Pearse and Redmond: daft talk and blood-drenched hands

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There are two Irishmen  whose names will feature in more and more headlines over the next eighteen  months. They are John Redmond and Patrick Pearse. This afternoon a ceremony attended by President Higgins will honour the Irishmen who died in the Great War,  men who were encouraged to die by the words of Redmond. Ian Paisley Jr  believes the words of Padraig Pearse reveal him as “a madman”, “a lunatic” in the way that he talked about war and sacrifice. 

In today’s letters column of The Irish Times,  Mr Paisley would seem to find support for his claims. A man called Noel Murphy has written in to the paper’s editor, quoting Pearse’s words on the First World War: “Heroism has come back to earth. The old heart of the earth needed to be warmed with the red wine of the battefields. Such august homage was never before offered to God as this, the homage of millions of lives gladly given for love of country”.  Lurid stuff. Like most things, however, it has a context – in this case a linguist context. That’s how The Great War was talked about then by those favouring it. Pearse’s language was more the rule than the exception. But of course what he says is still nonsense.  The truth is that some men fought in the Great War because they needed a job, some men felt pressured into joining up because some half-witted women went about handing out white feathers, some men joined in the mistaken belief that it would mean Home Rule for Ireland, and some men fought because they thought  this was a war to end all wars. Fat chance, that last one. In fact it was a war fought by the British Empire to crush Germany, which was emerging as a growing economic – and more democratic – challenge to the undemocratic British Empire on which the sun never set.

John Redmond, on the other hand, is more direct in his language than Pearse – or he is in the letter in today’s Irish Times.  “Your first duty is to take your part in ending the war” he told Irishmen in 1915, having encouraged thousands of them a year earlier to go out and die, with the promise of Home Rule as the prize. Pearse’s language is by far  the more blood-drenched of the two; but it was Redmond’s words that let to the spilling of gallons of Irish blood in the course of the Great War.

In coming months, you will hear more and more about  the noble sacrifice of Irishmen who fought in the First World War. Lots of Irishmen died but it wasn’t a noble sacrifice. It was a futile sacrifice. It was a sacrifice based on lies and deception by Britain, and on stupidity and gullibility by Redmond and those who listened to him. Compared to Redmond, Pearse’s outlook was locally focused and in the end effective. He may have had daft notions about the earth being nourished by human blood, but he had the blood of a lot fewer Irishmen on his hands than had his contemporary Redmond.

But if you’re at the ceremonies in Glasnevin cemetery today, you’ll not hear President Higgins or anyone else talking like that. Noble sacrifice, brave men. End of story.

22 Responses to Pearse and Redmond: daft talk and blood-drenched hands

  1. maryjo July 31, 2014 at 1:17 pm #

    So well said. I’m so irritated by the revisionist coverage of WW1 on RTE this summer. I am regularly exposed to the exploits of the WW1 Irish when I tune in to see the weather forecast. However nobody at RTE mentions how Redmond’s Irish Volunteers were not permitted (or trusted) to have their own volunteer regiment in the British Army. That was a privilege reserved for the UVF, Of course, they too were mere cannon fodder.

  2. paddykool July 31, 2014 at 2:01 pm #

    They used to call the language “purple prose”. Something to do with the Roman poet Horace and his description of an overly flowery piece of writing. It would have been all the rage in pulp fiction stories of derring -do a century or so ago. We’re supposed to try and avoid too much of it when writing of course .Get to the meat of things without too many big words that might frighten the old ladies and that.
    It probably sounded okay in the context of the times when a lot of people would have had romantic notions of war as a great ,manly, romantic adventure. A lot of it , no doubt arrived at by consuming the popular fiction of the times . Most of those ladies handing out their “white feathers” would never get anywhere near a battlefield , so it was easy for them to stigmatise some poor frightened youth who had a better and more realistic idea of his own soft fallibility. To soften the fear young men gathered together in “Pals” regiments and whole villages walked away from their lives in every sense.
    The brute reality of the War to End All Wars was that it was the first truly mechanised Killing Field . Basically an open abbatoir where men were left speechless at the slaughter.It wasn’t quite what they expected , not to put a fine tooth on it and it is amazing that a scant twenty years later they easily succumbed to the encouragements to do it all over again.
    Everyone is manipulated to fight wars We’re now able to cynically watch the process in real time as it unfolds on our tv and computer screens.Back then people had only the eloquence of public speakers , their use of emotive language and the few scraps of information and gossip in the paper press to encourage them to lay down their lives for the common good. Of course most of them went off to war thinking that they’d be the ones to return to cheering crowds and grateful, welcoming women.
    “Sacrifice” too was seen as an honorable ideal that was built into the national psyche anyway. It is the entire basis of the Christian religion. There has always been this impulse to offer up a sacrifice to the gods .Jesus did it and created a whole new following for this form of blood sacrifice.We are brought up to believe in it from childhood in our churches and schools. It makes us all amenable and vulnerable. to the exhortations of politicians and their will.There is the cultivation of guilt before the fields are salted with all that bonemeal and blood..

