I’M delighted that Liverpool University has acquired a treasure trove of information relating to Ireland and the Irish in Britain, that is dedicated to the memory of Breandan MacLua, co-founder and editor of the Irish Post. I note that on opening the Library, our Ambassador, Dan Mulhall, suggested that generations before his own were so dazzled by the story of the 1916-21 struggle for independence that they had a simplistic, unsophisticated view of 20th century history, which ignored Irish participation in the First World War.
His Excellency, born in 1955, was a mere stripling when Ireland’s opinion-formers did intellectual cartwheels, and this may explain his confusion.
In 1931, when W T Cosgrave was in power, a narrative History of Ireland by James Carty BA was a standard textbook. It quoted General Liman Von Sanders, the German officer who commanded the Turkish defence of Gallipoli, and his tribute to the courage of the Irishmen in the British forces who opposed them.
Carty’s history may not have been too sophisticated, but it was still a school staple when Mr Mulhall was born, and had been used when the Department of education had Cumann na nGael, Fianna Fail, and Fine Gael ministers.
In 1930, another gallant German officer, who had been demobbed after the Great War, was Director of the Irish Army’s School of Music and Conductor of the No.1 Army Band. A series of Irish Fantasias was recorded by the band and the first track is The Foggy Dew. That old song was given a new lyric after the 1916 Insurrection, which celebrated the Insurgents but also saluted the Irish Wild Geese of the day whom Britannia had bade fight that “small nations might be free”.
In the 1950s, Brendan Behan wrote a column every Saturday in Eamon de Valera’s Irish Press. Often he celebrated, with great humour, his Dublin neighbours, many of them veterans of the Great War and the Second Boer War, their wives, widows and children. He recalled watching a film advertised in Dublin as Gallipoli, but entitled in its land of origin as Tell England.
So the organs of state, and of parties of Nationalist Ireland did not brush Irish involvement in England’s wars, on the side of the English, out of the picture. Besides, the veterans were still about, some of whom, like Tom Barry, later joined the IRA, or had brothers in the IRA. If anything, Dan Mulhall has a less nuanced appreciation of our history than the poor, unsophisticated generation whom he patronises.
I doubt His Excellency ever read old copies of The United Irishman, published by Republicans still unreconciled with the Irish State in the 1950s. I remember reading an article in it on Gallipoli and the Irishmen fighting there. It recalled a British officer watching the landings from a ship and askeding: “Why are our men resting?”
The answer was that the men he was looking at were dead, not taking their ease on the beach.