Thursday, April 13, 2006

Easter Rising of 1916 - right or wrong?

For the most part I'm a pacifist and as such I've mixed thoughts on how we should view 1916.

At one level it seemed an unnecessary and brutal event where innocent people were killed and the city centre of Dublin was ransacked and burned. It is often felt we would get Home Rule anyway and that maybe this just slowed it down.

On the other hand maybe it needed a big dramatic shakeup to get momentum back towards ordinary Irish people seeing independence as a good idea. We were in significant danger of complaisantly drifting along towards becoming increasingly British like Scotland or Wales. I for one am glad we are independent today. I believe we are a better people for it.

A good old sage and a man I much admire - Garret FitzGerald - wrote well on the subject in the Irish Times yesterday. I suppose there is more than a tinge of bias as he is unlikely to criticize his father Desmond FitzGerald too much (who took part in the rising). Nevertheless Garret makes his points logically and offers a refreshing insight into the events of 1916. If I am interpreting him correctly, Garret feels that that...

A. It's very hard to put cosy 21st century Ireland attitudes on the 1916 event. The Irish had just joined up in droves to fight in The Great War in the British Army against Germany. The appetite for Irish freedom was perceived to be declining. On the other hand many other Nations at the time were violently striking for independence from Monarchy type rule. So it was a case of the tiny minority maverick visionaries trying to inspire and lead the way - admittedly lunatics at the time in the eyes of some.

B. The Home Rule that was being promised was going to be very much a satellite service from England, not proper independence. Garret feels that 1916 restored the passion for true independence, pride and identity.

Of course in today's terms we often equate the modern IRA with the violent actions of the volunteers in 1916. I actually have difficulty looking at it that way - I've written on this before, extract below...

[...They (1916 volunteers) fought openly and bravely for freedom and either died fighting or were captured and executed. I know they were using violence to achieve their ends whilst slow political moves were afoot. However, it's hard to compare the 1916 Rising to the modern IRA practices of cowardly bomb planting with mass civilian deaths, secret executions and racketeering. Moreover, the modern IRA's cause to bludgeon Northern Ireland, where the majority are loyalist, into Irish unity was always completely misguided....

National Pride, 26th Oct 2005, Earth and Universe ]

Either way, 1916 happened. Like it or not, it's part of the story of what made us what we are today. We must pay attention to it, recognize it and at least give the people who put their lives on the line for the aspiration of Irish independence a level of respect. I agree with Garret that 1916 did restore dangerously flagging national pride - although not necessarily using desirable methods. The execution of the leaders was Britain's huge mistake.


-Ann said...

Hey, John. I think your last sentence is that biggest 1916 lesson that is trasferrable to today's world. I studied Irish politice and history in university and that was the repeating lesson that the British never learned. Whenever they cracked down hard militarily, they achieved the opposite result because they galvinized the apathetic majority.

Whenever I'd get into arguments with people about America's military treatment of suspected Islamic terrorists, I would always bring up Irish history. Again and again, the British cracked down and the Irish rose up.

I don't know what the magic answer is, but solving complex social, equality, and legal problems with a military sledgehammer is not the way to do it.

John of Dublin said...

Yes Ann, and that's probably increasingly true today. There are so many methods at our disposal to solve problems without military muscle and mass death and destruction. I think war can be inevitable in some rare cases - but rare they are today.