  3. John Patton July 31, 2014 at 2:05 pm #

    Excellent piece of writing, Jude. We ‘re told that this is a commemoration of WW1 but the tone is often that of celebration

  4. ANOTHER JUDE July 31, 2014 at 3:00 pm #

    I am sick of hearing about WWI, I am even more sick of hearing about the poor deluded fools who lost their lives fighting in that pointless stupid little squabble. I am fed up hearing about the turkey shoot that was the Somme, when thousands of men who were arming themselves with GERMAN weapons a little earlier, died for the British after threatening the very same British, presumably with the same German guns? The men who lost their lives in France or Belgium or wherever would have been better off heading to the GPO in Dublin, at least they would have died for a cause they believed in. Some things never change and if Britain was to go to war tomorrow the same working class scum would lay down their lives so the likes of Cameron and the royal family would be able to get fresh strawberries at Wimbledon.Count this Irishman out.

    • Norma wilson July 31, 2014 at 5:46 pm #

      Another Jude

      Well said, spoken like a true republican?
      My GrandFather, went off to fight, and gave his life, for the likes of you, to be free, so that you could come out with that.
      Away and hang your head in shame, you have my pity, you are a parasite on the backs of all those brave men.
      I will tell you exactly what you are, a bitter hateful, nasty jealous piece of work.
      If I had my way I would send you for a fortnights holiday to Palestine, it would do you the world of good.
      I will always go to the Cenataph to pay my respects, they will always be remembered, so shut up, and get over it.
      The British Army, kept a lot of poor Irishmen in clothes, boots, and well fed. That’s the only reason why half of them went off?
      My Grand Father was Patriotic, there was no conscription for him, he volunteered , fell at Dunkirk, and taken to Belgium, he died three weeks before the yanks liberated them, as. POW in Berlin.
      My Mother was born in 1934, when her Father left when she was five, so if you don’t mind, a little respect please, in case you were not aware of this, the ROYAL BRITISH LEGION is in Twinbrook quite often, looking after the widows of these ex soldiers????
      Yes, they get TV Licsence paid, decorating, help with heating etc etc.
      Grow up, whether it was right or wrong, young men died, show a bit of respect, and take that hate out of your rotten heart.
      I am proud of my GrandFather.
      Norma

      • ANOTHER JUDE July 31, 2014 at 10:34 pm #

        Norma,
        Wrong war I`m afraid, we were talking about WWI.

  5. Pointis July 31, 2014 at 5:20 pm #

    Another Jude, are you not a little harsh calling them ‘scum’ as it implies that these working class men and women are inherently bad and not just deluded?

    To be fair I think every nation has a hold over the masses and can by clever media manipulation get them to do their bidding with few questions asked about the fairness or ethics of their actions.

    Human nature is a fickle commodity. I remember visiting the WW2 German Hospital on Jersey which houses a war museum. It is remarkable how the British citizens of Jersey and Guernsey colluded with the Germans and turned each other in to the German forces during their occupation. There was so much bad feeling after the war that the British felt compelled to cover up the extent of the collusion.

    • ANOTHER JUDE July 31, 2014 at 10:32 pm #

      Pointis, I was just using a term probably used by the wealthy and powerful who sent them off. It will always be the poor who suffer the horrors of war.

  6. Perkin Warbeck July 31, 2014 at 5:59 pm #

    It has been a good opening week in Dublin to the 14-18 Celecommeration to end all Celecommerations. A week which is due to continue for the next four years from the going down of the sun to the rising of the moon and the rising once again of the (yawn) same sun, with a few trillion twinkle twinkles of little stars in between.

