A tale of two Johns


Hands up if you remember the moving statues? …God, I didn’t think you were that old. In any case, there’s a reminder of them in a letter to the Irish Times this morning. It’s not an attack on superstition or even the Catholic Church, it’s a little peek – a revealing peek – at two Johns: John Bruton and John Redmond.

It seems that Ireland has been deprived by not having a statue of John Redmond. There’s one of him in Westminster (where else?) and John Bruton wants that statue of the other John moved over here, so we can accord him fitting honour.

The writer of the letter doesn’t say we could maybe stagger on without the statue or that maybe John Bruton could commission one (he has the money – Dail pension, EU pension, Meath farmland); he contents himself with reminding us exactly how Redmond and the Easter Rising intersected. He quotes from an election pamphlet issued in support of Count Plunkett, standing for election after the Easter Rising:

“On the evening of the 3rd May 1916, after the English Premier had announced – amid the cheers of the English Whigs and Tories and the Redmondites – that Pearse, MacDonagh and Clarke had been shot that morning, and while Joseph Plunkett, Edward Daly, Cornelius Colbert and Michael O’Hanrahan were lying in the condemned cell, John Redmond rose in the British House of Commons and said: ‘This outbreak happily seems to be over. It has been dealt with with the firmness which was not only right but it was the duty of the Government to so deal with it….I do beg the Government not to show undue harshness or severity to the great masses of those who are implicated, on whose shoulders lies a guilt far different from that which lies upon the instigators and promoters of this outbreak”.

That speaks for itself, I’d say.  There will be – there is – a determined effort, through linking the First World War with the Easter Rising, to rehabilitate Redmond. The speech above speaks for itself. The man who energetically promoted the inclusion of Irishmen in the ranks of the British Army so they could go to their deaths in the various hells of the war in France is to be repatriated in the form of his statue being returned, another look taken at his good intentions, his concern to secure Home Rule, etc etc blah blah blah.

That’s why letters like this are valuable: they are the more authentic voice of Ireland, which reminds us of the scorching difference between the attitudes to the Rising back then and the jiggery-pokery of historical rebalancing that the likes of Fine Gael will be involved in over the next year or two. Thanks be to the Letters column of The Irish Times, we get occasionally to peek at the truth.

25 Responses to A tale of two Johns

  1. madadhmor August 15, 2014 at 9:26 am #

    Moving a bit closer to our own times, do I smell a not dissimilar frame of mind from the SDLP during the hunger stikes – not from their voters but from the party.

  2. William Fay August 15, 2014 at 9:29 am #

    This has no more historical relevance than would any other incident of its type regarding another part of the Empire, South Africa, India, etc.

  3. TheHist August 15, 2014 at 10:34 am #

    Ah Redmond, what a character and one I believe should be left as part of History (simply because he has to be) and not celebrated in any shape or form. Perhaps his statue in Westminster should stay there, the zealous admirer of British constitutionalism, the man who found it “difficult to hate all things British” and in effect was content to remain as a cosy offspring to the British who had reaped havoc in the previous centuries on the Irish nation. He’s very much at home in Westminster. In Ireland, why would a statue of Redmond be conceivable? A “fitting honour” to what? What did he achieve? Why should he be celebrated? I would personally see Redmond as one of the great failures of Irish History.

    Home rule as John Bruton recently commented “was a lost chance”, in effect it wasn’t, it was a lost cause the moment the Liberal government got their hands on it (the famous words, is it possible to trust the British government?) Home Rule became a circumstance of the time, the Liberals introduced it not because they wanted too, but simply because they had too, to remain in power. Don’t forget Asquith had stated in 1908 he did not want involved with Home Rule – by 1910 he was committed! (Miracles do happen suppose) 32 county Home rule was never going to happen, why did the first reading of the act contain a clause whereby the government could alter the legislation if needs be? Apart from the Unionist campaign that emanated, Asquith with his allies Churchill and Lloyd George has made it abundantly clear that Home Rule was always going to have to involve some compromise on Ulster, namely partition. Redmond accepted this, albeit as a temporary measure as “he shivered visibly and was a great deal perturbed.” Why, when he was holding the balance of power at Westminster? Did he cave into the British? Did he fear pushing the government further? Once this compromise was made there was no turning back.

