Cromwell can be some hazard at the beach

Posted By: March 29, 2013

Sunday Business Post — August 28, 1995

Father Sean McManus, that perennial thorn in the side of everything British, reads the Style section of the Washington Post, writes Basil Miller.

This nugget was revealed in a frenzied press release dated August 23 which McManus sent to news directors from his office on Capitol Hill.

The president of the lrish National Caucus was complaining about a throwaway remark by Tony Blankley, press secretary to House Speaker Newt Gingrich, while telling Post writer Roxanne Roberts about his summer reading. Blankley, something of an intellectual, took three books to the beach: The Long Fuse: How England Lost the American Colonies, 1760-1785, a political biography of Oliver Cromwell, and a collection of the Lord Protector’s speeches.

Though Blankley described the first book as “a sad story”, it was not this unorthodox view of American independence that stirred up McManus. No, it was Blankley’s response to the Cromwell bio.

“He’s an intriguing character,” said Gingrich’s chief spin doctor, “a visionary misunderstood both in his time and afterword.” Clearly for a spin doctor Blankley wasn’t having a care for the Irish vote.

“Speaker must disavow racist views of press secretary,” screamed the headline on the incendiary press release: “Blankley must apologize.” The missive wasn’t above a touch of racism itself, referring to “the English-born Blankley” endorsing “hatred and anti Irish-Catholic bigotry”.

It strikes AOB that Blankley’s reaction was like Gerry Adams’ crack about the IRA, “they haven’t gone away, you know”. As our own editor put it last week, that was waht lawyers call ‘a statement of fact’. And whatever else Oliver Cromwell may have been, surely, as upturner of the English monarchy — no friend of the Irish — in favour of what he and his supporters called the ‘common weal’, he was indeed a “visionary”?

Poor Blankley. He found out that reading at the beach can be dangerous to your health. “Cromwell is the greatest hate figure in Irish history,” riposted McManus. “Cromwell is to the Irish what Hitler is to the Jews . . . racist, ruthless, and brutally anti-Catholic. . .”

“It’s appalling that the press secretary of the Speaker would endorse such hatred . . . I call on Gingrich to disavow [and] . . . demand that Blankley apologize to Irish-Americans.”

Phew! Hitler! In the pantheon of English injustice in Ireland, one might have thought that, purely arithmetically, the late Victoria would have rated closer to Hitler. On a scale of one to 10, in comparison to her depredationsthe Lord Protector’s would score somewhere between zero and 0.5. Yet, she can be dug up and exhibited in UCC with impunity, even in this the 150th anniversary year of the Great Famine.

Well, in the way of these things, McManus got what he wanted. The next day, the hapless English-born Blankley ate that quintessential American product, humble pie. In a grovelling letter to McManus, Blankley said: “I appreciated the opportunity . . . to learn from you the deep and justifiable revulsion that Irish people feel at the mention of the name Cromwell.

“I now understand that my brief comments . . . were offensive to you and the Irish people because I failed to make clear my utter rejection of Cromwell’s Irish war and policies.

“I . . . apologize to both you and, through you, to the Irish people.”

Nice to know the ‘Irish people’ have a spiritual and historiographical champion in Washington, D.C. Down with revisionism! But Cromwell, nonetheless, was the leader who came closest to making England a republic — didn’t you know that, Father?

Interviews about summer reading will never be the same.