Picture by Rob Lee
Fergal Keane has been garlanded with so many honours one might imagine he’d need a battalion of porters to carry them all but I saw a photograph of him recently taken at Liverpool University where he has been made a Professorial Fellow, flanked by Dame Professor Marianne Elliott OBE who is the Director of Irish Studies there.
Some years ago a piece of Keane’s in THE INDEPENDENT (of London) was headlined “Ireland has paid a high price for its dishonest mythmaking.” He called for a truth commission for the North of Ireland on the lines of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. I’ve read, heard and seen Keane’s works in print and on radio and television for many years,and for the life of me would find them difficult to reconcile them with the truth.
For example he has claimed that Michael Collins had attempted to sell Partition to the Irish people; that British television began to be received in Dublin in the late 1960s, and that a Eucharistic Congress was held in Dublin in 1936.
All these statements are false.
On the death of Collins in 1922 his most recent speeches and articles were published by The TalbotPress, Dublin, under he title “The Path to Freedom.” I have that original edition and a seven pagesection is headed “Partition Act’s Failure.”
A classmate of my own stayed home in Blackbanks, Raheny, Dublin, in June 1953 to watch the
Coronation of Queen Elizabeth, and my mother watched the 1956 Monaco wedding of Grace Kelly in the house next door on Howth Hill, courtesy of the BBC. I can clearly remember having a quiet pint in the old Royal Hotel in Howth in 1960 when there was virtual stampede of women into the lounge to watch a recording of Princess Margaret’s Wedding to Anthony Armstrong Jones. I particularly relished the fact that they had come from a Fianna Fail Cumann in an adjacent room and included veterans of the Anglo-Irish and Civil Wars.
By that time BBC TV was coming to us from Wales and the North of Ireland, and ITV was clearly received from Britain and UTV from the North of Ireland. Half of Dublin watched Sunday Night at the London Palladium and its catch phrases had gone “viral” as today’s expression has it. My contemporaries will, for example, remember”Swingin’ “
It was the impact of British Television in Ireland that prompted the Government to set up a Commission to inquire into the desirability of establishing an Irish TV service (in 1958 or 1959) before actually establishing one in December 1961.
The Eucharistic Congress was held, not in 1936, but in 1932, for fifteen hundred good reasons, once known to every schoolboy and schoolgirl in Ireland, if not every Professorial Fellow. For Ireland’s National Apostle, and Patron Saint, (commemorated in Fergal Keane’s second name) started his Irish Mission in 432 AD.
If Mr Keane is economical with the truth, he can also be a Begrudger of Epic proportions. Again in
The Independent (of London) in 2001 he expressed displeasure at the public ceremony and Christian burial of Kevin Barry and nine other patriot soldiers who had been hanged by the British and buried in quicklime in 1920 and 1921. He seemed to call for for public ceremonies to honour Royal Irish Constabulary killed by the IRA between 1919 and 1921. In fact the RIC and other anti-democratic forces were given public and Christian burial shortly after their deaths, and woe betide/betode? any man who didn’t remove his hat, or any shopkeeper who didn’t shutter his premises when the funerals of these gentlemen passed by.
The British funeral of the “Auxiliary Police Cadets” killed at Kilmichael can be viewed by Googling
British Pathe and entering the word Macroom. The captions tell us that those attending are
from the various units of the British Army’s Aldershot Command from which the “Police Cadets”
were drawn, and there’s not a Bona-Fide Bobby, Kosher Kopper nor Pukkha Plod to be seen.
His Economy with the Truth and Begrudgery are trumped by Keane’s astounding arrogance as
he surveys the rest of us Irish from an Olympian height.In “The Independent” (of London) in
another piece he quotes the Belfast-born poet Louis MacNeice, who, in the 1930s, chided his fellow-Irishmen for deluding themselves that the world cared who was king of their castle.
The context was the rise of Hitler. MacNeice, said Keane, “from the vantage point of London” gazed scornfully on Ireland.” In fact at least two of the three Kings who reigned in London in the 1930s were very jealous of their Irish holdings, and law made in London proclaimed their supremacy over “every person matter and thing in Northern Ireland.” And those Kings’ military, paramilitary police and specials were there to keep those holdings for them, helped by draconian Special Powers Acts and gerrymandred local elections.To this day in Britain the Treason Felony Act of 1848 is still in force and it provides for life imprisonment for anyone advocating the abolition of the Monarchy, even by peaceful means. A High Court Action by The Guardian a few years ago did not succeed in having that provision removed.
When Cork Harbour, Bantry Bay and Lough Swilly were ceded to Irish control in 1938 Winston
Churchill, in the House of Commons on May 5th launched an attack on the Government and on
the impertinence and ingratitude of the Irish for wanting their ports back. Say what you like about Churchill, but he knew more about kings, castles and the deployment of power than MacNeice or Fergal Keane.
The concern for these things didn’t expire with the defeat of Hitler, nor Attlee’s defeat of Churchill in 1945. They remained in 1949 when Attlee was co-founding NATO and after John A Costellodeclared an Irish Republic. The British Cabinet Secretary, Sir Norman Brooke,prepared a memorandum outlining Ulster Unionist arguments which he regarded as not really weighty, but declared that “for strategic reasons” “some part of Ireland should remain within His Majesty’s Dominions.” Attlee marked the Memo “noted” and a new IRELAND ACT was passed by Westminster that year. It purported to cede the determination of Nothern Ireland’s status to the Parliament at Stormont, but when push came to shove the British Government removed that “Parliament” with less ceremony than it later abolished The Greater London Council.
It is no mere coincidence that Britain first declared no further strategic interest in Northern Ireland after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact and that the Western Powers withdrew support for the Apartheid regime in South Africa at the same time.Nor that US missiles were withdrawn from Greenham Common at that time. From 1841 until 1957 Britain had a naval base in Simonstown, South Africa, and was thereafter guaranteed access to it by the apartheid regime. The Wall Street Journal in the 1970s revealed that the USA had secure communications nearby, to Ballykelly in Northern Ireland, as part of a global military communications system.
Great powers and their satellites have interests, not sentiments, and ordinary humans whatever
their religion or colour don’t weigh much in their calculations. “Some part of Ireland”, North or South, Orange or Green, could equally serve their strategic interest. When Ireland had an independent-minded Government in Dublin, the North served Imperialist strategy. But since Dublin lost its Moral Compass and settled for a Moral Shat-Nav, Shannon Airport servesthat strategy quite nicely.
But journalists don’t get OBEs for telling such truths