nourishment or in workhouses or on the coffin ships. The second, in my view, was ultimately the memory of the famine itself. This “I’ll never understand the Irish” patter often heard from (usually English) Brits doesn’t stand up. It is merely an admission that they have little in common with their Northern Irish Unionist compatriots, that they do not understand the complexities of their own Imperial heritage and that they lack the ability to empathise with the subjugated peoples of this shared history. The fact that the Irish are the geographically and genetically closest people who suffered this subservience really changes nothing about the fundamental issues that still affect our relationship as former master and servant. Though I have lost my language, my ancestral lands and ultimately, perhaps, my residence in my homeland and though I’m entirely ambivalent about my Catholic upbringing I have not forgotten the things that forged my identity. 1916, was it worth it? It’s too early to say. It’s still a work in progress and its ultimate end is incomplete until the United Kingdom is disunited and/or the Parliament of Westminster is opened by a chancellor or president rather than a monarch.

    1. Superb comment. 1916 said as much about Britain as it did about Ireland. It won’t be long before the UK ceases to exist as such: the Scots have already voted overwhelmingly to leave, and, with a new referendum likely, Her Majesty’s Secret Intelligence Services can’t hide that fact forever.

    2. Thank you for that most interesting explanation which goes a long way towards ¨explaining the Irish¨ to someone like myself. You wrote :

      ¨In motivations and perspective, the Gael, in most cases no more than two generations from Gaelic speaking near-serfdom, had more in common with the Aboriginal, the Maori and the Indian: to accept dominion status would be to accept unconditionally the Anglo-saxon view of the world, to accept his habits as normative, primary and superior and his own traditional language, customs and traditions as subordinate, antiquated and superseded; essentially to accept the extinction of his culture as a historical inevitability.¨

      A little oblique perhaps, but this brought to mind the interesting fact that Scottish Gaels in Nova Scotia (Alba Nuadh), many from Catholic Barra & South Uist, retained their language and culture, some even to the present day, while Irish immigrants to that part of Canada, apparently didn´t. I wonder what factors were involved?

  7. It is only oblique if you grow up outside of Ireland or in the cosseted sphere of the Irish – such as the likes of John Bruton, mentioned above – whose comfortably middle class family heritage leads back before the Rising and who still hold a qualified approval of the Republican project and an affection towards the United Kingdom (which I do not share) rather than the British (who I cannot help but see the good in). I don’t know enough about the Scots Gaelic culture and history, or indeed of Canada’s early history to venture more than a guess. I don’t know the date of the bulk of said Irish immigrants arrival in Canada but I’d imagine if it was after the famine, the establishment of the national school system in Ireland – the first primary school system set up to give poor Catholics even the most basic education – may have been a factor. In these schools, the students were often given a sense of shame about speaking the Gaelic language as English was promoted as the mercantile language of business, trade and urban life. This sense of shame (which in my view is ultimately the result of the destruction of the Gaelic-speaking aristocracy and the artistic classes dependant upon them), of the Irish language being that of poverty and peasantry still holds back any chance of the revival of the language and, I must admit looking back, was my major objection to learning it in my own schooldays. Maybe the same sense of cultural cringe, as well as the dispersal in the wide lands of Canada, where the culture was Anglo-centric, and in my impression of the place in the 1800s, strongly anti-Catholic in sentiment, led the already traumatised and victimised Catholic Irish to attempt to pass, blend in or convert to a greater extent than the speakers of Scottish Gaelic. It’s my impression that Scottish Highlanders and Islanders were much more mixed in religion than their Irish Gaelic cousins.

    1. Probably simply a matter of a large number of people arriving in the same area at the same time as a result of the Clearances. Although I would have imagined that the immigrations following the Famine would have had much the same effect, and would the Irish like the Gaelic Scots not have generally settled in places where their relatives and neighbours had already gone?
      Anyway, I think it might be a interesting subject to explore.

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