Belfast Telegraph

Easter Rising is cause for contrition, not celebration

By Kevin Myers

Once again, Fianna Fail — the party that virtually destroyed the Republic — is talking about ‘celebrating’ the 1916 Rising. But this event divided Ireland more bitterly than it was already divided.

Hundreds died and it led to a variety of civil wars. Thousands of unionists fled the virulently Catholic and nationalist culture that emerged within the Free State.

After which Golgotha, not a single declared aim of the Rising had been achieved. Ah yes. So much to celebrate ...

So, all in all, the rising was a catastrophe for Ireland. Only a historically-illiterate political class could ‘celebrate’ such an event.

But what was the nature of the regime that the rebels were taking arms against? Was it governed by a legal caste of unrepresentative high-born Protestants, chosen for their religion and their loyalty alone?

Not quite. The Lord Chancellor in 1916 was Ignatius John O'Brien, an Irish Catholic. The Master of the Rolls was Charles Andrew O'Connor, another Irish Catholic.

The two Lord Justices of Appeal were Stephen Ronan and Thomas Francis Molony, Irish Catholics both. The Solicitor General was James O'Connor, a Blackrock College boy.

And finally, the King's Bench Division of 10 judges contained five Catholics. Ten of the 15 highest legal positions in the land for which John Redmond had just won Home Rule were held by Irish Catholics.

Six years later, in 1922, after thousands of deaths, who was dispensing common law from the benches of Irish courts in the new Free State? Why, the very same judges who had been doing just that in 1916.

True, a largely new bench would come into existence in June 1924, but it included two of the existing judges and, of course, all dispensing the self-same laws as before 1916.

One of these judges, William Evelyn Wylie, who remained on the Free State bench until 1936, had actually served with the Trinity Officer Training Corps against the rising and later prosecuted the rebel leaders.

Of Countess Markievicz, he wrote: “She curled up completely. ‘I am only a woman,' she cried, ‘and you cannot shoot a woman. You must not shoot a woman’. She never stopped moaning, the whole time she was in the courtroom ... I think we all felt slightly disgusted.” There's a bust to Markievicz in Stephen's Green, but no memorial to the unarmed policeman she murdered there, Constable Michael Lahiffe.

In 1917, Wylie became Crown Prosecutor in Co Derry, before becoming law adviser to the viceroy, Lord French. He sought throughout what Ireland would have got anyway — dominion status, such as Australia, Canada and New Zealand had achieved, and a permanent federal link with the north.

Both were agreed in the 1922 treaty, but then Michael Collins began an IRA war against the new northern state. Northern Ireland then refused to implement the Council of Ireland.

Meanwhile, the British were in no mood to make any more concessions to nationalist Ireland, because of the many post-truce acts of terrorism by the IRA, not merely upon the north and upon southern unionists, but also upon many unfortunate southern ex-RIC men. And isn't all the foregoing totally one-sided?

Yes, of course it is, but only because you haven't read most of it before.

The late, great Maureen Wall, of UCD, used to begin her first-year Irish history lectures by asking foreign-born students to identify themselves. “You,” she would say, “I have some hope for. But as for those who've had the misfortune of going through the Irish educational system, I have virtually none.”

She was right. There has hardly been a more pertinaciously toxic, lie-filled mythology in any European democracy than that which independent Ireland has attached to the 1916 Rising.

This latter began with the proclamation's declaration that it cherished all Irishmen and women and children equally, upon which its followers promptly began to murder those Irishmen, women and children who got in their way.

Enthusiasts of the rising still applaud its anti-imperialist message — but only if they ignore its ‘gallant heroes’ acclaim for the Kaiser's Germany, whose armies had systematically murdered thousands of unarmed civilians in Belgium and France in 1914.

So now, God help us, Fianna Fail talks about ‘celebrating’ the rising, when all decent people across Europe should weep at the many abominations of 1916 — one of the most dreadful years in human history.

Only in Ireland would we hear any self-congratulatory, unprincipled claptrap about ‘celebrations' for that year.

But wasn't it such self-congratulatory, unprincipled claptrap that got us where we are today?

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