Thursday, March 16, 2006

The 1916 Easter Rising

It'll be 90 years ago next month that members of the Irish Volunteers militia, a forerunner of the IRA, staged a military 'putsch' in Dublin to oust the British from Ireland - the 'Easter Rising'. Pádraig Pearse read out the proclamation of the Irish Republic, and about 500 people were killed, mainly Irish. The putsch was a military failure but a qualified political success in that, six years later, the British ceded three quarters of the island to self-government producing, shortly afterwards, the Republic of Ireland as one of two jurisdictions that now make up the Irish nation.

Ninety years on, should we celebrate the Easter Rising? Those who agree point to the bravery of the rebels, and independence from Britain as the birthright of every Irishman. Those who disagree say it glorifies terrorism, something which has blighted Ireland for four hundred years.

I hold to the view that terrorist acts are wrong even in pursuit of the most noble political goals. There are those who contend that, in 1916, the democratic route was not open to Pearse, Connolly et al. This was, shamefully, true in that era of world history. Thankfully it's no longer so. But the Bible - God's instruction manual for all people in all ages - tells us all to honour those in government over us and to pray for our oppressors, not to murder or subject them. I believe this means we can defend ourselves with measured force against physical attack, but it doesn't confer the right of insurrection. Please allow me my opinion on this most emotive issue, and consider whether it may have some merit.

Whatever the truth of the matter, we mustn't let the past divide us for the future. We are where we are, and God expects us to deal nobly with the situation we find ourselves in. Let's not fight our great-grandfathers' battles by allowing different angles on their situation to set us at each others' throats.

Although I've never lived in Éire, my chest swells with pride when I see what Irish people have achieved since independence, and the country is becoming a finer democracy with every year that passes, something that cannot be said for Northern Ireland. That's why I'm praying for Messrs Adams, Paisley and Blair and urging them via this blog to let Ulster be governed by northern Irishfolk, not from London, and I believe that partnership, to whatever degree, with the very republic spawned by the Easter Rising is not something to be feared.

As members of the Irish nation, in whatever jurisdiction we find ourselves, let's not celebrate violence in any glorified form, let's raise a glass tomorrow to the future we can build together using respect, debate, openness and faith.

Update: some well-voiced alternative views here (comments).

19 Comments:

At 1:13 p.m., Anonymous EWI said...

BU, thank you for your post. As regards insurgency, two thoughts immediately spring to mind:

i) insurrection against an unjust or illegal government surely isn't evil. British rule in Ireland fell under both of these headings.
ii) what are your feelings on the plans of Ulster Unionism to do same? (even down to a 'Provisional Government', perhaps the very place that the 1916 rebels got the term). The Ulster Unionists organised a paramilitary force (the original UVF) and armed it with weapons imported from the Kaiser. "1916" could easily be being commemorated today by Ulster Unionists as their own insurrection, if WWI hadn't broken out.

 
At 4:48 p.m., Anonymous EWI said...

Those who disagree say it glorifies terrorism, something which has blighted Ireland for four hundred years.

I hold to the view that terrorist acts are wrong even in pursuit of the most noble political goals.


I somehow missed this the first time reading through. "Four hundred years" puts us back to the Nine Years War, and encompasses as well the Confederate War, the Glorious Revolution, the United Irishmen Rebellion, Robert Emmet, the Young Irelanders, the Fenian Rising, 1916 and the Irish War of Independence.

Now, I know that the sudden popularity for Unionist/West Brit commentators to describe all this as "terrorism" didn't begin with you, but I'd like to hear your justification for using such a false (and loaded) term.

 
At 5:27 p.m., Anonymous Lorcan said...

ewi,
I was taught as a schoolkid to glorify 1916, that it was an act heroism. I think this is just as bad as calling it an act of terrorism. So much of our history has been filled with the "terrible beauty" and seems doomed to continue unless we take steps to stop it.
At the end of the day I have to take my hat off to Big Ulsterman who, it seems in many cases, is coming out of his comfort zone to discuss these things. The future is compromise - and if this means re-evaluating 1916 then roll it on. Remember, 1916 also led to more bloodshed with the civil war.

 
At 5:54 p.m., Anonymous EWI said...

ewi,
I was taught as a schoolkid to glorify 1916, that it was an act heroism. I think this is just as bad as calling it an act of terrorism. So much of our history has been filled with the "terrible beauty" and seems doomed to continue unless we take steps to stop it.


