Blimey. That was quick. I was talking to a good friend yesterday and mentioned the obvious headway, according to the opinion polls, that Sinn Féin were making in the south. “Put on your helmet” my friend told me. “Stand by for a media counter-charge”. And ‘strewth – this morning I tune into Good Morning Ulster on BBC Radio Ulster/Raidio Uladh, and right at the top of the news there’s a man saying in detail how he was in the IRA and he knows both Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness were in the IRA. He said it for quite a long time. So there’s a public service, and if you wakened with that question tormenting you, let it torment you no more.
At the same time, it’s well to remember that times change and so do the thoughts coming at you from the media. Back in 1916 they didn’t have Good Morning Ulster but they did have newspapers. Like the Irish Independent. Here’s its editorial for 4 May 1916:
“No terms of denunciation that pen could indict would be too strong to apply to those responsible for the insane and criminal rising of last week… “
(The paper was owned by William Martin Murphy, who also owned Murphy’s Dublin Tramway Company, against whom a strike was called in 1913 by James Connolly.)
The VO said…It’s hard to know, really. Here’s its editorial, 4 May 1916. Maybe you can see past the inverted commas:
“The lives of all these victims ‘rebels’ ‘soldiers’ of the Crown and innocent members of the civilian community – will not have been sacrificed in vain if the people of Ireland are wise and brave enough to shape their future course in the light of the lessons that should be brought home to their minds by the catalogue of the week’s blunders, disasters, crimes and retributions.”
Here’s The Irish Times on 10 May:
“A desperate plot was hatched for the disruption of the British Empire by means of an insurrection in Ireland. It was put into execution at a moment when England and Ireland were fighting for life against a foreign enemy. That enemy fomented and helped it with arms, money and promises… Sir John Maxwell was entrusted with the crushing of this insurrection. His success, so far as direct military operations are concerned has been complete.”
(In the immediate aftermath of the Rising, The Irish Times urged its readers to stay at home and read Shakespeare. )
Fifty years later, the Irish media whistled a rather different tune. Here’s The Irish Times on 14 May 1966:
“ It has been said ever so often that the Irish should forget their history. This is not true. They should read enough of it to be able to discern truth from propaganda. A well-stocked mind cannot be a narrow and is less likely to be a bitter one than when the mental diet has been a select list of prejudices.”
Here’s the VO on 12 April 1966
“When do the British journals that have given such space to the Easter Week Rising give their pages to the cause of a United Ireland? They have no deep sympathy for a free, undivided Ireland, now or at any time. 1916 has simply been commercialised in Britain. That is her way of paying tribute to the men who died for freedom.”
And while I can’t locate at the moment the Irish Independent editorial, this one from the News Letter on 18 April 1966 should give you a laugh:
“The members of the RUC have no easy task even in normal times; on occasions when the peace of the community is threatened, as it was yesterday, it becomes not only difficult, but also delicate. The firmness, good humour and, above all, the fairness with which the police acted all helped to keep the pot from boiling over, and for this every member of the community who values the better feeling which has developed in recent years owes them a deep debt of gratitude.”
So don’t get upset if the Irish media daubs a movement or a party in dark, satanic colours. When they’re faced with a different political weather, they’ll produce a much sunnier picture. Or to paraphrase Lyndon Baines Johnson, in a different context: history has them by the cojones; their hearts and minds will follow.