    His commitment to partition was again apparent in the wake of the Easter Rising at the Lloyd George negotiations. Was Redmond for real? Accepting a partitioned Home Rule Parliament Talking about clutching at straws at the expense of your people – this after the execution of the leaders of the Rising, the murder of pacifist Francis Sheehy-Skeffington, the imposition of martial law upon the Irish people, the arrest, internment and imprisonment of some 3000 people (when not even half fought in the Rising). Surely this was a person out of touch with his people and the events which had preceded. Perhaps, the other John, John Dillon was more in touch with the situation when he stated “This series of executions is doing more harm than any Englishman in this House can possibly fathom.” More harm it did … Redmond’s career according to Lyons “ended in tragedy” – Is celebrating a tragic career the right thing to do? One thinks not!

  4. philip kelly August 15, 2014 at 10:49 am #

    one of the letter writers wrote : mr redmond should be removed to the spire in o’connell street preferably with him on top, may i suggest that john bruton should join him !!!!!

  5. Iolar August 15, 2014 at 11:28 am #

    Mr Bruton’s comments are interesting in that they expose the inherent contradictions we regularly read about in journals of record concerning Home Rule. John Redmond had no qualms about Irishmen participating in the first global inter-imperialist war yet was opposed to other Irishmen and women using force to rid Ireland of the same imperial power, a power with a mandate based exclusively on military conquest. Redmond pulled the political wool over the eyes of many people with his rhetoric about fighting just wars in defence of oppressed people. He was in fact referring to colonial powers that practised slavery and genocide. Roger Casement’s consular investigations into atrocities in the Congo and in South America provide evidence of the nonsense propagated about just wars. Casement described the Third Home Rule Bill as “a promissory note payable only after death.” Moving statues have merits, particularly if they are moved to sites which cling to rose tinted visions of colonialism. Mr Bruton’s comments are distractions from the consequences of contemporary promissory notes, payable after, banking scandals, austerity measures, unprecedented taxation, unemployment and migration.

  6. Anthony Leisegang August 15, 2014 at 12:27 pm #

    Is there a shortage of statues in Ireland for its pigeon population? Holy s**t!

  7. Anthony Leisegang August 15, 2014 at 12:28 pm #

    Always wondered why some people call that little room “the John”!

  8. Pointis August 15, 2014 at 3:39 pm #

    Would the bust of John Redmond not be best placed at the premises of 121 Ormeau Rd, Belfast where it could be truly appreciated?

  9. Perkin Warbeck August 15, 2014 at 3:57 pm #

    Did, perchance, the Bullock-befriending Bruton suggest a particular spot for the re-location of his pintstriped, pin-up John Redmond?

    Outside the entrance to the Fine Gael HQ strikes one as being particularly suitable: the royal blue of the Georgian doorway would blend exquisitely with the first syllable of the statuesque John’s surname. While the aptness of the house name needs no elaboration:

    Not, mind you, that one is against the repatriation of statues in princlple or even per se.. More a matter of quality control, like all transfer markets.

    Indeed, there is one statue of an Irish man in London which is hitting the high C’s to be repatriated to his native Dublin. One refers to the large marble statue of Michael William Balfe which stands on a pedestal in the foyer of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. When he died the Times, the Thameside Times, rather than the LIffeyside Times, though tis tough betimes to tell the differ, thundered: ‘Balfe was our Rossini’. While later on, Sir Thomas Beecham, a man more renowned for conducting orchestras than himself, opined that ‘Balfe was the most interesting British composer of the 19th century’.