Is it? 1916-21 was your garden-variety war of independence. "The Troubles" were an entirely separate sectarian conflict. Equating the two plays into the hands of both the Provos and those (still) hostile to the Irish Republic.

At the end of the day I have to take my hat off to Big Ulsterman who, it seems in many cases, is coming out of his comfort zone to discuss these things. The future is compromise - and if this means re-evaluating 1916 then roll it on.

How is it "compromise" to allow the incident most responsible for the establishment of a free and independent 26 counties to be called terrorism? (You'll note that the epithet has been applied by BU to earlier wars and rebellions too, apparently).

I am not flaming him, but I would genuinely like to know if BU does indeed stand over that particular characterisation of several hundred years of Irish resistance to foreign rule, and, if so, how does he feel about the intentions of Ulster Unionists to do the exact same thing (rebelling in arms against 'their' government over Home Rule).

Remember, 1916 also led to more bloodshed with the civil war.

How so?

 
At 10:13 p.m., Blogger B.U. said...

I'm certainly comfortable when previous Irish rebellions, shootings and ambushes against civilians and law enforcement personnel are labelled as terrorism. Certainly fits the dictionary definition. However, I'm also prepared to recognise the noble cause and the depth of patriotism shown by Pearse, Connolly, etc. Their actions were more than mindless terrorism, but I think they were wrong to use force of arms against the British in Ireland. I also think PIRA was wrong to use force of arms against the British (and particularly the Irish) in Ireland.

Now, though, we live in an age of democracy, and England is no longer a suppressive element in Ireland. Whatever our take on the past, let's concentrate on now and how we can take a heroic stand for future generations. BU.

 
At 12:30 p.m., Anonymous Lorcan said...

"Is it? 1916-21 was your garden-variety war of independence. "The Troubles" were an entirely separate sectarian conflict. Equating the two plays into the hands of both the Provos and those (still) hostile to the Irish Republic."
I dunno, the repressive catholic state was formed a result of the 1916 rising, the civil war was, the 50 odd years of complete enconomic stagnation etc. the massive emmigration from the 50's to the 80's I'd describe that as a terrible beauty.

"How is it "compromise" to allow the incident most responsible for the establishment of a free and independent 26 counties to be called terrorism?"

You simply have to accept that one mans act of heroism is anothers act ot terrorism. Compromise is about finding a middle ground.

"Remember, 1916 also led to more bloodshed with the civil war.

How so? "

How many (southern) irishmen killed each other in the civil war? How many families were split apart etc.

 
At 9:11 p.m., Blogger EWI said...

Which I'm certainly comfortable when previous Irish rebellions, shootings and ambushes against civilians and law enforcement personnel are labelled as terrorism. Certainly fits the dictionary definition.

Here we're getting to the nub of the question. Which dictionary definition is that, exactly? And how does it take account of times when Protestants have also been what you seem to define to be 'terroists'.

However, I'm also prepared to recognise the noble cause and the depth of patriotism shown by Pearse, Connolly, etc. Their actions were more than mindless terrorism, but I think they were wrong to use force of arms against the British in Ireland. I also think PIRA was wrong to use force of arms against the British (and particularly the Irish) in Ireland.

Motive is irrelevant as to whether or not something counts as terrorism. Either it's intentional, or it's not (say, a bomb gone astray). There is also state terrorism, a point you may recall.

Now, though, we live in an age of democracy, and England is no longer a suppressive element in Ireland. Whatever our take on the past, let's concentrate on now and how we can take a heroic stand for future generations. BU.

I completely agree with you, yet the fact stands that you still haven't clarified your reasoning behind the label you've just applied to historic Irish efforts to win freedom from the British (note that I do not refer to the Provos!).

It wouldn't be in the interests of reconciliation for me to refer to the ancestors of Northern Presbyterians as thieves and murderers, nor would I do so.

 
At 9:16 p.m., Blogger EWI said...

I dunno, the repressive catholic state was formed a result of the 1916 rising, the civil war was, the 50 odd years of complete enconomic stagnation etc. the massive emmigration from the 50's to the 80's I'd describe that as a terrible beauty.

Not a thing of that was a direct consequence of 1916. If, say, economic stagnation was the fault of 1916, how do you explain the Celtic Tiger? What changed? etcetc.