    The only break will be the Fire Drill of Easter 16, which has been deemed necessary by those killjoys, the Health and Safety pedants. “It will be mercifullly brief’, a Government spokesman for the Spin Doctor in charge of these vital if unavoidable interruptions, was heard to mutter beneath his mild and bitter breath..

    An opening salvo of a week, indeed , a week of two dogs, one a shaggy wolfhound, the other a lapdog, no less shaggy.. From Donal the Regimental Dog who paused at the portal of St. Patrick’s, de facto Cathedral of the Free Southern State, to the D.O.G. who paused while the D.O.K. solemnly laid the C.O.S in Glasnevin Cemetery.

    Both pauses were for snaps for the Man’s Best Friend Monthly staff photographer.

    (Darby O’Gill, Duke of Kent , Cross of Sacrifice, respectively)

    Indeed, the latter ceremony was eerily if not Eire-ily similar to the ceremony, pulsating with symbolism,, at the Memorial Gardens in Islandbridge some short years ago when our then President supplied the wow to the Queenly presence. On this occasion, the President supplied the complementary bow to the Minor Royal, a nephew first removed , that sort of thing. Relatively chinless, anyway.

    Difficult to contemplate for the Thinking Dub (TD) just how far – and how joyously ! – we have all travelled in a mere half century. Take Perkin Warbeck, T.D., for example. When he was a school boy travelling like snail upstairs on a doubledecker number 23 bus, he can still vividly recall the envy which propelled him and his fellow Paddy Stinks and Mickey Muds to roar from the top windows down at the little Cecils and Jeremys as they walked into Memorial Park on THEIR day off, Poppy Day: ‘Pro-d- Waddy on the Wall / Fire our rosary beads and watch you fall !’

    Let us now praise he who is so deserving of plaudits unlimited.. The quiet, retiring, self effacing hero who single handedly caused this cultural sea-change and who wrote, again single-handedly, about his courageous, dogged determination to do so,Corporal Kevin Myers of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers and late of the Loyal Leicestershire Lancers in the khaki coloured columns of The Unionist Times.

    For which unstinting and selfless endeavours he was to win for himself such obloquy by pea-brained supporters of PIRA as the sobriquet ‘Leicester Bigot’. That jibe only served to spur him on.

    Nothing daunted, Company Sergeant Kev ploughed his lonely furrow, his trained eye, as ever, unfailingly on the main chance. while never neglecting to keep the other eye on the untrained chancers; ‘It’s in their DNA’

    It was Captain Kev who refuted the black propaganda of those doubting Toms and other Jerry-regarders who repeated the Big Lie from the safety of their mice-holes in Neutral Eire that ‘little Belgian’ pursued a policy in the Congo during 14-18 of -gasp! – ‘cutting off the hands of wives and children of African workers who did not meet their rubber-harvest quotas’

    ‘Lies! Demmed lies’, fumed Colonel Myers, ‘it was their wooly heads they cut off, not their bleddy hands !’.

    As if Patriotic Pat from Paddy’s Land would wrap the puttees around his ankles and calves for such a half-assed country, albeit a Catholic one, as a Belgium that would stop at a hand-job.

    We shall be hearing more anon from Major General Myers even at the g. down of the s. and the r. of the moon.

    (Housekeeping: It was the gently humorous Corporal. Kevin who saw to it that the initials of the sacred objecte central to today’s ceremony were C.O.S. a sly but telling nod to the most celebrated Costermonger of them all, Molly Malone, whose gallant sons in the R.D. Fusiliers gave their all for a dream in a herdsman’s hut, that sort of thing etc).

  7. Iolar July 31, 2014 at 6:53 pm #

    The reality is that the first global inter-imperialist war began when the Austro-Hungarian Empire attacked Serbia in 1914. The German Empire sided with the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Russian Empire with with Serbia. The issue in question was control of the Balkans. It is sad to reflect on the number of people who lost their lives for all sorts of vague reasons, an income, glory or a misguided belief that the war was all about democracy. This was not a just war or a war undertaken in defense of small nations. It was about imperial powers plundering countries such as Africa for copper, rubber, diamonds, ivory and other minerals. Thousands perished as cannon fodder. It is ironic that Redmond on the one hand opposed physical force while on the other hand, he had no problem encouraging young Irishmen to defend the interests of the British Empire based on the promise of limited Irish self-government. The Irish electorate delivered its verdict on Redmond and Home Rule in the election of 1918. The sun was beginning to set on the colonies.