    It is time we donned the green gansey and reclaimed him for our own. Born in a side street hard by the Gaiety Theatre, Balfe was a boy prodigy and at the early age of eight and three quarter time was even paraded down Grafton Street in a little handcart drawn by a goat.

    To get the Bullock-befriending Bruton on board, and in an effort to persuade him to give us all a break from his incessant ‘Redmondites under the bed’ scaremongering, it might be pointed out that Balfe, like Redmond, had strong Wexican connections. If that is not enough, perhaps, as a bargaining chip, the Free Southern Stateen might even be declared a monarchy for the three day festival which the repatriation of his statue to the foyer of the Gaiety would inevitably entail.

    If one may explain.

    Some years ago it was a highlight of the Warbeckian cultural odyssey to listen to Ireland’s most enchanting soprano songbird deliver an unforgettable rendition of the sublime ‘I dwelt I dwelt in marble halls’ from ‘The Bohemian Girl’ by Michael William Balfe. The venue was Castletown House near Celbridge in the County of Kildare, a regular haunt of one’s own in those days, when perks were the norm for the Perkian position.

    For the first time in one’s long but illustrious life, PW understood the meaning of the old leprechaun phrase: ‘Sheasfa cosnocht sa tsneachta ag eisteacht lei’,/”One would willingly stand barefoot in snow listening to her’ ‘. True it was Springtime, with no snow on the ground, only snowdrops, but one got the drift.

    The songbird needs no introduction: La Diva herself, Regina Nathan.

    So, here’s the deal: as the ceremonial hauling of the repatriated statue of Balfe along the length of Grafton Street on its way up to the top of the street, before bearing right for the foyer of the Gaiety, and with the glorious soprano of the Queen for the Duration, Regina N (N stands for no need to invent a title, she’s born royalty) could be broadcast nation wide giving full throat to the signature tune from ‘The Bohemian Girl’.

    Why, in the absence of goats, on Puck Fair duty or whatever, maybe Bullock-Befriending Bruton might even be inveigled to lend a rolled-up sleeve or two. In the event of which PW would guarantee leasing out some of his surplus ‘vassals and serfs’ from the Warbeckian household staff to bolster his efforts..

    Sounds a reasonable enough deal from this end, in anyways.

    One endorses, btw, Esteemed Blogmeister’s favourable comment on the lofty Letters Column of The Unionist Times. While all the august Opinion Columns of that organ, sans exception, are staffed, and admirably so, let it be acknowledged, by the Sainthood (that would comprise ex-officio Staters, Stoops and Sticks) there must be some little cat-flap left open, as it were, for the Sinners (one almost wrote ‘Shinners’) to sally forth and steal stealthily in, to preserve the illusion, at least, if not the reality of broadmindedness in an increasingly one-dimensional tabloid world. Or, at least for a little exercise in Aunt Sally-setting up.

    . Thus, the lofty Letters Column of TUT.

    Occasionally, of course, while that feline interloper, the cat burglar of unorthodox fur might get to steal a political point or two before its best-by date, more often than not the In-house Cliché Coppers get the last word. Or two. Sometimes, indeed, three.

    TUT just can’t lose.

    • Jude Collins August 15, 2014 at 5:53 pm #

      Sometimes, Perkin, I feel my blogs are mere prologues to your splendid verbal banquets. Maith thú aris!

      • Perkin Warbeck August 15, 2014 at 7:06 pm #

        Jude, a chara, the way you set ’em up, all I have to do is just whack them straight down the hey diddle diddle.


  10. michael c August 15, 2014 at 4:58 pm #

    It should be remembered that Redmondism did’nt die out with John Redmond.In the north for several decades after partition the AOH were very strong and regarded Redmond as their inspiration.My late father recalled getting into scraps with those from a strong “Hib” background at school and when battle commenced they would often invoke the name of John Redmond.In fact in my home area the animosity between “rebels” and “hibs” would often have been greater than that between orange and green.The hibs collapsed with the onset of the troubles as the younger generation became radicalised by the momentous events that were happening around them.The AOH today is just a shadow of itself and many of it’s members would just be involved to get playing in a band or attending a couple of demonstrations a year.However a small percentage would be vehemently anti Republican and I discovered when electioneering that there were 2 groups of people who could never be won over .One group was insufferable snobs and the other was diehard Hibernians.Indeed the worst reception I ever recieved when out canvassing was from a family whose father had been christened Redmond!