You simply have to accept that one mans act of heroism is anothers act ot terrorism. Compromise is about finding a middle ground.

I think you misunderstand what the "compromise" here entails.

How many (southern) irishmen killed each other in the civil war? How many families were split apart etc.

None of this was the fault of 1916, though. You may recall that the Civil War was instead over the Treaty.

 
At 9:11 a.m., Blogger B.U. said...

Ewi, And how does it take account of times when Protestants have also been what you seem to define to be 'terroists'.
Loyalist groups are among the worst terrorists out. I shudder at the mention of the word Greysteel, I can tell you. BU.

 
At 10:25 a.m., Anonymous Lorcan said...

Yes, you may be correct. It is possible none of the things listed out were as a direct result of 1916.
Then again, we could argue that the republic wasn't as a direct result of 1916 either. One thing is for sure, the catholic church would never had the country in it's grip as much if the republic didn't happen.
Celtic tiger? I can't explain this. Although one of the things which changed was church attendances fell off hugely as the Celtic Tiger started. Whether they're related I don't know.
How do I misunderstand what comprimise entails here? Elaborate.

As far as I knew the treaty was as a result of 1916. Whether is was the fault or as a result of it I don't know. I do think though, if there was no 1916, then there would have been no treaty and thus no civil war.

 
At 9:21 p.m., Anonymous maca said...

I really can't agree here at all John. Not just about 1916 but about this whole idea:

"But the Bible - God's instruction manual for all people in all ages - tells us all to honour those in government over us and to pray for our oppressors, not to murder or subject them"

What should the French Resistence have done, pray for the Nazi's or fight back? Or when 1 million Russian soldiers invaded Finland in the 30's, should the Finn's have held a candlelight vigil to pray for the Russians? Were they wrong to fight back and protect their families? How can God ask people to suffer evil regimes, like in Iraq, or Zimbabwe or a ton of other countries without fighting back, yet do nothing to protect them? I can't believe that's God's message.

 
At 11:11 p.m., Anonymous Anonymous said...

"said...
Those who disagree say it glorifies terrorism, something which has blighted Ireland for four hundred years.

I hold to the view that terrorist acts are wrong even in pursuit of the most noble political goals."

Excuse me, but as far as the vast majority of the Irish people are concerned, once England/Britain conquered this island, Irish people had every right to do all possible to remove it - short of targeting innocent people intentionally. The English/British sadly pursued centuries of policies intent on targeting and killing/transporting to slavery/dispossessing of possessions of Irish people. The apologists for the 'great' British Empire never call this terrorism of course. The British introduced the virus of sectarianism to this island by the various Penal Laws that seized all the land owned by Catholics and forced them to live as serfs, as well denying us the right to an education, to celebrate Mass (priests could be hung, drawn and quartered), inherit entire property (0% of land was owned by Catholics in the 18th century), to vote and to sit in local government of Parliament. I think this is oppressive government and I think it more than justifies all the rebellions that took place. While I would admit that in the course of some of this rebellions e.g. 1641, that a minority brought disgrace on the cause by attacking civilians (albeit foreign settlers who had stolen our land), the underlying fact is that we are being brutally oppressed and the oppressed have a right to throw off their oppressors.

The right to resist tyranny has to be a fundamental human right recognised in international law. An international definition of "terrorism" needs to be agreed, to stop dictators like in Belarus and China using the term to persecute the conquered people of Tibet (1949) or pro-democracy activists. At the moment, it seems to mean anything a government wants it to mean. To me, it means intentionally targeting innocent civilians - and that includes when the forces of the State engage in it.

 
At 11:12 p.m., Anonymous Brian Boru said...

That "anonymous" at 11.11pm is me by the way. Hi ppl. :)

 
At 11:17 p.m., Anonymous Brian Bory said...

By the way it was actually Five-sixth's of the island made independent not 3/4s. :)

 
At 11:54 p.m., Anonymous Brian Boru said...

"But the Bible - God's instruction manual for all people in all ages - tells us all to honour those in government over us and to pray for our oppressors, not to murder or subject them. I believe this means we can defend ourselves with measured force against physical attack, but it doesn't confer the right of insurrection. Please allow me my opinion on this most emotive issue, and consider whether it may have some merit."

