Posted By: April 21, 2014

Tom Kelly. Irish News ( Belfast). Monday, April 21, 2014


AS ANOTHER easter sunday passes and as various republican groups and splinter organisations complete their commemorations at graveyards across the country, we are treated to the annual gritty blather and blarney from an array of former comrades about the usefulness of “blood sacrifice” and necessity of the fallen in achieving “victory through death”. As the language of splinter groups and dissidents seems ever more irrelevant in 2014, Sinn Fein is still searching for a more modified narrative that fits with a modern constitutional ethos. And it’s unsurprising that there is some soul searching going on among the republican rank and file who would be forgiven for thinking that after the events of the past few weeks that Prince Harry was likely to co-deliver the oration at Milltown. Amid the historic and important gestures that have been made by Sinn Fein recently, some in that organisation may struggle to repeat the immortal words of Padraig Pearse at the funeral of O’donovan Rossa: “They think they have pacified Ireland. They think that they have purchased half of us and intimated the other half. They think they have foreseen everything, think that they have provided against everything.” As we approach the centenary of the Irish uprising in 2016, it’s not just Sinn Fein that will have to find new language to articulate what it means to be Irish and how we explain the past to ourselves and others. Ireland is a relatively new democratic country albeit with an ancient tapestry littered with intermingling cultures, enduring conflicts and a mass of inexplicable contradictions. Facing up to our past is proving the most difficult thing to resolve – not only between the unionist and nationalist narratives but also within the nationalist narrative. Most of us brought up in the northern nationalist tradition – certainly those of us of a certain age – were fed a diet of Celtic mythology mixed with a fervent nationalist outlook. Add in a healthy dose of ‘Irish Catholicism’ and faced with all too obvious unionist hegemony in a hostile state and you have a lethal emotionally-loaded political cocktail that is stronger than a pint of 90 per cent proof absinthe Hapsburg Hardcore. The mere existence of Fianna Fail and Fine gael, two parties with hardly a shred of policy difference between them, proves that the nationalist narrative is toxic with contradictions stemming from the formation of the Irish state. The notion that somehow we all are the same and that we share a common narrative or interpretation of Irishness is simply untrue. Seamus Mallon’s remark on RTE that he may have more in common with unionist northerners than Corkonian nationalists is more than a mere difference in regional accents – it is also about outlook. In Ulster we all share that thran, forthright plain speaking “a spade’s a spade” demeanour, which is far from the soft lyrical meandering musings of our Munster cousins. Northern nationalism is equally divided and will take several generations to smooth over historical differences between Sinn Fein and the SDLP. They are at best squabbling stepsiblings. Born from a terrible beauty, as Yeats wrote, has certainly left us conflicted with ourselves. We have in song and verse deified those involved with blood sacrifice and having mystified our martyrs we find it hard to draw a line between the Padraig Pearse and Michael Collins; or Dan Breen and Sean south or Terence McSwiney and Bobby Sands. Dealing with our past seems easier if we deal with the past of the other side; and although vilified for saying it, there was much truth in the secretary of state’s recent assertion that there appears to be disproportionate focus on the role of the security forces’ misdeeds rather than on those of paramilitaries. Of course, the outworking of Ms Villiers’s proposition is a non-runner because she would rather there was no torch shone in the shady dark corners of the state’s culpability. We can’t and should not wish the past away but neither should we glorify it into something it was not. At least James Connolly was honest when he wrote in The Worker in 1913: “There is no such thing as a humane or civilised war. When it is waged, it must be waged thoroughly and relentlessly but with no delusion as to its elevating nature or civilising methods.” The queen came close to this acknowledgement with her speech in dublin that with “hindsight it would be better that some things were done differently or not done at all”. The other protagonists now need to find a similar narrative.