  11. giordanobruno August 15, 2014 at 7:10 pm #

    It’s hard to think of anyone in recent Irish history so despised as Redmond.
    And yet no doubt he thought he was doing the best thing for Ireland.
    Is he truly hated because he encouraged so many to go to their deaths in the War? Or is it because of his attempts to secure Home Rule by constitutional means,and to acknowledge the legitimacy of that effort would detract from the mythological status and the ‘necessary’ sacrifice of the 1916 rebels?
    It is easy to pass judgement with hindsight. He made a terrible misjudgement in supporting the British war effort,but many others made the same misjudgement.
    Perhaps the pursuit of constitutional means would have resulted in Home Rule in the ’20s or ’30s,rather than 100 years of partition which is what the rising delivered.

    • Jude Collins August 15, 2014 at 7:29 pm #

      Good points, gio. Don’t agree, mind you. I think rather than the 20s or 30s it would have been 200 or 300 years…

    • Anthony Leisegang August 15, 2014 at 7:32 pm #

      Perhaps, perhaps, but unlikely — given Carson etc and the north!
      Who could trust the English any more?
      Also, Home Rule would have delivered FAR less than the Free State, what ever criticism you throw at THAT institution and its leadership.

    • TheHist August 15, 2014 at 8:06 pm #

      Gio, prior to the Rising (or even WW1), Partition looked inevitable, even Redmond had accepted this position when told by Asquith in Feb 1914. The Rising in no way delivered Partition in my opinion. If anything, the Rising delivered much more than what the Liberal Government under Asquith were proposing from late 1913 on. The GOIA that subsequently became law on 18th Sept 1914 stipulated that Home Rule would not be introduced in Ireland without Ulster being sorted out. Only one way to sort Ulster out, partition Ireland. (Two days later Redmond commits the Irish to the British War effort)

      Ulster Unionist threats of setting up their own provisional government made the Liberal government reconsider what Home Rule entailed – we see how the Liberals gradually changed their Home Rule aspirations to a partitionist mentality. Lloyd George, “the most dangerous little man that ever lived” always believed that the only way to solve the Irish Question was partition (this was his stance throughout the Home Rule Crisis) – this was invariably how he tried to solve it and look what that created … The problems of today …

      Constitutional Nationalism pushed the prospect of Home Rule as far as was possible. Asquith talked of “making some sort of bargain about Ulster as the price of Home Rule.” Ronan Canning recently said that the Liberal cabinet agreed in Nov 1913 on the exclusion of Ulster (partition) from Home Rule “this marked an irreversible step towards Partition.” Without the Rising i do not believe Home Rule would have been fully enacted – so it is unfair to say the Rising delivered partition. Carson stated in July 1913 that the government “would not force Home Rule on Ulster.” In effect he was right and this was very much the basis for the GOIA of 1920 which eventually partitioned Ireland. In effect the fate of Partition was agreed two years before the Rising.

      • Is Mise August 16, 2014 at 12:05 pm #

        sorry to be pedantic but I believe TheHist meant to say Ronan Fanning in his/her comment that I fully agree with. I would strongly recommend Ronan’s excellent book The Fatal Path as it provides great detail on timeline, meetings, statements and protagonists invovled on both sides of the Home Rule disaster

        • TheHist August 16, 2014 at 7:30 pm #

          Is Mise, apologies – you are totally right – auto correct must have changed it to from Fanning to Canning. Absolutely fantastic book – one of the best I’ve read covering the period of the Irish Revolution.