Well to be fair, the Bible is often contradictory and open to varying interpretations. In the English Civil War, the Parliamentarians quoted parts of the Bible to justify what they were doing. In the US Civil War, the Southern clergy who supported slavery cited "slaves obey your masters" in the Old Testament as justification for their position. Also, the Bible contradicts itself with the Old Testament talking about "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth" while the New says "let he who is without sin cast the first stone". So when you say the Bible forbids insurrection, I reply it is open to interpretation and seems contradictory in many areas.

In any case, I would not necessarily go by the Bible. Looking at the Middle East, Al Qaida, and the Biblical justification used by Israel and its supportes in the US for oppressing the Palestinians, I am very turned off religion as an authoritative source for my opinions and actions.

On 1916 more specifically, I would point out certain things which I feel are worthy of consideration:

A: The 1915 election was cancelled so technically the sitting government, parliament, and the terms of the MPs had expired. We have no electoral proof that the Home Rulers were still the preferred representatives of Nationalism. The US had a Presidential election in 1944 in a worse world war, so I don't agree with the "there was a war on" argument for this.

B:1916 was in part a reaction to the Larne gun-running and the setting up of the UVF, who pledged to stop Home Rule by force. The British turned a blind eye and in some cases the military helped bring in 3 million rounds of ammunition and 24,000 rifles. Yet when the Irish Volunteers (the old pro-Home Rule one set up in reaction to the UVF) brought in weaponry at Howth the Brits opened fire and killed people. This proved that the British army could not be trusted to impose all-Ireland Home Rule if it passed the British parliament. As did the Curragh mutiny were officers offered to resign rather than force the Unionists under Home Rule - which the Commons had passed. So the British were surrendering to the threat of force from Unionism.

C: Constitutional methods to achieve Home Rule had been tried and by 1916 it had been 52 years since the Home Rulers were the main party in Ireland. And then the UVF came on the scene and it looked like it could be blocked (it was to be suspended pending the war's end and special provision for the North but no-one knew how many counties this meant). People can only have so much patience.

D: 80% of industrial production was in the Six Counties (24% now) attesting to centuries of economic discrimination - often enshrined in laws in the past.

E: Without 1916 the Republic of Ireland would not exist. This justifies 1916, especially when you consider the rebels didn't target civilians - as admitted by PM Asquith in the Commons debate afterwards (1916 debate was played on radio on RTE recently).

 
At 10:28 p.m., Anonymous Anonymous said...

the last few commments show such a poor understanding of Irish history that I really can't even be bothered to get into an argument... think its time that some people stopped reading the Tim Pat Coogan/Mickey Mouse version of Irish history and actually did some thinking for themselves. "Think"... don't just "accept" the biased nationalist slanted version of history you seem to have taken through a process of osmosis rather than any actual grasp of facts....

 
At 7:16 p.m., Blogger EWI said...

the last few commments show such a poor understanding of Irish history that I really can't even be bothered to get into an argument... think its time that some people stopped reading the Tim Pat Coogan/Mickey Mouse version of Irish history and actually did some thinking for themselves. "Think"... don't just "accept" the biased nationalist slanted version of history you seem to have taken through a process of osmosis rather than any actual grasp of facts....

Yes, instead here's an Orange Order pamphlet on the Glorious Revolution and King Billy.

 
At 7:22 p.m., Blogger EWI said...

Then again, we could argue that the republic wasn't as a direct result of 1916 either.

Umm, no, it actually was.

One thing is for sure, the catholic church would never had the country in it's grip as much if the republic didn't happen.

(I presume that you meant to say "if independence didn't happen". The Republic was finally declared - and recognised by the UK - in 1948) The grip of the Catholic Church predated independence. I suggest you look up how the Irish Party (and Redmond in particular) played to that particular tune.

Celtic tiger? I can't explain this. Although one of the things which changed was church attendances fell off hugely as the Celtic Tiger started. Whether they're related I don't know.

Sexual promiscuity also skyrocketed in tandem with the Celtic Tiger. However, I don't think that they're related.

How do I misunderstand what comprimise entails here? Elaborate.

You seem to think that "compromise" entails surrendering completely to the opposing POV.

As far as I knew the treaty was as a result of 1916. Whether is was the fault or as a result of it I don't know. I do think though, if there was no 1916, then there would have been no treaty and thus no civil war.

An extremely tenuous connection, I hope you'll agree on reflection.

 
At 8:43 p.m., Anonymous Anonymous said...

all those comments where magnifissint niamh 12 (brainey) love niamh

 

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