This must be a contender for longest assed troll OP in the history of p.ie.I read somewhere recently that, for Christians, Lent, which is almost upon us, is more than just a time for giving things up. Apparently it is also a period of reflection on the mysteries of Easter. With that in mind, I though it might be a suitable to reflect on the mysteries of Easter 1916, and its status in the foundational myth of the Irish Republic and, more specifically, on that odd item that is the 1916 Proclamation, a key text of that mythology.
There is no question that the events of that week are seen by many who describe themselves as Irish Republicans as being fundamental to the very nature of Irishness, and these people tend to look to the Proclamation as a kind of Ur-Constitution. However, my own opinion is that the Easter rising was a Nationalist and not a Republican revolution and the Proclamation a Nationalist manifesto rather than a statement of Republican values. By this I mean that if a Republic is defined in terms of the rights, duties and responsibilities of its citizens and a Nation by its self-definition in contrast to the ‘Other’, then the Proclamation was quite clearly an attempt to insist on National identity, not Republican civic virtues. As such, these events and this document are, in my view, the root cause of much of what has been wrong with Irish social and political life for most of the century that has elapsed since.
Let me make it clear at this point that I am not interested in the question of whether or not the 1916 leaders were ‘terrorists’ or ‘freedom fighters’, a debate that hinges not on fact but on point of view. I’m not interested in throwing any of the usual Provo/Shinner mud; a childish pastime I’m happy to agree. I’m quite content to call them freedom fighters, with the proviso that the freedom they were fighting for was of the wrong kind; the freedom to be just like them. Equally, I’m about to respond to any name-calling that comes my way.
The following analysis is, perforce, restricted by limitations of space; this is a P.ie OP, not a book after all. I just want to look at the core point(s) in each paragraph from the perspective of the Nationalist/Republican dichotomy. Even that will be something of an essay. I realise that some will criticise me for judging the language of 1916 by the standards of 2012, but it is precisely the failure of some sections of Irish society to modify their aspirations in the face of changing events that interests me here. The dated language of the Proclamation wouldn’t be an issue of it were never treated like holy writ, an inviolable statement of self-evident truths.
Immediately, the definition of Irishmen and Irishwomen is circumscribed. They will believe in (the Christian) god and engage in ancestor worship and support (actively or tacitly) armed revolution. These simple verities remained unquestioned throughout most of the history of the resultant state and live on in part in the unfortunate preamble to the Constitution. By extension, those who do not share these views are simply not Irish. The pluralism required of a true republic doesn’t feature.
One single right is asserted; the atavistic right to the land;. Freedom is effectively defined in terms appropriate to the smallholder. The Nation demands its homeland and the quasi-mystical relationship with the patria that mars every Nationalist state on the planet. None of the duties of the citizen that might be expected to accompany that right are countenanced.
In the same breath, the definition of Irishness in opposition to the Other is painted in broad brushstrokes; of course, this means that no Irish citizen who self-identifies with that Other can claim true Irishness. The concept of the West Brit as pariah is born.
Note that the allegiance of the citizen is demanded as an entitlement, not desired as a reward to be earned. Some things don’t change.
Given the limitations already placed on the definition of Irishmen and Irishwomen in the earlier paragraphs, the claim to wish for unification of the minority and majority populations rings hollow, and quite clearly did become fact until relatively recently. It is assumed that the revolutionaries are self-evidently right and that no sane person of Irish birth could possibly hold any other view unless they had been corrupted by the foreigner. While not wishing to deny that the British did, indeed, foster differences to suit them, we can still reject the implication that the state of Ireland in 1916 was a simple Manichaean duality of the ‘pure’ versus ‘corrupted’ Irish.
Perhaps the most often quoted phrase from the Proclamation is ‘cherishing all of the children of the nation’, which is, understandably enough, regularly evoked by children’s rights advocates. However, I believe it is a mistake to read it literally. It seems clear enough that the ‘children’ referred to are the same ‘Irishmen and Irishwomen’ that form the refrain of this hymn. We are the children and our gracious leaders will cherish us, once we toe the line. A good Republican attitude.
A military junta is declared.
And so we end up where we began, with god and the gun defining who ‘we’ are.
Perhaps the saddest aspect of the entire sorry document is the fact that a reasonably good socialist like Connolly signed it. He should have known better. As for the rest, we have teachers, an accountant, a journalist, the son of a big landowner and a man with a ‘colourful’ past; the template for future Dails was set down early.
And now, almost a hundred years on, it is my contention that we need to bin this illiberal, anti-Republican, Nationalist foundation story. As the philosopher George Santayana said ‘Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.’ The history of Ireland since 1916 has been the unfolding of our inability to learn its lessons. There are hopeful signs that a new millennium has begun to see this change; let’s hope a real Republic emerges from our current turmoil.