      • giordanobruno August 16, 2014 at 12:12 pm #

        Interesting stuff and I would not argue with someone called TheHist about history.
        It seems to me though, that as partition was a fact it was either delivered by the rising or it would have happened anyway as you suggest, in which case the rising achieved nothing really.
        It is impossible to say how things would have turned out without the rising., Would the war (and the threat of conscription) still have given Sinn Fein the popular support it achieved in 1918?
        As we have had 100 years of partition it is at least worth considering that the alternative might have been better.

        • TheHist August 16, 2014 at 9:58 pm #

          Gio – Partition was inevitable as the British believed (up to 1920) it was the only solution to the a Home Rule Crisis. However, I think it would be unfair to say the Rising achieved nothing – it is obvious that the Rising did not fully succeed in it’s aims as set out in the proclamation. The Rising may have failed in military terms (as many of the leaders believed it would), but what the Rising succeeded in, was the awakening of a sleeping giant in the Irish people, it energised the Republican movement, which in turn permanently altered the course of Irish History.

          After the Rising, Home Rule was no longer a consideration accepted by the Irish People (although the British were still keen on advancing it through the Lloyd George Negotiations) – Those people who radicalised in the wake of not just the Rising but the circumstances that surrounded the event (British handling etc as I noted above) wanted a Republic, they wanted full independence from Britain, they evolved to believe in the same ideals and principles of those they once opposed. The slogan of self determination replaced Home Rule. Before the Rising such a sea change would have been unimaginable. So realistically the Rising achieved a lot more than expected.

          This republican mentality that emanated from the Rising destroyed moderate Nationalism and led to a path whereby greater aspirations than Home Rule were sought! These circumstances eventually led to the British offering the 26 counties Dominion Status during the Treaty Negotiations. Ok it wasn’t 32 (as GOIA of 1920 had already created partition) but with threats from George to wage war on Ireland if the delegation didn’t accept made any further compromise impossible. Would the British have offered dominion status without the Rising and proceeding events? Perhaps not. A full Republic was never on offer or going to be as expressed to De Valera by George in July 1921! (One of the reasons why De Valera chose to be absent from the delegation team).

          I think it’s fair to say that many people would see Home Rule as a semi independent government that would bring some form of freedom to Ireland, it would not have! Home Rule offered a government with very limited powers that was still mainly controlled from Westminster, realistically a “gesture” from the British as opposed to a commitment of allowing the Irish to control their own affairs. Arthur Griffith summed this up when he stated “if this (HR) is liberty, the lexicographers have deceived us.” Dominion status offered a lot more – although kept the Free State within the commonwealth. It gave Ireland the freedom to achieve freedom, which became a reality when a Republic became a recognised reality in 1949.

          I do agree that it is impossible to say how things would have turned out without the Rising but it’s impact cannot be underestimated. As for an alternative that might have been better – surely there could have been worse alternatives too …

    • Virginia August 16, 2014 at 4:06 am #

      Well stated.

  12. Brian Patterson August 15, 2014 at 7:49 pm #

    The way revisionism is going we will shortly have a statue of Diarmuid Mac
    Murrough as a centre piece for Leinster House; plus a summer school to boot.

  13. NorthMunsterman August 15, 2014 at 8:21 pm #

    John Redmond was totally out of touch with the Irish people – just like John Bruton who single-handedly almost destroyed the Peace talks leading up to the GFA.
    A Clongowes education has that effect unfortunately on many – though not all – of the pupils.

  14. Pointis August 16, 2014 at 1:33 am #

    Let’s be honest Jude, for some in the likes of Fine Gael, reminiscences of the Rebels of 16 still causes a warm rush of blood to the cheeks and a lowering of the chin in embarrassment lest some Anglo with blue blood still coursing their veins should frown at such a guilty heritage.

    If we could all just accept their narrative that if we could all just accept our second class station in life sure wouldn’t everything have been alright. One could always aspire to be serving someone who was a lord or perhaps even related to the Monarchy. The whole thing makes me weak at the knees!