Posted By: April 13, 2014

Patrick Murphy. Irish News ( Belfast). Saturday, April 12, 2014
IT is no coincidence that the GAA should sell broadcasting rights for some matches to Sky TV at the same time as Sinn Fein’s boys of the old, white tie brigade enter Windsor Castle. The two events reflect the latest dismantling of Irish political and cultural nationalism.

Whether you think that is good or bad is your own business. Post-nationalist Ireland has arrived. Today’s column does not offer opinion on it, but seeks to explain why it happened – a task strikingly absent from this week’s mountain of comment. Post-nationalist Ireland is exemplified by nationalists’ endorsing partition, having opposed it, peacefully and violently, for 70 years. It is reflected in nationalism’s acceptance that Unionists are no longer Irish and that irish music and sport are part of UK culture.

So, in the mouth of Easter Week, how did it all go royal? It would take a book to explain it, but here are a few inter-related theories. They are based on the holy trinity of twentieth century nationalism: politics, the Catholic Church and the GAA – and the possibility that Irish nationalism is merely cyclical fashion, designed by the middle class and copied by the rest of us. The first theory suggests that the process has been largely fuelled by Britain’s determination to give political cover to the PIRA’s defeat in a futile and unnecessary war. In a standard neo-colonial tactic, London agreed that friendly natives should govern the place on their behalf.

So, the theory goes, the politics and pomp of recent years have been a public relations exercise to re-write history (defeat dressed as peace) re-define Irish culture (Protestants have their own language) and replace the opportunity for normal politics with formalised sectarianism (Britain was the good guy all along). All three were packaged as improved Anglo-Irish relations.

Britain then selectively applied its own legal system for political effect. This week, for example, a man was charged in connection with the Omagh bombing (undertaken by dissident IRA) but there will be no new inquiry into the Birmingham pub bombs (undertaken by mainstreamIRA).

A second theory suggests that the collapse of the Catholic Church means that nationalism is no longer a holy day of obligation. Since penal times, nationalism has been associated with Irish Catholicism, as exemplified by this newspaper’s 1891 Pro fide et patria motto (for faith and fatherland).

With the “fide” fading, the “patria” could do what it wished.

With the Church’s decline, Sinn Féin not only became the guardians of nationalist morality, it now uses its new authority to exercise a similar form of social influence. These days, only Sinn Féin can define and forgive nationalist sin, a point appreciated in Britain.

A third strand of thought argues that nationalism’s usually sectarian and apolitical nature rendered it too superficial to survive. It was a form of territorial Catholicism, with little social or economic awareness. Thus, when the concept of Irishness was re-defined for political purposes, our largest cultural organisation, for example, had no social or economic landmarks. So, the theory goes, the GAA abandoned the sometimes dubious morality of a declining Church for the more lucrative immorality of capitalism – and Sinn Fein’s £60 million for Casement Park helped to smooth the transition. In living memory, the GAA moved from banning old time waltzes at its dinners to buying into Rupert Murdoch’s empire, which has been marked by pornography, hacking phones (including that of a dead teenager) and supporting Tony Blair’s illegal invasion of Iraq. The morality switch from Catholic Heaven to commercial Sky will be reflected in bringing children to pubs to watch GAA matches.

But perhaps all this was inevitable, because maybe irish Nationalism is nothing more than a manipulative middle class fashion for sourcing money and power. A book has already been written on this theory: the Clanking of Chains (1919) by Brinsley Mcnamara. These days you can read his novel for free online. Read it. Literature often explains events better than political theory.

You can accept these explanations or develop your own. Either way, we can only appreciate where we are by understanding how we got here. These theories suggest we are back to 1603 when, after nine years of war, self-interested Irish chiefs surrendered to Elizabeth I. Through the foggy dew of Ireland’s feeling of inferiority, Britain has once again emerged victorious. In that case, this is not progress. It is not even change. It is just the same old story, with some new explanations.