It’s funny (that’s funny-peculiar, although I suppose there are funny-ha-ha things as well, some intended, some not) what you see on TV. I was watching the RTÉ news last night and the end bit – after Eileen or whatever the newscaster’s called had said good night – there was a sequence of several minutes where we had clips, complete with suitably solemn music, about soldiers who had died at Gallipoli. As my friend John Patton (http://phototilly.eu/) has pointed out, the reason many of these men died was that Winston Churchill blundered them into their graves. There was no hint of any of that in the two-minute clip on RTÉ. All soldiers lined up, solemn voice-over, memorial plaques. You get the idea. They weren’t saying it was great these men died but it was saying that this was a solemn event of national significance and one worthy of being remembered with honour and respect.
Two days ago was the anniversary of the reading of the Easter Proclamation. Now I’m open to correction but I don’t recall very much attention being paid to that event. No solemn clips, no mournful but respectful music, no lines of soldiers standing at memorial plaques. Why was that?
Because, I believe, there are people in the south of Ireland who are intent on juxtaposing the battles of the First World War in which Irishmen died, with the Easter Rising in which other men died. “Nothing wrong with that” you may say. “They occurred around the same time”. They did indeed. But they were different in nature. Almost contradictory, even. The men who died in the First World War did so as part of the British army and died for a lie – no, actually, two lies. The first was that this was a war to end all wars, and the second was that it was through this war that Ireland would gain Home Rule. The men who died as part of the Easter Rising, in contrast, were not in the uniform of the British army. They were in fact fighting against the British Army. They were not fighting for even half a lie : their goal of Irish independence was clear and valid.
So what we have are two major events that run in opposite directions, and because of the sad fact that Irishmen died in both, the powers that be are intent on the public seeing them both as part of one largely similar pattern: the unhappy death of Irishmen. Was there ever greater gobbledygook? Of course it’s sad that Irishmen died in violent conflict of any kind; but there is a qualitative difference between being duped into dying for a lie in the uniform of the army that keeps your own country subject to the next door neighbour, and dying for the cause of national independence. Whether you approve of the first and detest the second or vice versa is not the point. The point is that they were and remain in sharp contradiction to each other, and efforts to blur the lines between them are devious and despicable.