There’s an article in the Irish Times this morning titled ‘1916 centenary a time for reflection not celebration’. I think that’s a reasonable proposition, so I pushed my marmalade to one side and had a closer read.
It’s by a man called Dennis Kennedy and from the first paragraph he inches towards his central point: “The Easter Rising was indeed the catalyst for the creation of an independent Irish State…but does that mean we should be proud of it?” That’s what you’d call a rhetorical question, Virginia. The answer on its way is No.
Kennedy makes clear it was an “armed rebellion by an extremist group outside the mainstream of nationalist politics, and with no electoral mandate”. True enough. He goes on to note that the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland were at war at the time, and the war had the support of Ireland’s democratically elected representatives. The 1916 leaders, in contrast, sought and got help from the enemy Germany.
While he concedes that the men and women of the 1916 Rising were courageous and won “some public sympathy”, they did what they did when “unprecedented progress, albeit stalled by the war, had been made by democratic processes towards the goal of an independent Ireland”.
Kennedy thinks it would be more appropriate to honour Grattan, O’Connell, Butt, Parnell and Redmond, all of whom worked peacefuly and democratically for Ireland’s independence. How much better, he argues, “than to worship…at the shrine of violence cloaked in the veil of heroic sacrifice”. And he concludes by blaming partition on the men of 1916.
Now, one of the first things that Media Studies students learn is to ask of any media text “What is the agency of this text?” That is to say, who or what organisation has produced it? The answer in this case is straightforward – Dennis Kennedy produced it, with the assistance of a platform provided by the Irish Times. Mr Kennedy is, as one on-line comment notes, an Ulster-born unionist and founder member of the Cadogan Group. Other founders were Paul (now Lord) Bew and Graham Gudgin. The founding aims of this group was to “base its views on what was most likely to produce long-term peace and stability in the region, and not on what was most likely to achieve a political end”. In short, its brief was to help put an end to the Troubles and let’s forget all this stuff about nationalism and republicanism. (No, Virginia, I don’t think there were any notable nationalists or republicans among the founding members).
As to the platform from which Mr Kennedy speaks, The Irish Times could be accused (or praised) for many things, but not, it’s safe to say, for its consistently republican or pro-united Ireland line. For decades most Irish people referred to it as ‘the Protestant paper’. It has of course changed considerably over the years; but like most Irish mainstream media, it is anxious to avoid putting wind in the sails of Sinn Féin – a danger to which Mr Kennedy alludes in his article.
So while the agency or source of a media text doesn’t necessarily determine what it says, it’s an important factor. In this case, it’s an instance of someone who is unionist in his background and sympathies. He’s a man of peace, however, which is why he doesn’t want to celebrate the Easter Rising: “The long shadow of the gunmen of 1916 has helped inspire IRA campaigns in practically every decade since 1922, and still does today”. I take my hat off to him for the honesty of that last sentence: the one thing that most southern commentators and politicians are uber-keen to avoid is any link between the IRA of the second half of the twentieth century and the IRA of the first half of the twentieth century. His analysis, however, is like the analysis of those who say that power-sharing now would have come without violence. He believes a united Ireland would have come without Easter 1916.