Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Kevin Myers and Irish Independence

I read and enjoyed the Kevin Myers opinion article in today's Irish Times re. 1916 and independence and how we fared before and after.

As usual with Kevin Myers articles there is much to agree with. He offers a good clinical analysis of what was really happening at 1916. I agree that it was all rather misguided and I don't believe it did anything to help independence except for maybe the mistake of executing the leaders. But I do think it is very hard to offer severe black and white judgments on the organizers actions at that time based on today's knowledge. Much was different ninety years ago and considerable frustrations abounded in every way. Be that as it may I'm not in agreement of celebrating the bloody event of 1916. Solemn remembrance yes, but it's not like celebrating independence. I've written on this before and I haven't changed my view.

My main point of contention is with the Kevin Myers logic on what transpired post-independence. He almost reduces the aspirations for freedom at the time to ticking YES/NO boxes on a form called "The List of Public Benefits after Independence" If it were all measured by wealth, radical social change and purity of language, culture etc. then of course it was a mistake. Yes, we would have been better off economically up to recently being part of UK. But this has some vague similarity to saying that hookers in a harem are better off than the purer and poorer girls working in factories. Did we not deserve independence if we aspired to it? How many businesses would ever be born if the founders didn't put up with some form of hardships in the early years. Indeed many folk in smaller businesses formed are happy never being as wealthy as they were in a previous stuffy big corporate entity. Things don't always end up exactly the way we dreamed but often it's just as good and it's certainly no reason to criticise those with the original aspirations.

I've also a problem with the Myers statement of Ireland in 1910 being better off than most in other countries with the brief caveat "emigration notwithstanding". Terrific well researched text book statement. I wonder how that wealth was measured. I'm sure those in rural Ireland at the time suppressed to within an inch of their lives would have welcomed an elaboration. And the "emigration notwithstanding" comment does not do sufficient justice to this massive problem provoked by unbearable poverty and which created layers and layers of further problems, frustrations and depressions for those left behind. Poverty is about much more than what's in your pocket as measured by insensitive economists.

In summary, I'm beginning to see through much of the Kevin Myers view of the World. He is an excellent scholar of history, knows all the facts and in general has a logical interpretation of events and directions. I actually really agree with most of what he writes and I've great respect for his views. But it's sometimes rather robotic, I don't think he always sees into the hearts, fears, dreams and aspirations of humanity in all it's complex diversity.


Kevin Breathnach said...

I read the piece today, and thought he came dangerously close to saying that we'd be better off if we were still part of the the United Kingdom. Regardless, I think he raised many valid points. His discription of Connolly is not one that I - as a Leaving Cert History student - come across too often.

Indeed, his knowledge of Irish history is scholarly, while his use of the English language is often fantastically lyrical. I'm not sure if he's completely unable to think emotionally, and not logically. I take his fiction piece about a week back as an example.

I think Myers is great because he raises points that everyone else is perhaps afraid to touch, and in doing so provokes fantastic debate such as this one. For some reason, I felt I should cut the piece out of the paper so that I could reread it sometime (I'm not fortunate enough to avail of an Irish Times online subscription).

On reading your piece, I'm tempted to write a bit on the subject on my own blog soon.

John of Dublin said...

Hello again Kevin. Yes, I thought the Connolly insight was very good too. I agree with your comments. I think Myers just lacks a little in recognition of deeper emotions in people both today and in history. He is sometimes inclined to see the darker side of things too much, especially in the Irish. I love his articles and they always stimulate much thought. He is brilliantly controversial too and fearless in expressing his views.

Claire said...

Hi John, I enjoyed the piece too. I have a love/hate relationship with Mr Myers; the older I get the more I find myself agreeing with him and that goes against the grain.

Sometimes I do wonder if he just chooses to argue whatever is the least popular opinion on any given matter in order to stir things up.

His pieces on Irish history are always interesting because like Kevin said above, we were never given that slant on the subject in school.

John of Dublin said...

Hello almost neighbour Claire!

Yep, I know what you mean. Myers can be ruthless in slantering both the Irish and actually Irish Times readers generally! He get's away with it beautifully. I'm a great fan though.

I'm working on a new blog with my thoughts (positive) on Irish people. I'm the sort of person who ususlly sees the glass as half full.

Anonymous said...

kevin myers is a brilliant journalist undoubtably
as mentioned in one comment here
myers seems to always take the least popular view of an issue , seemingly to just stir things up
i think myers is one of those journalists who belives that britain can never do wrong
others being everyone at the sunday independant apart from gene kerrigan
its a sort of contempt for the common mans view of history and current affairs
the enlightend britts were in myers eyes quite tollerant of the savage peasants of the emerald isle