    • Jude Collins August 1, 2014 at 2:19 pm #

      Perkin, your fame spreads apace. I was approached by a total stranger today who grasped my buttonhole and uttered two words -“that Perkin!” before walking off shaking his head. I am pleased to see you’ve allow General Myers to move up the ranks at the pace of a rat up a drainpipe. You must do a blog for me – you MUST…

  8. Cal July 31, 2014 at 7:30 pm #

    I watched a programme a few days ago about the Connaught Rangers Regiment (the devils own) which lost a lot of men in WW1.

    The monument erected to the men of this regiment had Irish tri-colour ribbons tied to the flowers resting on its steps.

    These men are entitled to be remembered so I’ve absolutely no issue with the monument.

    I did, however, find myself wondering what these men did to warrant the tri-colour ribbons. The green, white and orange were not the colours they fought under.

    It’s revisionism to claim these men for the republic, they died fighting for an empire, not a republic.

  9. neill July 31, 2014 at 8:47 pm #

    Imagine if you will going over the top knowing you will face machine gun nests that will rip your body to pieces when they start firing if you survive that you will face rifle fire grenades and the very real threat of artilley fire and last but certainly not least barbed wire which if you get caught on it cuts straight into your torso.

    Takes real guts I take my hat off to them even the mercenary soldiers who joined up had more guts than me.

    They me be deluded or easily led however i admire them and I appreciate their sacrifice.

    • Jude Collins August 1, 2014 at 2:20 pm #

      They did things I certainly wouldn’t have the courage to do either, Neill – but for what? Sweet damn all, to put it politely. The Great Obscenity or the Old Lie would be a better title then ‘The Great War’

    • Sean August 1, 2014 at 8:53 pm #

      Which is all well and good. We should – if not agree with their decisions – at least appreciate the courage they needed…but we shouldn’t pretend that the war was a “good war”. I wonder how close Unionism came to losing an entire generation to a war that was for the benefit of a small few in London. Other than stone monuments and empty promises….what did Northern Ireland gain?

  10. neill July 31, 2014 at 8:53 pm #

    Fat chance, that last one. In fact it was a war fought by the British Empire to crush Germany, which was emerging as a growing economic – and more democratic – challenge to the undemocratic British Empire on which the sun never set.

    Really you should do a little more research Germany was not a democratic power in the same way Britain was ironically the Weimar Republic that was imposed was a lot more democratic than Britain sadly that was one of the reasons why Hitler came to power

    • Jude Collins August 1, 2014 at 2:29 pm #

      How right you are, neill – “Germany was not a democratic power in the same way Britain was “. It was much more democratic – check the facts, m’lad. Awkward but there y’are.

      • neill August 1, 2014 at 6:54 pm #

        Er sorry I would advise you study the History books Jude

        • Jude Collins August 1, 2014 at 8:12 pm #

          Well I will when I get time. I always try to do what you tell me. But I’m always keen on facing the truth too. And the truth is, in 1914 Germany was a more democratic country than Britain. As I say, damned awkward and hard to fit in the heroic narrative, but there y’are.

  11. michael c July 31, 2014 at 10:22 pm #

    Pointis,the population of Jersey was to be evacuated when the German invasion was imminent.People gathered at the Docks awaiting boats from England that never came and when they returned to their houses they found that they had been robbed by those that stayed behind.And yes people who tried to organise resistance when the invaders came were betrayed by many of their neighbours.This treachery was also much more widespread in France than many were prepared to admit and may even have included Francois Mitterand as a collaborator.

    • Pointis August 1, 2014 at 9:36 am #

      Yes Michael C, it is quite fascinating and little known and there are those that would prefer that we never knew the realities about what really happens during wars.

      A friend saw a documentary about London during the Air raids. An underground nite club was hit by one of the German bombs. After the raid rescue crews came to dig out the survivors. They found that many of the dead had their fingers hacked off with cutting implements by locals so that they could steal their rings. This was withheld from everyone lest it damaged the national moral.

  12. Sean August 1, 2014 at 8:47 pm #

    While I can understand the need for rememberence of those who fall in war, in the end all we do is glorify those wars. We use phrases like “fighting for freedom” when the reality is freedom had nothing to do with the great war. We should remember the war, but also remember how pointless it was, the needless loss of life, and the politics that allow a small group of old men ordering millions of young men to die a horrible death in the name of empire and domination….we can remember, we can grieve, but we should not dress it up to make it seem better.