james.irldaly at ntlworld.com
Sun Mar 12 06:43:32 MST 2006
The Easter Rising: The shots that changed the world forever
SUNDAY BUSINESS POST 12 March 2006
By Tom McGurk
The public commentary ever since Bertie Ahern announced the revival of
the 1916 memorial parade has been fascinating.
A curious collection of voices have raised all sorts of protestation.
Kevin Myers has been in full spate in The Irish Times, the various
letters columns of the newspapers have been filled and some Fine Gael,
Labour and Green members of Dun Laoghaire Rathdown Council voted
against the 1916 Proclamation being displayed in their building.
Some callers to RTE radio are even protesting about the blood-curdling
sentiments of the national anthem.
When one compares this public reaction to, for example, France’s
annual Bastille Day celebrations or the recent Trafalgar bicentenary
celebrations in Britain, the differences in national character are
most interesting. At one level, where our own history is concerned, we
still behave like a dysfunctional family. At another, it is
fascinating to see that the post-colonial process is taking so many
generations to depart the national DNA.
Most of the complaints have been utterly silly - half-baked historical
facts compounded with a stew of prejudice and private anger. Myers in
The Irish Times has been threatening to turn into his own caricature,
his dinner party history lessons growing ever more tedious. How
remarkable, for example, that his schoolboy fetish with militarism
still excludes the notion of the Irish using force for Irish ends.
Out of all this correspondence have come some truly bizarre historical
Take, for example, the idea that with Home Rule on the way the
republican rebellion was totally unnecessary.
It’s good dinner party talk, but it’s historically absurd. Home Rule
and the concept of an Irish Republic were not simply totally different
things, but they were actually diametrically opposed to each other.
Given that the Redmondite Home Rule party was largely composed of the
Irish middle class and large farmers who had done well out of the late
19th century land reform, Home Rule was intended to give an emerging
Irish class, who were now doing well out of John Bull’s Other Island,
a share in their own colonisation.
It was actually a subtle method of harnessing - while simultaneously
subverting - Irish national aspirations to the wider imperial agenda.
A Home Rule parliament was simply a devolutionary device to corral the
growing demands for Irish democracy into a legislature whose ultimate
control lay under the Crown and the Commons. If the notion of an Irish
Republic was freehold, then Home Rule was no more than tenancy.
What has also characterised the recent 1916 grumblers has been their
remarkable inability to understand the nature of the colonial
relationship between Britain and Ireland. Complaints are being made
that the 1916 leaders never sought democratic mandates (in what
elections to what Irish parliament might they have stood?) and that
their actions were entirely unmandated.
The fact that revolutionaries by definition seek to alter national
perspectives so radically that they must act first, and subsequently
seek approval, is still being misunderstood.
It was actually the precise circumstances of the colonial relationship
between Britain and Ireland, and the growing threat of Home Rule to
cunningly alter it, that made Pearse and company act in the way they
did. Believing as they did in an sovereign Irish people, British rule
in Ireland was entirely a product of conquest and therefore devoid of
Even worse, not only would Home Rule have merely changed the
appearance of the old colonial relationship, it would also
democratically mandate it for the first time. The sovereign Irish
people were about to vote for mere tenancy status in their own
The use of force by the men of 1916 was also determined by the exact
nature of the colonial relationship. Force and the threat of superior
force by the imperial power was the context in which all Irish
political discourse was maintained.
This was vividly illustrated only three years later when the
democratic will of the first Dail was met by state terrorism.
And most importantly of all, since the fear of the ruled being killed
by the superior force of the ruler is at the heart of all colonial
relationships, Pearse’s idea of the blood sacrifice was about directly
confronting that fear.
Subsequently, after the stonebreakers’ yard in Kilmainham, the
imperial myth that might was right was destroyed for ever in the Irish
imagination. The sacrifice of 1916 was about revealing the true nature
of the colonial relationship to the Irish people and thereby creating
the imaginative context whereby sovereignty could at last be imagined
and then asserted.
Thus the revolutionary act was attained.
Importantly, this revolutionary assertion of an indigenous national
sovereignty in the context of the imperial world of the period gave
1916 and its Proclamation global significance. No wonder Lenin, Gandhi
and the young Mao were so affected by it. In the generations that
followed, all across the world, subjugated peoples everywhere found
inspiration in 1916. Its imaginative power hastened the end of the
imperial and colonial ages and, critically, its wider context as both
cultural and political revolution created a template that changed the
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